SOUTHEASTERN BOUND (and Successful Parenting)

Kelsey's acceptance letter

My oldest daughter, Kelsey, received her acceptance letter in the mail recently from Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. She sent me a text with the photo (shown to the left) of the letter with a pendent included, and, well, I paused for a moment to reflect on this good news as tears welled up in my eyes.

Ask anybody that knows me very well and they’ll tell you that I don’t cry… ever (well, I did cry one time when my favorite team lost in the final seconds of the big game, but that’s a another story for another day). But when I received Kelsey’s text that day with this exciting news… I cried. Yep, I admit it. I sat down in my chair behind my desk, and in that solitary moment of emotional reflection… a few crocodile tears welled up in my eyes as I tried to deal with the emotion that my baby girl was “officially” growing up.

I guess you could say my tears were a mixture of joy, sprinkled with a dash of pride, all colliding with the reality that my little princess would no longer be sleeping in her bed, under our roof, eating at our table, commandeering “my TV remote”… well you get the idea. Yep, it’s the stark reality that her mother and I now have to come to terms with that our oldest daughter is no longer our cute little princess, sitting on our laps, asking question after question, many times not even pausing long enough for us to answer, barreling down the highway of discovery. She is now a growing, beautiful young lady, full of passion, vision, dreams, creative ideas and plans for her life and… who also loves Jesus with all of her heart. By any definition, I would say that’s what true success looks like!

As Karine recently posted on her Facebook wall: “My greatest gifts to this world are Kelsey Cencebaugh, Ashley Cencebaugh, Rebekah Cencebaugh, and Andrew Cencebaugh. All four of you will be greatly used for and by God. What more could I ask for!”

What a treasure. What an accomplishment. What a gift. What a success in life!

If you are a parent who’s reading this post right now, I want to encourage you by saying, you are not defined as a successful parent based on how much money you make, how big your house is, how many cars you own or how many big screen TVs you have hanging on your walls. You are deemed successful as a parent when you lead your child into a growing relationship with Jesus! And once you have both taught and modeled what it means to be a growing follower of Jesus, you can send your children off into the big, scary, dark world without fear, knowing that you have dedicated them to the Lord; that His hand is upon them; and that the Holy Spirit is the best guardian you could ever ask for.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote:

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.

So, we are challenged, as parents, to supply our children with the basic faith essentials of helping them to find their roots in Jesus as their lives are being built on him, the very foundation of our faith.

Colossians 2:7 (NLT) says,

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught

Remember this…

True success in parenting is not measured so much by how our kids behave as by who they are becoming under our watchful care!  So, let’s lead them wisely… and then stand back and watch who they become and what they will accomplish for God’s glory!

Oh, by the way, grab some Kleenex… you’re gonna need it!



Web Sermon PageI love the Church. And I love the description of the Early Church as recorded in Acts 2:42-47. It gives us an inspiring vision of what the church CAN BE and SHOULD BE DOING when it submits itself to the authority of Jesus, who is the Head of the Church, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, who is the Helper of the Church, resourcing it with power to fulfill it’s mission. When the church is healthy and in biblical alignment, it is the most powerful, life-giving force anywhere! God’s divine plan is a healthy church that is uniquely designed for the broken and the hurting, for those who are believers and those who are far from God. In other words, a place for everyone.

My goal as a pastor is to model the church that I lead after this example, for I believe that an Acts 2 Church is A PLACE WHERE…

EVERYONE IS KNOWN. “All the believers were together and had everything in common. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:44, 46, NIV).

If you really want to get to know someone, just go out to eat with them. There’s just something about food that makes even the most private person become an open book. I mean, they will just start sharing things that you never knew about them, or they will “let their hair down” and you’ll begin to see who they really are, what’s underneath that mask they wear (by the way, keep in mind that we all have facades to some degree, but that’s for another blog ;-).

One of the greatest desires of people is it know and be known, to care and be cared for, to love and be loved, to celebrate and be celebrated. That’s the kind of community that the Acts 2 Church enjoyed, and I am convinced that the best way for us to replicate this experience today is through healthy Small Groups. We must work harder and be more intentional in getting people from sitting in rows (on a Sunday morning) to sitting in circles (anytime, any place in a Small Group setting).

An Acts 2 Church is also A PLACE WHERE…

EVERYONE IS SUPPORTIVE. “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need (Acts 2:45, NIV). The Acts 2 church was a deeply spiritual and deeply communal church. They combined resources and financially supported both MINISTRY (inward focus) and MISSION (outward focus), and did whatever they could to meet the needs around them.

EVERYONE IS SERVING. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11, NLT).

I love how Rick Warren put it, “We are saved to serve, not sit, sour, and sulk!” So true. Let’s encourage one another to find our place of service and then be diligent and faithful in that area!

Finally, an Acts 2 Church is A PLACE WHERE…

EVERYONE IS CHANGING. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47, NIV). The ultimate change in a person’s life is when they surrender their lives to the Lordship of Jesus, and that was the end-game for the Acts 2 Church–people being saved/changed by the power of the Gospel! That must be the church’s end-game as well.

