Central Ministries Considers Multisite: A Story of How Two Churches Came Together

get_connected-title-3-still-017My mind flashed back to a moment in the early 1990’s. I was sitting in a pew on a Sunday night with my parents in a church building singing along with a man and his guitar who was leading us in a praise song, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me…” My heart has always resonated with that song, and I have always heard the words of it through that man’s baritone voice. Rick Zehr was the man who led worship that night for a tiny group of believers who were ready to start a new church.

Fast forward to the end of 2016, over 25 years later. Pastor Rick (as we all call him), is now on staff at the church and school I lead. He has been a part of our church for many years now and he is one of those men I lean on for advice and support when faced with major decisions. On this uneventful day at the end of 2016, he stood at the door of my office and wanted to share something with me.

He shared with me that there was a church in the community which might be open to the idea of partnering with us. My ears perked up and he had my full attention because our leadership had been praying about going multisite for over a year now. The name of the church was Church of the Good Shepherd, which was located right across from Leo High School. In that moment, my mind flashed back to the night I sat in the pew as a junior higher trying to worship God. I did not know that I would someday be a pastor. I was in junior high. I loved sports and was starting the awkward stage of being interested in girls. Being a pastor wasn’t on my list of future career opportunities. But God, who knows the future, could see what was going to happen 25 years later.

What happened to me toward the end of 2016 would be called by many an epiphany. The past connection myself and many others at Central Ministries had with the Church of the Good Shepherd was uncanny. Our theology lined up well. Our philosophies were similar. We were both nondenominational churches. It all sounded too good to be true.

I thanked Rick for the information and told him that I would definitely pray about it and he walked away. Immediately, I felt a stir in my heart that this was from God. So, I got up from my desk and walked across the hallway into Pastor Don’s office (Don is still on staff at Central Ministries as our small groups pastor and was the former lead pastor for over 25 years; and he has been the overseer at Church of the Good Shepherd for years). I told Pastor Don about the possibility of our church partnering with their church and he also felt a stir in his heart that this was of God. We decided that he (Don) should contact Pastor Brad (lead pastor at Good Shepherd) and invite him out for coffee at the Perk (Central’s coffee shop). As Pastor Brad and Don met, they both sensed that God might be up to something.

Pastor Don called me (I was in my office studying) and asked if I was available to meet with the two of them. I walked into the Perk and the three of us continued the conversation. As the three of us met, we all sensed that God might be bringing us together, but we wanted to take this slow, as we knew that this type of move would require a great deal of humility on both sides. We parted ways that morning and decided that we would pray about it for several days and if we still felt like God was stirring our hearts, then we would present it to our elders.

Over the next several weeks, we met with elders, staff, financial teams and other key leaders to see what their response would be in regard to the idea of partnering together. The response was overwhelmingly positive filled with excitement.

In January, we asked both congregations to start praying. We didn’t tell them what the big announcement would be, but we simply asked them to pray for 30 days leading up to the announcement so that we could all feel the unity of the Spirit.

This last weekend (Feb 3-5), we both shared with our congregations the idea of partnering together and becoming ONE CHURCH at TWO LOCATIONS. The enthusiastic response from both congregations has been incredible.

Practically speaking, what does it mean that we will be partnering together? Here are a few of the details of how this will look if this is affirmed by both congregations in March:

Church of the Good Shepherd will become Central Ministries. Central Ministries would then have two campuses.

The vision and values of both campuses will be the same.

Pastor Jeremy will become the Lead Pastor of both campuses and would therefore preach at both campuses.

Pastor Brad will become the Campus Pastor of the “Leo Campus” and will focus on shepherding, administration and leader multiplication.

The “Leo Campus” will be resourced in many ways so that both campuses will exhibit the same style and passion in worship, youth and children’s ministries.

I believe this is the future of the Church. Not just for Central Ministries, but for the global church. Denominations will continue to crumble. Isolated churches will continue to be frustrated that their reach is never enough. But what if like-minded churches would decide to pull together in unity for the sake of the central message of the cross? I often sense in my heart that our city doesn’t necessarily need another church to be planted right next to an existing church. We are often referred to as the city of churches with over 300 local churches. What would happen if churches of all sizes decided to work together in unity? What would happen if churches would share their talents and their resources with each other? Then each of those churches within that network of campuses would become thriving places where people who are searching for answers will be presented with the good news of Jesus Christ. Just think about the power in those statements.

This last weekend, I presented this vision to our Friday night service. I stood up on stage at the 8:00 a.m. service on Sunday and presented the same vision. At 9:30 a.m. I spoke to a gym full of people while many watched in the chapel at our video venue service. And finally, at 11:00 a.m., I cast the vision for a 5th time in the same crowded gym. From a practical standpoint, we have to expand to another location. But that is not the thought I want to leave with you.

At the end of the 5th and final service, there was a line of people who wanted to talk with me. I enjoy talking with people and listening to them and trying to answer any questions they might have in regard to the sermon or to our church. At the end of the line, there was a young lady in her early twenties who wanted to share something that happened to her that morning. She was the final person I talked with at the church that day and looking back I know that this was God telling me that what He is doing is something bigger than any one of us.

She had not been to church for about 1.5 years. She dropped out of church for various reasons and in many ways had drifted away from God. Over the last few months, her friends had invited her to Central Ministries, but for whatever reason, she just wasn’t able to come. Until today. February 5. On the way to church that morning, she felt like God was whispering to her that He was going to blow her mind. She wasn’t sure what exactly that meant, but she was anticipating learning something inspiring. When I stood up on the stage and started talking about the possibility of Central Ministries partnering with Church of the Good Shepherd, she couldn’t believe it at first. She had been away from church for 1.5 years. That church she had left was Church of the Good Shepherd. She had not been to any other church during that time. And I was talking about the very same church on the very same day that she had decided to give church a try again. What are the odds!!! Was this a coincidence? I highly doubt it! She could feel in her heart that God was speaking directly to her. For her, God was confirming that He was looking after her and was keeping her safe no matter where she had gone. To me, this was an amazing story showing how God is divinely working in everyone’s life to fulfill His ultimate purpose in and through them.

Whether you are a junior higher sitting with your parents in a church on a Sunday night, or you are a twenty-something who has given up on church, never underestimate the supernatural power of the God who watches over you. You are never alone. You are never overlooked. You are specifically loved by the One who controls the Universe.

 

 

What if You Lost Your Christmas Traditions

christmas-traditionsI was struck by the question my wife asked me last night as we were laying our heads down on the pillow to sleep. She asked, “What if we stripped everything away from Christmas? What if we got rid of all the good things we look forward to every December? The family gatherings. Decorating the tree. Filling the stockings. Buying presents for loved ones. The food. The ugly sweaters. Watching the same movies. The time off. Watching sports. What if we stopped all of those traditions? Would it still feel like Christmas?”

Would it?

What if all we had every December 25 was the knowledge that Jesus came to this earth to save humanity from their sin problem? Would that be enough for you? As soon as my mind started to process this question, I considered that first Christmas and it was fascinating to comprehend the reaction of everyone who came in contact with Jesus.

 The shepherds GLORIFIED AND PRAISED God after they met baby Jesus (Luke 2:20).

