Regrouped and Ready to Relaunch

In a world of negativity fatigue, let me take a few minutes to talk about something positive, and that is our Small Groups ministry. We often say that small groups are “where church happens” at Shelby Crossings, and we heard some great testimonies during our recent ReGroup time about the impact the Lord has made in your lives through our groups. More than that, we believe that small groups that meet “house to house” are the biblical model for discipleship and ministry to the body of Christ.
Accordingly, we constantly need to rethink “church” as we have known it, moving from the concept of an audience in a large room looking up at a stage, to a “living-room religion” (as Elton Trueblood once called it) where people interact, teach, and minister to “one another” as the New Testament prescribes. As Jim Beckner mentioned in ReGroup on Wednesday night, small groups are a microcosm of church life. They are not just a ministry of the church, they are the church itself, wherever we are gathered.
After a three-week hiatus for us to pull back and “regroup,” our Small Groups will be relaunching this week, including a couple of new groups that we will be starting. If you were a part of a group in the past, your group may be making some changes in schedule or location, it may be morphing into another group, or possibly branching out to start a new group. If you have not been a part of a group, there’s never been a better time to come get plugged in.
I hope those who were at ReGroup this week will indulge me, because I want to reiterate the list of five requests and challenges I shared on Wednesday night as we kick off our groups again this week. I hope you will prayerfully consider each of these:
1) Embrace change. Some things may be different, and though that may make you a little uncomfortable, it’s not a bad thing. Sometimes we need to be pushed out of our comfort zones, especially if we want to grow. Ask the Lord what changes He wants to bring to your life that will move you to a new place of growth with Him.
2) Commit yourself to a group. And when I say commit, I don’t mean commit, if nothing else comes up. This is especially relevant when it comes to your family life, where there are so many distractions and activities competing for your time. Your children need to see your priorities lived out, without compromise. (For that matter, they already do; just make sure you are living the priorities your profess.) Commitment is vital to your spiritual growth.
3) Seek to serve, not be served. We live in a consumer society that always expects others to meet our needs. And most of the time, we come away disappointed. Go into your new group looking for needs to meet and people to encourage–and watch God meet your needs through that process. “Ask not what your group can do for you, but what you can do for your group.”
4) Invite your friends. One of the main purposes of our groups is outreach, and yet this is a constant struggle for most of our groups. When we don’t reach out and invite friends, our groups get inwardly focused and lose their sense of mission. Look around your neighborhood, the ball park or dance class, and extend an invitation to your unchurched friends to come try out your group. For that matter, look around you in worship on Sunday morning at Shelby Crossings and invite those folks to your group. You may just be surprised at who is waiting on an invitation.
5) Pray. Make no mistake, this is a spiritual endeavor, not just a feel-good, self-help gathering of friends. Ask the Lord to work, in your group and in your life. Ask Him to send the right people, and send you to the right people to invite. Ask Him to use your group to impact your community for the gospel. And then watch Him answer your prayers.
I can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for us as we gather together as his body around our community in small groups this coming week. And I sure hope you’ll be a part of it.

The End of the World

In case you haven’t seen the news reports circulating the past few weeks, I feels it’s only fair for me to warn you that Christ’s Return (and the accompanying Judgement Day) awaits us tomorrow, Sept 23, 2017. I thought you might want to go ahead and clear your calendar.
“Biblical prophecy claims the world will end on Sept. 23, Christian numerologists says.” That was the headline on one prominent online news site just last week. There it was, in black and white, and it was on the internet, so it must be true. I think the first clue that this prediction may be suspect was that it came from a “Christian numerologist.” At least he was kind enough to do the calculations for us.
For those who have not been keeping up, these supposed Bible “scholars” have interpreted a couple of Scripture passages (from Revelation 12:1-2 and Luke 21:25-26) and compared them to certain astronomical and astrological events with the alignment of the stars to come up with this particular date. They have even interpreted several recent cataclysmic events–like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and now Maria, the earthquakes in Mexico, and a couple of rare solar flares on Sept. 6–as signs of the apocalypse.

 

Of course, this is not the first time someone has set a date for the return of Jesus and the earth’s demise. In this decade alone, we have had predictions of the return of Christ and/or the end of the world occurring on May 21, 2011, October 21, 2011 and of course, the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012.  I also remember back in 1988 when I first became a pastor one of the hot books that year was “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.” The end was near, also, in 1994. If you’ll study church history, you can see that Jesus was coming back in 1918, and 1914, and 1843, and on and on and on.
I guess these folks missed the memo, when Jesus Himself made the point that “no man knows the day or hour” when He’s coming back (Matt. 24:36) But that doesn’t stop those prophecy prognosticators from doing their best at date-setting.
I will not argue, we’ve never been closer to “the end of the world as we know it.”  Whether you’re reading the Left Behind series, The Late, Great Planet Earth or the prophetic implications of the evening news from the Middle East, it’s not hard to see the handwriting on the wall. Our time is running out. The end is near. Or, at least, near-erthan it’s ever been.
It may be next Saturday–or it may be today, for that matter–but it’s coming soon.  Or rather, He’s coming soon!  The question is not so much when will it be, but, are you ready for His return?  Hear the warning of the apostle Peter to the first-century church, which we will be looking at in a few weeks in our fall message series. The words ring even truer to us today:
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything it it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming….So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him.”  (2 Peter 3:8-12, 14)
What’s the point? Get ready. And stay ready, because, like a thief in the night, the Lord promises His return will be unexpected, and He calls us to be ready for Him whenever that time arrives. So, may you “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” today.

