Tonight, at Harvest Orange County I will begin a new “series in a series.”
We are going through the book of Ephesians in a series called, Live. Love. Fight!
Now we have come to the Love section.
We are going to look at God’s plan for relationships, including singles as well as marriage and the family. I am calling this Family Matters.
Tonight I will talk about how to live as a single person and give some preliminary thoughts on how to have a blessed and long-lasting marriage.
Also, I will give a free copy of my book, God’s Design for Christian Dating to every single person who attends. If you can’t come, you can order it on amazon.com.
The service starts at 7:00 PM, Pacific, and will be webcast live at harvest.org
It’s been said, “There are two things that are true of every person: we all want to be happy and we’re all going to die.”
Yes, death knocks at every door.
There are no exceptions.
I know that sounds like a depressing thought, but consider this: only those who are prepared to die are really ready to live!
One thing is inevitable: we will die and enter the afterlife.
Ecclesiastes 3:1–2 says there is “a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die,” and in Hebrews 9:27, we read, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (NKJV).
That “time to die” may come later than you expected. On the other hand, it may come much, much sooner. Statisticians tell us that three people die every second, 180 every minute, 11,000 every hour. That means that every day 250,000 people enter into eternity!
The psalmist writes, “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should,” (Psalm 90:12 TLB) and “You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to You; at best, each of us is but a breath” (39:5 NLT).
Phillip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, commissioned his servant to stand in his presence and every day say, “Philip, you will die.”
Before he died, Steve Jobs said, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to Heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it.” This is true; not even Steve Jobs escaped it.
After death comes the afterlife and then one of two destinations: Heaven or Hell. Most do not think they will go to Hell. For every American who believes he’s going to Hell, there are 120 who believe they’re going to Heaven. Yet this belief is in direct contradiction to what Jesus said: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it!” (Matthew 7:13–14 NKJV).
If we believe the Bible, most people today are not headed to Heaven. In fact, most are headed to Hell. And that is because of their own choice. And just as surely as there is a Heaven for believers, there is a Hell for nonbelievers.
God wants you to go to Heaven. That is why He sent His own Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for your sin. Trust in and follow Him and you can have the assurance of Heaven. You have God’s very word on it!
Tomorrow at Harvest we are back in our “God Came Near” series.
You may recall, in our last message from this series I talked about the afterlife and what happens to the Christian when they die.
Tomorrow, I am going to talk about what happens to the nonbeliever when they die in my message, “A Hellfire and Brimstone Message.”
You will not want to miss this.
You can join us in person or watch the LIVE HD webcast at www.harvest.org
Hardly a day goes by when we do not hear mention of the nation Israel, or the city of Jerusalem, or the Jewish people in general. Why do these people occupy such a singular position in the world today? Why does the nation Israel, which is 154th among the nations in land size, play such a prominent role in the world today? (You could fit 32 Israels in the state of Texas.)
Why is Jerusalem – not New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Moscow, or Beijing – so often mentioned? Answer – because God has chosen the Jewish people. Amos 3:2 says, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth” (NIV). Why did God choose the Jewish people? Deuteronomy 7:7-8 says, “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you” (NKJV). Some would say that God has set aside or cast away the Jewish people, but this is not biblical. The original promises to Abraham and his descendants are not completely fulfilled.
A blessed nation
The promises to what would later become the nation Israel began with Abraham. God made very specific promises to Abraham and his descendants: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3 NIV).
And that is true; all the world has been blessed because of the Jewish people. God delivered His Word through Hebrew prophets to the Jewish people. The Jewish people have the Ten Commandments that are the basis of morality. And God gave us our Lord, the Messiah Jesus, who was a Jewish man. Our Christian faith came through a chosen people – the Jews. The gospel is a Jewish message about a Jewish Messiah given to Jewish disciples.
We Gentiles are “grafted in” to the promises God made to His people. As Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Salvation is of the Jews.” As the covenant and chosen people, the Jews have a special place in God’s heart. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 NKJV).
A persecuted people
This is why Satan hates the Jews and is the author of anti-Semitism – because Satan hates what God loves. The anti-Semitism that has been directed toward Jews historically by “Christians” is sinful and wrong. It wasn’t the Jews who put Jesus on the cross; it was our sin.