 Simeon was MOVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT when he was in the midst of eight day old Jesus (Luke 2:27).

 The prophetess Anna GAVE THANKS to God as she interacted with the newborn Jesus (Luke 2:38).

The magi BOWED down and WORSHIPPED the toddler Jesus when they arrived at His house (Matthew 2:11).

The theme of that first Christmas was the realization of the divinity of Jesus and the response to worship Him. What if that was all we had this Christmas? Would that be enough? I think for some of us, it wouldn’t be enough.

The church I lead is offering six different services this weekend. Several people have come up to my wife and I and have lamented at this task that they believe is a burden for myself and ultimately my family. We are busy on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th. I then read an article about many churches which are canceling their services because Christmas Day is on a Sunday and their ultimate goal is for families to be able to spend it together.

Can I say something that is true, but will not be popular to your ears?

Christmas is not about family.

Don’t get me wrong. One of the wonderful traditions of Christmas is the ability to “get-together” and spend time with family. But Christmas isn’t about family. We have allowed our cultural values (which are good) to get in the way of what is most important.

Never forget this truth: Christmas is about the worship of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

And if the worship of Jesus Christ is the reason to celebrate Christmas, than wouldn’t we be excited to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ to worship our king?  I wonder if we have forgotten what Christmas is all about. It is about meeting Him and bowing down to Him and giving thanks to Him and worshipping Him. It is not about a big family meal. It is not about opening the presents. It is about Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

I am not asking you to stop your Christmas traditions. My wife and I have many Christmas traditions and we will continue them into the future. But we know that if all was stripped away, we could still enjoy Christmas because we know that it is all about worshiping our leader, Jesus Christ.

So don’t feel bad for us that we have to be at six different services this weekend (it is not that different than a regular weekend anyway). We will still be able to spend time with family. We still decorated a tree. We will still open up gifts. We will still have time to relax. But there is a joy which we have found in gathering with other Christians around this time of year that has become a favorite for us.

And when you realize what Christmas is all about, it is not only worth it, but a privilege which we will cherish for all eternity. Just think about it for a moment. What will we do when we get to heaven someday? Will we open presents? Will we hang lights up on our homes? Will we stuff the stockings? I am not sure about those traditions, but I do know one thing we will be doing. We will be worshiping Jesus Christ as the leader and forgiver of our eternal life.

Therefore, the older we get on this earth, the more we should realize that what we do here should reflect what we will do in heaven. So, make sure you focus on the most important aspect of Christmas. Otherwise, you will be teaching those around you that Christmas is all about the “other things,” when it is really simple. It is about Jesus, and giving Him the honor He deserves.

 

 

 

10 Facts You Didn’t Know about the Magi

jesus-and-magi-2When I was in elementary school, I was one of the “three kings” in my church’s Christmas musical. I had one line and it had something to do with giving baby Jesus a gift. Growing up, I just assumed that the wise men who visited Bethlehem were simply three men who rode camels from an eastern land. Little did I know that these men were much more than three wandering wise men. When we realize who these men really were and what they represented, it helps make sense of other parts of the Christmas story. As I researched the history of the Magi, I found 10 facts which are fascinating. I understand that using the word “fact” might be a stretch for some of these, but the logical deductions based upon the evidence seem to point towards the validity of these statements.

 magi2FACT 1: The Magi traveled from the Parthian Empire. The Parthian Empire was a vast ancient empire, which ruled in Asia at the same time that the Roman Empire ruled over the Mediterranean region. It is believed that when Israel was exiled into this region centuries before, they settled there and eventually rose to power and actually had kings with Israelite blood who ruled over this empire.

FACT 2: The Magi were powerful members of the Parthian two-house body that elected Parthian monarchs and had great influence within the empire. The assembly was composed of a royal family (the Arsacids) and the priests (the “Magi”). The Greek word translated “wise men” is “magian” literally meaning “Persian astronomer or priest” from which we derive the word “Magi”. According to this theory, the Magi were descended from the tribe of Levi. When the Magi visited Jesus, there might have been 10-12 main leaders, all representing the tribes of Israel, instead of the traditional number of three.

FACT 3: The Magi were looking for a new king for Parthia, and Jesus was a descendant of the throne. Since Matthew 1:3-17 tells us that Jesus Christ was a descendant of King David, Jesus was a distant relative of the Parthian ruling dynasty. At the time of the birth of Jesus, the recent Parthian emperor, Phraates IV (reigned 37-2 B.C.), had killed many male relatives, including his own father and almost thirty brothers. Male descendants at the time of Jesus’ birth were in very short supply. The Magi who arrived in Jerusalem knew that Jesus was “royal-born,” and it implies that they knew He was related to Parthia’s kings.

FACT 4: Herod (and all of Jerusalem) was disturbed because he wondered if the Magi came to besiege Jerusalem and start a Roman-Parthian war. The Parthian caravan probably had so many armed escorts that many feared it was an invasion force coming to besiege Jerusalem and start a new Roman-Parthian war. Israel was in a strategic location and whichever nation controlled Israel would control the surrounding area. These two empires had fought over this area in the recent past, and Herod feared with a new born king in his midst, it would give the common people motivation to rebel against the Roman government and join forces with Parthia.

The Magi’s caravan might have had over 10,000 men and 1,000 camels. Since the Magi were high officials of the Parthian government, they would routinely travel with a substantial escort of Parthian soldiers to guarantee their protection. Their escort may have been unusually large, including servants, animals, cooks, etc.

FACT #5: Herod controlled his response to the Magi, proving the power of the Parthians. The Magi came directly to King Herod, quite open about their reasons for being in Roman-occupied Palestine. “He that is born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). Herod could have flown into a rage, and yelled “How dare you ask to see another king of the Jews beside me; I am king of the Jews!” The fact that Herod swallowed his pride, and meekly answered the Magi is noteworthy. Herod may even have suspected that the Magi’s question was designed to provoke an incident, which would lead to an outbreak of hostilities and his removal from the throne. Herod may have been expecting to hear an ultimatum for the surrender of Jerusalem to Parthia when the Magi were ushered into his presence.

The fact that the Magi spoke directly to Herod, who was Rome’s “king of the Jews,” about wanting to find a “new king of the Jews” could be seen by the Romans as very close to a declaration of war, given the region’s history.

magi3

FACT #6: The Magi visited Jesus several months after his birth. Matthew 2:11 states that this visit of the Magi took place in a house when Jesus was old enough to be called “a young child.” Matthew 2:8 adds that Herod sent the Magi “to Bethlehem” after conferring with the Jewish hierarchy about the prophesied location of the Messiah’s birth.

FACT #7: The gifts from the Magi might have made Jesus’ family wealthy. It takes financial resources to travel. When God warned Joseph to flee to Egypt quickly, he had the financial resources on hand to afford a rapidly arranged, indefinite stay in a foreign nation. Either Joseph was not a poor carpenter, or these funds came from the gifts of the Magi at Jesus’ birth. Jesus’ financial resources were confirmed by the fact that He and His large band of disciples traveled for years without any visible means of support (John 12:3-6; 13:29). Could it be that these initial gifts given to Jesus at his birth supported Him throughout His entire ministry?

magi4FACT #8: Herod vented his pent-up rage by murdering all boys (under 2) in Bethlehem. After the Magi left, Herod became “furious” (Matthew 2:16) and vented his pent-up rage by murdering all male children in Bethlehem under age two. Official reports surely had to be filed with Augustus Caesar in Rome about this highly unusual event. It appears that Herod was trying to squelch any kind of potential for a new king to arise in his land.

