Married to a Seducer

HEARING gODVerizon Wireless created one of the most memorable marketing campaigns ever in 2005. In their commercials a so-called “test man,” accompanied by a crowd of network engineers, travels the country asking the simple question, “Can you hear me now?” in an ongoing exercise to determine the reliability of the mobile phone carrier’s network.

The “catch phrase” caught on. The company’s market share went up and employee turnover went down. It seemed people could relate to the struggle to connect. Folks were tired of dropped calls and unreliable communication systems. And Verizon sent a message that they wanted desperately to connect with its subscribers and wanted its subscribers to be able to connect with each other.

PROPHETS

At the risk of selling him short, God has done the same. Even when the Kingdom had split in two, he kept sending his message. He gave the people of the Divided Kingdom some 208 years to decide whether they would “accept” or “reject” his call. He sent his own “technicians” to get the message out. We call them “prophets.”

PROSTITUTES

The job of the Verizon technician is unique. But not nearly as unique as the task given Hosea. Hosea, himself a prophet, appeared in a down time in the nation of Israel. The reality is that people often hear best when things are at their worst. So Hosea signed on with God. But God gave him a most unusual assignment. Hosea’s life would be his message. He was to marry a prostitute named Gomer and love her. What an incredible request! (Just imagine a young man with a sePROSTITUTEminary degree in hand trying to explain that one to a pastor search committee.)

The tough assignment was made even more difficult as Gomer left Hosea. She would conduct her ‘trans- actions’ with customers and all the time in her mind believing they were the ones supporting her. In reality, though, it was Hosea who continued to care for her and provide for her necessities even during her times of unfaithfulness.

PIMPS

God tells Hosea to go and demonstrate his love for her, so he does. Now picture this scene, as ugly as it is: Hosea pays some Hebrew “pimp” for some time with his wife, Gomer. When she enters the room expecting her next customer, she comes face-to-face with her husband. It is then that Hosea tells her again he loves her and wants her to come back home.

PICK IT UP

It’s the lived-out message that Hosea later gives in words. And it’s the same message God sends today. He loves us—even in our extreme unfaithfulness. And he wants us to come back home, even though we have abandoned him. But much like a call on your cell phone, you can hit the “accept” button or the “reject” button. You have the power to send God to voicemail and make him wait. Or you can answer his call today. The people of Israel had 208 years to pick up and they never did. The network is clear. The message is reliable. Can you hear him now?

Put government in its place.

governmentDay by day and moment by moment we witness governmental activities, decisions and more than anything else dysfunction. We get to the point where we have had about all of it we can take. We want to contact our elected officials and tell them off. Or we want to turn it all off completely. I would suggest that instead, we just put government in its place. Possibly in your mind you have already given meaning to that statement. Here’s the way I intend it. Give government the status it deserves. When you do, this is the larger reality.

God is still on the throne. He is still in charge. He continues to call the shots of the world and universe. Psalms 196:10 says, “The Lord reigns forever.” Forever in this verse means forever. Reigns means he has power over government. He has power over everything. Everything begins and ends with him, not government. “He was before all else began and it is his power that holds everything together.” (Col 1:17 TLB)

Place your trust in God. Those who trust in government will forever be disappointed. Those who trust in God will never be disappointed. We are disappointed only when we place our trust in the wrong place or in our agenda above God’s agenda. Our hope is in the Lord. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Prov 3:5-6)

Help and pray for those affected by governmental decisions. Not everyone is directly acquainted with someone affected by the current shutdown of the government. But those who are, should be looking for ways to reach out and offer support and resources when needed and possible. All of us can pray for those who are hurt by governmental decisions or lack of as well as for our government leaders who are making the decisions.  “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

Keep the perspective. It is all about eternity. Focus on the goal line instead of the obstacles along the way. How can we use these circumstances to congresschange perspectives and bring about eternal differences in people’s lives? If current issues are resolved without any thought of life change and eternal success what have we gained? “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18)

So the best thing we can do, in the midst of current climate, challenges and conflict is put government in its place and get on with what’s most important, trusting in God rather than government and devoting our lives to making eternal differences in the lives of those who we are blessed to do life together with. That, my friend, is one thing government can never grant to us nor take from us.

Far more than we would ever dare to ask

amazing thingsCheck this out. “God, who by his mighty power at work within us, is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of-infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” Eph 3:20 (TLB) Doesn’t that just blow you away? Doesn’t that stir something within you that wants to see that kind of thing happen? Doesn’t that make you want to know how to see that happen?