We see this anti-Semitism going back thousands of years. It goes back to Exodus, with Pharaoh killing Jewish baby boys. Then in Esther, we see the plot to destroy Jews by ancient Iran. Fast-forward to the Holocaust, where 6 million Jewish people died. Those who have “cursed Israel” and the Jewish people have paid a price.
Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Rome persecuted the Jews. They collapsed as world powers. Germany, once a world power, was devastated after World War II, and justly so. Spain illustrated this on a national scale as well. In 1492, Jews were told to leave Spain or convert to Catholicism. None of their money or possessions could be taken with them. Spain collapsed as a world power.
The United States has been an example of how God can bless a nation that stands by Israel. We do not have a perfect record, as we turned away passenger ships during World War II filled with Jews and sent them back to Germany and certain death. But we did defeat the Nazis and have been, until recently, a staunch ally of Israel.
One of the reasons God has blessed the USA is because we have blessed Israel. No nation on earth has stood more closely with Israel than America over the years. America needs Israel more than Israel needs America.
A promised land
In Genesis 12:7, God says, “To your offspring I will give this land,” and in Genesis 15:18, God makes it clear what the land is: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates” (NIV). In Joshua chapter 1, God reiterates that the land belongs to the descendants of Abraham: “And it happened after the death of Moses the servant of Jehovah, the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, ‘My servant Moses is dead. Now, therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people to the land that I will give him, to the sons of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, I have given that to you, as I said to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon even to the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites’” (NKJV).
Israel possessed their land but turned to idolatry, so God banished them to Babylon. After 70 years, they returned, and later we find her occupied by the Romans. This is when Jesus began His public ministry and predicted that Israel would be scattered. They remained scattered for the most part until the end of World War II. God foretold in Scripture that Israel would return to their land. Ezekiel 37 predicted that Israel would rise from graves and return to her land: “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!” Therefore prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves and bring you into the land of Israel.’”‘”
Speaking on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke from Auschwitz in Poland. He proclaimed that the return of the Jewish people to their homeland was fulfillment of prophecy.
“The Jewish people rose from ashes and destruction, from a terrible pain that can never be healed. Armed with the Jewish spirit, the justice of man, and the vision of the prophets, we sprouted new branches and grew deep roots. Dry bones became covered with flesh, a spirit filled them, and they lived and stood on their own feet, as Ezekiel prophesied.”
The return of the Jews was a “super sign” that started the prophetic time clock ticking.
Scripture promises that not only will the Jews be regathered in their land, but that they would have Jerusalem under their control as well. This did not happen until fairly recently. After the modern state of Israel was declared in 1948, Jerusalem was still divided. Jordan retained control over the old city, including the Temple Mount and most historic sites. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israeli forces captured the old city, reunifying Jerusalem. The city was under Jewish control for the first time in over 2000 years! And Bible prophecy had once again been fulfilled to a T.
And that is where the “rub” comes. Jerusalem remains at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; with many Arab leaders worldwide insisting that Jerusalem and the entire West Bank are rightfully Palestinian territory and must ultimately be given back as a condition of peace. But we must understand that God gave this land to the Jewish people. They have returned, against all odds, to this land and have shed a lot of Israeli blood. They will not give up Jerusalem. Nor should they.
A focal point
The city of Jerusalem – isn’t it amazing that this tiny little city creates such a stir? More wars have been fought at her gates than any other city, even though her name means “City of Peace.” Why this hostility toward Jerusalem? Because she plays a key role in God’s plan today and tomorrow.
• Jerusalem is the nerve center of the world geographically.
• Jerusalem is the salvation center of the world spiritually.
• Jerusalem is the storm center of the world prophetically.
• Jerusalem is the glory center of the world ultimately.
• Jerusalem is the city of the past, the present and the future.
1 Jerusalem is the city of the past. This city was the capital of Israel under King David. David’s son Solomon built the first temple, and the Shekinah glory came. Jesus was crucified there as well.