FACT #9: The star the Magi followed was most likely an angel. No comet or celestial phenomenon could pinpoint a single city. The Bible sometimes uses the word “star” to represent angels (Job 38:7; Revelation 1:20). Only an angel, a spirit being, could literally “stand over” the baby Jesus to designate one specific child to the Parthian nobles.

The star seemed to only be visible to the Magi. If a unique celestial object had appeared in the sky, Herod and his astrologers would already have known the exact date and hour on which it had appeared. Also, the star appeared and disappeared. After leading the Magi to Judea, the star disappeared, forcing them to ask Herod for directions. After the Magi left Herod, the star again appeared to them, and led them directly to Bethlehem (Luke 2:9) and finally stood over one specific child. Matthew 2:10 states the Magi rejoiced that the star had again appeared to show them where to go!

 It should not seem odd for us to believe that this star was an angel because God used an angel during several events surrounding the birth of Jesus (i.e. Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, shepherds). Since God used angels to direct the movements of people in the events surrounding Christ’s birth, it would have been completely consistent for God to also send an angel to guide the Magi’s movements.

magi5FACT #10: The Magi might have monitored the events of Jesus’ life. It is possible that the Magi discussed the possibility that this child Jesus, born under such unusual circumstances, might one day take the throne of the Parthian Empire. This delegation of Parthian Magi likely would have stayed in contact with Jesus in future years and monitored the events of His life.

Maybe you were like me and believed that the Magi were “3 Kings” who visited Jesus when He was a little baby lying in a manger. Hopefully, this new information impacts your view of the Magi, the Empire of Parthia, and ultimately the grand plan of God that is so much greater than what we can sometimes imagine. It is my hope that this can help you realize that the history of this planet is really “HIS-story.”

Turning “You’re Stupid” into “Your Strength”

 stutter

This is for anyone who has ever felt “stupid” because of the hurtful words of another person.

When I was younger I stuttered.  My early years of school were filled with praying that the teacher would not call on me to read out loud because I knew that I would stumble over every other word.  In second grade, our class had three different reading groups.  The first group was for the “excellent” readers, the second group was filled with “average” readers, while the third group had the “slower” readers.  Can you guess which group I was in?  I knew that I belonged in this last group because I knew that I was a poor reader.  But it made me feel inferior to all the other students which had the opportunity to read in the first two groups.  And to make matters worse, one day as a girl (from the “excellent” readers) overhead me trying to read out loud to my own group, she said to me in a loud, obnoxious voice: “You are so stupid!”  I can still picture her squinty face and blonde hair with pigtails.  I gave her a dirty look and went back to trying to sound out the word “the”, but even at that young age I wasn’t angry at her.  I was angry at myself.  In fact, when I would have to speak, I really hated myself.  It is hard to put into words, but that is how I felt.  I felt like my mind wasn’t connecting with my voice and some outside force was placing a lid on my ability to speak.

Fast forward to high school.  Once again, my greatest fear became a reality as I was sitting in an English Literature class and heard the teacher state that we would be reading the story of Romeo and Juliet.  And then my fear became pure agony when she said that every boy would read the part of Romeo and every girl would read the part of Juliet at some point as the story unfolded.  My heart sank to my stomach as I looked at the words.  I felt stupid.  I remembered the words of the little blonde girl from second grade.  She was right.  I am stupid.  I haven’t grown out of it.  And so, I decided that when I would be called upon to read this romantic tragedy, I would do my best British accent and fill the room with laughter.  Laughter was often the fuel which motored my words.  When people laughed at me or at something I said, it would calm my nerves, and I would then have the ability to speak with flowing words that seemed so effortless.  Yet, only a few lines into reading as Romeo in a British accent, the teacher stopped me and asked if I was trying to be a comedian.  I told her that I was trying to bring life to the story and that was my way of honoring Shakespeare.  She allowed it and so I continued to read.  As I butchered every other word, the students snickered and some even laughed out loud.  Everyone thought I was trying to be funny, while deep inside I knew that I was simply trying to survive this reading.  The relief I felt when I was finished reading was immense.  I felt like an anchor had been lifted from around my tongue.

Involvement in sports and the popularity that came with this allowed me to mask this major deficiency in my life.  Most of the people around me didn’t know how hard it was for me to start conversations.  If my sentence would start with the letter “t” I would often try to think of another word that would be easier for my tongue to pronounce.  Once I would begin my first sentence, I was fine, but sometimes I would start my sentence with “t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t…” and my friends would just smile at me.  I wasn’t made fun of much because of it, but there were a couple older guys on my athletic teams that would really let me have it if I would slip up a word or two when I was trying to talk.  I can still picture them doing this to me on the bus as we were driving to and from basketball and baseball games.  I always laughed it off, because what else are you going to do when your peers make fun of you, right?  But it was something that pained me deep inside.

Fast forward to early adulthood.  I was now a pastor. Wait, isn’t a pastor someone who teaches up on a stage with people listening to them?  When God started to lead me into Christian ministry, I was actually confused because I knew that I was a shy speaker.  I hated giving speeches in high school and I hated starting conversations with strangers.  How could I be a pastor?  This just didn’t make sense at first.  But when I would stand before people, and I would start preaching, the words flowed out of my mouth.  It was as if it wasn’t really me speaking.  Because when I would speak with people just a few minutes after my sermon as they were leaving the church, I would have a hard time starting sentences again.  When I was in my twenties, I found that I would stutter the most when I was talking with someone who intimidated me.  The shy, little boy would come out and want to just hide in his shell.  I guess I still feel that way sometimes.  I don’t want fame.  I don’t want fortune.  Some public speakers might want that and will even strive towards that, but I have never wanted that.  I have always been driven with a passion to please God with everything that comes out of my mouth as I preach.

Fast forward to today.  My stuttering problem is almost completely healed.  Every once in a while, I might feel it when I am talking with someone I have never met, but for the most part, it is a part of my past.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have people telling me that I am stupid.  A few years ago, I received an email from someone who criticized me for how I pronounced a certain word in one of my sermons.  He sent a few painful arrows at how inadequate of a speaker I was and wasn’t sure that I was even good enough to be a public speaker.  I humbled myself and sent an email back, thanking him for correcting me for mispronouncing the word and that I would try my best to say it correctly the next time.  As I sent the email, I could picture that little girl with blonde pigtails making fun of me again, calling me stupid.  It was a humbling email and reminded me that when I speak, I speak for God, and therefore it is His power that flows through me.  And yet, God uses me in my weakness (i.e. stuttering, mispronunciation).

Over the years, plenty of people have told me when I mispronounce certain words.  And usually they are kind when they tell me.  Even my wife points them out from time to time.  I work at all this, more than people will ever realize, but I have learned to accept that my speech will never be perfectly eloquent in the ears of those who hold high the English grammar.  I guess that makes me like most other people.  And I am okay with being like most people.

