christianity

Six Anchors: 40 Days of Hope (Part 1)

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Where is your hope? What are you trusting in to carry you through life? Journey with us in discovering six unshakable anchors of hope.

About 10 and a half years ago, my mom lost her battle with cancer at the young age of 55. She was very dear to me; my confidant, my prayer warrior, and a strong woman of faith. When she passed, I was emotionally and spiritually devastated. I have been a Christian my whole life, and at the time, I had been pastoring for over 10 years. I had preached on faith and healing and saw many people miraculously healed, several from cancer. We all fully expected healing for my mom, and when it didn’t happen, I became deeply upset and angry with God. Why did He let me down? Why did He not come through when I needed the most?

At this point, I contemplated quitting the ministry. I couldn’t bring myself to preach a gospel that didn’t work for me when I needed it to the most. How could I preach with confidence something I wasn’t even sure I believed anymore?

Mark 11:22 says “Have faith in God.” Period. This was the verse my wife brought to my attention that snapped me out of my downward spiral. I quickly realized the meaning of this verse; to trust God regardless of the outcome, that His ways are higher than my ways, His thoughts higher than my thoughts, and that He was God and I was not. This began my journey of discovering the 6 Anchors of steadfast hope.

Hebrews 6:19 says, “This hope is an anchor for the soul.” The Amplified Bible describes that anchor as “one that will not give out no matter the pressure upon it”. This is the hope that I longed for. Although I assumed my hope was in the right place, it gave way under the pressure of my circumstances. So, I scoured the scriptures for “this hope.” During my search, I came upon six places in which the Bible instructs us to place our hope; anchors that will remain strong no matter the storm I face. Today, we are taking a look at the first three of those anchors.

Anchor #1 - The Word

In Acts 27, we read of Paul and a ship full of men becoming stranded in a mighty storm out at sea. The crew was becoming scared and disheartened but Paul arose and spoke hope to the men. He had received a word from God and was certain they would be saved. I can only imagine how much doubt Paul would have received in response, however, the men were drawn to his confidence. I too was drawn to the source of that confidence - the word from God.

In Paul’s instance, he heard a direct message from God. However, for you and I, we do not need a directive from above because we have the Word of God set before us in the Bible. I find the Bible to be a great way to hear from God. It is a sure anchor and remains strong no matter the circumstances. The Psalmist of Psalm 119:81 found the same to be true when he said, “My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have my hope in your word.” When he had lost all hope, he found his anchor in the Word.

Anchor #2 - Jesus

In Luke 8, Jesus and his disciples were on a journey across a lake. Suddenly, their boat was struck by a major storm. The disciples, some of them experienced fishermen, were filled with fear. Their hope was placed in their experience on the waters, however, this anchor gave way. Jesus asked them, “Where is your faith?” In this time of chaos and panic, Jesus was teaching them to relocate their faith to Him. He qualifies as an anchor that will withstand whatever pressure that bears upon it.

Paul speaks of Jesus in this way in Colossians 1. Paul had discovered that he could be content, even happy, in spite of his circumstances. This statement is astounding coming from a man who was currently in prison, suffering immense abuse. He told the Colossian church that his secret; “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” He discovered an anchor that held.

Things of this life are fickle and don’t satisfy as we think they would, but Jesus does. He satisfies us and brings a deep joy and peace despite what is going on around us. We must see Jesus as who He is, see what He has accomplished on the cross, and see what he has done through His resurrection. If we sit and wait for God to move, then we tend to look to the wrong things for hope. We look to our being good enough, or praying enough, or for people to be ready enough, or for the right things to align instead of realizing that Jesus already did enough. He is our hope. He is our anchor.

Anchor #3 - Heaven

The hope of heaven is really anchored in the resurrection of Jesus. This one event has utmost importance in our faith. The fact that Jesus beat death allows us all to do the same and lean into the sure anchor of eternal life in Heaven. I implore everyone to personally prove to themselves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the resurrection of Jesus is true. When you do this, all things become possible and Heaven is a sure thing.

As believers, our destiny is stronger than our history, our crown outweighs our cross, and our hope in heaven outweighs the hardships on earth. C.S. Lewis said, “If you read history you will find that Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.

