The church where I serve is getting ready to put on VBS this next week (That’s Vacation Bible School for the uninformed). I’ve been participating in VBS since I was a child and I love it. Here are 5 reasons why.
VBS brings the church together around something positive. Summers tend to be a down time in church life when people are pursing other interests. But the weeks leading up to VBS are full of energy and excitement. People come together to get the job done.
VBS forces the church to focus on the next generation. There are all kinds of activities that can happen in church, but you can’t have VBS without children. Children and youth are the future and they need to be prioritized.
VBS allows the church to look outward. VBS is a simple, nonthreatening introduction. It’s so easy to invite families from the community to participate, even a kid can do it.
VBS encourages the church to think about the gospel. VBS is full of a lot of actives , but it’s always organized around a central message – the good news of Jesus Christ. VBS provides church leaders with an opportunity to think creatively and succinctly about the message they want to share.
VBS requires a variety of volunteers. People who enjoy working with their hands and building can help. People that like to teach and organize can help. People that enjoy music and crafts can help. Even athletic types can help with VBS. Men, women, teenagers, and senior can all find their place volunteering at a Vacation Bible School.
These are my top 5 reasons why I love VBS. I know there are more reasons and I’m sure you have your own. Please feel free to share the reasons why you love VBS in the comment section below.
This past Sunday I preached a sermon from Proverbs 1:8-19 on avoiding bad company, especially those who are fascinated by violence and greed. I focused the message around the corrosive character of trouble-makers as well as their ultimate destiny. I warned the young and the old in the congregation I serve to avoid violent people or you will become the victim of their own crime. I encouraged them to set their sights on living a God-honoring life and to distance themselves from anyone who might distract them from that goal.
But what about living as a missionary? Aren’t Christians called to live as “salt and light” among those who lost and spiritually separated from God (Mathew 5:13-16)? Didn’t Jesus spend at least some of his time with sinners and other “unsavory” people (Mark 2:14-17)? Didn’t Jesus commission his followers to live like missionaries in neighborhoods and nations around the world (Acts 1:8)?
At times, there is a tension between avoiding bad company and living like a missionary. Here are three questions to balance out that tension.
1. Is this a voluntary or involuntary association?
You can’t choose your family members, but you can choose your friends. This means you may have to make the most of an unpleasant relationship with a relative. You can’t (or shouldn’t) disown a family member just because he or she is not receptive to the gospel. You may want to rethink friendship, however, that is consistently pulling you away from the things of God.
2. Is this a short-term or long-term connection?
There is more at stake with a long-term partnership than a short-term acquaintance. You will have a much great opportunity to influence someone while you work on a work or school project together than by sitting beside them at a one-time social function. The longer timeframe will also give you an opportunity to assess the health of the situation.
3. Are you in a position to influence or be influenced?
Peer-to-peer relationships involve people who have the same level of influence, while superior-to-subordinate relationships involve two different levels of influence. Knowing where you stand in relation to those around you will help you assess your ability to persuade others. You may have a lot more control over a positive relationship with a co-worker than a negative relationship with your boss.
There are many other factors to consider in the tension between these two goals. Is there any kind of abuse or criminal activity involved in the relationship? Are you actively praying for the spiritual wellbeing of the person or persons you are trying to reach? Are there any cultural or communication barriers that are obscuring relational goals?
What other questions would you ask in balancing out the tension between living like a missionary and avoiding bad company?
The coronavirus crisis has turned our world upside down. People all over the world are dealing with the disruption and uncertainty of event cancellations, extended quarantines, and furloughs from work. On top of that, a growing number of people are getting sick and being overcome by the virus.
People are using social media in new ways to stay connected these days. They are sharing daily updates and adapting games so they can be played at a distance. Some are inventing new challenges to impress their friends. Churches that have had a minimal presence online are streaming their services and bible studies.
This crisis presents a unique opportunity for Christians who want to share their faith. We aren’t able to gather face-to-face, and yet people are hungry for a sense of peace. Here are 3 keys to sharing your faith through social media.