I find it ironic that my greatest fear (speaking in front of others) because of my greatest weakness (stuttering) has turned into one of my greatest joys because God uses my weakness for His glory.  He took the worst part of me, and made it into something that will exalt Him until the day that I die.  This seems to be how God works.  I look back now and am thankful that I stuttered when I was younger.  Because I stuttered, I now have empathy for people who feel inadequate.  Because I stuttered, I can now appreciate the joy of being able to speak with fluent words one after each other.  Because I stuttered, I am reminded that the greatest gift God has given to me (preaching), is just that: a gift.

I leave you with this thought. What do you struggle with?  Have you allowed God to use this weakness in a way that brings glory to Him?  And if you have children, what are their weaknesses?  Once you notice his or her weakness, you can be aware of them and guide your child to have the courage to overcome those weaknesses.  No matter how stupid I might have felt growing up, my parents always believed in me.  I can’t think of anyone else who has encouraged me more than my parents.  Never forget, a weakness to us can be a strength to God!

 

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10(NIV)

4 Churches: Which one do you attend?

Dreams arouse the motivation to change. Dreams scare the sweat out of people. Dreams inspire courage to do what is right. Dreams lead people to make foolish decisions. Dreams should often be forgotten. Dreams can even be the voice of God describing truth in our subconscious.

I had a dream. In this dream, I visited four churches. All four of these churches were located in the United States of America, but each were different. Different not only in physical appearance, but different in purpose.

In the first church, I could feel the hard surface of the wooden pew beneath my body. The pews reminded me of the church I had grown up in. It appeared that the worship service was already underway, because the pastor was preaching up on the stage. As I listened intently to the sermon, it became clear that the preacher was angry at something or someone. Even though the pastor was speaking many different words, the only words I could understand was “I hate you” and “I hate the world” and “I hate sinners” and these words were all dripping with the venom of a poisonous viper.

As the worship service came to a close, the song leader stepped up to the piano and led the congregation in the song, “They will know that we are Christians by our love,” but as I listened to the people around me singing, I only heard these words: “They will know that we are Christians by what we stand against!” I tried to clean out my ears, but no matter what, this is the only phrase I could hear.

Finally, the people were dismissed and as I stood up to walk out, I could feel the judgmental stares of the men and women around me. They could see my hidden sins and they were glaring into my soul with thoughts of “How could you?” and “I would never do something like that!” and “A good Christian would never even think about doing that!” and the worst one: “God is going to send you to hell, buddy!” An indescribable darkness surrounded me at that moment. I couldn’t find the exit fast enough. I needed to get out of this place. They might have felt like they were one happy family, but I felt like an orphan being thrown into the garbage.

I walked outside the church facility and noticed that there was a large clear bubble surrounding the building. Whenever someone walked away from the building and into the bubble, they would burst through it and receive a smaller bubble that would surround them as they would leave the property. They would be safe from the sinners in this bubble.

Standing in the parking lot of this church, I could feel a gentle breeze coming from the east. This wind whispered something to me: “This church knows the truth, but has forgotten how to love. Do not be like this church.”

I woke up from this dream sweating. For me, it was a night mare. I had lived this feeling too many times in actual churches from my past. I laid in bed staring into the darkness, not wanting to fall back asleep too quickly. Hoping that the longer time I spend away from my subconscious, the more likely I would avoid that dream sequence again. Immediately, when I drifted off again, I found myself in a large auditorium with nice cushioned individualized seats. The people around me were singing and lifting their hands and seemed to praise God, but floating above the raised hands of the people were phrases that shocked me: “I come for an hour to feel good about myself” and “God must be happy with my efforts” and “I wonder what I am going to have for lunch” and “I hope I meet a beautiful women here” and even “Games on this afternoon, get-together with friends tonight, this is a great day!” Hundreds of people were singing, but their minds were on autopilot. They were not trying to connect with the God of the universe. They were in the most ironic twist, worshiping themselves as they sang. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, so-called Christians loving themselves in the sound of the beat. But there was no contrite hearts, no feeling vulnerable before a Holy God. This worship service was for their pleasure, and they were enjoying it.

After the singing, a man dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt stepped up on stage and gave an uplifting, positive talk. In fact, I felt like I was listening to a motivational speaker trying to convince the crowd to buy into his 8-step program so that they could become a success, just like he is now a success. But just as I was starting to feel great about myself, I looked down at my feet, and the floor opened up. At first, I fought against looking down, for I knew that I would be looking into hell. But something in me forced me to gaze into the fire beneath me. I could see someone with no face shouting up at the speaker saying these words, “Tell them about sin! Tell them about hell! Let them know that it is God who transforms their hearts! Help them understand that they need a savior!” I could hear these words, but the speaker could not. I could then look into the brain of the speaker and he was filled with happiness whenever people would laugh at his jokes and when the crowd would shed a tear for a touching story.

How could something that feels so good be so wrong? I thought to myself. As the speaker closed his talk in prayer, I didn’t bow my head, but instead my eyes were focused on a scoreboard that was lowered out of the rafters and hovered right above the speaker. God was keeping score. On the scoreboard it gave the number of days since the speaker had mentioned the problem of sin, the reality of hell and the depravity of the human soul. The scoreboard read, 2,378 days. This church had formed 2,378 days ago with a small group of people who wanted to focus on God’s love and encourage people, instead of focusing on anything negative that might turn people away. And they were growing. Who could argue against such growth? If it grows, then it must be God, right? Not always.

After the service, I walked to their lobby and saw dozens of people sipping on their coffee, all smiling, and conversing with each other. It seemed to be such a great place to hang out until I felt that breeze again come into the building when someone opened up the door. This time the wind came from the west, and it whispered a second warning to me: “This church is tolerant of sin and avoids presenting the complete gospel. They have forgotten that Jesus came to die on the cross to save sinners. They believe it is best to show a love that really isn’t a love at all, because they are sending people to an eternity without God by ignoring the problem of sin. Do not be like this church.”

I did not wake up from this dream, but disappeared from the second church and then reappeared in the third church, or at least that is what it felt like. There was something unsettling about this place, more so than the first two churches. Once again, I was sitting in a pew, this time with cushioned padding and the worship service was just starting. I was astonished as I listened to someone give an announcement about an event they were having at the church. This event would be a celebration of the very thing God condemned in His Word. As I looked around the sanctuary, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, for everyone in attendance had a chest blowing up with pride. They felt great about being inclusive of all types of lifestyles, and they paraded it for the world to witness. I sat there dumb-founded that this church promoted what was clearly spelled out in God’s Word as sin.

The pastor wore a long, black robe. When it was his time to speak, he decided to spend his 18 minutes lecturing about how “love wins” and that we all must accept every lifestyle no matter what because that is exactly what God would do for us. At first, I was captivated by the idea that everyone can do whatever he or she wants and we should just accept it and even lift up the idea that if it makes them happy, then it must be good. But my soul just couldn’t accept this teaching. I knew the truth, and if everyone is right and there is no wrong, then there is nothing but chaos. And worse yet, if what the Bible says is a sin and yet it really isn’t a sin because we interpret it differently than we used to, then what is the point of following the Bible anyway?

