Tag Archives: the gospel

5 Principles to Follow Before You Overhaul Your Children’s Ministry 

Throughout my years of ministry on a church staff and as a senior pastor, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for children. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing young children come to faith in Christ and grow up as amazing, godly, adults. 

Years ago, I took on a task of developing a children’s ministry in a suburban church. There was great potential, but the children’s ministry at the time was not meeting the needs of the families. After years of hard work and perseverance, I can now see its fruit. What were once children in our church are now moms and missionaries, husbands and ministers, teachers who are passionate for their world and the people in it. The gospel, alive in this ministry then, in still alive in their hearts now. It’s just so encouraging to recall!

Above all, what I learned from this experience and more has been very, very valuable. Some of the principles below might not be needed, but in case your children’s ministry needs an overhaul, here are some of a few principles for you:

  1. The Gospel comes first. There is no compromise on the need for the gospel in any ministry, but in both children’s and youth ministries, there is often a temptation to focus on the fun. Fun is, well, fun, but don’t miss why you’re there in the first place: to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
  2. The parents are the teachers. Deut 6 and Eph 6:4 are both very clear passages as to the role of the parents. Church leaders need to remember that their role is to help the parents fulfill that role, not take over for them. In other words, when planning on teaching children, don’t forget that parents need instruction as well. 
  3. Train your leaders. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a task to do and feeling completely inadequate for it. Leaders need training, and a leader who refuses to be trained is probably not a leader you should have on your team. Blunt words, but true. Plan on supplying plenty of training and encouragement for your leaders in all areas of the ministry. 
  4. Bring joy wherever you go. Ministry is challenging but it needs to be fun. Do a heart check and make sure that you are truly enjoying the ministry. A joyful heart will be contagious to others, so be willing to have fun with the families and celebrate life and the Lord with them!  
  5. Find good partners in ministry. There are tons of resources, curricula, and experts that would love to help you with your ministry. I am excited to be a church partner for LifeWay because I get to go into churches and help them reach more people than ever before. No leader should ever feel alone, because God has plenty of workers for His harvest. Get help, and be happy that God gave you these resources! 

There you have it. Many of the principles can be applied across to other ministries, but all of them should be considered before getting into the structure of a ministry. Hope these principles helped you as they have helped me. 

In Christ, 

Pastor Fran 

6 Thoughts on the Power of the Resurrection

  1. Christianity without the resurrection is dead. Literally. Paul wrote plainly, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). Death without a raising of the dead would have made Christ a liar and a fraud, however, life after the cross makes Him Lord.
  2. The resurrection resolves the death of the Messiah. This is why we place so much effort on Resurrection Sunday. Good Friday must have Resurrection Sunday, for Christ’s victory over death is shown to the world. Just as the second to the last note on a song needs to be resolved by the final note, so did the cross.
  3. The resurrection fulfills prophecy. Our Jesus was predicted to bear our stripes and atone for the sins of the world. Isaiah 53, Psalm 22-24, and others point us to the cross and the resurrection. No one could intricately plan these events apart from God.
  4. The resurrection is our power. We have a great High Priest in heaven preparing for us (see John 14:1-6). He was raised by the power of God, will be returning in power, and will raise His people as He promised by this same power. Imagine this: if you are in Christ, God’s power is graciously going to raise you to be with Him!
  5. The resurrection is our hope. Our hope is entirely dependent on the resurrection. A few days ago, I got to speak with a dear saint in her 90’s just before she passed. Her words: “I’m at peace and waiting for my golden chariot to come get me.” She is now with Christ. Without the resurrection, none of us can have this hope as we have no example of the raising of the dead.
  6. The resurrection is our life. While pagans serve dead gods made of stone, wood, or their imagination, our God is a living God. Over 500 witnesses saw Christ after He arose, and these eyewitnesses were willing to tell of what they saw, even if this meant death. Because for them and hopefully for you, death means life.

Think over these things as you enter worship this morning. His resurrection is powerful as He is risen, indeed!

Pastor Fran 

Four Ways to Connect With God: 3) Love With All Your Strength

Like several people I know, I track my steps on my phone. The reason for this is so I can make sure that I don’t sit too long and miss out on a daily routine of staying active. I also work out, and though my schedule has changed, I am working on trying to get a routine where I can can get into my favorite place on a regular basis and sweat for an hour or so. These are important things to me, because being physically fit will in theory let me be around longer to enjoy life, my family, and worship here on earth. 