2 Jerusalem is the city of the present. When the Jews formed a nation on May 14, 1948, it was a modern-day miracle. And more specifically, a fulfilled prophecy that set the prophetic clock ticking. Never has a nation been able to maintain its national identity after being scattered for hundreds of years – until Israel!
3 Jerusalem is the city of the future. It is here that world history as we know it will end. Jerusalem with be at the center of the final conflict as the battle of Armageddon rages. The Lord will enter in through the East Gate and establish His kingdom. We are commanded in Scripture to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” God says of the Jewish people, and in effect, the nation Israel, “Whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:8 NLT). Essentially, He says, “Anyone who harms you harms my most precious possession.” That’s why we stand with the Jewish people and the nation Israel. We bless them and thank God for them.
One of my favorite books is “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom. It is the amazing story of the ten Boom family, watchmakers in Holland. They were all committed Christians. As the persecution against the Jews began, the ten Boom family took them in. The ten Booms hid hundreds of Jews to protect them from arrest by the Nazis. Betrayed by a fellow Dutch citizen, the entire family was sent to concentration camps.
Corrie’s father and her sister Betsy both died in camps. Corrie alone survived and spent the rest of her life sharing the gospel. Earlier on, Corrie recounts what it was like when Jews were rounded up by the Nazis:
“One day as Father and I were returning from our walk, we found the Grote Markt cordoned off by a double ring of police and soldiers. A truck was parked in front of the fish mart; into the back were climbing men, women and children, all wearing the yellow star. ‘Father! Those poor people!’ I cried. … ‘Those poor people,’ father echoed. But to my surprise I saw that he was looking at the soldiers now forming into ranks to march away. ‘I pity the poor Germans, Corrie. They have touched the apple of God’s eye.’”
Just like the ten Booms, we as Christians need to stand by our Jewish friends. We need to stand up for the nation of Israel. They are still God’s chosen people. God still has plans for them, and revival will break out in their nation again.
Taken from my weekly column at Worldnetdaily.com
In the Great Commission, we are commanded by Jesus to go and verbally communicate His good news of salvation to as many people as we can. If they respond to this message, we are to “make disciples” of them. That is, we are to help them to be grounded in their faith and be integrated into a local church. Then, we are to go and repeat this process.
Paul writes, “We proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ” (Colossians 1:28 PHP). That’s the objective: lead people to Jesus and bring them to maturity.
This is my message for America on the National Day of Prayer, which I’m delivering at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library at a pastors’ breakfast meeting.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan said, “We can’t have it both ways. We can’t expect God to protect us in a crisis and just leave Him over there on the shelf in our day-to-day living. I wonder if sometimes He isn’t waiting for us to wake up.”
America needs a wake-up call—a spiritual awakening. Does that seem impossible? With God, nothing is impossible. He can even turn around the United States of America.
Do we believe that’s really a possibility, or are we resigned to the notion that things are just going to get worse? We see the violence in our streets in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, and we wonder “Will our streets ever be safe again?” There are acts of terror by ISIS and other groups, even happening in Texas! Add to this the very real threats from Iran and North Korea who vow to destroy us.
Yes, we can look at enemies on the outside, but we would be wise to look within as a country. Historian Will Durant, in his book on Rome’s history Caesar and Christ, said, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has first destroyed itself from within. The essential causes of Rome’s decline lay in her people and morals.”
The difference between Rome and the US is that we were founded on Judeo-Christian values. We’ve strayed from the original vision of our founding fathers that produced America. What was once “freedom of religion” has now become “freedom from religion.” We have succeeded in getting God out of our schools, sporting events, public spaces, and workplaces.
Then, of course, there is the breakdown of the family. So many of our social ills today can be traced to broken homes, and specifically fatherless households. Most children born in the US are out of wedlock now.
- 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
- 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
- 85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home.
It’s been said, “A family can survive without a nation but a nation cannot survive without the family.” We in America need to turn to God in prayer and turn back to His Word.
The Supreme Court is deciding if they should strike down the historical definition of marriage. George Washington warned that we can never expect the “smiles of Heaven” on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.
Peter Marshall, former chaplain to the US Senate, once said, “The choice before us is plain: Christ or chaos, conviction or compromise, discipline or disintegration.”