As the congregation was reading the apostle’s creed in unison, I heard something else from their lips. It was eerie to watch their mouths open and speak these words: “My freedom to live how I want is more important than submitting to God. I desperately want to be loved by this world. I want people to praise my efforts and tell me that this is how the church should really be engaged in our society. I will not be convicted by the truth, but will listen to the pride of my heart and allow what God has called an abomination to be an act of worship here in my church.”

When the worship service ended, the people exited the sanctuary, and I was frightened to see demons suspended just a few feet above them. These evil spirits were patting them on the back, telling them, “You should be proud of yourself. You are enlightened. Those other churches are close-minded bigots. You are doing a great work. You will bring about a utopia!”

After the last person left the sanctuary, I could feel the breeze again come into the building. This time from the south. This wind whispered a third warning to me: “This is not My church. This place is a den of the devil. This is not a reflection of My love. For My love is holy and pure and I have standards in which I demand obedience. Their pride has puffed them up and their destruction is near. Do not be like this church.”

I woke up again. This time I was freezing. Not only did I lack covers, but I had fallen off the bed. This last church disturbed me to such an extent that I could not fall back asleep for about an hour. I laid there, tossing and turning, thinking about these churches and how the majority of churches today fit in one of these categories. As I started to drift back to sleep, my mind wondered what kind of church God wanted. What does a God-honoring church look like? I thought to myself as my consciousness turned into the subconscious.

In the fourth church, I could not tell if I was standing or sitting. I could not tell if I was in a traditional style church with a steeple or a modern auditorium. There were no pews or chairs. I couldn’t tell if the church served coffee or donuts. Everything about this church was blurry, except for one thing. There were two words standing up on the stage and they were of equal size and both words were speaking at the same time. As I looked upon the stage at these two words, there was a spotlight that came from the rafters that lit up the words with a radiant light. It was almost as if there were two kinds of light. One part of the light was physical, and there was another part of the light that allowed these two words to be seen outside the building from miles away.

These two words spoke with such passion and yet gentleness. The two words were bold and kind and revealed the complexity of God and applied faith to practical living. When I comprehended what those two words were, my heart filled with joy. I could sense that God was well pleased with the presence of these two words in His church. The first word was TRUTH. And the second was GRACE.

TRUTH was so clear and honest as it spoke. It called sin an abomination to God and told everyone to repent of their wickedness. But as TRUTH spoke, it pointed to the word GRACE and said, “Here is your hope! Here is your salvation!” GRACE then took over and agreed with TRUTH and told everyone the good news of God. The good news was that Jesus came to this earth to die for each sinner so that he or she can have full access to God. The good news is full of TRUTH and GRACE. You cannot have one without the other.

After looking upon the stage, I glanced around me and saw all kinds of people of all different kinds of color. I could see in their hearts as they looked to the stage. Some people were in a right relationship with God, while others were living in sin. Some of the sinners were listening to the TRUTH and GRACE in order to break free from the chains of their past mistakes. And there were other sinners who were offended at TRUTH and they convinced themselves that they didn’t need the church. It all looked messy, but there was a beauty in the mess.

I didn’t want this worship service to end, for I knew that I was experiencing the will of God for His church. But then all at once it ended abruptly. I could see every kind of weapon…bombs, guns, knives, chemicals…being used to destroy what was happening. Even though this should have been a disturbing sight, it brought a peace to me, because I knew that Jesus promised that His truth church would have trouble in this world.

Once again, I heard the gentle breeze on the back of my neck. This wind was from the north, and it had a new kind of warning about this kind of church: “TRUTH and GRACE are the foundation of My church. But few churches know how to balance TRUTH and GRACE. This church is under attack because it is My church. It is the true light of the world, and the evil one hates this and will do anything to destroy it. A time will come when My church will not be tolerated anymore. But do not lose heart, for I am with you always.” And I woke up with a warm feeling surrounding my entire body. I could sense the love of God around me.

The entire next day, the haunting reality of this dream followed my thoughts constantly. I knew in my heart that this was the problem with America. It wasn’t “Washington” or the “liberal media” or “Hollywood.” It was the American Church. Instead of being a light to clear the way, the Church has become confused as to what its purpose is on this planet. And because the Church is confused, the people are confused and no one wants to follow someone who is confused.

The day after the dream, I had hoped that I could just forget about those first three churches. “It was just a dream,” I would tell myself. But every time I would try to convince myself that it was just a dream, my soul shouted out the truth: “When the end is near, many people will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).

What to Say When a Jehovah’s Witness Knocks on Your Door

JW door(My wife took this picture of our interaction to remember to pray for them)

The doorbell rang on Saturday morning. As I walked to the door, my two middle daughters (ages 3 and 6) scampered along with me. As I opened the door, there were two females. One was in her mid to late forties, while the other was just starting her teen years. I knew exactly who they were the moment I locked eyes with them: Jehovah’s Witnesses!

Over the years, I have been approached by Jehovah’s Witnesses many different times. It was always groups of two or three people, usually an older person along with someone who was learning how to go “door to door” and reach the world for Jehovah. Before I opened my mouth, I prayed silently that this would be a moment for these two women that would change their eternal destiny.

“You’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, aren’t you?” This is how our conversation started. They did not know that they had knocked on the door of a pastor who had actually taught about their form of religion in a class called “Cults and other World Religions.” I was ready to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Many people wonder whether or not Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians. The answer is a definite “no” when you ask them what they believe about basic, orthodox Christianity. Jehovah’s Witnesses and traditional, historical Christianity do not have much in common when you look at what is taught by each side. In this article, I am going to give you a few main topics to talk with Jehovah’s Witnesses about so that when you are approached by a JW, you will be comfortable interacting with them. You should burn with a desire for them to see the truth of the Bible so that they realize what they believe is not only false, but will send them to hell.

Jehovah’s Witnesses will probably bring up all of these topics in the course of your conversation. Here is how I answered them from a biblical perspective. Please read through all four. The last one is the most important and has really shaken them to their core. Topic #4 is worth the entire read in this article. But all of these topics will come up with a JW if you talk long enough with them.

Topic #1: Who exactly is Jehovah?

JW cross

Jehovah’s Witness: We believe in Jehovah and only He is God.

Christian’s Response: I also believe in Jehovah (Yahweh), but I believe that Jesus and Jehovah are the same God. Let’s look at these verses that prove that Jesus is fully God:

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).

Jesus even said that “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).

“In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word [logos] was with God, and the Word [logos] was God” (John 1:1).

You will have a hard time convincing a Jehovah’s Witness with the verse in John 1:1 because their leadership has translated it “the Word was a god.” But this is an inappropriate translation. If you talk with any Greek scholar, you will find that one should never place an “a” before the word god in this context. As you can see, this is why it is difficult to really talk through truth with someone who has been misinformed about the Bible.

