Did you know that the more you read the bible, the more you will experience personal transformation? Bible engagement transforms lives, specifically your life if you are willing to read it. According to the data, 42% of believers are more generous after reading the bible; 54% are more loving, and 56% are more engaged with their faith. When people were asked if they felt like they read it enough, 57% said they wish they read it more. This data reveals that reading the bible does make a difference, so you should read it on a regular basis.
I am often asked by new believers if they should start reading the bible at the beginning. While Genesis is a great book to read, it can be a bit confusing. Most people who start reading the bible in Genesis quit by the time they finish Deuteronomy. They get hung up on all the Levitical Laws and names and timelines. So my advice to new believers is to start with the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John explains the life and ministry of Jesus. It is easy to read and will help a new Christian wrap their hands around what it means to be a follow of Jesus. Then after they finish it, I offer to meet with them or connect to talk about what they read. From there I encourage them to read the Book of Acts because it gives the history of the church and introduces them to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Growing Christians also ask me how to read the bible. I suggest finding a reading plan online that they like or reading the bible from cover to cover in a year. This takes discipline, but it is worth it. Personally, I like reading through the bible once a year. I use the Youversion (online bible app) chronological one year reading plan. This plan helps me to see the scriptures unfold in chronological order. I highlight verses that stand out to me so that I can go back and reference them. I also like to read my hard copy of the bible. I write notes in the margins, use a highlighter to mark verses, and underline key passages. After using the same bible for more than a decade, it is full of my personal notes and highlights. I often reflect on what I wrote and find encouragement in seeing all the answered prayers.
If you are feeling stuck in your faith right now maybe it is because you need read the Bible more. Reading God’s Word is always spiritually refreshing. God is always revealing himself to us in new ways through His Word. You could read the bible a thousand times and still learn something new about God every time you read it.
The bottom line is that the more you read God’s Word, the more you will know about God, his ways, and his will for you. The Holy Spirit will bring biblical truth to life in you. And when you know God’s Word, you will be able to apply it to your life. The goal of every Christian should be to know God and we know God through His Word as it is written in the Bible. The Bible is not just an ancient book, it is God’s inspired Word given to you. So add bible reading to your calendar today. Make it part of your daily routine and see what God does in you and through you. You will be blessed for it.
(resources: stateofthebible.org, accessed 2/26/2019)
In Acts 16:11-15 Paul has been out on his missionary journey making disciples, planting churches, and strengthening existing ones. Silas and Timothy are with him. The three of them travel to the town of Philippi, a city with anywhere from 5-10 thousand residents. Even though the city was well known, there were very few Jewish people in it, not even the required number of married men to start a synagogue. Verse 11 picks up the story.
“11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.”
Paul typically went to the synagogue to speak to people about Jesus. Since there wasn’t one in Philippi, he went outside the city to the river where he met a few women who gathered there for prayer. One woman at the river was named Lydia. Lydia owned her own business selling purple cloth, which was very expensive and labor intense to make. She was not Jewish but loved to worship God. Lydia believed Paul’s testimony about Jesus, put her faith in Christ, and was baptized. Lydia was Pauls’ first convert in Europe.
Lydia was a prosperous business owner who leveraged her resources for the glory of God. She welcomed Paul and the others into her home and cared for them while they were in her city. She used her influence as a business owner to help others to connect with Christ. By inviting the men to stay at her home she was letting everyone know she had become a believer in Jesus Christ.
Years later Paul wrote the Philippian church, which he saw emerge from a handful of spiritually hungry women led by Lydia. He saw people who were far from God come near to Him and he was elated with what was happening there. Lydia was certainly one of the main reasons why the church grew. Paul writes:
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:1-6
You can use your influence for the glory of God like Lydia did. You have influence in your family, with your friends, at work, school, or at the gym. Generously give your resources. Give your time, talents, and treasure to impact others. God wants you to use all of them for His glory.
“I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.” Isaiah 66:19
As the New Year approaches, most people make a series of New Year’s resolutions. Some resolve to losing weight, lowering their stress, or sacking more money away for the future. All of these resolutions seem achievable and those who make them really do indent on following through with them. At the start of 2018 a study by Statista.com revealed the top five New Year’s resolutions made by Americans:
53% resolved to save money
45% resolved to lose weight or get in shape
25% resolved to have more sex
24% resolved to travel more
23% resolved to read more books
These are all good resolutions, but in reality no matter what we resolve to doing, very few people actually follow through on their resolutions. In fact, Business Insider conducted a study revealing that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week in February. That is a very high failure rate. I suggest that prior to making any New Year’s resolutions, you commit to five overarching principles that will help you make the right resolutions no matter what resolutions you are thinking about making. So before you make any list, consider making these five commitments first.