Well, here’s the key that unlocks the door to God doing far more than we would ever dare to ask. Are you ready? Hold on! It’s PRAYER. That’s right, prayer. I know, you thought it was going to be some new and profound discovery. No, it’s the same as it has always been, PRAYER.

If that is true, then why don’t we see God doing far more things than we would dare to ask, all the time? Are you ready for that answer? It is because we don’t ask. What do you suppose the most talked about subject in the church setting today is? Prayer! And what is the most talked about issue with Christians? Usually prayer.  Do you have any idea what is the least practiced? You guessed it, prayer. The kingdom of God will not be advanced in our own power. Your spiritual life will not experience any real, long term growth without lots and lots of prayer. God will never do more than we would dare to ask without a vital connection with him in prayer.

So I would say to you, PRAY FIRST.

Make that your approach to life. The first thing I will do is pray. Before I try to come up with a solution, before I seek advice, before I worry or fret or lay awake at night or throw up my hands and quit, I will pray.

What this does is bring the supernatural presence and power of God into every circumstance you face. I don’t know if you have figured this out yet, but God knows a lot more than you do and God can accomplish a lot more than you can. In fact, God can do more and do it better in an instant than I can in my entire life. So why would I not include him first in whatever I am dealing with? It just doesn’t make sense.

When Peter was arrested, in the New Testament book of Acts, chapter 12,  and thrown into prison facing death by execution, what do you think the first thing the other Christians did? They prayed, and prayed and kept on praying. So pray first and then…

Then PRAY OFTEN.

How often? As often as you think about the challenge, need, problem or opportunity. Now, I am not talking about stopping everything you are doing, assume a certain position on your prayer mat and devote lengthy time to praying, kind of prayer. I am talking about wherever you are, whatever you are doing speak it to God.

God thank you for this challenge I am facing. Help me to grow from it.

God, I have a lot going today. Please lead me in everything I do.

God, please give me the divine wisdom to know what to do in this situation.

God, help me to be sensitive to your leading in solving this problem.

God, forgive me for that thought I just had that was totally wrong.

God, help me not to do something irrational with my kids.

Now, there are times when we need to just be still before the Lord and pour our soul out to Him and seek him at length. But there are many times throughout the day when we just need to include him. Talk to him, tell him, seek him, invite him, depend on him.

Well, doesn’t God already know what I need? Doesn’t the Bible say that he even knows my thought? Then why do I need to spend so much time talking to him and telling him? Because, do you know what prayer is? It is declaring your absolute dependence on God. He wants us to declare our dependence on him. We need to declare our dependence on him. So do it and do it often. And then…

And PRAY BELIEVING.

Practically speaking, what good is it to ask if we don’t believe we will get an answer? What good is it to asking if we don’t believe God wants what is best for us? What good is it to ask if we don’t believe God moves and works through the prayers of his people?

Here are the very words of Jesus. This is going to the top. Mark 11:24 “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  Believe that it is already on its way.

Let’s wrap it up with some words from  John. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask , because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” 1 John 3:21

That means I am not just coming to God like a big Santa in the sky. I don’t look at him as just someone who gives me what I want. I am not bringing my shopping list. I do not believe in this health, wealth and prosperity gospel. “God, I am coming to you with a surrendered heart. I am coming to you with a willingness to back up my life with obedience, with living in a way that is sold out to pleasing you. That is what I want more than anything else in my life.” And, guess what, God honors and gives attention to those kinds of prayers.  God goes far beyond our asking when we come to him as that kind of surrendered, obedient follower.

New Venture’s Vision for the Future

visionBefore we talk about our vision for the future, let me teach you a Hebrew word. The word is Chazown. It is a word that means “a dream, a revelation, or a vision.” You can find Chazown 34 times in the Old Testament. Proverbs 29:18 is the best known verse containing Chazown. Look at how this Hebrew word is translated into English in some popular versions of the Bible.

Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint. (NIV)

                Where there is no vision, the people perish. (KJV)

                When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. (NLT)

                Without prophetic vision people run wild. (GW)

                Where there is no prophecy people cast off restraint. (NRSV)

                If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves. (MES)

No matter how you translate it, without Chazown, vision, revelation, divine guidance, people will be confused, scattered, unfocused and easily distracted.

So I want to set before you my vision for New Venture Christian Church not just for the next year but for the next five years. This has been burning in my soul for months now. Here it is in two words.

My vision for New Venture Christian Church for the next five years is to DOUBLE EVERYTHING.