1. Stay Positive
Social media seems to bring out the best and worst in people. Avoid venting out all your frustrations in a long, nasty rant. Resist the urge to comment on or repost that inflammatory political post blasting “the other party” (this means you). It’s hard to point people to the good news about Jesus Christ when you are known for your negativity.
2. Be Interactive
Social media can be used at a distance, but it has to be interactive to be effective. Give friendly and thoughtful replies to your friend’s posts and be responsive when they reply to yours. Ask good questions and look for opportunities to turn things toward the gospel. Host a watch party for your church’s online worship service and invite some of your unchurched friends.
3. Use Good Resources
I’ve been recording and posting a brief prayer every day focused on different groups of people who have been affected by the coronavirus. You can make up your own faith-filled content or post links to quotes, articles, and videos that are already done. Two videos that I’ve found to be helpful are “The Story” which can found at www.thestoryfilm.com and The Three Circles presentation on Vimeo. The church that I pastor is live streaming our Sunday Worship service on our website homepage and our Facebook page which can also be shared.
Every crisis is an opportunity to grow and adapt. The message of God’s sinless Son, Jesus Christ, has been overcoming obstacles and barriers ever since He walked out of the grave 2,000 years ago. Coronavirus will not steal my reason for hope.
What are some ways you’ve used social media to share your faith? Leave your responses in the reply area below.
Personal evangelism is sharing one’s faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. D.T. Niles described it more vividly as “One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” As exciting as evangelism is, most believers find it challenging and intimidating. Here are three books to read about personal evangelism.
1. Everyday Evangelism by Matt Queen
Matt Queen wants to create a culture of evangelism in churches across North America. He writes as a Southern Baptist to other Southern Baptists, but his simple strategy can be applied to any church that wants to improve her evangelistic efforts. Queen explores a number of common questions and challenges before recommending a hands-on strategy for personal evangelism. This book is great for church leaders who are looking for straightforward way to motivate others to share their faith.
2. Turning Everyday Conversations into Gospel Conversations by Jimmy Scroggins and Steve Wright
One of the most difficult parts of personalism evangelism is making the transition from talking about everyday things to talking about spiritual things. Scroggins and Wright use the concept of “brokenness” to move unbelievers into a conversation about the gospel and our need to recover God’s original design for our lives. This book is will be a help to anyone who is afraid of personal evangelism
3. Evangelism Is… by Dave Earley and David Wheeler
This book is a devotional book about sharing one’s faith. In it, Earley and Wheeler approach evangelism from 40 different angles – from motivations to methods. This book is thoughtful, thorough, and practical. It is great for readers who are willing to reexamine their thoughts about personal evangelism in order to become a more faithful witness. Every chapter is full of ideas on how to share Jesus with passion and confidence.
As always, you can find these books at your online retailer or bookstore. Feel free to share this post and these books with anyone that you know who wants to improve their personal evangelism.
Churches can be as creative as they want to be with their vision, strategy, and values, but not when it comes to the mission of the church. In the Great Commission, Jesus tasked the church with making disciples in His name (Mathew 28:18-20). The mission of the church is and always has been to make disciples. Here are three books I would suggest about how that can be done in today.
The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman
This book has evangelism in the title, but it’s really about discipleship. In it, Robert Coleman traces the eight guiding principles Jesus used to train His disciples and to send them out in His absence. Coleman cautions church leaders against prepackaged discipleship programs. Instead, he encourages a more relational approach. This book would be good for anyone who is thinking though the overall process of discipleship and leadership development.
2. Rediscovering Discipleship by Robby Gallaty
Robby Gallaty builds his case for discipleship in the church on the ministry of Jesus and other discipleship leaders throughout church history. He goes on to suggest a model of progressive discipleship found in Charles Wesley’s ministry. Gallaty gains ground by including spiritual disciplines like Bible memorization and journaling into his suggested model. This book is excellent for church leaders who want to refocus their churches on reproducible discipleship.