A response you will probably hear from a Jehovah’s Witness when you try to tell them that Jesus is God is this verse:

Jesus stated himself that “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

Does this mean that Jesus is denying His godhood? No, it doesn’t. You cannot use just one verse to try to prove your point. That is why I presented several verses a few paragraphs above. But the lady that Saturday morning just kept repeating this one verse. She was taught this one verse and apparently none of the other ones. And too often, we forget to look at the context of the verse that becomes a proof text. In this context, Jesus is promising the Holy Spirit to the apostles after the resurrection. Jesus says repeatedly that He is doing the Father’s will, implying that He is somehow subservient to the Father. The question then becomes how can Jesus be equal to God when by His own admission He is subservient to the will of God? The answer lies within the nature of the incarnation (i.e. when Jesus became man and came to this earth).

During the incarnation, Jesus was temporarily “made lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:9), which refers to Jesus’ status. The doctrine of the incarnation says that Jesus took on human flesh. By taking on human nature, Jesus didn’t relinquish His divine nature. How do we reconcile the fact that the second Person (Jesus) of the Trinity is fully divine yet fully human and by definition lower than the angels? The answer is found in Philippians 2:5-11. When Jesus took on human form, something amazing and mysterious happened: “Christ made Himself nothing.” What does this mean? Jesus voluntarily made Himself different as He was on this earth. Somehow, someway, Jesus gave some things up to become a servant unto death on the cross. This “emptying” included following the will of His Father in heaven. And remember, subservience in role does not equate to subservience in essence.

You will most likely talk through this topic most of the time. You believe that Jesus is God, but they deny that Jesus is fully God. This is why topic #4 will put all of this together! Read the others first.

Topic #2: The Trinity

JW trinity

Jehovah’s Witness: We believe in one God called Jehovah and you believe in three gods.

Christian’s Response: I believe in the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit. All three persons are one God. They are mysteriously separate and yet one at the same time. Let’s look at these verses which teach the Trinity:

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

Thomas said to Him [Jesus], “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)!

“You’ve lied to the Holy Spirit…You’ve not lied just to human beings but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor [Holy Spirit; John 14:26], Mighty God, Everlasting Father [Father; 14:16], Prince of Peace [Jesus; John 14:27]” (Isaiah 9:6).

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

Jesus states that He is of the same essence of His heavenly Father. When Thomas saw the resurrected Jesus, he cried out that Jesus was now his God. And we see in the book of Acts that the Holy Spirit can be lied to and there is a direct reference to the Holy Spirit being referred to as God.

These last two verses don’t say the word Trinity, but they do present three distinct persons in the form of God. These first two topics connect with each other and one must accept the deity of Jesus before they will accept the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity can really trip up many people who want to believe. As Christians, we must be humble about this and state clearly that the Trinity is a mystery that we must accept in faith. There is biblical evidence, but we do not know exactly how it all works.

Topic #3: The 144,000

JW paradise

Jehovah’s Witness: We believe that only 144,000 believers will go to heaven. The rest of us will stay here on paradise earth.

Christian’s Response: It appears that the 144,000 in Revelation 7 are referring to actual tribes of Israel. Each of the tribes represents 12,000, possibly hinting towards the idea that this number is symbolic and that during the Great Tribulation God will save a large number of Jews who rejected Jesus earlier in their life. There also seems to be another group of people who are believers and this multitude cannot even be counted (Revelation 7:9). To say that there are only 144,000 individuals going to heaven totally disregards the rules of biblical interpretation.

I would like to talk about your three main leaders and their false prophecies. Here are four examples:

False Prophesy #1: The return of Jesus Christ in 1914. Charles T. Russell, the man who founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses, calculated when Jesus Christ was going to return to this earth: 1874. When Jesus didn’t show up, he changed the year to 1914. When 1914 came and went, he redefined the second coming of Jesus to mean that Jesus came invisibly as a spirit in 1914 to help set up his organization.

False Prophesy #2: Return of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob between 1925-1929. Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the second main leader of Jehovah’s Witnesses, prophesied that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would return to this earth to promote the kingdom of God between 1925-1929. He built a large mansion in San Diego for these three patriarchs to live in when they arrived. But by the end of 1929, they never showed up, so Rutherford moved into the mansion himself and lived there until he died in 1942.

False Prophesy #3: The 144,000. After Rutherford became president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1917, he started prophesying that Armageddon was right around the corner. To increase membership, he taught that only 144,000 people were going to make it to heaven. By 1935 they grew larger than 144,000 people. Heaven was filled and Armageddon had yet to occur. Another revelation came to Rutherford: everyone who became a Jehovah’s Witness before 1935 would go to heaven, while everyone who became a Jehovah’s Witness after 1935 would stay here on earth and live in a new paradise.

False Prophesy #4: Armageddon is coming in 1975. Nathan H. Knorr, the third main leader, prophesied that in 1975 Armageddon would come to usher in the end of the age. In 1976 and 1977 over one million Jehovah’s Witnesses left the organization because of this false prophecy.

The first three leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Organization were all false prophets. This would be like having Paul, John and Peter give specific predictions in the early church and none of them are fulfilled. It would dishearten all the followers to the point of asking: “Is this really the right way to God and heaven?” If your main leaders have falsely predicted future events that have not come to pass, then how can you trust them with other teachings? Try your best to help them see that their own leaders are deceiving them. It will feel like it is impossible, but you have God on your side who wants these wonderful people to see the light so that they will no longer be led astray by falsehood.

Topic #4: The Book of Revelation

Christian: Can I show you a few verses in the book of Revelation?

Jehovah’s Witness: Sure, I love that book!

After talking through the first three topics, I felt like it was time to use a few verses in Revelation. I knew that this would make these two ladies run from my house, but it was time to present to them some powerful truth about Jesus. I asked the forty-something lady to turn in her Bible to Revelation 1:8. I always use their New World Translation because they will be much more comfortable with that. I even asked her to read it:

JW alpha omega“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I asked her who was speaking. Who is the Alpha and Omega? She responded with a resounding, “Jehovah God.” I told her that she was right and I asked her to turn to Revelation 21:5-7.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.

“Who is this?” I asked. Once again, she stated that Alpha and Omega is Jehovah God. “Could you turn to Revelation 22:13 and read it?”

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

By this time, she was losing patience with me, but told me again that the Alpha and Omega refers to Jehovah God. I asked her if she could turn to one last passage. I had her read it out loud. It is Revelation 1:17.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.”

I had her stop at verse 17 and asked her, “Who is the First and the Last? She said that the First and the Last is Alpha and Omega, who is Jehovah God. Then I had her read verse 18:

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

“When did Jehovah die?” I looked her in the eye and asked her this question. She just stared at the page and then looked at me. And then she kept repeating, “Jehovah never died! Jehovah never died!” I told her that this is referring to Jesus and that Jesus is Jehovah God and that He died on the cross for our sins! She had no answer. She told me that she was not familiar with these passages and that it was time for her to go. I could tell that she was frazzled. She gave a bewildered and concern look to her daughter as they walked away. As she was walking away, I pleaded with her to study the verses and ask God to show her the truth about Jesus. I shut the door and that was it. I had won the argument, but I also had a sick feeling in my stomach. Here was a wonderful lady and a young girl who were headed in the wrong direction. Their blindness kept them from understanding the truth. I prayed for them, that this interaction might shake them in such a way that they will find the truth and the truth will set them free!