Here are a few examples of what that would look like in its fulfillment. Five years from now:

200 to 250 in regular attendance

2 worship services with 2 worship bands

20 baptisms or more per year

10 small groups

50% of our people in ministry

5 ministries that we are involved in in the community

feeding 200 kids each week in our BPL ministry

60 kids in our children’s ministry

25 teens in our youth ministry

2 foreign mission involvements

our own building that gives us our own identity

You say, how will all this happen? We all know, vision isn’t worth the time it takes to dream it or write it or share it if there are no legs to it. So here are the legs to this vision. This is what it will take to see this vision happen. This is the way to move it from dream to reality, from words to wonderful results, from concepts to completion.

The first leg is PRAYER.

Spiritual work depends on spiritual tools. No spiritual tool is as important or powerful as prayer. God can do more in a tiny fraction of a second than I can accomplish in the next five years, in the rest of my life. He can do it bigger, better and more effectively than I can ever imagine. So the question becomes, how can we somehow influence God to be more engaged and moving in the bringing about of our vision for the future? The answer is prayer.

I would even like to step it up a notch or two when it comes to prayer, are you ready for this, and add fasting as well. Fasting, in the Bible, means not to eat or self-denial. Fasting is to choose not to partake of food or fleshly needs to give yourself more fully to prayer. A normal fast involves fasting from food but not from water. I would like to ask you to join me to pray daily and fast one day a week for our vision for the next 30 days.

Leg number two is a PLAN

Without a plan vision will go nowhere. Everyone can dream and talk wild and lofty thoughts, but how do you make it all happen? How do you turn dreams and vision into reality? With a plan.

So we are asking and commissioning every ministry team and ministry area to take the next two months to develop a plan to double their ministry in five years. What are the specific steps you will take to double the size and impact of your ministry area? We are talking about a well thought out and written out plan. So if you are the leader of any ministry area or ministry team, that is connected with New Venture, you are hereby commissioned as certified planners in the “double everything” vision for New Venture Christian Church.

Leg three is PEOPLE.

Vision can only become reality with people. Doesn’t that make sense? With boots on the ground! Of course, God can do anything he chooses to do, but that’s not how God works. God always works through people. When God wants to get something done he has always used people. And God wants to use you as a key part of carrying out his mission and vision for New Venture Christian Church.

Here are three things that are needed from all of us to make vision reality.

1. Consistent Worship. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:25 “Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do.” Consistent worship is so important and here are some reasons why.

It provides you with balanced spiritual nourishment. On the other hand, inconsistency in worship robs us of balanced spiritual nourishment. Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) When we fail to consistently worship we are robbing ourselves of what we need most for our spiritual development.

Consistent worship says that we really do love God and want to worship him. It says I am so grateful for his love and faithfulness and I want to take every opportunity I can to let him know and to declare it to him and everybody else. How can I do otherwise? God honors and blesses that.

Consistent worship reveals that we really do love Jesus and the church he died for. The Bible says, “Jesus loves the church and gave his life for it.” How does my attendance say that I love the church? Because worshiping God is the starting point when it comes to loving and building up the church and accomplishing its mission in the world. Most people think at all starts with work. Worship must precede work. If it doesn’t we are trying to make it happen in our own strength.

Consistent worship also builds momentum. If there is one thing we will need to move to the next level and then to the next and the next it is momentum. Nothing is a momentum starter and booster like a packed house every Sunday. Have you ever noticed the energy when that happens?

So to double everything it begins with everyone who considers New Venture to be your church to place worship at the top of your weekly priorities.

2. The second of the big three when it comes to people is everyone involved in service. Serving says I want to be a part of the body of Christ the way God designed it to be not the way I wanted to be. God designed the church body like the human body. Why do you have body parts? To serve as functioning parts of the body. If you are a part of the church, the body of Christ, he expects you to act like it. That means, function as a viable and contributing part of the body. Serving says I want to be in this body what God expects me and designed me to be in it

3. That brings us to the third big three people need, generous people. Here is the bottom line, it takes money to turn vision into reality. It takes generous people. Not much in today’s world comes free.

Generosity with our money says, “I believe Jesus knows what he is talking about when he said, on more than one occasion, ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’” I may not understand it all, I may not know how it will all work out but if he said it then I believe it and I will make it the standard of my life. I will make it the foundation of my existence and my relationship with him and the church.

Generosity also says, “I believe the Bible is true and I will obey it when it instructs me to bring the whole tithe into God’s storehouse.”Again, I may not understand how it will all work out, but I will obey the teaching of God when it comes to tithing.