3. Disciple-shift by Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington
Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington believe that discipleship should be the core focus of the church. To that end, they suggest five shifts to engage the “engine” of discipleship. The shift that is most meaningful for me as a pastor is to go from informing the church to equipping the church. This book is best for those who are already looking to ramp up the discipleship efforts in their churches. Readers will find value insights to help them troubleshoot their revitalization efforts.
You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with the people who know who care about discipleship in the church.
New believers need lots of encouragement and instruction when the begin their walk with the Lord. Ideally, this should happen within the supportive community of a local church. In addition to the Bible, here are three books that I would suggest.
1. New Christian’s Handbook: Everything Believers Need to Know by Max Anders
Max Anders does a wonderful job of summarizing all of the introductory issues of Christianity in one relatively small and approachable volume. He focuses on what Christians believe, why they believe it, and how they should live in response. Each chapter is organized around a different question like, “Who is God?” and “How Did We Get the Bible?” making it easy to digest. This is a great place to start for new believer.
2. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis is a literary legend. In this book, Lewis helps believers (and unbelievers as well) come to grips with a Christian view of the world. He unpacks a Biblical view of morality and explains how it applies to difficult issues of like human sexuality and personal forgiveness. He cautions against “the greatest sin” of pride and encourages the virtues of faith, hope, and charity (love). This book would especially helpful for new believers who are wrestling with big questions in their life.
3. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney
Donald Whitney recognizes one of the greatest needs of a new believer is growth. In this book, he describes ten personal and corporate habits (spiritual disciplines) that promote spiritual growth. Each chapter has application questions to urge the reader towards action. Whitney has written some related resources, but they point back to this volume. This book is great for new believers who are ready to grow in their faith.
You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with the new believers that you know.
I made a startling discovery earlier this year. I did some research on the baptism, membership, and attendance trends in the church I serve as pastor and I realized that as a church, we have lost 500 people in the last 10 years! We have welcomed an entire sanctuary full of people (our sanctuary seats about 500) into our membership through baptism and transfer of letter, but our Morning Worship and Sunday School attendance have stayed about the same. Even though some of those people have passed away, moved out of the area, or stepping into places of ministry, you would think that we would be able to retain at least some of our newest members.
One of the reasons we have not retained our members, new and well-established, is because we have not done a good enough job collectively of discipling them. We have allowed baptism and new membership to become the finish line of faith instead of the starting line. We have welcomed people of all ages into our church and given them a variety of ministry opportunities without a clear plan for spiritual development.
This discovery led me to a new type of ministry that isn’t new at all. When Jesus Christ was on earth, he ministered to thousands of people yet focused the majority of his time on 12 ordinary men. Jesus narrowed his focus even further by investing in Peter, James, and John more than the rest of this disciples. Jesus made disciples in small groups. The Apostle Paul followed Christ’s example by teaching and training a select group of men out of the hundreds, maybe thousands, that he had contact with. Timothy, Titus, and Luke are familiar names to us today because Paul worked so closely with them during his time on earth.
The new type of ministry that I discovered is a Discipleship Group. A Discipleship Group is an intentionally small group (3 to 6 people) that meets for spiritual development and replication. Unlike Sunday School classes, these groups are gender-specific and closed to outsiders to facilitate deep relationships, open communication, and accountability. After twelve months, group members are prayerfully challenged to turn around and start their own group for the next year.
I have been involved in 2 exploratory Discipleship Groups in the last 2 years and experienced great benefits. As a believer, I have been prompted to spend regular time in Bible study and prayer, to invest in meaning relationships with other believers, and to live out the gospel daily. As a pastor, I have seen men in our church hear from God through His Word and look for ways to share it with others. I have only been involved with these particular kinds of Discipleship Groups for a short time, but I can see and anticipate the benefit they would bring to the church that I serve and the greater Kingdom of God – especially those who join in the next 10 years.
What experience do you have with small group discipleship, if any?
There are lots of names in the Bible that are popular today, but not Lazarus. You know a Noah and an Elizabeth, but do you know a Lazarus? Probably not.
Lazarus is a name that is associated with life and death. Jesus brought Lazarus back to life at the peak of his ministry. Like all the other signs that Jesus did, this miracle was designed to reveal something about our Savior.