4 Reasons Why I Don’t Observe LENT  

lent1

I must admit that I did not grow up observing Lent.  I am a non-denominational pastor of a fairly non-traditional church.  So, some people might dismiss me before they read any further because of my background.  But with anything in life, sometimes an outside view is the best one when something on the inside might need to be reconsidered.

According to the Roman Catholic Church, Lent is a 40 day period of preparation for Easter Sunday.  It is a season marked by prayer, fasting, abstinence and giving.  For most people who follow Lent, it begins on Ash Wednesday, which is today.  In theory, the idea of Lent can be a good one.  But here are a few cautions I have observed over the years from my friends who decide to “give up something for Lent.”

Caution #1: Lent can lead us to focus on giving up the wrong things and leads to a false righteousness.   In high school I dated a Catholic girl during the season of Lent.  I remember that she gave up chocolate.  I also remember that she cheated on me with her ex-boyfriend who was away at college during that same season of Lent.  When we started dating, we had made a commitment to remain pure with each other because that was the right thing to do.  The logic behind “give up chocolate” but engage in “sexual immorality” has just never made sense to me.  But sadly, many Christians do something similar to this when they observe the season of Lent.  They give up chocolate, but not sin.

Maybe, instead of giving up chocolate and coffee for Lent, we could give up what the Bible actually tells us to give up: “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed…rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:5,8-9).

Caution #2: Lent often involves a fast which is frivolous.  When we give up candy or soda pop or something like that and call it fasting, we need to be careful to not make that which is holy all too common.  I used to teach that fasting was anything that you would give up for a time period to show God that you were serious about acknowledging Him as the leader in your life.  Fasting could be giving up television for a week.  Fasting could be just about anything.  I don’t believe that anyone.  Why?  Because a couple months ago I came across the teachings of someone who was dedicated to fasting.  It changed the way I will think about it until the day I die.  This “spiritual giant” has fasted for years.  He has fasted for a 24 hour period and also for 21 and 40 day periods.  He fasts by withholding from himself food and sometimes water.  This is what he said about fasting: “Biblical Fasting is always connected to food and water.  And there is a reason for that.  We cannot live without food and water.  When we give up one or both of these things for a period of time, we are showing God that we hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

If you want to give up coffee or candy for Lent, go ahead.  Just be careful about calling it fasting.  When your stomach growls because you haven’t eaten for a day, you are reminded that you are to hunger for righteousness.  When you decide to not drink water for a day, you are reminded that the true Living Water is the only One who will quench your thirst.  True fasting involves food and water because the substitutes (coffee, soda) fall short in bringing the human soul to acknowledge the supernatural work of God in your life.  Giving up candy doesn’t cause you to hunger or thirst.  Giving up your favorite television channel doesn’t cause you to hunger or thirst.  An empty stomach and a dry mouth has much greater potential to remind you of your need for the God of the universe.

Caution #3: Lent can wrongly lead people to believe that they can be saved by their works.   Since the beginning of the early church, people have engaged in asceticism in order to find salvation.  Let me give you a few example of asceticism over the centuries.  In the middle ages, monks would…

…mix sand with their bread and then eat it.

…stand for 7 years without ever sitting.

…allow beetles to eat them and do nothing about it.

…only eat uncooked food for 7 years.

…live in a swamp for 6 months.

…refuse to lie down for 40 years to sleep.

…not speak for one full year.

…keep a record of how long they would go without seeing a woman.

…even carry heavy weights everywhere they would go.

All this would be done so that they might become righteous before God.  They believed that by denying themselves of certain things, that would make them more spiritually fit as a Christian.  But when Jesus told us to deny ourselves, He was not referring to standing for 7 years or sitting in swamps.  He was referring to selfishness.  A certain kind of pride often creeps in and we think we are better than others when we do things in the name of denial.  So if you do some things in the name of Christ, don’t tell other people.  If you fast, do it in secret and only tell those who really need to know about it.  Don’t announce to the world what you are giving up for Jesus!  Just do it and let the world know that there is something different about you.

lent

The picture you are looking at is the 12th century Ladder of Divine Ascent in Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt.  This picture shows monks, led by John Climacus, ascending the ladder to Jesus, at the top right.  These monks are climbing on a ladder with 30 steps.  They are to do 30 things in order to find their place with Jesus, to be worthy to get to heaven.  But along the way are demons with arrows that are trying to take them down.  This is asceticism and it has no place in the doctrine of salvation by grace.  The belief that if you work hard enough in certain areas, you will succeed in your entrance to heaven, has sent many well meaning people to hell.  It is not asceticism which saves you.  It is the grace of Jesus Christ.  Lent can sometimes turn into asceticism.

Caution #4: Lent often becomes ritualistic instead of deepening our relationship with God.  Even though I didn’t grow up Catholic, I did grow up with my own set of rituals and traditions that I was taught to follow.  Over the years, I have decided that most of the traditions I was taught were extra-biblical and do not lead me into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.  So, I have decided to stop following those traditions.  It has been an important part in my spiritual journey.

In the local church I lead, I estimate that we have at least 100-150 people who grew up in the Catholic Church but now attend Central Church.  As much as they have appreciated their heritage and the good foundation that the Catholic Church gave them, they almost always share with me a common theme after attending for a while: “For the first time, I realize that my Christian faith is about a relationship with Jesus Christ.”  For too many church-goers, it is all about going through the motions of a mindless ritual, and yet they are just as far from God as before they entered the church building.

Maybe Lent is a spiritually moving event for you.  Maybe you grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ like no other time because you are giving something up for Him.  But maybe it has become a tradition that you do because you were taught it was important for a good Christian to do.  Maybe, just maybe, God’s plan for you is much bigger than 40 days.  Maybe, God wants you to deny yourself 365 days a year and get rid of your sin and instead clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12).

In the words of Job, who once had ashes on himself: “I know that my redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).  The season leading up to Easter should be one of complete joy, for we know that our redeemer lives!   We are not in a season of death, for our redeemer lives!  Our redeemer has paid the ultimate sacrifice!  We cannot and should not add to our Savior’s sacrifice.  Our redeemer lives!

One Thing Your Marriage Can’t Live Without

marriage

When someone walks down the aisle, the last thing that is on their mind is, “I am going to divorce this person someday.” But it happens at what seems an alarming rate. I have heard for years that the divorce rate is 50% inside and outside the church. I have read other researchers present a lower number for divorce, 26%. And just the other day I read that divorce in the church is possibly as low as 10-15%. Statistics, statistics, statistics. Can you really believe them?

I have performed 81 weddings. Out of these 81 weddings, one couple has gotten a divorce. That is a 1.23% divorce rate. Now, let me state that many of these marriages have almost ended. Several of these couples separated for a time. A few of them told me that they were thinking about getting a divorce. But 80 of the couples have remained together to this day.

These 81 weddings span almost 14 years. I have officiated weddings for couples…

…just out of high school.

…in their seventies.

…who have both been divorced.

 …who have blended as many as seven children into their new marriage.

 …who met online.

And somehow only 1.23% of the marriages have ended in divorce. I am surprised by this low percentage. I am humbled by this statistic. I ask myself, “Is it just an anomaly? Do I need to give it another decade and then see if these people have still made it?” Probably. But over half of these marriages have already lasted beyond the 7 year mark, which is when most people call it quits if they are going to divorce their spouse.