A third statement generosity makes is,” I will trust the Lord to work it all out.” Jesus said, “He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the kingdom of God your primary concern.” (Matthew 6:33)  The biggest reason why we aren’t more generous is that we don’t believe God will take care of us. We don’t trust him. We would rather handle it ourselves and trust in ourselves.

So we can only turn vision into reality when all of us who consider New Venture our home church, step up to the plate financially.

So we pray and pray and pray, with fasting, develop a plan to turn vision into reality and then we, the people, must be the boots on the ground and hearts in the action to flesh it out.

And the final leg is that we must PERSIST, even when we don’t feel like it.

Make this your marching order, Galatians 6:8-9, “Don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.”

Don’t give up! Don’t give up! Don’t give up!

Ramp it up!

A couple weeks ago I issued a call and challenge for you to join me in committing to 40 days of prayer for America leading up to the presidential election of 2012 on November 6. (Link to the original post: https://stevethornton.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/40-days-of-prayer-for-america/) Many, at that time, started to pray. Others have been somewhat hit and miss at it. Still others planned to pray but haven’t gotten into the routine of it yet.

Whatever your pattern has been or failed to be up to this point, I want to STRONGLY encourage you to DON’T STOP PRAYING. Or if you haven’t started praying for a new direction for America and think it is no use to start now, you are seriously wrong. It is NEVER too late to begin praying for our country and the direction she will take on November 6. So don’t stop praying now and if you haven’t started, please join me and the others who are praying. It is time to pick up the praying pace. It is time to ramp it up. It is time to take it to the next level as the election moves ever closer and closer.

Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows that the tide has begun to turn and that turn started right at about the 40 day period when more and more people across this country began to pray. The debate on October 3 took place and that was a game changer unlike any debate in presidential debate history. More and more people in America are beginning to acknowledge that the direction our country is going is devastating and now is the time to redirect.

You can look at any number of factors to explain the shift in voter preference that has taken place over the last ten days but I believe the unseen and most powerful factor has been the prayer of people of faith who believe God not only has the answer but is the answer and are turning to Him to lead in redirecting out great country.

So, I say it again, don’t stop praying. Join us if you haven’t been. Encourage others to do the same. Ramp it up. Every time you think about the election, say a prayer for America.

We need to realize that the Evil One will do everything he can to keep this country moving down its current road away from a solid foundation of strong morals, godly principles and faith in the divine creator as the ultimate authority.

Prayer is our greatest game changer at this time. It is not our only obligation. It will not take the place of showing up at the poles and voting, but the power of God cannot be underestimated when it comes to changing hearts.

Let’s not leave prayer to our last resort. Let’s make it our first line of defense and change. Ramp it up!

40 Days of Prayer for America

I am asking you to join me for forty days of prayer for the future of America. These forty days will lead up to the 2012 election on November 6. Whether you get in a full forty days or not I encourage you to begin today to pray for America.

America is the greatest nation in the world. She has provided more opportunity for freedom, equality and justice than perhaps any nation ever. But her greatness is in serious danger. Never before has she been in more danger. I believe this election to be one of, if not the most crucial one, in the history of our great land.

All of America’s greatness will change in a dramatic way on November 6. She will either continue down a road that leads to her demise in an unabated way or she will stop the rush to destruction on a dine.

Nothing is more important at this point than prayer. Voting is vital and I will vote but prayer must come first. Standing for and even campaigning for your candidates is good but prayer must come first. Posting signs in strategic places can have an impact but prayer must come first. Prayer must come before everything at this point. Prayer cannot be our last resort. For the next forty days prayer must be our first resort.

Will you MAKE time every day to pray for America? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Designate a specific time and pray at that time each day.
  • Pray whenever you think of the future of our country.
  • Be aware of distractions because Satan does not want you to pray for America. Resist his distractions with all your strength.
  • Pray for a specific candidates, issues and results. Get painfully specific.
  • Invite and encourage others to join you in praying for America for the next forty days
  • Pray together with others whenever possible.

It is good to be reminded that the Bible reveals forty days to be a spiritually significant time period.  In fact, in the Bible, any time God wanted to prepare people and circumstances for action, He took forty days.  For instance:

  • Noah’s life was transformed by 40 days of rain
  • Moses’ life was transformed by 40 days on Mount Sinai
  • The spies were transformed by 40 days in the Promise Land
  • David was transformed by Goliath’s 40-day challenge
  • The city of Nineveh was transformed in 40 days
  • Jesus was empowered for ministry by spending 40 days in the desert
  • And the disciples were transformed by 40 days with Jesus after the resurrection.