1. Commit to the right things. One reason why we fail to follow through on our commitments is because we don’t commit to the right things. When you don’t commit to the right things you set yourself up for failure right from the start. Don’t commit to being the team manager if you don’t like managing. Don’t commit to volunteering at your kids school once a week if it puts too much stress on your family. We live in a complex, busy environment where everyone is asking for help all the time. You should only commit to doing the things that enhance your life and add value to the greater community. For example, you may get asked to commit to keeping the books for the kids team and get asked to make meals for struggling families. If you are an excellent cook, you should consider prioritizing cooking food for others once a month over keeping the books. Do what you are good at and trust that God will bring in others who are willing to use their gifts to shore up the areas where more volunteers are needed.
2. Commit to realistic things. Don’t commit to going to the gym five days a week when your family life and work schedule makes this impossible. You might be able to rearrange your schedule for a week, but is it sustainable for six months? If it’s not, then change your expectations so you can follow through on your resolutions. And when it comes to saving you may be able to save 1% for the next three months then bump your savings up to 2% of your gross income. Gradually over time you can increase your savings to 5% or 10%, but don’t expect to save that much right away, especially if you have been living check to check for years. If your resolution is to lose weight, set realistic goals tied to how much weight you would like to lose. If your goal is to lose 12 pounds commit to losing 12 pounds over the course of three months that equals one pound a week, which is realistic.
3. Commit to not feeling guilty for saying “no” when you need to say “no.” I remember back when I had small children living at home. They were in sports, did church activities, and had homework every night. My time for other commitments was limited due to my own family obligations. As my children have grown older, my nights have opened up simply because my kids are more independent now. If you can’t commit to do something, it’s OK to say no. And when you say no, don’t fret about it, focus on the right commitments you made.
4. Commit to investing in yourself. I suggest investing in yourself on three levels: body, soul, and mind. Take care of your body whether it means getting enough rest, exercise, or eating right. And take care of your soul by connecting with Christ through praying often, reading the bible on a consistent basis, and attending church faithfully. Invest in your mind by reading intellectually challenging books, watching documentaries, and increasing your knowledge.
5. Commit to building great relationships. I learned long ago that you can’t be close friends with everyone, but you can be close friends with one or two people. Most people have far more acquaintances than friends and that is OK, just don’t expect to have great friendships with dozens of people because good friendships take time and effort to build. Invest in those who you want to be friends with and who want to be closer friends with you. These are the relationships that should get priority.
2019 can be your best year yet if you commit to applying the five guidelines we just covered. If you do, you can be one of the 20% that actually sees their New Year’s resolutions come to fruition. And in doing so, you will be happier, healthier, and more content. This is the whole reason we make New Year’s resolutions in the first place. May the LORD bless you as you step foot into 2019. May it be your best year yet!
https://www.statista.com/statistics/378105/new-years-resolution/, accessed 27 December 2018
https://www.businessinsider.com/new-years-resolutions-courses-2016-12, accessed 27 December 2018
Depression is a reality for millions of people around the world and very possibly for you or someone you love. Those who struggle with depression don’t like to talk about it with friends and heaven forbid actually get help from a stranger. Depression is sneaky. It never just pops up overnight, it slowly covers you like sunset shadows. You don’t realize how much it has affected you until darkness hinders your daily life. If you fight depression, you know exactly what I mean.
I know this because I struggle with depression. Last year my life was going pretty well from all external accounts. My three teenage kids were doing fine, my marriage to my beautiful wife Kathi was strong, church was going good, yet I found myself in a dark place. There wasn’t any one single event that caused my decent into darkness, I just ended up there and it was hard. One particularly gray and gloomy day I stood in front of my bathroom mirror and had a conversation with myself. I asked myself if I were giving advice to someone struggling with depression, what would I tell them? The conversation I had with myself went like this:
“Are you struggling with depression John?”
“John, are you exercising, eating right, and getting enough rest?”
“Yes, for the most part.”
“Have you shared how you feel with your close friends and wife?”
