Staying Alive

John writes Jesus’ message to the Church at Sardis, “The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. (Revelation 3:1-2)”

I do not want to be a Sardis. Not as a Church and not as an individual Christian.  I want to stay alive and useful to Christ. I know Paul says that ” . . .  to die is gain.” But I recall that he was talking about physical life and reaching the goal of heaven. The death I do not want is to die spiritually.  The death I do not want for the Church, specifically congregations that I have been blessed to be a part of, is to cease to exist. I do not want to see Leonard Street, Calhoun, Pine Street (a.k.a. Bay Minette), Pine Lake (a.k.a. Niceville), Parrish, or Central slowly ceasing to exist.  In full disclosure, I do not want any single congregation of God’s people to die, even those I am less familiar with.  Yet statistically, the kingdom of Christ is losing congregations and members.  There may be slow growth, but it lags behind population growth and therefore is actually decline. (I am not a statistician or a church growth research specialist, I only know what I keep reading and it does not look good.)

Because of this concern, I am reading what I can on this trend and what to do to reverse it.  Yesterday, I read “Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive” by Thom S. Rainer.  This book contains the combined “autopsies” of 14 churches of various denominations in various locations. Fourteen does not make this little book a deeply researched volume, but does reveal trends.  Fourteen bodies would be enough for a medical examiner to find a similar cause of death or to warn of an epidemic. The book only took about forty-five minutes to read through and I found some good advice in the final chapters. This advice was what to do to prevent your congregation (church) from dying, even if she is beginning to show symptoms of disease. Of the twelve things he shares, I share seven with you.  Seven – sounds like a Biblical number. Seven, that I am looking for ways to implement in my life as a Christian and encourage you to implement as well. Seven, that I want to see the Church of Christ put into practice. Seven ways we can again be about the mission of God in Christ. Understanding that the church is simply the assembled (called out) of the world brings the realization that to make changes in a congregation starts with her members, and that means you and me. In other words, this is not what “they” need to do at the church, this is what I should do as a member of Christ’s Church. 

  1. Pray! Pray that my eyes are open to the opportunities I have to reach into the community where the congregation is located.
  2. Audit Time! Take an honest audit of where I spend my time being involved. Simultaneously, take a look at the congregation where I serve and see if we are inwardly or outwardly focused as individuals and as a group.
  3. Audit Finances! Take a look at where I spend my money. Am I egocentric in my spending? Take a look at the congregation,  Is the budget appropriately balanced between self-serving and outreach ministry?
  4. Serve! Make plans as an individual and as a congregation to serve and evangelize the community in which the building is located.
  5. Pray Again! Pray for wisdom and strength to do what is necessary to reach those in need of salvation through Christ.
  6. Change! Change what needs to change from your audits to better align you with God’s plan.
  7. Commit to actions that focus on others (other individuals and those outside the church).

– Scott

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What Do We Know About

This morning on the way to the study, Lisa Mason on Birmingham’s 106.9 FM had the following “nearly impossible trivia:” –

The average person does this 15 to 20 times a month.  Most answers varied between eating out and washing hair. The correct answer was . . . drum roll please . . . quote lines from movies.

I started thinking. Do I know more movie lines than I do Bible passages? As a preacher, I hope the answer is, “No.” But I do quote movies, especially “The Princess Bride” a lot.  So I want to give you a test.  There are twenty fill-in-the-blank questions.  The odd ones are from movies and the even ones are Bible verses.  Which do you know best?  Don’t cheat on either one – no Googling, no Bibles or Bible apps.  Use your memory. Bonus point if you know the book, chapter and verse.