To love God with all your strength means to be present with Him daily. It means that you are willing to physically follow through with what your head and heart has said is true. I come to worship, I read my Bible, I pray, but I don’t just do it, I do it with all my attention and focus. In other words, being present with God is an intentional, disciplined act of love. 

I think that this is seen so much in scripture. Think about Abraham’s sacrifice in moving his family to a land God was to show him. Think about the physical love shown by Rahab as she hid the spies then hung the thread out her window. Think most of all, about the example of Jesus, hung on a cross willingly, in agony, in glory. Think about it and your physical sacrifice that you can do for Him as an act of love. 

Pray for God to show you a way to focus on Him today. I know that He can show it! 

In Him, 

Fran

Four Ways You Can Connect with God

Jesus, in answering a lawyer’s question, affirmed in Luke 10:27 that you are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and will all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” These two great commandments, He would also say in Matthew 22:40, “depend all of the Law and the prophets.”

bible-2167776_640This is huge, to say the least! I see so many different dimensions to these commands. First, we interact with God on the four levels of heart, soul, mind, and strength. In the same way, we interact with people on these four levels. For example, when one of these four levels in a marriage relationship is broken, the relationship suffers like a four-cylinder car running on three. This is why every relationship should be healthy emotionally, spiritually, physically, and even cognitively (the mind).

For my next few posts, I am going to spend time on how you can love God and people more in each of these areas on a daily basis. Keep in mind that no one is going to perfectly love God and people, but if you sincerely desire to put on love, you can do this greater today than you did yesterday, and tomorrow more than you did today!

Next: Love with All Your Heart

Fran

 

To My Beloved Church Family…

About three weeks ago, I received a phone call to see if I was open to discussing a possibility of serving in a full-time position that would involve ministering to churches and pastors throughout the Upper Midwest region of our country. Although I was not at all looking to leave Mt. Healthy, I did want to be faithful and seek the Lord’s leading in this. After several helpful conversations, Teresa and I took the time to pray, read the Word, seek advice, and again, seek His leading through more prayer. Ultimately, I felt God reminding me that my life is not mine to live, and whatever I do, I must be faithful to go enthusiastically to where ever He leads.

My brothers and sisters, it has become clear to me that God is leading me to serve Him in this new ministry. In this capacity, I will have the chance to serve and love on hundreds of pastors and churches in several states throughout the Upper Midwest. I will have the chance to focus on disciple making and a chance to affect thousands of lives with the gospel. As you can imagine, this is an amazing and exciting opportunity to see many, many lives being changed by the Lord!

That said, leaving you is not easy. Teresa and I love you as our family and we struggled with our decision to leave! You can Worshiptake comfort that I am not leaving with any negative feelings whatsoever- I am not mad, upset, pressured, or angry in any way. To the contrary: I am leaving with the joy of the Lord and with my gratitude and love for you! I can truly say that it’s been nine wonderful, memorable, uplifting years of fulfilling the gospel work!

As I prepare to finish my last Sunday on April 2nd, I want to share some words of encouragement. First, be assured that both the deacons and church staff have already begun planning for this time of transition so that everything can run as smoothly as possible during this interim period. Your leaders need your confidence, prayers, and cooperation during this time. You have wonderful, godly leaders who love the Lord and His church, so trust them!

Second, know that I will be your biggest cheerleader and greatest prayer partner. I am already praying for you as you seek the Lord for a new pastor, and I have already begun to pray for him as you receive him in love. In the same way, please pray for Teresa and me as we serve Christ in this new way. It will be an honor to love on our sister churches and pastors as I help them to serve Christ more fully.

Thank you, my beloved church family, for these past nine years. I will always treasure this time of our sweet blessings and steadfastness in Christ. I love you all. Watch this blog for updates of God at work in and through this new ministry for us. May the Lord bless you and may the Lord bless the gospel work of His church!

In Christian love,

Pastor Fran

Thirsty Thursday: Why the Gospel was never about you

What I read: Chronological Reading for the week (selections from Jeremiah and Ezekiel) has been completed early, so I am reading various devotionals from Spurgeon, Calvin, and praying through the Psalms. This is my reaction to some of my reading. 

