Archive for category devotional thoughts
A few years ago I read a shocking paragraph in Thom Rainer’s book, The Unchurched Next Door:
82 percent of the unchurched are at least ‘somewhat likely’ to attend church if they are invited. Perhaps we need to pause on this response. Perhaps we need to restate it: More than eight out of ten of the unchurched said they would come to church if they were invited.
This seemed astonishlingy high, yet also encouraging for those of us who would like to see our friends, families, and neighbors discover a relationship with God. Is it really true?
Well, a few years later, the research has shown Rainer’s estimations are slipping. Nonetheless, recent statistics are encouraging. A recent survey discovered that 63% of people are somewhat or very willing to receive information about a church from a family member and 56% are somewhat or very willing to receive information from a friend or neighbor.
Additionally, 38% (almost 4 out of 10) have said they are more open to considering matters of faith during the Easter holiday season.
None of this is really too surprising. But it does mean that if there was ever a time to invite a friend or family member to church, this would be it. Click here for information about Second Mile’s Easter Celebration, and pass it on to someone you love.
We’re sharing some ideas on how everybody can make a difference to guests and non-Christians that join us on Sundays. For the context of our discussion, check out the recent posts, The Sermon Starts in The Parking Lot, The Sunday Mind-Shift, Show Up Early, and Take a Genuine Interest.
Over a year ago, I had an “exit interview” with a man who was leaving our church. He was a single man in his 40s and had been going through a tough time. After years away from church, God used the death of his mom, unemployment and a couple of other trials to bring him back. Our church was one of the first he visited.
I distinctly remember him saying was something like this:
“On my first Sunday I spent about 15 minutes pouring out my heart to somebody that I just met. It probably wasn’t the wisest thing on my part, but I was emotional and things were tough. At the end of the conversation, the guy I was talking to said something like, ‘Well, here’s my number, let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.’ I thought, Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you? Seriously? I just poured out my heart and told you all my problems. Clearly there is something you could do for me. It felt like I just got blown off.”
This is admittedly a tough situation. I’m sure many of us would not be exactly sure what to do if we had a total stranger spilling his or her guts on us. But there’s an important lesson here. We should come to church ready to do ministry.
The Sunday gathering is not merely a place to be ministered to, but a place to get in the game and participate. If we can’t do it on Sunday when we’re on our home turf, what chance do we have during the week out in the world?
In the end, this mostly comes down to mindset. And each of us needs to have a mindset ready to care for people, pray for people, and be the hands and feet of Jesus to them.
Are you ready?
We’re sharing some ideas on how everybody can make a difference to guests and non-Christians that join us on Sundays. For the context of our discussion, check out the recent posts, The Sermon Starts in The Parking Lot, The Sunday Mind-Shift, and Show Up Early.
Have you ever wondered how somebody like Bill Clinton–with his political polarization and personal immorality–can remain so enchanting to so many people? As you listen to those who have met him, one reason comes sharply into focus. They all say something like, “When you meet Bill Clinton, it feels like you’re the only person in the room.”
In other words, despite all his faults, Clinton takes a genuine interest in people. He’s not busy looking over their shoulder or glancing at his watch. He truly cares.
If a politician will do that, how much more should God’s people do that? Isn’t it simply the essence of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself”?
If you want to make a real difference in somebody’s life, take a genuine interest in them. Ask them sincere questions. Listen rather than thinking of what to say next. And slow down.
I have to admit that this is personally tough for me — especially on Sundays when I’m trying to meet lots of new people, care for those in our church family, and think through the elements of my sermon and the service. It’s tough. But I’m trying.
I’d love it if we had 300 other people trying as well. I think the love of Jesus like that would turn our church upside down.
Want to make a difference for those who are guests on Sunday? Here’s a very simple way: Show up early.
As a pastor, I’m at our gathering location early every week. And I’ve noticed that, at least at our church, only 3 kinds of people show up early (at least 10 minutes before):
- Older people
- New people
Older people are just respectful and are basically not in a hurry, ex-cons have been subconsciously trained that if they don’t show up early they don’t eat, and new people are there because they didn’t want to show up late and get embarrassed.
When these guests arrive, wouldn’t it be great if there were a bunch of genuinely joyful people there, excited about the chance to be together and celebrate Jesus? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were loving, devoted Christ-followers ready to strike up a conversation or say hello?
If you were a guest, that’s what you’d want. And all it takes is showing up early.
I know, I know…it takes kids forever to get moving in the morning, especially when you want them to hurry. But they do it for school and you do it for work. Why? Because showing up early to those things is important to you. Shouldn’t the opportunity to love on guests to our church (people who are likely exploring the faith) be just as important?
There is low-hanging gospel fruit and ministry every week for those who will take it. So join me, your pastors and the band and come love on some new people!
For a context of this discussion, see The Sermon Starts in the Parking Lot.