Jesus brought Lazarus back to life in front of three different groups of people. These groups all had there one question for Jesus. These questions help us understand this pivotal event.
Why would you risk your life? (John 11: 1-16)
Jesus had developed a close relationship with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. When Lazarus got sick, the sisters sent word for Jesus to come. This prominent family lived in the village of Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem.
When Jesus announced his plans to go to Bethany, his disciples questioned him (v. 8). The Jewish establishment had tried to kill Jesus twice before he escaped to the other side of the Jordan River. The disciples knew that it would be very dangerous for Jesus (and them, v. 16) to go near Jerusalem.
The disciples were also confused about Lazarus’ condition. The message they received only said that Lazarus was sick. Jesus said that Lazarus was sleeping, which didn’t warrant a life-threatening mission to Jerusalem.
Why did you wait so long? (John 11:17-27)
When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Martha came out to meet Jesus and question him (v. 21). She knew that Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Heavenly Father, but why didn’t he come two days earlier to heal Lazarus.
Jesus revealed that he was more than a healer, he was and still is “the resurrection and the life.” Jesus claimed to have power over life and death and he would soon prove it.
Why didn’t he do something? (John 11: 28-46)
Mary also came out to speak to Jesus followed by a large group of mourners. Mary’s family must have been well known because a large number of people came from Jerusalem to comfort her and her sister after Lazaurus’ death.
Mary took Jesus to the tomb where they laid Lazarus and she wept along with the crowd of comforters. Jesus also wept, overcome with emotion and his disappointment with the brokenness of sin.
As the mourners watched Jesus they questioned him If was a miracle worker, why didn’t he perform a miracle for this man and this family who he clearly loved? If he could help, why didn’t he?
Jesus commanded that the stone be removed from the entrance to the tomb. Martha objected because at that point Lazarus was definitely dead and the smell would be overpowering. Jesus prayed out loud for the benefit of all three groups that were present – his disciples, Martha & Mary, and their comforters – and called Lazarus out of the tomb. As he stumbled out into the light, they unwrapped him from his grave clothes.
Jesus answered these three questions by defeating death so that…
So that you would love Him.
Jesus risked his life to save the life of a friend he loved very much. Will you love him in return? John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
So that you would glorify Him.
Jesus waited to visit Lazarus so he could perform a greater miracle. Will you welcome and worship Jesus as God in the flesh? John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
So that you would believe in Him.
Jesus’ entire earthly ministry was about one thing – getting people who need to be saved to believe that he was their Savior. Will you accept him or reject him? John 20:31 says, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Light can either be a blessing or a curse. The lamp beside your bed can help you find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but it will also annoy your spouse who is trying to sleep. A fire in a fireplace is warm and inviting, but a fire in the kitchen is terrifying.
In John 8, Jesus introduces himself as “The Light of the world.” In the next chapter, we see what happens when Jesus shines his light in the world. His light divides the world into two groups. Those who see Jesus as a curse and those who see Jesus as a blessing.
The Apostle John tells the same story about from the viewpoint of these two groups. First, he shares the story from the view of a hopeless man who was blind from birth. Next, John shares the story from the view of the conceited Pharisees who were blind to their spiritual need.
From the view of helpless beggar blind from birth (John 8:1-41)
“Something amazing happened to me right after the Feast of Tabernacles. I was sitting beside the road begging for money when Jesus walked by with his disciples. My eyes didn’t work, but my ears worked just fine and I overheard Jesus and his disciples talking about me. One of his disciples asked whose fault it was that I was blind: me or my parents. I was relieved to hear that neither one of us were to blame, but that God wanted to show His mighty work in me. At that point, I heard Jesus spit on the ground and then I felt him wipe clay on my eyes. He told me to wash my eyes out in the nearby pool of Siloam, and so I did. As I washed my eyes in the cool water the most amazing thing happened – my eyes worked for the first time and I could see!”
“I was so excited about what had happened, I told everyone around me, but they didn’t believe me. People that had walked past me for years didn’t recognize me. It was if I had become a different person.”
