Sunday, September 27, 2009

How to Develop a Close Relationship with God

Sunday's message: How to Develop a Close Relationship with God (Hebrews 5:12-13)

Desire, consistency and application are needed to develop the habits that draw us closer to God.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Are you satisfied with your spiritual life?

Are you satisfied with where you are in your spiritual life? The Apostle Paul wasn’t. He said, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).” The disciples weren’t. They said, “Lord increase our faith (Luke 17:5).”

Many Christians have told me that they want to be closer to God. Some struggle with sins, addictions, hardened hearts and shame. For many, bad habits that they have developed over time dominate their lives and create a barrier not only to God but also to a stable and satisfying life.

In order to escape the past and enjoy the abundant life that Jesus promised (John 10:10) and to live as the new creation that Paul wrote about (2 Corinthians 5:17), we need to develop new habits. This is not about a works-oriented religion. This is about following the teachings of the Bible. In the same way that physical workouts make our bodies stronger, spiritual workouts make our faith stronger.

"Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." 1 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV

Spiritual workouts involve prayer and Bible study. Practicing these habits daily will draw you closer to God over time. This is especially true when done in the context of a group of believers who will nurture you and pray for you.

Many of us who grew up in the inner city developed bad habits related to survival or the desire to escape. These habits destroy our relationships, our health, our ability to be productive citizens and interfere in our relationship to God. One key element in developing maturity in our faith is substituting good faith habits for our bad habits and surrounding ourselves with a community of believers that will build us up and not tear us down.

This Sunday I will be preaching on developing a closer relationship with God and will podcast the message on this blog.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Losing valuable real estate

Perhaps the biggest investment a church will make is building facilities. A strategic location is selected, plans are drawn up and a building fund campaign is launched. Through sacrificial giving and with hope for the future, a new building is erected.
Years later many of these congregations decline in membership and the beloved structure is now underutilized and needing repair. Eventually the church decides it can no longer endure under the current circumstances and close the doors.

I ran across this situation in New Orleans when I was starting a Spanish-language church in the basement of an Anglo church. Another Anglo church, six blocks away, was disbanding and wanted to sell their building. The money would go to missions.

Acting quickly, I petitioned that the property be turned over to my new church start. Why pay real estate commissions to sell the property and again, later, when we would buy another property. Moreover, my mission field was this very neighborhood.

My argument prevailed and my small Spanish-language church took possession of the building. I was able to recruit an intrepid team of seminary students who developed a thriving ministry in that building including an English-language service, a mid-week youth service, free music lessons, a free summer day camp, food pantry and other services to the community.

This church became a training lab for seminary students, many of whom went on to work in missions around the globe, and a blessing to the community. It even provided an apartment for me that supplemented my modest salary.

There are many inner-city church properties that are being underutilized and, worse, sold off. These properties are in the midst of deep spiritual and economic poverty. It is possible that these properties could be used to house non-religious or faith-based community-based ministries. These ministries could pay for the utilities and upkeep. On Sundays the pulpit can be filled by ministry students and lay preachers who are looking for an opportunity to preach.

This would meet the spiritual and physical needs of the community and take advantage of a building built through sacrificial giving and with hope for the future. We cannot continue to retreat from the areas in our cities where the gospel is most needed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Urban ministry is a special calling

Urban ministry is a special calling. There was a time when I wanted to escape for the city with its gangs, traffic and urban blight. Military service was ticket out but God had different plans.

As I began to discern my call to ministry, the cities kept calling. Circumstances led me first to New Orleans, then to Metro Chicago and now to San Antonio. None of these places were on my wish list but God’s call was clear and I followed. The result has been years of fruitful and fulfilling ministry.

I learned to immerse my in the culture of the cities where I lived. I enjoyed the food, the festivals and the particular seasons. God gave me a heart for the people and for the place itself.

Not everyone can love the city. Some will find ways to escape to the suburbs and never come back. Others will commute because the city still provides employment but will keep their families tucked away in the suburbs.

I thank God for those who minister in the cities of the world, especially those who work among the poor and disenfranchised. They bring hope, fight for justice, and shine the light of the Jesus’ love in the dark places of the world.

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Jeremiah 29:7

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Unleashing the Power of God Through Prayer

Sunday's message: Unleashing the Power of God Through Prayer (Genesis 18:17-33)

Prayer can unleash God’s power and mercy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Prayer is simple and yet, powerful

Prayer is as simple as a conversation with a loved one. Jesus taught his followers to pray to God in simple terms. He addressed God as Abba, (Mark 14:36) the Aramaic term of endearment for Father. He taught that we should avoid outward displays of false spirituality or repeated words that have no meaning. (Matthew 6:5-7)

My own prayer life is marked by an ongoing conversation with God. These days I listen more than talk. Listening with my whole being for subtle nuances that are answers to prayers. Sometimes God is so clear in His answer that I am compelled to act. At other times I find I must wait a bit longer.

Prayer is powerful. The Bible teaches us that when God was ready to destroy Israel for making and worshipping a golden calf (Ex 32:9-14), Moses intervention moved God to change His mind. Hezekiah’s prayer (2 KI 20: 1-6) led God to spare his life

This power is available to us today. Stories of answered prayer abound. I look back on my life as a string of answered prayers; prayers for healing, for provision, for intervention and more. Urban church development requires constant, specific and diligent prayer.

“You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:2-3 NIV

In the above passage the Bible lists two reasons why people do not receive everything God would give them: First, you don’t ask and second, you ask with the wrong motives.

Scripture offers two prescriptions that help to align priorities:
  1. Persistence - Luke 11:5-9
  2. Agreement - Matthew 18:19
This Sunday I will be preaching on spiritual growth through prayer and will podcast the message on this blog.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The biblical basis for serving the needy

The immediate goal of a church benevolence ministry is to relieve human suffering. A secondary goal is to build relationships with hurting people. The ultimate goal ought to be bringing about genuine life change in individuals through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our intent is to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ, not simply to provide services.

The Old Testament is filled with references about God’s desire that we help the under resourced such as the poor, the alien, widows and orphans. "For the poor will never cease from among the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.'" (Deuteronomy 15:11)

That teaching continues into the New Testament where we get a clearer picture of caring for our own. The New Testament church provided a mutual support network. “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:45)

Many early Christians had lost family, friends and jobs because of their faith. The church became their new family offering spiritual, emotional and financial support. They shared resources with one another, helping those in need with particular care for widows and orphans.

There are some similarities in today’s ministry context and the first century church. Although people in America don’t lose home, family and jobs because of their faith, church members do face financial hardships due to job loss and unexpected bills.

A church that enjoys true biblical community will bear each others burdens (Galatians 6:2). At the small group or Sunday school level, group members can take up a collection to pay an unexpected bill and help with childcare and meals during a crisis. One Sunday school department held a large yard sale to benefit a class member who, after being laid off, was in danger of losing his home.

Care can be shown for those outside the church as well. One church planter organized fundraisers for a woman in the community whose house had burned down. He, also, arranged for local builders to rebuild the house. The woman was an unbeliever but the love shown by Christians led her to faith in Christ. She was baptized and her home is a meeting place for a small group Bible study.

This type of love impacts the beneficiary, the helpers and the unchurched who are watching.

"A new command I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another." 
 John 13:34-35

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Lord's Supper: A Symbol of Salvation

Sunday's message: The Lord's Supper: A Symbol of Salvation (1 Corinthians 11:23-29)

The Lord’s Supper reveals the Gospel and offers the opportunity to teach, affirm, accept, recommit and reconcile.