Making a difference with the guests to our church is not hard. It takes surprisingly little effort. But, sadly, few Christians intentionally focus on this opportunity to love and serve our neighbors. When we invite our own friends and family, we do this naturally. But what about the other Sundays when other people have invited their friends?
Make a mind-shift.
Colin Marshall writes:
See church as a place where Christians go to work. Church is a gathering of God’s people to hear his word and respond in faith and obedience. In this gathering, we are in fellowship with each other, through the blood of Jesus, and, because of our fellowship, we seek to serve each other. We use our gifts and abilities to strengthen one another and build Christ’s Church— ‘edification’ is the word often used to describe what goes on in church. All believers are involved in building the church, not just clergy or preachers. The New Testament consistently teaches that in the growth of the body of Christ each part must do its work (see Eph 4; 1 Cor 12-14). Because of this, we aren’t to see ourselves merely as part of an organization called [Second Mile Church], but as servants of God’s people, eager to meet the needs of others even if it means sacrificing our own.
This will change your reasons for going to church. Make the shift from being the ‘helpee’ to the helper, the served to the servant. Church is where we seek spiritual food and encouragement in order to become more godly; but church is also where we go in order to feed other people and encourage them. In God’s mercy, we become more Christ-like in the process, as like him we deny ourselves for the sake of others.
Why do you think we do this naturally when we bring guests to church, but we forget it the other weeks?
Our mission to take the gospel to people and make disciples is definitely not limited to what we do on Sunday — it happens all the time, everywhere we go. But it should also be happening at the Sunday gathering. If we can’t do it well there, we’ll have a hard time doing it elsewhere. Everything we do when we gather is a chance to communicate the beauty of Christ.
Hell is real, and Hell matters.
If this were not the case, then the recent controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, is totally ridiculous (click here for Pastor Jake Johnson’s helpful review of Bell’s book). But Hell truly does matter—and not for just theological reasons, but practical ones also. Believing that Hell is real should impact your life.
So, here are four practical ways that believing in Hell should affect your life here on Earth:
1. It should give you greater love for what Jesus accomplished on the cross
Jesus did not die merely to save you from feeling bad about your unfulfilling life. He died to save you from his Father’s wrath against sin and then bring you into a relationship with him that could never be broken.
One of Hell’s greatest horrors is being cast away “from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might” (2 Thess 1:9). If everything good and perfect comes from God (James 1:17), then to be shut out from his presence means solitary eternity without good—nobody to laugh with, nothing beautiful to admire, nobody to sympathize with your pain, no taste of food or drink, and no longing for friendship fulfilled.
In contrast, Jesus’ death accomplished eternal life—and all that goes with it: friendship (with God himself), camaraderie, singing, eating, drinking, working, delighting, laughing, and rejoicing—all centered and focused around Jesus and what he won for you. This new life with God begins now, and you should enjoy it.
2. It should give you a greater appreciation for what Jesus experienced on the cross
Jesus’s death on the cross was violent and awful. It was torture. But it was torture for two criminals next to him as well. What made Jesus’s crucifixion truly hellish was that he was experiencing separation from his Father—a taste of Hell. Let’s be clear: Jesus did not go to Hell when he died to suffer more there (he told the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise”). But Jesus’s suffering on the cross was a taste of the agony of Hell. The weight and guilt of sin crushing down on him while his Father turned his face away. The Savior you treasure has tasted Hell for you.
3. It should remind you that even the smallest of sins sent Jesus to the cross
Jesus mentions Hell twelve times in the Gospels. A number of these times warn of the seriousness of sin. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus declares that it’s not just murderers who deserve Hell, but those who angrily say to a friend “You fool!” One of the major themes of Jesus’ teaching on Hell—appearing five times (Matt 5:30, 18:9; Mark 9:43, 45, 47)—is that sin is so serious that it would be better to lose a body part causing you to sin than to keep it and go to Hell. Thus, Hell instructs us to fight sin with an amputation-level seriousness.
4. It should propel you into conversations about Jesus’s cross
The Bible says that those who reject Jesus will “perish” (John 3:16) and that “the wrath of God remains” on those who do not obey him (John 3:36). In other words, the stakes are high. People need to hear the good news about Jesus’s saving death. If you believe that being with Jesus is the most delightful thing you could experience and that those without him will experience a solitary eternity of misery apart from him, then you must offer the only hope—the cross of Jesus Christ. To say you believe in Hell but don’t ever talk about Jesus with those who are going there is, at best, inconsistent hypocrisy and, at worst, hate-filled indifference. This is why even Penn Jillette, a committed atheist, can applaud a Christian for genuinely sharing Jesus and ask, “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
Do you believe in Hell? If so, then let it transform the way you adore Jesus, the way you fight disobedience to Jesus, and the way you talk about Jesus.
What are some other practical reasons that Hell matters? What would you add?