“Yes, I have shared with others.”
“Then have you considered seeing a doctor who might be able to help you get through this?”
I answered “No, I have not seen a doctor. Admitting my depression to a doctor would be very humbling.”
“So pride is what is keeping you from getting help?”
I had to admit that my own pride was keeping me from taking the next step. So I prayed, asked God to forgive me, and made an appointment to see my doctor. At my appointment I confessed my feelings of darkness and shared that I don’t want to feel “blah” every day. She told me that my feelings were common and some people need to have medication to help our bodies compensate for whatever its lacking that causes feelings of chronic depression. So she gave me a prescription for antidepressants, and I have been taking them ever since. I am not sure if I will be on them forever, but they have helped me wrestle my way back out of the darkness I felt perpetually cloaked in. I am also eating right, exercising, and connecting with others about my emotional state on a regular basis.
Depression is a form of mental illness. Suffering with a mental illness forces me to look past my present circumstances and cling to the eternal inheritance every believer will receive.
If you are battling depression right now, get the help you need to fight back. You may need to have a conversation with yourself like I did. You may have to change your diet, start exercising, or lower your stress. You may need to open up to a friend, see a professional counselor, or visit a medical doctor. The Psalmist writes:
“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. 3 He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:1-3
Scripture tells us that we can and should always turn to God in our times of need. If you are fighting depression, turn to God and ask him for your next steps to help you fight back. There is nothing to be ashamed of, get the help you need. When I look back over my life it was in my darkest hours when I often felt the closest to Christ. Why? Because when Jesus is all you have that is when you realize that Jesus is all you need. And it’s in these times that I feel an immense sense of security anchored in the grace of God. You can have that same security by trusting God to help you fight your battles right now.
Several months ago I facilitated the Holy Spirit conference at North Heights Church. One of the speakers preached on healing and we prayed for one another and several people did receive healing. Others did not. I have prayed for healing for my stomach problems for years and am still waiting for my miracle. Will God ever heal me this side of heaven?
When it comes to miracles, signs, and wonders, I would classify myself as a skeptic. Is it a miracle when you get a front parking spot at the mall? Is it a miracle when you get a dose of medicine to clear your infection? What is a miracle anyway? I admit that there is a lot of subjectivity when it comes to what we classify as a miracle.
God moved in the early church through miracles, signs, and wonders.
“12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people…14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by..” Acts 5:12-15
How crazy is that? Peter’s shadow passing over someone brought them healing. That is awesome. But let’s pause for a minute and ask the deeper question. What are miracles and what purposes do they serve?
A miracle must be inexplicable to the laws of nature and therefore must have supernatural origins. The reality is that it’s absolutely imperative that we examine Scripture to understand what a miracle is and what their purpose is. First, what does the Bible teach about miracles?
Three central terms are used in the Bible to designate a supernatural event: (1) “miracle” (2) “sign” and (3) “wonder.” A miracle is not merely an event that was astonishing, incredible, extraordinary, or unusual. Miracles are not explainable by the laws of nature but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t use natural things in a supernatural way. In Luke 5 Jesus told Peter to put down his fishing nets after a night of catching nothing. Within minutes the nets were so full they were about to break. The miraculous part of this event is that the fisherman were casting their nets in an area not known to have any fish at the wrong time of day and somehow there was a multitude of fish exactly where Jesus told them to cast their nets. This miracle didn’t break any laws of nature but it certainly isn’t explainable by natural laws.
In John 2 Jesus turned water into wine, that was supernatural. When Moses raised his hands and the Red Sea parted, that was a supernatural miracle that broke the laws of nature. Water just doesn’t part like that. The bible clearly reveals that some miracles seem to work with the laws of nature while others seem to completely oppose them.
Now that we understand what a miracle is, what purposes do they serve? There are three clear purposes for miracles. Miracles glorify God. Whenever God performed a miracle the beneficiaries and observers of the miracles generally responded by glorifying God. The second purpose is miracles validate Jesus message. Jesus performed signs and miracles to prove His divine identity and thereby authenticate His message. The third purpose of miracles is miracles make your faith stronger. Here is the consistent sequence represented in Scripture: Jesus would perform a miracle, teach about the kingdom of God, then people would believe because their faith was strengthened.