  1. “I’m going to make him an _______________ he can’t refuse.”
  2. “In the ________________ God created the heavens and the earth.”
  3. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in _________________ anymore.”
  4. “You shall have no other _____________ before Me.”
  5. “Go ahead, make my ________________.”
  6. ” . . . _______________ this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
  7. “E.T. ________________ home.”
  8. “The Lord is my ________________; I shall not want.”
  9. “Round up all the usual _____________________.”
  10. “_____________ God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
  11. “You’re gonna need a _________________ boat.”
  12. “My people are ______________ for a lack of knowledge.”
  13. “Houston, we have a ____________________.”
  14. “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who _________ the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
  15. Stricker: “Surely you can’t be serious.” Rumack: “I am serious and don’t call me _______________”
  16. “But seek __________ the kingdom of God and his righteousness . . .”
  17. “I feel the need, the need for _________________”
  18. “For in Christ we are all children of God by _______. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
  19. “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, ______________ to die.”
  20. “If we have died with him; we will also ____________ with him;”

So, how did you do?

– Scott

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A Needy Family or Not

Every family has certain needs.  That is a “no-brainer.” Some of these needs are basic physical needs such as: food, clothing,11076261_10204996389362588_295757434754120591_n and shelter.  In the aftermath of earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, and flooding rivers these basic needs are in an immediate state – people need these needs met as soon as possible.

Yet there are other needs that disasters cannot take away.  One lady in our area had this to say the second day after a storm, “I have everything I need.”  What you need to know is that this lady lost her entire home and much of what her and her husband collected over the last 50 years.  What did she mean, when she said, “I have everything I need”?

I think she may have had the following needs in mind:

  1. Love:  A family cannot survive without love.  In speaking to the spiritual family of God in Rome, the apostle Paul states: “Outdo one another in showing honor”  Rom 12:10.  That is love in action!
  2. Commitment:  A family will not cope with tragedy of any kind if there is no commitment to each other.  There is a reason most marriages include the phrase “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.”  That reason includes our human need for someone to remain committed to us even when life turns against us.  Again the apostle Paul has something to say about this, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).  Commit to each other.
  3. Togetherness: Families need time together.  This time can be as simple as sitting around a dinner table, cozied up to a fire in cold weather, playing games together, or as complicated as a family vacation to a theme park or national park.  Togetherness promotes trust, demonstrates care and support, and speaks of our love.

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Xenolith Christians

I recently learned (or remembered from high school geology) that a rock that has a different origin than the igneous rock in which

image via: commons.wikipedia.org

image via: commons.wikipedia.org

it is embedded is a xenolith. The picture to the right of this text shows what a xenolith looks like.  As magma flows, it collects other objects including rocks. When that magma cools becoming a igneous rock, the material it collected becomes embedded in the rock and to the observer is part of the overall igneous rock. It just stands out. The xenolith is different.

When I read the description of a xenolith I began thinking about some statements in Scripture about followers of Christ. There are ways that as Christians we are similar to xenoliths.

  • Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
  • John 17:14, ” . . . they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
  • Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,”
  • 1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

We are not the same as the world. We are to be different. The world should see that difference and realize that we do not belong.

This comparison becomes more interesting to me when I consider that the beauty of an igneous rock is not the magma that cooled, but the xenoliths that give the igneous rock its attractive characteristics. We as Christians can be a saving influence on the world (salt) giving the world a certain beauty. To do this, we cannot just sit in the pew and sing songs of longing for heaven or of our love for Christ, we must be in the world benevolently working to bring our fellow sinners to Grace found in the blood of Christ.

– Scott

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How to Help the Church

#bealight

First let me emphatically say that this post is NOT about money! This post is about you and the church, specifically the congregation of God’s people that you assemble with.

Where you assemble to worship is probably similar to Central, where we attend and where I preach.  We are a good group of people.  We are active in our faith and are decent folk.  But like you, we can be better.  I put some thought to this idea of congregational self-improvement and I have a few suggestions on how we can all Help Our Individual Church Family Grow.