I’ve been a Christian for over thirty years and have been in ministry in churches for almost twenty two years. In my short time, I’ve seen my share of victories, praises, and mountain top experiences. I’ve also seen my share of discouragement, sadness, and apparent defeats. I’ve seen churches do amazing, wonderful things in the unity of the Spirit of Christ and yet I’ve seen churches act like the wandering people of Israel while they blindly followed a false god of their own desires.

However, one obvious but often forgotten truth that I have seen and read over the years is abundantly clear: the gospel, lived and expressed in His people, is always to be about God and His glory. Just think: we as believers in Christ look forward to the day when we will see Christ face to face, when we as every tribe and tongue will bring praise and glory to His name. We know that the One whom we do not see now will be seen, and we will experience the joy of joyous praises as we enjoy God forever. At that time, the gospel will be fully fulfilled and fully Christ focused, as the heavens and the earth will willingly and eternally declaring the glory of God. It will be a wonderful, amazing time!

Of course, while here in our flesh, we all have a whole lot to go in truly capturing a clear, Christ-focused man-888591_1280expression of the gospel. For example, the gospel was never meant to be about people in a self-serving, self-centered proposition. Christ didn’t die on the cross so people can lackadaisically just “get in” the gates of Heaven. He didn’t offer eternal life so some can just say the right words or pray the right prayer or even speak the language of Zion, or so churchgoers can be what is culturally defined as a “good Christian.”And the gospel is definitely not about extending institutional hypocrisy, or getting wrapped up in the complex, disgusting world of internal church politics, with ungodly preferences as justified by traditions and legalism. No, Jesus did not die on the cross for the things of earth to continue, because Jesus’ gospel is a call to a new life, a life free of wicked deed of the flesh, a life lived for Christ and only Christ.

And maybe this is harsh, but sooner or later each of us must come to realize that we are not the center of the universe: the planets are not circling over each of our heads and the sun does not constantly and dramatically shine on your face in a radiant, angelic like beam. The gospel has never been and never will be about you or me. Instead, we are vile, sinful, and depraved beings who throw mud on and trample on the cross daily, often willingly. And while we draw ourselves into some grand story where we are somehow the main characters in it, the reality is that the true gospel story has always been about Christ, and we should be forever thankful to be able to be a small part of it. With this same idea, Psalm 84:10 says, “I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.”

This is why God’s grace is so awe inspiring. Because of His grace, you and I are created in the imago dei, loved by the Creator and are able to hear, see, and respond to the gospel. Our response, then, needs to be nothing less than a life of complete adoration for Christ and His Kingdom. Money, power, comfort, and even our own lives comes second to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, compared to Jesus, these things shouldn’t even come close.

Let me encourage you to check your own walk while I check mine. No longer should we claim to receive a gracious gift for eternity yet live like it is all about us. No longer should we follow Christ with our mouths and yet willingly place our possessions, comfort, self-centeredness, and our egos above Him. Fellow Christian, it’s time to repent, time to recommit and time to change this thinking. Let’s make this change: as a coheir in Christ, ours is the Kingdom forever, so let me challenge you to live as a citizen of Heaven while traveling this journey on earth!

In Christ Alone,

Pastor Fran

Spiritual but not Religious…5 Reasons Not to Write off the Church

We’ve all heard it: “Yeah, uh, I’m spiritual, but you know, um, I’m just not religious, know what I mean?”
church-233564_640
Uh, no. Not really.

When we hear this sort of talk, it might seem somewhat profound. But first of all, let me be clear that being spiritual means to be at one with the Spirit of God, not some far off, nebulous mystical concept of self-defined happiness. Yet even assuming that the Holy Spirit is the context, with all this talk now and in the past about bad church experiences, the idea of giving up on the church might even seem an attractive thought. I mean, can’t you be Spiritual without being religious?

Well, yes and no. If you mean be in tune with the Spirit of Christ and reject hypocrisy in the church while staying in the church, well sure. I’m right there with you. As a pastor who has been in ministry for over two decades now, I’ve seen my share of ugly. And ugly is, well, sinful and shameful. Hey, there’s plenty of comfort loving, sin dwelling, pride filling, molehill making people who call themselves Christians to make grown men cry in a business meeting…and sometimes they do!