Does God still do miracles today? Some scholars believe that miracles are no longer needed to affirm our faith because we have the bible, but I think that makes God seem distant and disconnected from his creation. And I don’t think it’s theologically accurate. My faith has been strengthened by miracles.
I still don’t understand why God heals some people and lets others suffer. I guess it’s up to God’s providence as to whether or not he will do a miracle. I admit that sometimes I get discouraged when I pray for a miracle and nothing happens. The most difficult answer to prayer from God is silence. When heaven is silent I quickly begin to question if God really cares but the truth is that God does care, he just might be answering my prayer in a different way than I expect.
What if we begin to anticipate God answering our prayers and doing miracles? And what if we actually give him credit when it appears that something supernatural has occurred? God is still in the miracle business. When you pray, pray expecting God to move. What you believe shapes how you pray. And what you pray shapes you. Your miracle may still be in process.
At the start of the book of Acts, the church is growing like crazy. The Holy Spirit has been moving among the new believers and the atmosphere is electric. Acts 2:43 tells us that many wonders and signs were done through the apostles and Luke goes into details about one of those wonders and signs that God was moving in powerful ways. Peter and John were going up to the temple at 3 in the afternoon like they always did for afternoon prayers according to their Jewish tradition. And by God’s divine providence a man crippled from birth is just arriving for his daily job of begging at the gate for money. Luke tells us the man is over 40 and has been set at the gate by family or friends for years.
Chances are that he was at the same gate when Jesus arrived in Passover. But he wasn’t healed then. If I were him I would have been discouraged. His legs were decrepit and folded underneath him. He would have known that Jesus was the healer so when Jesus passed by he must have thought he would have been healed. But he wasn’t.
When he looks at Peter and John, Peter says: “6 “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” Acts 3:6-7
God moved and people were amazed. This guy was older than many of the people standing around. They had seen him begging for years and now the same guy with the bad legs is dancing like he is auditioning for Jerusalem’s Got Talent.
The guy clung to Peter and John after his dance and all the commotion attracted a crowd. So Peter preached to them. He explained who Jesus is, that he is the Messiah, and that he came to heal, forgive, and save. Verse 16 records Peter saying:
“16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” Acts 3:16
Peter made it clear that this man was healed by faith in Christ. God was moving. He was moving through the apostles and moving through the people. And when God moves the enemy fights back. All that good preaching caused the Pharisees who were inside the gate to get nervous so they arrested Peter and John. They were angry that the man was healed and that Peter and John would not stop speaking about Jesus.
You need to know that the same God that healed the crippled man and empowered the apostles still moves today. Because God still moves, seek a move of God in your life. Do you need wisdom? Boldness? Reassurance that you matter? Do you need spiritual healing? Emotional healing or physical healing? Pray with expectations for God to move. That is a faith filled prayer. Lifeless prayers are prayers with no expectation for God to move.
When God moves, expect others to be curious when God moves. The crippled man who received healing drew a crowd. Why? Because people want to see God move. We all long to see God move.
Some people will respond in faith. They will develop a thirst for God just because of what they have seen God do in you. Others will respond to God moving in your life like the Pharisees. They will opposes the work God has done in you. You can expect opposition when God moves.
Don’t give up on God because your miracle may still be in process. The man who received healing was 40. He had gone to the temple every day. How many times did that guy ask God to heal him? How many times did he pray that God would let him take just one step?
If you are seeking God and praying for Him to move in your life taking a step forward to have someone pray for you might be your first step of faith towards seeing God move in your situation. Your miracle may still be in process. Thirst for God to move in your life and when he does, boldly live for His glory.
The church began to explode with growth on Pentecost when Peter preached to the masses about the resurrected Christ. As soon as he finished his message 3000 people came to faith and the church grew and grew from there. What did these new disciples do? They formed the early church and made disciples.
The church was started by Jesus to fulfill five distinct purposes that are revealed in Acts 2:42-46. And I believe that Freshwater can become healthier, stronger, and more effective by focusing on the five purposes of the church.
Acts 2:42-47 shows us the first purpose of the church is to reach people for Christ. This happens when believers share their faith reaching out with the gospel. This is evangelism. The primary purpose of the church at all times and in all contexts is to bear witness to the work of Jesus Christ. The church has a mission to proclaim the incarnation, atonement, and exaltation of Jesus Christ to all people. This is not just a historical fact it is also a present reality. The same Jesus who took away the sins of the world by his death on the cross still takes away the sins of people today. He was crucified once for all and is raised again. The church lives out this reality and you live out this reality by practicing forgiveness, showing love, and living transformed lives. The best witness is a human soul transformed by the living God into a walking witness.