May every believer reading this post see the vision for establishing a Spirit-empowered Acts 2 Church where the primary objective is to CONNECT OUR CULTURE TO CHRIST through grace-saturated, compassion ministries.  Perhaps then EVERYONE we touch with the Message of Jesus will feel more welcomed and the local church will truly be known as… A PLACE FOR EVERYONE!

The Power Force Invades Bethel!

What a great weekend with John Jacobs Power Force team! It was an incredible day filled with prophetic implications for Bethel as it was declared that 2015 was going to be a year of MOMENTUM. We have already been sensing this wave as God has been moving in tremendous ways in recent weeks as we continue to build a Bridge of Hope to the the homeless, the broken, the discouraged, and the hurting in our area.

Sunday evening’s power rally was totally mind-blowing as approximately 20 people came to the altar to surrender their lives to Christ (either for the very first time or rededicating). That was awesome! That is what Bethel is all about… life-change through the power of the Gospel and the anointing of the Holy Spirit!

John Jacobs EventOn a lighter note, I was also part of the demonstration of power as I allowed one of the guys to slam a full, unopened can of 7UP over my head… and no, IT WAS NOT RIGGED!  It was very real! There’s a video clip floating around the Internet that’s sure to pop up on your screen if you look hard enough for it 😉

Not only that, but our church (and several guests) gave over $5,500 to help get the Power Force into local schools in the coming weeks!!! All I can say is… Miraculous!

I want to encourage whoever is reading this to believe God for BREAKTHROUGH in your family, in your finances, and for your future! With God, all things are possible!

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” — 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NLT)

Raise Up A Child

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Andrew Cencebaugh 3If you’re a parent, you’ve probably referred back to this Scripture from Proverbs 22:6 many times, especially when you’re children do something really dumb or that drives you crazy… but that’s for another topic for another day.

While this Scripture is not necessarily a law, it is a strong principle from God’s Word that reminds us of our responsibility, as parents, that our first priority is to raise our children to love Jesus and to put Him first in their lives.

However, many who may be reading this entry right now are painfully aware that there are no guarantees. We may do everything right, modeling and leading our children on the right path of following Jesus, only for our kids to grow up and walk away from their faith that we have helped to instill in them through their early years. How does this happen? Simply put… Free will. Ultimately, each one of our kids will have to make their faith in Jesus personal; they will have to own it someday if it is ever going to endure.

You see, this reality is fresh on my mind because a couple weekends ago I had the awesome privilege of baptizing my son, making him the last of our Cencebaugh household to follow the Lord’s example in this wonderful experience. And just like the times that I baptized my three girls, I was once again overwhelmed with emotion and a deep sense of pride and gratitude as I led him through this moving encounter. It was a priceless moment that I will always remember and cherish… even as my own children grow older and begin to “walk on their own”, slowly but surely becoming more and more independent. My only prayer is “Lord, I trust that Karine and I have raised them right and that they have cultivated a faith that will endure.”

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 gives us some great steps to building this kind of strong family:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (NIV)

As you can see, it all begins with loving God with everything you’ve got, giving Him all of your passion, dedication and devotion. It all starts there.

We are also given some basic instructions as to how we can demonstrate our love for the Lord and building a solid Christian home. In verse 7, there are three golden opportunities that we can take advantage of and begin to apply every single day. But, I’m also a realist, and I understand that with today’s family schedules as they are, every single day may not be feasible. However, the following is a solid pattern. Let’s strive to instill “faith talk” in our families on a regular basis…

  1. at the dinner table,
  2. when you travel, and
  3. at bedtime.

This is a great way to raising children in “the way they should go” and creating a home that is filled with faith in God and love for one another. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Are You Mostly Dead?

Mostly DeadIf you’ve seen the Princess Bride, then you probably remember the classic scene where Inigo Montoya brings the lifeless body of his friend, Westley, to Miracle Max (played by Billy Crystal) in order to try to attempt to revive him. When Inigo tries to explain that his friend is dead, Miracle Max says, “No, he’s not dead, he’s only mostly dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.”

Simple, yet so profound. You see, the grim reality is that there are multitudes of people that are “mostly dead.” You possibly work with them, go to school with them, or live next door to them. They may be physically alive, but are spiritually dead. But God has a remedy!

That’s where the power of the Gospel comes in. Jesus said, 

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 (NLT)

This is the Message of Life and Hope that we have in Jesus! Those who are currently “mostly dead” still have hope. It’s the very reason He came. Here’s the deal:


That’s what he does best! He takes what appears to be an impossible situation (death) and miraculously turns it around (life). That’s why He made this declaration:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” John 11:25 (NLT)

One of the most alarming realities is the fact that there are those who think they are alive, but are in reality dead. This can be seen in one of the growing sub-cultures of our day which is commonly referred to as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Many churches have even allowed this philosophy to creep into their teachings.