A Fresh Start

On December 9, 1914, fire swept through the factories owned by Thomas Edison in West Orange, New Jersey. The damage totaled millions of dollars. Practically everything of Edison’s was destroyed, including journals and records of works in progress.
Edison was not a young man at the time this happened. Many people sent condolences and notes of sympathy, expecting that this tragedy would prompt his retirement.
What was Thomas Edison’s response? “I am 67, but I’m not too old to make a fresh start.”

It’s not too late for any of us to make a fresh start, either.  It doesn’t matter how old we are, where we have been, or what we have done. Neither does it matter how much we have lost in the fires of the past. Today is a new day, a fresh start is ours for the taking.
The point here is not about age. It’s about change. It’s about never losing the capacity to start a new chapter in your life, regardless of how the last chapter may have ended. The Scriptures are full of references to how “all things are made new” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), how God’s mercies are “new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:23) I’m thankful we serve a God who majors in new mercies, second chances and fresh starts.
Or listen to how the prophet Isaiah said it:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
God is ready to do something new in your life, to give you a fresh start. He has forgotten the former things; you can too. The new thing is ready to spring up. Do you perceive it?
At the very least, the gospel on which we stand is about new beginnings and fresh starts and do-overs. God is gracious to us, and will not allow our failures and mistakes to be permanent. He has a way of turning our ashes into beauty when we begin again in Him.
My prayer for each of you this week is that you will know the freshness of God’s grace in your life.

On Mission

The church exists by missions, just as fire exists by burning.”

That famous quote from theologian Emil Brunner speaks volumes about what drives the people of God to do what they do and be who they are. We are, at the very least, a mission organization.
I write this a few days after returning from my own “mission trip” to Brazil. I had a blessed week serving in the Belem area in the Amazon valley of north Brazil, about 80 miles from the equator. It was a long trip, and there were some definite challenges for my old self, but I was blessed and I think the Lord used me in preaching and teaching His word and in sharing the gospel. I made some new friends, and was able to spend some profitable time encouraging some of the missionaries our church supports in Brazil, Bill and Becky Rowley of Believer’s Bridge.
I have to say, it is such a joy to be a part of a mission-focused church that takes seriously the Great Commission and Great Commandment, both locally and around the world. I am grateful to be “sent” by my church family, to bridge the geographical gap across a couple of continents and serve alongside those who are faithfully and sacrificially giving their lives in service of our Lord.
What is even better is that I am just one of many in our church family who regularly participate in missions. In the past few months, we have had folks from our church travel to several different foreign countries on at least three continents (not to mention, Oklahoma) to serve in the name of Jesus. That includes preaching the gospel to the lost, discipling new believers, providing support and care for needy orphans, and doing medical missions in destitute areas.
But international mission trips only scratch the surface of what our congregation is doing when it comes to missions. This past Tuesday night, a group from our church made their way to downtown Birmingham for the second time in nine days to serve dinner to the homeless men of the Firehouse Shelter. It wasn’t across the ocean, but it was living out kingdom ministry to “the least of these,” just as our Master commanded us to do.
And that’s not even mentioning the dozens of ministries and missionaries around the world with which our church partners, both with our prayers and our financial resources, to share the gospel, plant churches, and meet the needs of the orphan and widow. As you may know, our 2017-18 budget which was recently approved includes 17% off the top of our general offerings going straight to missions causes, administered by our Missions Team. And that doesn’t even include the special offering collected by our VBS kids in June, which went to help out a school in Uganda served by our own missionaries Ken and Marilyn Moore of African Children’s Mission.
Which brings us back to Brunner’s quote from above. He was saying, in essence, that a church that is not “on mission” is, well, whatever it is, it’s not really being a church. When we cease to be missional in our theology and our methodology, in how we think and in what we do, then we stop functioning as the New Testament church. We’re merely a social club, interested only in our own comfort and well-being. And that doesn’t look anything like the Biblical picture of the Body of Christ.
All of us have a role in our being a mission-focused body, whether it’s going, praying, giving or just living the gospel on your block every day. Thanks be to God that we’re doing that a little more each day. And thanks to each of you for your obedience in following Jesus.
I appreciate the opportunity you provided me to go to Brazil, and I count it a privilege to serve you–and serve with you–as the pastor of such a great church. I’m praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to being back with you on Sunday.