The second purpose of the church is to connect in relationship with other believers.
The biblical word for connect is fellowship. Acts 2:42 says: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship.” The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. The essential meaning of koinonia is: community, communion, joint participation, held in common, partnership, sharing and intimacy. In verse 46 we are told the believers ate together with glad and sincere hearts. Christians are called to belong not just believe.
Another purpose of the church is to equip believers to grow spiritually. In Acts 2:42 we read: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching….” This is discipleship. Discipleship is the process of helping people grow in their faith by becoming more like Christ in their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Spiritual growth happens by intention.
The fourth purpose is to serve others by ministering to them. When we serve one another we are demonstrating God’s love to others by meeting their needs in Jesus name. The church exists to minister to all kinds of needs: spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical. Every time you reach out to others in the name of Jesus you are ministering to them.
The last purpose of the church mentioned in Acts 2 is to honor Christ by living a lifestyle of worship. Acts 2:42 tells us the early believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, the breaking of bread as in celebrating the Lord’s Supper or communion, and prayer. In verse 47 we read the believers were praising God. These are all acts of worship. It doesn’t matter if we are with a group of people or by ourselves.
We worship God when we reach out and witness to the world. We worship God when we connect with other Christians. We worship God when we grow in our faith. When we serve others and we worship when we are generous with what the LORD has blessed us with. Worship is a way of life not an hour in the week. Whenever we worship we are honoring God.
What happened when the church fulfilled the five purposes? “everyone was filled with Awe.” Acts 2:43 “People got saved and the lord added daily to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47
Jesus loves the church! He started the church, died for the church, was raised for the church, is glorified by the church, and will return for the church. I love the church because the church is God’s chosen method of reaching the world with the Gospel. As long as there are people living apart from Christ we have work to do. This is us, we are the church and we are called to raise the spiritual climate of the community.
The book of Acts is the story of the church. This is the story of us. Jesus started his church. He is the founder, CEO, leader, and King. He commissioned his disciples to make disciples. You and I are here, here and now, because other people throughout history took Jesus command to make disciples seriously. The church today is a continuance of the church that began way back in Jerusalem around 33 AD.
At the time of the book of Acts, Jesus had been recently crucified and resurrected from the dead. Person after person had seen Jesus alive, they had heard him speak, and the disciples had even had a chance to eat with him. Enough people had seen him that they were creating quite a buzz. Acts 1:9 tells us that Jesus ascended into heaven then several of the apostles walked back to Jerusalem which was about a mile away from the Mount of Olives.
Fifty days later the Feast of Weeks is being celebrated for God’s provision of blessing. The disciples gathered again in the upper room where they had eaten their last supper with Jesus. And this was when the Holy Spirit came to bless the people with the birth of the church.
Looking back to prophecy and forward to the promise of the Holy Spirit were Christ’s last words on earth before His ascension into heaven. Pentecost signals the beginning of the church age. This was the first time they heard the gospel with clarity for the first time. The Holy Spirit enabled them to have understanding and clarity about the Word of God. The power of the Holy Spirit had come and the church age had begun.
The Bible reveals that the Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity. One God, three parts. The Holy Spirit is divine, He is fully God. He is eternal, omniscient, and omnipresent.
The Holy Spirit is a person the same as God the Father and God the Son Jesus Christ. This is a longstanding doctrine of Christian theology. The concept of a triune God is referred to as the trinity. The three are one yet distinct in form and function.
The Holy Spirit has three specific functions in the life of a believer. The Holy Spirit functions as a comforter. According to Romans 8:14-16 the Holy Spirit comes along side believers when they are down or need comfort. The Holy Spirit also functions as our counselor. The Holy Spirit is often referred to as a Counselor to guide us and direct us in our thoughts and in our actions to follow the will of God for our lives. Third, the Holy Spirit functions as our advocate. The Holy Spirit does more than just comfort and counsel us. The Holy Spirit actually gives us the courage to do what God calls us to do as our advocate. This means that the Holy Spirit enables us to live a righteous life in a world full of unrighteousness. He will give you the power to turn from darkness and flee from sin.