Before you jump to the conclusion that if you have Pastor Jeremy officiate your marriage you will be divorce proof, just realize that this statistic is not about me. As I officiate these weddings, I am also an observer. I see what will make a marriage last. As I get to know the couple through pre-marital counseling, I try help the future husband and wife answer this important question.

Do we have the same VALUES? This is by far the most important question because it will make or break a marriage. The one couple that did get a divorce didn’t have the same value system. They wanted different things in life. And they were both Christian! Many people think that being a Christian gives people the same values, but it doesn’t. You find out what a person’s values are when you figure out the answers to the following questions. Remember, values determine actions.

The Value of Family. How many children do you want? Do you want any children? Are you going to be a stay-at-home mom or will you have a full-time babysitter? Is the dad going to stay at home with the kids while the mom goes to work? How are we going to spend our holidays? Which “In-Laws” will get more attention over the holidays? Am I going to work long hours and put extra effort into my job, or will I sacrifice that latter of success so that I can come home before supper starts every night?

The Value of Church. How involved do you want to be in the church? How important is it for my children to go to church? Do you want to hang out with friends from church? Do I believe what the church teaches? Am I going to be a once a week church goer or be there every single day? Or am I going to just attend on Christmas and Easter?

The Value of Hobbies. How do you like to spend your time? Do you like to do the same things that your future spouse does? Or do you lead separate lives because you don’t have much in common? Never underestimate how important it is to spend quality time together doing something both of you enjoy. I once officiated a wedding for a couple who loved playing computer games together. It wouldn’t be my choice in how I spend time with my wife, but they could spend countless hours well into the night staring at a computer screen. By the way, they met online when they were playing a game!

The Value of Finances. Do I like to spend or save? Do I need to make lots of money or just enough money to get by? Am I tempted to buy things just so that other people will notice me? Am I generous to my church, to various missionaries, or am I skeptical of giving away my money?

The Value of Marriage. Do I truly believe that my marriage will last for my entire life? Do I only have eyes for my spouse? Do I hate divorce just like God says that He hates divorce? Do I look at my spouse as a companion? Do I look forward to being romantic even when we have kids? Do I strive to have a healthy sex life?

For a Christian, all of your values should be driven by what God’s Word teaches. God teaches us about the family, the church, finances, marriage, and even how we should spend our time.

How do you figure all this stuff out before you get married? Is it possible? Every couple who is married by a pastor at Central Church is required to take a 150 question assessment about their value system and they will then be involved in pre-marital counseling. So much time and energy is invested in the actual wedding day. Often thousands of dollars are spent for this wonderful day where two people become one. But just remember how important it is to discover a person’s values before you decide to tie the knot.

For those of you who are not yet married, please understand how important values are in your future marriage. Be determined to keep your own God-given values. You will never regret it!

Project Reach

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God is blessing Central Ministries in an amazing way!  In the last four years, the church has grown in weekend attendance of approximately 500 people to close to 1,000.  Central Christian School (which meets on Central’s campus) is also at its all-time high enrollment with over 150 students (K thru 8th) attending the school in the fall.  This growth has led to a few “good problems” like the need for space.  So, after researching, praying and designing for the last two years, the leadership has a strategy for a master plan for the next several years.  It is divided up into three different phases.

Phase 1: Construction of Gathering Place and the Student Wing.  This building will have two stories.  The first floor will have a gathering place with a welcome center, bistro, fireside room and restrooms.  The gathering place will be about 4,000 square feet.  Continuing on the first floor, there will be a new wing for children from birth up to Kindergarten.  We will have restrooms in every classroom and the younger children will be able to worship in their own pre-K auditorium.

On the second floor, 1st grade through 6th grade rooms will be constructed and the elementary kids will be able to gather in their own Kid’s Central Auditorium for worship.  The children’s ministry wing (1st and 2nd floor) will be about 20,000 square feet.  During phase 1, both the first and second stories will be finished.  In general, the 7th-12th graders will not be utilizing this new building, but will continue to meet in the Chapel area.  Therefore, we will need to renovate the Chapel area and update certain equipment (some of which is 40 years old).  Even though phase 1 is designed specifically for children’s ministry, Central Ministries greatly desires that this space be used throughout the week for various ministries like Central Christian School, The RiverDance Company, and other valuable organizations.

How much will phase one cost?  Approximately 2.9 million dollars.  This includes site work, construction of the building, architect fees, engineering fees, furnishings, and also renovation costs for the Chapel area.

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2nd

 Phase 2: Worship Center.  If you attend Central Church, you know that we meet in a gym.  Every single week, faithful people in our church setup and tear down over 450 chairs in our gym.  We call this gym a family life center because it functions as more than just a gym.  During the week, it is a dance studio for dancers, a basketball court for Upward practices and a place to play a great game of dodge ball during gym class.  On the weekends, it is a worship center.  And on these weekends, we are getting close to outgrowing our gym at our two services, which meet at 9:30 and 11.  We started a Friday night service with the hope that it would draw some people out of our two Sunday services.  It has done that.  But we have continued to grow to such an extent that we need a larger area to meet in for our worship services.

During phase 2, the new worship center will be constructed and finished.  The new worship center will be able to seat anywhere from 800-1,200 people.  You might ask, “Why the wide range in seating capacity?”  It is because phase 2 is still several years away and we are not sure where we will be at in our weekend attendance.

Phase 3: Addition to the Student Wing.  This additional building will have two stories and the total square footage designed will be approximately 12,000.  The primary use of this wing will be for the 7th-12th graders (Junior and Senior High Youth Ministries).  We might also be at a point where we can host additional ministries with this added space.  One of the philosophies of Central Ministries is to use as much of the church space for kingdom purposes as possible.  Currently, most of our building is used seven days a week.  We are thankful for that.  We always want to be the kind of church that practices good stewardship with our facilities.

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The leadership at Central Church realizes that our culture is changing.  Our nation seems to be subtly changing the rules when it comes to religious institutions and therefore we are making all of these plans with the knowledge that we might need to change some of the designs in the future.  But there is one thing that you can count on: Central Campus will always be a place where you will find ministry taking place in various forms.

Why are we doing this?  You have seen some of the practical reasons.  But here is the spiritual reason: “God’s greatness will reach to the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:4).  This is our “project verse.”  It is the verse which will guide us into this building project.  This building project is not about any one person’s greatness.  Leaders come and leaders go.  But God, as our leader, will always be guiding Central Church.  And while we are here on this earth, it should be our ultimate goal to show the greatness of God to the entire earth.  We should greatly desire to reach the world with God’s tremendous love for everyone.  We believe that by building, we can make an even greater influence in the Fort Wayne area.

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 Central Church has been around for 40 years.  Throughout the planning stages of this project, I have asked the people of this church, “What will Central Ministries look like in another 40 years?”  You might be in heaven.  Or maybe you will still be a part of this church.  The leadership, with humble hearts, plans to build a facility that will still be used 40 years from now.  It is Central Church’s desire that we make a godly footprint for generations to come so that those who come after us will be REACHED!   

Press here if you would like more information regarding Project Reach.