“Then, I was called before the Pharisee for an interview. I explained what had happened to me, but they were upset because Jesus had violated some of their restrictions on the Sabbath. The Pharisees began to argue among themselves about Jesus. Some were saying, He can’t be from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.’ Others were asking, ‘How could he heal people and do all the other miracle he has done if he wasn’t from God?'”
“The Pharisees didn’t believe that I used to be blind so interviewed by parents too. My parents were terrified they would be thrown out of the synagogue. The Pharisee can do that, you know. They can just kick you out of the synagogue and the temple and then you have no way to make things right with God.”
“After that, the Pharisees called me in for another interview which felt more like an interrogation. They kept asking me about Jesus and all I could do was tell them what I knew: ‘I once was blind, but now I see.’ It was obvious to me where Jesus was from. He healed me and gave me hope after a lifetime of hopeless. Miracles like that don’t happen, they come from God. It was clear that they didn’t want to hear what I had to say because they threw me out the synagogue.
“Jesus came and found me after that. He asked me if I believed in the Messiah and that he was him. I was so excited I put my trust in him and bowed low in worship. Some of the Pharisees overheard our conversation and they weren’t pleased, but I knew right then and there I had found the hope I had been looking for.”
From the view of one of the Pharisees who excommunicated a troublemaker. (John 9:13-41)
“I am one of the Pharisees and I’m also a scribe too. We help preserve God’s law and teach it to the people. God continues to bless us because we go above and beyond in obeying His law. God is lucky to have us around. Otherwise, it would be like the ‘wild west.’
For example, there was a blind man recently who claimed he was healed by Jesus, that troublemaker from Nazareth. His story didn’t add up, however, because the people who knew him from the road outside of town didn’t think he was the same guy. We talked to his parents too, but I don’t think we can trust them. Jesus has been a threat to the establishment for a long time. He’s a good preacher, but I think he’s a trickster with all of those so-called ‘miracles’ that he pulls off. He claims to speak for God, but he doesn’t have any formal training and he doesn’t follow the rules.
He supposedly healed the blind man by making clay out of his spit and anointing his eyes – on a Sabbath. Everybody knows that you can’t do that on a Sabbath! The beggar was so sure that Jesus was a messenger from God, we had to excommunicate him from the synagogue. He even suggested that the Pharisee wanted to be followers of Jesus – how ignorant! We had to get rid of him; we couldn’t afford to have a Jesus-supporter like that spreading lies in God’s house.
“I’m glad we excommunicate him because later on one of the other Pharisee’s overheard that beggar talking to Jesus near the temple. The beggar was worshiping Jesus like He was a ‘god’ or something. Then, Jesus said he came into the world so that those who do not see may not see and those who see may become blind. I have never heard of something so preposterous and blasphemous. Jesus had the nerve to tell my friend, another Pharisee, that he was a sinner when everyone knows we always obey God.”
From the perspectives of these two men, we learn that Jesus helps the hopeless and condemns the conceited. The helpless are drawn to Jesus. You may not think of yourself as helpless or hopeless, but spiritually, we all are. God. Isaiah 53:6 says we are all like sheep who have gone astray. Thankfully, the Lord has caused our iniquity to fall on Jesus. 1 Peter 1:3 says that God has caused us to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Like a moth to a flame, the helpless are drawn to Jesus.
On the oppositeend of the spectrum, the conceited are driven from Jesus. We prefer labels ourselves “well-prepared” or “confident.” the Prophet Jeremiah warns us, however, not to trust in the wisdom, or physical strength but to trust in the Lord “who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23, 24a) Like a racoon running from the headlights, the conceited are driven from Jesus.
Are you more like the hopeless blind man or the Pharisee who was blind to his spiritual need? How you see yourself is an indication of how you see Jesus, “the Light of the world.” The choice is yours.
The 7-day Feast of Tabernacles was one of the most popular Jewish festivals in Jesus’ day, and for good reason. The Feast was full of meaningful rituals and traditions. The people ate and slept in temporary shelters. Every morning they celebrated the water ceremony. Every evening they gathered near the temple for a time of music and dancing. Men with religious influence carried burning torches in their hands and danced with enthusiasm while the temple orchestra filled the night with music.