The Holy Spirit brings the Word alive in the life of believers. When the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, Peter preached and the Word of God resonated in the hearts of 3,000 people. Prior to this they may have been spiritually interested, but felt no conviction. They came from all different backgrounds and once the Holy Spirit came they all became one body of believers.
The Holy Spirit empowers believers to live a holy life. The Holy Spirit tugs on our heart to make the right decisions and act in accordance with God’s will and His ways. The Holy Spirit convicts us, it doesn’t condemn us.
The Holy Spirit enables believers to fulfill their holy calling. Once the Word of God becomes active in your life and you are empowered to live a holy life then you need to fulfill your holy calling. The Holy Spirit doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.
I believe that there is a God, that this God can be known through Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit to indwell the believer convicting of sin and helping them live a better life that brings glory to God. The Holy Spirit is part of the story of us. Without the Holy Spirit believers would not be empowered to preach the gospel and live it out.
Have you ever wondered where the church started and why it still matters? When I say the word church we all have different perspectives on what it is. Many people didn’t grow up going to church. They grew up in a stadium watching the Vikings or Packers. Some people spent the weekends on the golf course or lake.
Other people had a parent who was hurt by the church, had no interest in spirituality or was part of a different faith. You may have even collected a lot of baggage at a church if you did participate with one. You have memories of long boring sermons that lasted for hours and hours. Maybe you were forced to go and hated every minute of it. Others have feelings of guilt. Church always made you feel dirty and full of shame. No matter what you did it was never enough. Unfortunately some people have been wounded by the church. They were emotionally, spiritually, or even sexually abused. If you have been victimized, I am so sorry, that is not the church family Jesus invited you to be a part of.
When most people think of the church they think of a building or a denomination or even their favorite pastor. But buildings and denominations and pastors are not the church, believers are, specifically believers who gather together in buildings and with shared values. The church family was founded by Jesus to fulfill the Great Commission he gave. Jesus said: “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
The birth of the church family starts with the resurrection of Jesus. Two thousand years later we are still fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples advancing the kingdom of God. This is why I love the church because it’s Jesus church and we are family. If you are a born again Christian you are a member of the family, you are on the team. The church is a family of people who believe in Jesus, his message, and his ministry.
In January 2017 we launched an ambitious vision to raise the spiritual climate of the community. These are the goals for vision 2021.
1. Lower the divorce rate by 5% in five years.
This translates into Freshwater helping 200 couples and over 400 children over a five year period. This is an ambitious goal! We believe that families matter whether you are single, married, currently in a relationship, or involved in a struggling one. We don’t shame those who have experienced the pain of divorce, instead we show grace and love to everyone and offer help and support.
As of August 2018 we have formally helped over 27 couples with a combined total of 50 children. Our marriage mentoring ministry is doing well and is recruiting new mentor couples. We have also established a counseling referral network for family and marriage counseling.
2. Lower personal debt by 50% in five years.
We know that 25% of Freshwater people have unsecured debt of over $5000. This averages out to be about 200 individuals that we are directly trying to help.
3. Positively impact and assist over 300 people struggling with substance abuse and mental health challenges. We know that 7% of the population battle depression on a regular basis and 18% suffer with anxiety. We also know that 1 in 10 people struggle with substance abuse. The struggle is real and I know this because I fight depression. I want to help others who fall into dark holes like I do. I am passionately committed to doing this. We are talking about mental health, doing seminars, and walking with people who need help. This is nothing to be ashamed of, this is something for the church family to rally around.
We have directly helped around 100 people struggling with mental health challenges. We have also helped at least 75 people who struggle with substance abuse.
4. See 1,000 people make the decision to follow Christ in the next five years.
Since launching our vision in January of 2017 there have been 286 people who have said yes to a relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe there are more, but we have connected with 286 people.
I also serve as the President of International Ministerial Fellowship (IMF). We are an accrediting body and family of believers made up of pastors, parachurch workers, chaplains, and missionaries who are committed to fulfilling the Great Commission (visit IMFserves.church for more information). Last year our IMF pastors and leaders reported 98,286 made decisions to follow Christ. The family of God is growing.
5. See 80% of Freshwater people connected with others in a group.
We believe that you connect better with others in circles rather than in rows. Small groups provide people with a place to get relationally connected for support, encouragement, accountability, prayer, and fun. We have recently launched a group for people in their 50’s, a young adults group, and a financial group. You may be the person who starts the next small group or joins one.