Like I said in the book in Chapter 16, “The reality of heaven means we can remain steadfast. This world can throw anything at us, and we can remain unshaken because this world is just a small part of who we are; it’s not the finality of our existence. Again, this hope creates an unbreakable anchor that allows us to trust God more as well as love others on a deeper level.” We need to trust God more and we need to love others on a deeper level, because the church is the hope of the world and we are on our God-given mission to reach every available person, at every available time, by every available means, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.

Get your copy of the 6 Anchors devotional today! It is available on Kindle and as a paperback. Find it here.

If you have questions you would like answered in an upcoming podcast, please email leadership@myvictory.ca.

The Outside Focused Church

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The natural tendency of the local church is to stay insider focused. But in order to accomplish our mission, the church must become outsider focused. What should the church do to reach unchurched people?

In our churches, we just finished a series entitled “Whatever it Takes” based on the early church in the Book of Acts. It is so easy to get inspired by the men and women God used to get the church off the ground. Their courage and determination to spread the Gospel to the masses is incredible. This time, going through Acts, I was caught by how they thought and how they prayed. I compared their mindset and prayers with my own, and I admittedly felt a little ashamed by my small thinking and weak prayers. They prayed for boldness to keep preaching the Gospel to those in need, in the face of life threatening danger. I tend to pray for safety, for protection, and for blessings for me and my family. “Whatever it Takes” was a challenging series and I hope I can move forward from here with the same courage and focus of the early church.

Keeping vs. Reaching

Today, I am going to work on answering some questions we have received from one of our listeners. They began by stating, “The tendency in a church is to focus most of our time, effort and energy on those sitting right in front of us each Sunday morning”. If we turn again to the Book of Acts, we can begin to learn how the early church focused their efforts.

As a pastor, I find it easier and more natural to focus more on who I am trying to keep, however, the church in the Book of Acts focused their thinking on those they wanted to reach. In Acts 4, they prayed for boldness to continue preaching, despite the fact that they were just threatened with a death sentence by the High Priest. They were focusing more on who they wanted to reach, and less on who they were trying to keep. In Acts 15, they had their first board meeting to discuss which of the Old Testament laws they would keep and which they would get rid of; namely in regards to circumcision. James and Peter boldly decided “to not make it difficult for the Gentiles to come to God”, voting against the archaic practice. That was a bold decision. It may have cost them a significant portion of the Jewish members in the church, who would have deeply disagreed with them discarding Moses’ laws and their traditions. But, James and Peter decided to focus more on who they were trying to reach, as opposed to who they were keep. These are just two examples but the entire book displays this mentality of the first church. This mindset is why the church moved forward with such power and influence.

The Balance

Our listener went on to say, “There is nothing necessarily wrong with this [the tendency of the church to focus time, effort and energy on those sitting right in from of them each Sunday] but how do you effectively communicate that the balance may be off and that there needs to be more emphasis put on reaching and bringing in and compelling the unchurched to come in so they can become part of God’s family and then the local church’s family?

For me, I am not sure there is a balance. If I am going to lean one way or another, I would prefer to lean towards focusing on those I am trying to reach. I believe the best way to effectively communicate this emphasis is through the Lead Pastor from the pulpit. It is easy to preach this focus because Jesus made it His focus. He said, “I have come to seek and to save that which is lost.” He modelled this purpose in everything he did. The early church then followed his example. 

When I arrived in Lethbridge over 6 years ago, I recognized a church that had become insider focused. I believe this happens naturally to every church over time. It takes a regular course of correction from the pulpit by the Lead Pastor to counter this natural drift. When I discovered this problem in Lethbridge, I began preaching about being outsider focused and went through the Book of Acts. This is why I spoke through the Book of Acts again this past month; it was time to correct our church and prevent any insider drift from taking place again. I don’t think any change can happen effectively in a church until it has been preached passionately. If people can see it in the Word, they will go to work making it happen in their lives and in the church. That is the power of the Word. So, it must be preached first and then regularly in order to bring a change of direction in the church.

Waiting on the Holy Spirit

Next, our listener says this: “I find some of the responses from church members when being asked the question of what could or should we do to reach people are, ‘Well if they are really searching and truly need to become saved, the Holy Spirit will draw them in.’ My question to you Pastor Kelly is: If we are to wait until the Holy Spirit draws people into the church, what do we do with the Great Commission, to ‘Go into all the world and make disciples’ ?” 