That’s what was going on in John 8 when Jesus announced: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the Light of life” (v. 12). Based on John’s thesis statement in John 20:30-31, we might expect to read how many people in the crowd believed in Jesus. Instead, we find the opposite; we see how many in the crowd rejected Jesus. As the chapter unfolds, we learn about five kinds of people who don’t believe in Jesus.
1. People who reject Jesus’ testimony about Himself (8:13).
The Pharisees dismissed Jesus’ announcement because they thought He was speaking on his own authority. Jesus reminded them that the Law only required two people to establish a testimony as true. Jesus spoke in concert with the Heavenly Father. The Pharisee didn’t recognize Jesus as God’s messenger because they didn’t know God (v. 19).
From 1985 to 1991, about two hundred mainline NT scholars gathered throughout the U.S. twice a year as the Jesus Seminar. The goal of this group was to reconstruct the “real historical Jesus” apart from the “mythical Jesus” presented in the Bible. This group concluded, erroneously, that Jesus never said 82 percent of words attributed to Him in the Gospels. People still commit the same kind of error today when they pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to believe and obey.
2. People who are confused about Jesus’ death (8:22)
The crowd was confused when Jesus told them He would be going away. Jesus explained that they would know who He was when He was “lifted up.” This was a clear allusion to His death on a cross. When Jesus was lifted up on a cross, he became a sacrifice for the sin of the world. Those who refused this gift would die in their unbelief (v. 24).
Confusion over Jesus’ death still exists today. Those who think that Jesus was just a religious leader, or a moral example can’t help but see His death as a waste. Jesus was cut down in the prime of his life and his full potential was never filled. Those who believe that Jesus was both the Son of God and the Son of Man have a different perspective. They know that His death was a great gift as God bridged the gap between heaven and earth.
3. People who make a profession of faith without follow through (8:31)
Verse 30 says, “Many people came to believe in Him.” At first glance, this seems like a positive statement, it may not be so positive in this context. Jesus explained that genuine faith goes deeper than an outward statement. It takes obedience and consistency to show that you are really a follower of Jesus.
Genuine faith results in genuine freedom in the way a flashlight allows you to move through unfamiliar terrain without hurting yourself. Our community is full of people with a superficial understanding of faith. There are about 30k people who live within a 3-mile radius of our church.
4. People who are blind to their own sin (8:33).
The Jews claimed they had “never been enslaved to anyone.” This claim was historically inaccurate. At one time or another, the Jews have been enslaved or controlled by Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Media-Persia, Macedonia, Syria, and Rome. The Feast of Tabernacles was a reminder of their liberation from Egypt. The Jews were as blind about their political situation they were about their spiritual situation.
Blindness can be dangerous when you are in denial. A 67-year-old woman went in for cataract surgery and received quite a shock. The woman had worn disposable contacts for 35 years. From time to time, she couldn’t find her lens in her right eye to remove it, so she figured she’d dropped it somewhere. When she went in for cataract surgery, the doctor found a “blue mass” made up of 27 contact lenses that had been left in her eye.
5. People who worship their religious traditions (8:53).
The Jews were offended at the idea that Jesus was greater than Abraham. They were proud of their ethnic and religious heritage. They were so fiercely protective of the rituals and traditions associated they couldn’t imagine anything different.
Jesus claimed to be the God who blessed Abraham. In Genesis. 12:1-3, God promised to bless the whole world through Abraham. Jesus claimed that promise had finally come true through Him.
Resistance to change is one indication of misplaced worship. Some people put their fain in faith and the outward observances of that faith. They worship Christianity instead of the Christ that makes Christianity possible.
John 8 serves as a warning. The people in this passage aren’t heathens, pagans, or atheists, they’re religious people gathered for a 7-day religious feast! They have faith, but it’s not saving faith because it’s not focused on the only One who can save.
Wellum, Stephen J. (2016). God the Son Incarnate (p. 42) Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11(Vol. 25A, p. 303). Nashville: B & H Publishers.