“This Place is Incredible!”

Just the other day, as I was sitting with my laptop, sipping on some black gold, doing some research for an upcoming sermon series, a woman came bursting through the doors obviously excited about what she had just experienced, saying something to the effect, “Wow! This place is incredible!  I have driven by here on many occasions, but never stopped in to see what this place was all about. But today, I decided to try you guys out for the first time, and all I can say is wow!  You can bet that I’ll be coming back here on a regular basis.”

What created such an expression of newfound joy and excitement in this woman?  Well, I wish I could say it was a church… but it wasn’t. It was the local Starbucks. Apparently this woman was quite impressed with the product, and felt compelled enough to share her good news with anyone who would care to listen!

To be honest, it made me think… and ask the question, “When was the last time anyone came bursting through the doors of our church with that kind of excitement and enthusiasm about their experience?” Unfortunately, statistics show that the American Church is in severe decline, which tells me that this is not happening as often as it should!

Now, don’t get me wrong here… I love coffee and all, which is well documented around the church that I pastor, but come on, it still does not compare to the life that God has planned for us! 

In John 10:10, check out these words from Jesus:

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT).

Why is it then that churches all over the country are serving people the Good News packaged in all kinds of religious trappings and “traditions of men,” only to produce nothing but spiritual death and apathy… ultimately causing a greater divide between the “sinner and the Savior” and ultimately alienating  ourselves from the very ones who need to hear this Good News!

Jesus spoke to this in his earthly ministry when confronted by the religious leaders of His day in Mark 7:5-8:

So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”  6 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,    ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ 8 For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.”

Interestingly enough, Starbucks mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit. We believe one of the most important contributions we can make is to serve as a catalyst for positive, relevant change in the communities where we do business” (see www.starbucks.com).

You see, Starbucks is selling more than just a good cup of coffee; they are also selling an experience, designed in part to impact local communities for “positive, relevant change.”

Here’s a thought… perhaps the church could learn a little something from Starbucks in how to carry out our mission to make a positive impact in the community in which it finds itself… as we set out to communicate the relevant message of Christ, and all that He has done to secure the “full life” for each and every single person within our reach. 

Who knows, perhaps in fulfilling Jesus’ mission for His Church and allowing people to have a genuine experience with God, unhindered by man-made traditions, we too just might have people bursting through our doors exclaiming, “Wow!  This place is incredible!” not necessarily because of the coffee we serve (although that certainly doesn’t hurt 😉 )… but because of the tangible Presence of the Lord that they sense when they walk through our doors!  Well, it’s just a thought…  

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Living in the Spirit

The church that I pastor has recently embarked on a new journey together in which every department (Kids, Youth, and Adults) is studying Dr. George O. Wood’s book “Living in the Spirit.”   This is an incredible resource that will encourage all who read it to grow in their understanding of Who the Holy Spirit is… and what He wants to do in and through their lives!

One passage of Scripture that I find myself gravitating to on a regular basis is Galatians 5:16-18 which says,

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The apostle Paul penned these words nearly two-thousand years ago, but they remain just as powerful, and relevant, and applicable to us today as when he first wrote them!  In order to live the victorious life that Christ intends for us, we must learn to yield ourselves to the Spirit’s leading and influence. The problem is that this is easier said than done! 

Being “led by the Spirit” literally means to be directed by, or governed by Him in every facet of life. Therein lies the implications of Galatians 5:16, “…live by the Spirit.”  The fullness of the Holy Spirit is not merely intended for “the more important things in life”; it is not only for ministry moments at church; nor is it only for the “thrills and chills” at a Pentecostal altar… The fullness of the Spirit is intended to impact every area of our lives! 

With that in mind, the main question that we focused on our first week in this series was,  “Who is the Holy Spirit to Me?”  Now be very careful how you answer this question, for how you answer may determine your response level to the Spirit’s leading in your life. You see, if you merely consider the Holy Spirit to be a resource, a tool, some cosmic energy force at your disposal, or an inanimate object that can be turned on or off at the flick of a switch, you may be less inclined to feel the need to “obey” the Spirit’s leading, since there is no personal relationship involved with energy, or a source of power . However, if you truly see the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Godhead, Who really can be known, and Who desires to have a relationship with you, I believe that you may actually be more inclined to follow His direction and leading, since it is usually more difficult to ignore or disobey Someone you love! 

So, ask yourself… “Who is the Holy Spirit to me?”  Your answer may be revealing.

Don’t Quit!

Have you ever wanted to give up? Quit? Throw in the towel? Crawl back in bed and pull the covers over your head so as not face another day filled with disappointments and letdowns? If so, you’re in good company.

Knowing the human tendency to want to quit in the face of adversity, Sir Winston Churchill, speaking at a commencement ceremony, gave one of the shortest speeches ever recorded… He walked up to the podium to address the graduates, and looked out over the vast crowd and simply said:

“Never give in! Never give in! Never! Never! Never! Never! In anything great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

Good words of encouragement.  The Bible is filled with examples of men who felt like giving up:

  • Abraham, when faced with a famine and a poor economy went south, leaving the land of promise and moving to Egypt. By leaving the Promised Land, he also risked forsaking God’s blessing.
  • Moses, growing frustrated with the complaints of the children of Israel asked God to take his life… He literally said, “If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin” (Numbers 11:15).
  • Elijah, on the heels of the greatest victory in his ministry, ran in terror into the wilderness to escape Queen Jezebel’s henchmen.  He prayed to God that he might die when he prayed these words, “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died” (1 Kings 19:4, NLT).
    • We are talking about Moses and Elijah here… two of the most prominent figures in Israel’s history, yet they both encountered periods of deep discouragement and times when they wanted to quit!
  • Peter, who walked on the water, later on returned to his fishing business after denying Jesus three times. In fact, all of the disciples except John forsook Jesus at the cross and fled.
  • Jesus Himself wanted to quit. The night He was betrayed, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, and in deep distress and anguish He prayed, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  In other words, Jesus was saying, “Father, I don’t want to go to the cross. I want to quit!  But I would rather do Your will, Father!”

So, there is good reason why the Scriptures encourage us to persevere as believers…

Hebrews 10:36
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised (NIV).

James 1:12
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (NIV).

Hebrews 12:1 exhorts us with the following… “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (NIV).

May every single one of us run the race marked out for us with determination and perseverance, for “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4, NIV).

Whatever you do… Don’t Quit!