I have heard this from a lot of well meaning Christians. They are waiting on a move of God. The only problem with this thinking is that God has already moved. He has done everything needed in order for salvation to happen. Jesus took care or the sin problem and made relationship with Him accessible to everyone. Next, He sent the Holy Spirit. When Peter and the 120 received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, they went out and preached. The Holy Spirit did not compel people in; He empowered them to go out.

The Holy Spirit’s job is not to draw people in; they don’t have the Holy Spirit, we do. The Holy Spirit’s job is to work in us and through us to go and reach. Paul said this in Romans 10: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”  We are the ones to preach. It’s on us.

If it is the Holy Spirit’s job to bring people into my church, then why does he like some churches more than others? If one church is growing and seeing souls saved and one is not, isn’t he playing favourites? Why does He like their church more than mine? It is like a farmer who has a field right next to the field of another farmer. If one reaps a bumper harvest and the other doesn’t, is it God’s fault? Or does it reflect on the skill of the farmer? The farmer can’t make a plant grow, only God can do that. But, the farmer plays a big role in the process. Has has to prepare the soil, plant the seed, fertilize the seed, water the field, get rid of the weeds, and collect the harvest. God made the crop grow, but it was the farmer who had to skillfully work the field to reap the harvest. The same is true in the church. It is God who saves, but it is us who have to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, and reap the harvest.

Designing a Service

Continuing on, the listener has received this answer in response to the question "What could or should we do to reach people?": “We can’t limit the elements of our service (lessen the music time or hold back from going really deep or shortening sermons or preaching on topics rather than whatever God would lead the pastor to preach each week) just so unchurched feel more comfortable.” This begs the question, how should the church “go deep” and for whom and when?

I believe each church needs to go deep, but each church has to reach. So, are we preparing our services for those we are trying to keep more than for those we are trying to reach? These are great questions and ones that I have wrestled with for a long time. One thing I discovered in our church is that, the way we were designing our services was creating completely dependant followers. What I mean by that is, as a team, we had to define what a “disciple” was in order to go and make them. we noticed how John wrote to the early church in 1 John 2. He wrote, “I write to you little children, I write to you young men, and I write to you fathers.” He was addressing three different groups in one church, based on their spiritual maturity. Our team looked at that and knew we must have those three groups in our church as well.

A little child is completely dependant on someone else. They need someone to feed them and clean up their messes. A young man is strong and independent. In fact, John wrote that when he said, “I write to you young men because you are strong in the Word and have overcome the evil one.” Young men are strong because they have the ability to feed themselves. When we discovered this, we noticed that we were designing our services in such a way that kept the congregation as dependants—as little children. We were trying to preach people full on Sunday’s by giving them heavy meat, instead of preaching them hungry so that they could go and feed themselves. Christians were never meant to get all of their spiritual meat in a Sunday gathering; they were meant to get it from the Word on their own. The language of little children is “I’m not being fed,” because they are completely dependant on someone else to feed them. So, we endeavoured to get people to begin growing themselves. When they do, you are not “limiting” their growth by cutting back on anything in your services because they are not solely dependent on you anymore. 

The Holy Spirit and the Unchurched

Now, is there a difference in the way and in the relevance of the Holy Spirit as He moves in the hearts of the churched versus the unchurched? I believe so. Look at what Jesus told the 120 before they received the Holy Spirit. They were followers of Him yet He told then to wait until they received the Holy Spirit before they went and preached the Word. This exemplifies the purpose of the Holy Spirit as well as the difference in His role within a believer versus a non-believer. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to the church; it’s for the believers and the unchurched will not recognize Him. In fact, Paul said that, to the unbeliever, the Holy Spirit will appear like foolishness.

So, the Holy Spirit is to guide and comfort the church, and is also a source of boldness. Our job is to be the preachers, to be the ones who compel them to come meet Jesus. We have to tell them, teach them, and explain to them. That is why Paul warned the church in Corinth to be careful with the gifts of the Spirit in the presence of unbelievers. They need to become believers before they will fully appreciate who He is and what He can do in and through us.

A final response to the question, “what could and should the local church do to reach unchurched people” is this: “People will be attracted to our uncompromising elements of the service.” However, how would unchurched people know whether the “elements of a service” are compromising or uncompromising?