But if being Spiritual without being religious means to stay away from the church, then you are missing the mark on this one. Here’s a few reasons why we need not write off the church:

  1. We are all sinners. Hypocrisy in the church has and always will be, simply because sin will be until the Day of Christ. In fact, anyone who claims to be free of the struggle with sin is being dishonest. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There. We’re all hypocrites in some way.
  2. We are the Bride of Christ. Yep, sometimes an ugly bride, but the bride nonetheless. Jesus died for this bride! And as the bride, we are called to grow to be more like Christ, both individually and corporately. One day, all this will come to pass and we as believers will be invited to the Bridegroom’s wedding feast (Rev 19:7).
  3. We are One in Christ. I pastor a multiethnic, multigenerational church, a people who put away the labels of Black, White, Democrat, Republican, Rich, Poor, Young, Old, etc. We might have come from different cultures, but in Christ we are one new humanity (Eph 2:15).
  4. We are all partakers of grace. Christ in His death on the cross was an act of grace. Salvation is a gift of grace (Eph 2:8-9). Our sanctification is through God’s grace (Rom 8:29). And our love for one another must abound in grace and love (1 Pt 4:10). In fact, the church is at its finest when it is a beacon of grace to the world.
  5. We are better together. Ministry is given to, partaken in, and poured out through the church. God’s plans are realized through the church. He commended and corrected the church (see Rev 1-3). Though the church (the people) are far from perfect, the bible is clear: we are all pilgrims in this journey, and as we serve one another (Phil 2:2), we are better together!

Obviously, these are some reasons to still love the church and I’d love to hear more from you. The point is, I’m not writing off the church, and I pray that you won’t either.

My point: love the Bride of Christ as Jesus does!

A Devotion: What to Do…

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. – Romans 7:15, 19

adam-and-eve-798376_960_720No one is immune from the peril of sin. Satan, that father of lies, the thief who came to kill and destroy, continues to attack every human being. Ever since the temptation and Fall in the Garden, the addiction to sin has continued, and all humanity has been held captive by the evil one. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard (Rom 3:23), all have been led astray (Isaiah 53:6), all have walked in this transgression and sin in rebellion against God (Eph 2:1-3). The wickedness of sin wages war in the soul to rebel against the Creator God. Just like in Paul’s example here, we desire to do the right things yet we do the opposite. How horrific and cruel sin has been!

But praise God for His grace! Praise God for His mercy! Praise God for His salvation! The forces of Hell have already been defeated by the King of kings and Lord of lords. This freedom from sin, born through the cross, has transformed the victim into the victor, the rebel into the redeemed, and the lost into the liberated!

Fellow sinner, take heart: if you are in Christ, you are no longer condemned. This is why Paul just a few verses later wrote the ultimate truth of our condition in Romans 8:1, “there is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” Be comforted: the Bible is full of promises that the Holy Spirit will protect, guide, and even open a way out of the temptations that come. You don’t need to surrender to the temptation. Instead, His grace is sufficient, so rely on His strength, look to His Spirit, and live for His glory!

Pastor Fran

Why Fast?

This weekend, our church on the hill here in Cincinnati is going to pray and fast for 48 hours. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for our church to do this, as we are at a major crossroads in the 60 year history of our church.

You see, our community has been changing for quite some time. Families have moved north and east of our area. Poverty has been on the rise. Single parents have become the largest demographic in our area. Add in the state of our postmodern nation and it’s easy to see the challenges that our church has faced.

logochurchBut, wow, how God has blessed us! He’s led our church to adapt and become a multiethnic, multi-generational church. He’s connected our church family with the community through many of our outreach efforts and events. He’s opened doors for the gospel through a revitalized Passion Play, through our new Food Pantry, and through the faithful sharing of the Good News at every opportunity. And the worship services have been nothing short of inspiring and life changing as new believers have come to Christ and several have recommitted their lives to serve Christ more fully in our response time to the Word!

So why fast and pray? We do this to seek the Lord to do something beyond what we can do naturally. You see, if we only operate within the confines of what we can do naturally, there’s no faith in that! After all, how does God get the glory when we make plans that we can do and do work that we can do, when we have all the power and strength of what God can do?!? For this reason, I am eager and excited to have us enter in this time of fasting and prayer.