I believe that America can and will be transformed by forty days of prayer as we call out to him to lead our great nation toward Him, His principles and His truth instead of farther away. If we will pray, this transformation can go far beyond a four year Presidency term to many, many years to come.

Two questions: will you join me in praying ever day for America for the next forty days? Second question: will you get the word out and invite as many others as possible to join you in these forty days of prayer?

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:13-15

 

 

The Kind of Church God Blesses

May 29, 2012 By

London has some of the most beautiful, historic churches in the entire world. Yet they are also some of the most empty. I was struck by this recently when I was in the city to do a Bible study. Churches are dying off so fast that they’re being sold off to bars and restaurants. London churches are desperate for the blessing of God.

I don’t want to lead a dying church. I don’t believe you do either. So what does it take for a church to remain vibrant, exciting—and alive? It takes the blessing of God. Whenever God blesses a church, it grows, lives are changed and miracles happen. Churches that God blesses bless people, bless families and bless communities.

That’s what the early church had. God’s blessing was all over that church. If we want to have the blessing of God on our churches, we need to do what the early church did in Acts 1-2.

1.    Pray for God’s power. (Acts 1:3-4, 14) It’s God’s power that makes the Church different from any other organization or group. We have the Holy Spirit. Microsoft, General Motors, and Apple do not have the Holy Spirit. We do. He has also given the church an enormous assignment—to get as many people into Heaven as possible. Like the early Church, we need God’s power to do this.

2.    Use everyone’s language. (Acts 2:5-8) One of the great miracles of the Day of Pentecost was that, as the disciples preached, everyone heard them in their own language.  It was a complete reversal of what God did at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. But we don’t need this miracle today. Today’s Church speaks every language in the world. The Church speaks more languages than the United Nations.

But I believe the people in your church speak more languages than you realize. We all speak dozens of languages. If someone in your church is involved in IT or a baseball fan or a doctor or a salesperson, they understand a language others don’t know. If you want to be a church that God blesses, you need to realize that God has placed people in your congregation for a reason. They have a language that God wants them to use to share the Good News in the community.

3.    Employ every member’s talents. (Acts 2:1-18, 21) The early Church used all of its people in ministry. No one sat on the sideline! Everyone is involved in the ministry of the church. To be the kind of church that God blesses, your church needs to be the kind of church that won’t let people just sit. If that’s what people want in a church, let them go somewhere else. The kind of church God blesses uses the talents of those in the body.

4.    Be devoted to God’s Word. (Acts 2:14-40, 42) We should hear it, read it, meditate on it, and memorize it. But most of all, if you want your church to be one that God blesses, you need to do it—whatever the Bible says. Pop psychology won’t give you God’s blessing. Devoting yourself to God’s Word will. When Peter preached the gospel message during Pentecost Sunday, he continually went back to God’s Word in sharing the gospel. No other message—other than the gospel—has the power to change lives.

5.    Love each other deeply. (Acts 2:42). The early church practiced koinonia (which we call fellowship). It means they were as committed to one another as they were to Jesus Christ. The truth is, loving churches grow. Cold churches don’t. The early church was a loving church. The Roman government hated Christians and persecuted them, but even the Romans acknowledged that early Christians loved each other. They protected one another, cared for one another, and helped one another like no one else.

6.    Worship with joy. (Acts 2:46-47) God blesses a church that celebrates Him. People want to be where there is joy! There’s enough bad news in the world.  I think the church should be a place where good news is preached—the gospel. We could stand in our pulpits each week and preach about the sin of the week. But what good does that do? Honestly, I think it should be fun to go to church. God wired us to express emotion. But too many people have been taught not to express it in church. When we let go and worship joyfully though, people are drawn to our churches.

7.    Be willing to sacrifice. (Acts 2:44-45) The first church was famous for its generosity. Acts 2 says that the early church shared everything with one another. The early church didn’t just share money. Their generosity was much more radical than that. They shared everything! I wonder how many people the 21st century church would reach if we sacrificed like the early church did.

8.    Reach our communities for Christ! (Acts 2:40-41) The first church reached people for Christ from its very first day. In fact, with 3,000 people coming to Christ, the first church was megachurch from day one! In Acts 1:8 Jesus commands us to be His witness throughout the world. Evangelism is not an option. As long as there is one person within driving range of Saddleback who doesn’t have a relationship with God, we’re going to keep trying to grow. I hope your church will do the same.