6. Plant five new churches in five years.
Church planting is the most effective way to reach more people for Christ. We need a life giving church in every city in our area. So far we have helped launch Williston Alliance Church in ND and a new bilingual church. We are still working with other church planters who are still assembling their launch teams.
7. Celebrate with over 2,000 people at all of our worship services in five years.
We average just under 1,000 people every week now plus our online campus. Over 2,000 people already call Freshwater their church home, but they don’t attend every week. Our goal is to have over 2,000 people in attendance every week. We have decided to keep our Thursday night 707 service going because it’s been a huge success. The reason we set a numeric goal is because behind every number is a name and every name is a person that matters to God. God loves people and so do we.
8. Build and move into a new facility within five years that meets our needs and leverages our existing facilities. We know that both of our facilities work, but one facility designed around our needs would be best. Our initial plan is to keep the Waconia campus and use it as our student ministries center and community center. Our Learning Center will expand and take over daily operations of the St. Boni campus. This will enable us to build a new facility so that we can worship together in one space.
A generous donor has provided 100k in matching funds to be used specifically for the land/building fund. To date $42,890.00 has been given and with the matching funds that brings the total to $85,780
What can you do to help make vision 2021 a reality?
1. Pray for a movement of God. Add Freshwater to your prayers asking God to move in powerful ways in our community. Pray for one specific person, that they come to faith in Christ and attend Freshwater with you. Prayer moves the heart of God so we pray expecting God to hear our prayers and act on them.
2. Give Generously. Giving generously starts with us. If you currently support Freshwater financially, thank you. If you give a little or only once in a while, I encourage you to start giving regularly. The Bible instructs believers to tithe. That means they are to give the first 10% of their income back to Him in faith. If you don’t currently tithe, start giving something and increase it every month until you are biblically tithing. God promises to bless us when we trust him with our finances. One way to be more consistent in giving is to set up an online recurring giving schedule (http://freshwater.church/give/). You can also give specifically to the building fund.
3. Be an authentic Christian. This doesn’t take much explanation. Honor God with your life every day and if you mess up don’t give up, just keep pressing on. People need to see Christians like you live out your faith every day.
4. Mentor one person. Relationships are so important. Find someone that you can pour your life into and connect with them on a regular basis. Get together to build your friendship, pray for one another, study the Bible, and hold each other accountable as disciples.
Our vision to raise the spiritual climate of the community is going to take a united effort. This vision is too big to be done alone and apart from a work of the Holy Spirit. I am convinced that this is the vision God has set before us and is calling us to accomplish. So why put so much effort into this? Because people matter to God and they matter to us. The greatest investment we can make with our life is to use it for the glory of God to accomplish His purposes for us. This is also where we will find the most fulfillment and the most satisfaction each and every day.
The Book of Acts starts with a handful of people who wait for the Holy Spirit then when it comes they are unleashed and they start making disciples like crazy. Basically this small group of scared people come together and rally around the cross and change the world one person at a time. Today there are over 3 billion Christians all because a handful of people made the decision to take Jesus seriously and make disciples.
Josh was only two months old when I quit my job and Kathi and I decided to start Freshwater. This was way back in 1999 and I was in my twenties. We hardly made any money and Kathi was a stay at home mom. I had no idea what I was doing, but God placed a dream on my heart. That dream was born in God’s word and my understanding of scripture that says go and make disciples and do it in faith so we did.
We launched Freshwater on Easter Sunday with 88 people in attendance including my parents, my grandmother, my sister, and a whole bunch of other people who also invited their families and friends. We were elated that 88 people showed up. But it was short lived because after everyone’s family went home only 23 people came the next week. But something started to happen.
Right around when our church opened I wrote a newsletter. I am sure I mailed it to 50 people, but our official newsletter circulation was 8 couples, 4 singles, and 2 college students. This is what I wrote:
“Can you imagine a place serving over 2000 people who are fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ? Can you imagine a place where everybody is important? Can you imagine a place that provides Christian day-care for over 200 children? Can you imagine a place where the presence of God is felt and biblical truths applied? Can you imagine a place that is known for uniting people for the cause of Christ? Can you imagine a place where you will always be more important than the wallet that you carry?
You are imagining Freshwater in ten years. This dream is well under way to becoming reality and you are a part of it. Freshwater is committed to being a church where REAL people can go to find out more about God and how they can serve Him. Freshwater is committed to being a RELEVANT ministry where people are more important than programs.