That said, here are some things to pray for:

  • Our vision and our vision team- we are awaiting a report from a consultant and going through a process of evaluating and innovating our church ministries. Nothing is off the table, and most importantly, everything needs to be before the Lord!
  • Our staff and our search team- in our need to fully staff our church, we have a search team looking to fill a position related to the children and family ministry. We need to have Spirit led wisdom and direction for the team.
  • Our love for the gospel and community- our community is desperate for the love and truth of Jesus Christ! Please pray and seek how God might shape our hearts to share the life changing gospel with all we see.

I hope and pray that you will be a participant in this emphasis. We will be starting the fast at 9:15 am Friday and finishing at our Sunday 9:15 am Bible Study, where EVERYONE (men, women, and children) will be eating, fellowshipping, and participating in a Bible study together. I am expecting that God will continue to do spectacular things at our church, so let’s see what else He has in store that will magnify His name!

Pastor Fran

But I just want to be happy, right?!?

On a recent episode of a cooking competition show, one of the contestants spoke about how he has recently made a major life choice for his own happiness. He explained that in this quest to be happy, he left his wife, then brought his three children together with his partner’s three children, thus creating what he called the “gay Brady Bunch.” On the same show, another contestant had just lost his wife to cancer, but was urged on by his children to enter the cooking competition in her honor. There were plenty of moments during this episode where tears streamed down his face as he grieved and remembered his wife. Both men were excellent cooks, and both men seemed like genuinely nice guys. Yet I was amazed at the contrast: while one man willingly left his wife, maintaining that he just wanted to “be happy,” the other man, still obviously in grief, probably would have given anything to touch, hold, even speak to his wife one more time.

Our culture is full of people who are happy addicts. People say all the time that they simply they just want to be happy, that they deserve to be happy, and that they should be able to live any way that they want so that they can be happy.  It’s in our Declaration of Independence, it’s been in popular songs by Pharell, Bobby McFerrin, and others, and it’s used in popular commercial slogans- heck, even McDonald’s has a Happy Meal for kids, right? Well, sure. It’s pretty loud and clear that we should and can be happy. After all, just do the right thing or buy the right thing or act a certain way and you too, can be happy.

And so, we have a culture of people who are obsessed with “being happy.” With the attention span of the length of a Tweet, happy addicts are constantly trying to hook onto something new to find a way to get and stay happy. After all, happiness comes and goes, and these things don’t last, so when the feelings of happiness leave (and they always do), these addicts desperately seek another way to be happy. They do things like purchase something new, or find a new boyfriend or girlfriend, or coyly seek attention on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumbler. In other words, they are miserably happy, but never satisfied.

Beyond this, these happy addicts fail to see how harmful their happiness addiction can be. For example, in the case of the contestant who left his wife, I wonder if his wife was happy about his turning her world upside down in the name of “being happy.” Or what about the endless job seeker, working in one place for a short period of time until the honeymoon period disappears, then looks for another job so he or she can be happy- doesn’t this harm the family that they support? Of course, these examples aren’t something that matters to the happy addict, and for this reason, I would argue that the happy addict is often nothing more than a selfish, rebellious, and idolatrous narcissist.

This should not be so. The selfish quest for “being happy” is no different from the lies told in the Garden of Eden: the temptation to be like God is in itself a grab for power, eternity, and self-seeking happiness. While of course, God wants us to be happy, we are first to be happy in Him, since He alone is the source of all joy, happiness, and peace. Being happy will not harm others with the consequences of selfishness. Being happy can and won’t ever conflict with being moral, or being godly, or being a follower of Jesus. It is also infinitely more satisfying than anything we have here on earth, because when we follow Him, we have a joy that is supernatural.  1 Peter 3:10–12 (NLT) says:

“If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.”

In other words, “being happy” is going to go beyond the temporary. Being happy is not going to be good, moral, and show an unselfish love. It is an eternal happiness that is directed at God.

Are you a happy addict? You can change that! Turn from that and taste the real joy found in Jesus Christ- look to God and live happily for Him, as He is our joy and our strength!

Pastor Fran