This saddens me, because it is not biblical. Paul explained his approach to reaching the lost in 1 Corinthians 9. He said, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” To me, this doesn’t sound like compromise; this sounds like someone who is dedicated to reaching as many people as possible. When churches say “people will be attracted to our uncompromising elements”, it is like Paul saying, “because I am a Jew, the Gentiles will be attracted to God through my traditions and the law.” Paul realized that to them, it would be foolishness, even though the law is a part of the Bible. He said he became like them and spoke in a way they would understand, in order that he may win some. We see him do this in Acts 17 while he was in Athens. He quoted their poets as a part of his sermon when he said, “in him we live and move and have our being.” That is a direct quote from a poem by Epimedes of Crete in reference to Zeus. Most Christians today would accuse Paul of compromise, yet he was successful in planting a church in Athens.

Did Paul compromise? No. The guideline for me is to keep the message sacred, not the methods. The message is Jesus and His resurrection; I will never compromise that. The methods we use to preach that message are totally up for discussion. Our methods and traditions are the music we play, the order of service, the length of service, the length of music, the type of altar calls, the dress code, the language we use etc. When churches that are reaching the unchurched are criticized, it is usually over the fact that they are using different methods than what are traditional. It is rarely over the fact that the message is incorrect. We need to learn to discern the message from the methods and be open to messing with the methods in order to open people up to receive the message. This will help us “win some”.

In the weeks to come, we will go deeper into this subject. This approach to ministry challenges every church to do things relevant to the unchurched as well as the churched. I would be lying if I said I didn’t regularly wrestle with my traditional preferences and with the willingness to lay them down for the sake of reaching someone with the gospel. It is an easy trap to fall into; we all have the natural tendency to focus more on those we want to keep than on those we want to reach. But we have to do everything we can to resist that tendency and keep our focus on the mission. Why? Because the church is the hope of the world, and we’ve been given a mission to reach every available person, at every available time, by every available means, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.

 

If you have questions you would like answered in an upcoming podcast, please email leadership@myvictory.ca

The 30 Books Every Pastor Should Read

I love to read! I try to maintain a 1-book per week pace, and because of that, I am often asked "what's the best book you've read lately?" So here you go! Here's a list of the 30 most influential books I've read to date that have helped me as a pastor and a leader. If you click on the title of the book that interests you it will take you directly to Amazon.ca where you can order a copy of your own. Remember, leaders are readers. Enjoy!

My top 30 in alphabetical order:

  1. 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley

  2. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

  3. Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs by Bill Hybels

  4. Becoming a Coaching Leader: The Proven System for Building Your Own Team of Champions by Daniel Harkavy

  5. Church Planting: God's Plan for Transformation by George Hill

  6. Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication by Andy Stanley

  7. Covenant Relationships by George Hill

  8. Cracking Your Church's Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration by Dr. Sam Chand

  9. Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend by Andy Stanley

  10. Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want -- Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible by Brian Tracey

  11. Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth by Dr. Sam Chand

  12. Living Your Strengths: Discover Your God-Given Talents and Inspire Your Community by Donald Clifton

  13. No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come-as-You-Are Culture in the Church by John Burke

  14. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller

  15. Passing the Leadership Baton: A Winning Transition Plan for Your Ministry by Tom Mullins

  16. Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren

  17. Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples by Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger

  18. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

  19. Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team And Staff On The Same Page by Larry Osborne

  20. Surprising Insights From The Unchurched And Proven Ways To Reach Them by Thom Rainer

  21. The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential by John Maxwell

  22. The Big Idea: Aligning the Ministries of Your Church through Creative Collaboration by Dave Ferguson

  23. The Leader Who Had No Title: A Modern Fable on Real Success in Business and in Life by Robin Sharma

  24. The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently by Tony Dungy

  25. One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard

  26. The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: King Solomon's Secrets to Success, Wealth, and Happiness by Stephen K. Scott

  27. Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrows Success by John Maxwell

  28. Visioneering: God's Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Vision by Andy Stanley

  29. Volunteer Revolution by Bill Hybels

  30. Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission by John Kaiser

Messy Christianity

One of my spiritual hero’s was John Wimber. He is widely known as the founder of the Vineyard movement of churches. One of the things I respect most about him is that it was said of him when he pastored his first church, he created the substantial growth of 7 other churches in his city because he was leading so many people to the Lord. He was a very enthusiastic evangelist, right from his own conversion in the early 1960’s.