In a nutshell, MTD is a religious brand that seeks to be morally centered, pursuing a happy, pain-free life, and loving God from a distance, just comfortably enough to be loosely associated with Him (or church). It’s a reformatted version of religion. In other words, it’s a belief system for the “mostly dead.” It’s mantra is “Just go to church, say a few prayers, give an occasional offering, be nice to others, and you’ll be alright.” However, the Apostle Paul describes those who follow this pattern as such:

“They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” – 2 Timothy 3:5 (NLT)

What’s frightening is that you can be a really good person, never hurting anyway, always treating others with dignity and respect, and even attend church on a regular basis, and still be “mostly dead.”

The good news is if you’re “mostly dead” that obviously means that you’re slightly alive. And if you’re slightly alive, you can still make the conscious decision today to embrace new life in Jesus!

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(NIV)

As we approach this Christmas season of gift giving and receiving, let me encourage you to receive the “gift of God” by simply praying a prayer, inviting Jesus into your life, asking Him to forgive you and to give you a new start. Then, you will have crossed over from death to life (see John 5:24)! You will no longer be “mostly dead” but FULLY ALIVE!

If you would like more information on how to receive this new life in Jesus, please feel free to email me at or go to the following link: ABCs of Salvation


Take InitiativeThis past Sunday morning the news broke that Will Muschamp was out as the Florida Gators head football coach. I couldn’t help but think about a similar story that developed several years ago about the athletic director of a major university that fired their head football coach. When asked by a reporter if he was bitter, the coach replied, “Not at all, but I plan to buy a glass-bottomed car so I can watch the look on his face when I run over him.”

How do you handle seemingly unfair treatment?

To a degree, Jesus is responding in Matthew 7:12 with proper teaching on how we should respond to our critics and those who may try to cause us harm or damage our reputation.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” – Matthew 7:12 (NLT)

I kind of like how the Message Bible paraphrases this same verse: “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.

The point is, Jesus really is concerned with how we treat other people. It’s not enough to just love Him and say that we love others.  In fact, Jesus expects us to take the INITIATIVE by loving others with the same passion that we love Him!  After all, “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40, NLT).

So, where do we start? We need to start by taking the lead and setting our personal feelings aside, walking in faith, trusting God to move in every situation and relationship.


When God’s love fills your heart you begin to change on the inside and something supernatural takes place… you begin to see people, even those who offend you, through Jesus-filtered lenses. You actually begin to see broken people, who likewise need healing, restoration and victory in their lives, with tremendous compassion and mercy. Now, when you begin to be moved with compassion, even for those who mistreat you, you really know that the Holy Spirit is doing a deeper work in your life and that you’re becoming more and more like Jesus!

Check out the Jesus model for life and ministry in Acts 10:38 (NLT):

You know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Jesus had a reputation for being good and doing good. Can the same be said for you and me? If you want to grow in your relationship with Jesus, perhaps the next step in your faith journey is simply to TAKE INITIATIVE and do something good for someone, unprovoked and unannounced, and see what God will do.

Are you ready to take that next step? I know I am… let’s do this together!


Grace “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? Matthew 7:7-10 (NIV).

A few weeks ago, as I was studying and preparing for a message based on this particular teaching from Jesus in Matthew 7, I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to me that I needed to pause for a moment and allow Him to reveal something to me that I hadn’t previously considered. (Don’t you just love it when He does that!)

At first glance, I had already assumed that He wanted me to talk about our need for PERSISTENCE in our prayer lives, for when Jesus said ask, seek, and knock He used the present tense, which indicates continuous, persistent prayer. In other words, He was saying, Ask and keep on asking; seek and keep on seeking; and knock and keep on knocking…” I mean, come on, this has persistence written all over it, right? Well, while this is an obvious understanding of this particular teaching, I quickly came to realize that there was more than I had anticipated.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that persistence was merely the secondary truth being communicated here; the primary truth leaped out at me from v. 11 where Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

The focal point of Jesus’ teaching here really isn’t about how grand our prayer life is (our asking, seeking, and knocking) but about how good our heavenly Father is!

Here’s a truth you can hold onto…


Psalm 84:11 says, “He gives [which means we cannot earn nor gain through human effort] us grace [favor] and glory. The LORD will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right. (NLT)

He gives us good things, but also protects us by not giving us some things we may ask for. For example, if my son, Andrew (who is 9 years old) came up to me after church one day and asked for the keys to the van so he could drive us home, what do you think I’m going to say? If I say no, am I being a bad or unreasonable father? Of course not! In actuality I’m being a responsible and caring father!

HOWEVER… if Andrew somehow got the keys to our van and drove off and got in an accident, that would be called disobedience, which would very likely lead to his and possibly other’s harm.

Here’s the deal… Your heavenly Father is not only good (full of mercy and grace); He is also responsible, and will never provide something that will cause you harm!  In fact, He will cover those who follow Him with grace.

“Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor [grace] as with a shield” (Psalm 5:12, NIV).

Take comfort in knowing that you serve a good heavenly Father that is gracious and kind toward you and  who loves to provide everything that you have need of… yes, even when you don’t deserve it. After all, when have you ever deserved anything good from God? Isn’t that the very essence of GRACE?