Freshwater is committed to planting churches. Ten years from now it is our goal to have planted at least three other churches that mirror the vision and purpose of Freshwater. Our goal is no small task. But with Jesus leading and everyone else following, we are well on our way to becoming a regional ministry center that impacts the lives of thousands of people. Can you imagine Freshwater in 10 years? Can you imagine the good things that God has in store for you? We can and are glad that you have chosen Freshwater as your church home.”
Looking back, our goal may have been a little bit audacious, but I really believed that God had great things in store for us and I still do. That is why we launched vision 2021 last year. I still believe that people need Jesus. I still believe that now is the time and we are called and commissioned to do our part.
You can make disciples wherever you are. If you are living out your faith that is your primary job, to make disciples. You can make them wherever you are. Making disciples is all about sharing the message that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that God has a purpose for each and every one of us because we have been created in His image and for His glory. As a church family we exist to reach people for Christ, connect them with other believers, help them to grow in their faith, serve others, and honor God with their life. This is us, we are the church, we are family, and we have work to do. Let’s raise the spiritual climate of our community.
Judas Iscariot was one of the 12 apostles closest to Jesus. We don’t know when or where he was called by Jesus, Judas just seems to appear in the story. We don’t really know if his intentions to become a disciple were good or bad at first, or if he had false motives all along, what we know is that he was the disciple’s treasurer. There must have been some good qualities in Judas. We just don’t know. Judas spent his time learning and watching Jesus but he wasn’t very spiritual.
If Judas wasn’t interested in following Jesus for spiritual reasons, why would he follow him? Maybe he had other motives. Judas was Jewish and he like so many other Jews hated the Roman government. The Jews wanted the Romans out of Israel. Israel was their homeland and the Romans were not welcome. The Jews hated paying Roman taxes, they hated Roman rule, Roman government, and they probably hated Roman food.
Judas saw Jesus as his ticket to leadership when Jesus overthrew the Romans kicking them out of Israel. If Jesus was who he said he was and was going to do what he said he would do, then why wouldn’t Judas want to rule Israel with him? He played the religious game to get some fantasy political position in the new government he expected the Messiah to usher in. But Jesus never came to overthrow the Roman government, he came to overthrow the powers of darkness.
Judas became one of the best known apostles because of his blatant hypocrisy in betraying Jesus. In ancient times a hypocrite was an actor. Someone who pretended to be someone they were not. The moral of Judas story is to avoid hypocrisy because hypocrisy is a spiritual form of cancer that attacks the core of the gospel destroying the work and witness of Christ in you.
The dark story of Judas is one of the most tragic and mysterious records in Scripture. But we can learn from it.
Hypocritical people are often interested in a noble cause. Judas appeared interested in the noble cause of overthrowing the Romans and helping people. He claimed to have a noble cause but in reality, he was motivated by money and power.
Hypocritical people demonstrate an outward allegiance to Christ but inwardly are self-centered. This became clear in Judas life when he yelled at Mary for anointing Jesus feet with perfume. He wanted the money. On several occasions Judas stuck it out with Jesus on spiritual grounds, but he was really in it for himself.
Hypocritical people want to be perceived as holy. Judas wanted others to think he was spiritual but he was really good at being really fake. He fooled all the other apostles up until the end. At the last supper when Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray Him, none of them suspected Judas. Even after Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer, the other disciples still didn’t understand.
What other lessons can we learn? As believers we don’t follow any one person because people stumble and let you down. The Good Shepherd will never lead you astray. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Follow Jesus. He will never let you down or lead you astray. The Holy Spirit will give you wisdom if you ask Him for it.
At some point we have all acted just like Judas. We have pretended to be generous but in our heart we know we are not. We have used God’s name in vein. We have lied, embellished the truth, or omitted information when we should have laid it all out. We have known the right thing to do and done the opposite.
This is why it is so important for us to stay humble, authentic, and teachable.
The Psalmist prayed:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139:23-24
Be willing to admit your questionable motives, your selfish desires, and evil thoughts. The Apostle Paul said,
“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans 12:9-10
I encourage you to avoid hypocrisy. Be authentic, be real, keep growing, be Spirit led, and follow Jesus above all else. If we do this, we will grow closer to Christ and honor Him with our lives.