John Wimber was a famous producer in the music industry in the early ’60’s before he became a pastor. Within a few years of his conversion to Christ, he was approached by the Beatles and asked to produce one of their albums. He consulted with the church he was attending and was told that he shouldn’t associate himself with them and strongly advised to not accept the offer. Knowing the type of passionate believer and evangelist John was, what if he had taken the gig? What could have happened if he had been allowed to work with and influence the world’s most popular and listened to group?

Have you heard the statement, “We are in the world, but not of the world?” What does it mean? I grew up in a Christian school. We were taught it meant to remain separate from the world. We were not allowed to dress like them or look like them. I was told that my hair shouldn’t touch my collar. We were taught to never listen to the world’s music. In fact, we were taught that rock ‘n roll in general was evil, even if it had Christian lyrics. It created an us vs. them mentality.

Of course, my teachers had many scriptures to back up their claims. Verses like 1 John 2:15, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."  And James 4:4, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

But what do we do with scriptures like John 3:16-17, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."  Or John 9:5, "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world."

Is the Bible setting a double standard? Have you ever battled this tension? Have you ever felt that to be more “holy” you had to further distance yourself from the world and especially those who think like the world? I know I have. And then I read about Jesus, who was called a “friend of sinners”, and hung out with those who were some of the most worldly thinkers of the day. And He led his disciples to do the same!

I know for me, I’ve always been afraid of being tainted by the world, of slipping into sin, of backsliding, of losing holiness and of disappointing God. But in the Bible we get an incredible insight into the private thoughts of Jesus. We get to listen in on one of his prayers in John 17:13-18. He doesn't share these same fears. Instead He prayed, "But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

There it is! There’s the tension we’re talking about. The tension of being “in the world" but "not of the world." What do you think it means? How do we effectively reach the world without being tainted by it? Does Jesus expectation of us living clean mean that we avoid the messiness of the lives around us?

Are You Serving as Your Own Saviour?

In his play Amadeus, Peter Shaffer tells the story of Antonio Saleri, a young musical prodigy who prayed this prayer to God: “Lord make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music - and be celebrated myself! Make me famous through the world, dear God! Make me immortal! After I die let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote! In return I vow I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life. And I will help my fellow man all I can. Amen and amen!”

In his younger years he strictly kept his vow to God. He kept his hands off women, he worked diligently at his music teaching many musicians for free, and he tirelessly helped the poor. His career began to blossom and he was thrilled that God was keeping His end of the bargain. All was going well for him until Mozart appeared with musical gifts far above Salieri’s. His genius had obviously been bestowed on him by God. Amadeus, Mozart’s middle name, means “beloved by God,” and yet he is vulgar and self-indulgent. The talent God lavished so prodigally on Mozart begins a crisis of faith in the heart of Salieri. And he pens these words:

“It was incomprehensible...Here I was denying all my natural lust in order to deserve God’s gift and there was Mozart indulging his in all directions - even though engaged to be married - and no rebuke at all!”

Finally, Salieri says to God, “From now on we are enemies, You and I,” and spends the rest of his life seeking to destroy Mozart. All of his efforts to be a good Christian were ultimately revealed to be profoundly self-interest. God was just a useful instrument. He told himself that he was sacrificing his time and money for God’s sake, but there was actually no sacrifice involved. He was doing it for his own sake, to get fame, fortune, and self-esteem.

“I liked myself,” Salieri said, “till he came.” Soon the moral and respectable Salieri shows himself capable of greater evil than the immoral, vulgar Mozart. While the Mozart of Amadeus is irreligious, it is Salieri the devout who ends up in a much greater state of alienation from God, just like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15. In the story Amadeus, Mozart of course is like the younger brother and Salieri is remarkably like the elder brother.

Dr. Timothy Keller said in his book Prodigal God, “If you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior."

Unfortunately, when I hear the description of the elder brother in Luke 15 and in the story of Amadeus, I see a part of myself and my own tendencies.

Questions: Do you see some of the same traits in yourself? Have you ever tried to bargain with God? Have you ever tried to use your goodness to get what you wanted from God?