  1. We Can Live Pure Lives. The local congregation needs to have the respect of the community it is in.  That level of respect lies squarely upon the shoulders of each member.  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, (Titus 2:11-12).
  2. We Can Be Friendly. Each visitor needs to feel welcome.  They should see we appreciate them and love them. Such a realization will make them want to return.  Do not stand back and let someone else greet visitors — you be one of the first.  The Hebrew writer says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Heb 13:2).”
  3. We Can Give Our Full Support to the Leaders.  Effective leaders are a great blessing to any congregation of God’s family.  None can progress without faithful and efficient leaders, and as members we can make or break our leadership.  Again from the Hebrew writer we learn, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb 13:17).”
  4. We Can Promote Unity. Peter gives us a formula for unity in 1 Pet 3:8-12,Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’ ” The unity formula is: Unity of mind, sympathy for each other, brotherly love, having a tender heart, having an humble mind, Not being vindictive, and blessing each other.
  5. We Can Work Hard at Being a Soul-Saver. This is as simple as letting your non-Christian friends and family know why you are a Christian and how you came to Christ.  Remember the wise preacher tells us, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise. (Prov 11:30).

#Contagiouschurch

Keep Growing  for the Lord.
– Scott

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Raining in Heaven

Is there Basketball in Heaven?

A  few years ago on a rainy day I was checking my PO Box. A young mother and her little boy (about 3 years old) walked in. She looked at me with telling eyes that said she recognized me. I do not know if she knew me by reputation, this was a small town, or if she knew who I was from the television program I spoke on. But she turned to her child and said, “You can ask him, he will know, he’s a preacher.” I mentally braced for a profound question. I squatted down to his eye level to invite the question. I expected a question about Noah, the flood, why did God create rain, but I was not however ready for the one he asked. “When its raining here, is it raining where God is?”

Wow! How do I answer that? Here is what flashed through my mind before I answered:

  • “No, God is light, it never rains in heaven. Heaven is always bright and sunny like a nice early summer day.”
  • “Yes, God is everywhere, so when it rains here, since He is here with us, it is raining where He is.”

I was confused myself. How could I answer this little budding theologian?

I replied, “That is a great question. I have never thought about that, thanks for asking me.” I know I did not satisfy his curiosity. I know, I did not really answer his question.  But I had never thought about that before.

I would spend the next 30 minutes thinking about it still bouncing between the two answers.

When it rains here, does it rain where God is? Then it hit me, that a “grown-up” version of the question is: “When I as a child of God am feeling down, does God hurt with me?” To this child, rain was a bad thing. It would keep him from going outside, playing in the park, and the lightning and thunder were scary. He was hurting and wanted to know if God was hurting with Him.

The answer is 1 Peter 5:6-7, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

God cares! He cares about our greatest need – the guilt and burden of sin – so much that He did not even spared His Son to pay our debt (cf Rom 8:32). If God takes care of the greatest need, why should I doubt that He understands and cares for our daily needs and hurts? Remember the words of the psalmist, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” (Psa 46:1-3).

Thank you, Father, for Your loving, compassionate, eternal care!

– Scott

(Long time readers may recognize these events from March 2009).

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What is – – – Who Are the Church?

102_6566The Church is a group of individual Christians drawn together by a common faith in Jesus as Christ (Messiah) for worship and service. The Church is a free fellowship, that is, her members are those who choose to be members. Her members wear only the name of Christian, but do not claim to be all that such a name represents.

Each congregation is a free, independent, self-governing body (elders chosen from the congregation), ruled by Christ alone as head. The Church has no earthly headquarters, no ruling council, synod, or congress. As autonomous the Church is free to study, teach, and work as the Bible directs our individual and collective conscience. (It is my personal prayer, that all who consider themselves Christians and churches will throw off denominational divisions and remove all barriers of fellowship created by man’s preferences and come to unity in the Faith that is in Christ alone.)

The Church serves and worships as she understands the Scriptures to teach.

  • As we see the apostles and early church celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Communion) each Lord’s Day, we do the same (Act 20:7).
  • As we read in scripture of singing being the form of praise to God, we choose to sing without the addition of manmade musical instruments (Eph 5:18-19; Col 3:16).
  • Prayers are from the heart, directed to God who is the power that answers prayer (Eph 6:18).
  • In our worship time is set aside for the heralding of the Good News and God’s will. (Act 2:42).
  • In our individual and corporate lives we seek to always live for God (Col 3:17).

I would like to take time to study more with you about Christ and His Church.

– Scott

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