Ronald Reagan said, “America needs God more than God needs America. If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
We need a spiritual awakening in America—a nationwide revival. The prophet Habakkuk understood this when he prayed, “I have heard all about You, Lord, and I am filled with awe by the amazing things You have done. In this time of our deep need, revive Your work, as You did in years gone by. Show us Your power to save us. And in Your anger, remember Your mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2 NLT).
America needs God’s intervention.
We saw many turn to the Lord after 9/11. Remember those prayer vigils on street corners and packed churches? Remember the members of congress spontaneously singing “God Bless America”? This gives me hope that there could be at least one more great revival in America’s future.
By the way, the song “God Bless America,” written by Irving Berlin in 1938, is a prayer: “While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free. Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.” Then the familiar refrain: “God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above. From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.”
Yes, I have hope for America!
We need to pray for God’s blessing on America, “through the night with a light from above.” And that will come when we have a national spiritual awakening. That is what we must pray for. But how? God gives the answer in 2 Chronicles 7:14. It is His cure for a sick country. Contextually it was given to Israel, but in principle it applies to any nation:
“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Notice that God says if we want our land to be healed, it starts with His people. God does not point His finger, so to speak, at the White House, but at His house. It is easy as Christians to put the blame on Hollywood or Washington, but God says that we need to be living as true followers of Jesus Christ. We must “turn from our wicked ways.” If you have unconfessed sin in your life, your prayer will go nowhere.
I trust you have heard of Pastor Saeed Abedini. Today he is in an Iranian prison for his faithfulness to Jesus Christ. He has been beaten and tortured for his faith and unwillingness to turn to Islam. He wrote this letter for us on National Day of Prayer.
“As an American and as a prisoner for Christ, I have spent many hours praying and crying out to God for revival for this great nation. We all hope for the success of our nation and for America to be blessed, but without revival there can be no true success or blessing.
“Change starts with us. Revival starts with us. The first step to revival is praying together in unity as a nation. The National Day of Prayer is a great opportunity for us to come out and use the freedom that we have been given. So many Christians around the world are imprisoned and martyred for their faith in Jesus. You have the freedom to gather across the United States at your state capitol to pray. Please use this opportunity. Please use your freedom for the kingdom of God!”
Let’s see now how the early church prayed for someone in prison:
“Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” (Acts 12:5)
Things were looking mighty bleak for the fledgling church. King Herod had murdered James. This was the brother of John (together called “the sons of thunder”), who was one of the earliest disciples. Thus James became the first of the apostles to be martyred.
Herod, being a consummate politician, saw it pleased his constituents. So he then had the leader of this new church, Simon Peter, arrested. It looked like Peter was next for execution. Peter was behind two gates, chained to two guards, and guarded by 14 more! So what did the church do?
- “The church organized a protest and stormed Herod’s palace.”
- “The church had a boycott of all products made in Rome.”
- “The church went with swords and smote Herod and his soldiers.”
No, instead the church used their secret weapon: “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5 NKJV)
Though all other doors were closed, one remained open: the door of prayer! The door into the presence of God. So often prayer is our last resort when it should be our first!
Here are three characteristics of prayer that changes things:
1. It is offered to God.
“Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
Isn’t all prayer offered to God? Not necessarily. Often in prayer there is very little thought of God Himself. Our mind is taken up with the thought of what we need instead of our Heavenly Father. Sometimes it’s even taken up with how we sound or look to others. Jesus warned about the Pharisees who stood on street corners to draw attention: “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me” (Matthew 15:8 NLT).
For prayer to be powerful and effective, there needs to be acknowledgement of who it is exactly we are speaking to. Jesus taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. . .” The key is to get our will into alignment with God’s will.
And how do we know what His will is? By the careful study of Scripture. Knowing God’s will also comes from living in communion with Him. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7 NKJV). Nothing lies outside the reach of prayer except that which lies outside the will of God. God only answers the requests which He inspires.
As John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (NKJV). Yet there are times we think we know God’s will, but we are not sure, so we pray, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.”
Does God want to send a spiritual awakening to our country? Yes!
2. It is prayed with passion and persistence.
“But constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
“Constant prayer” can be translated “earnestly “or “stretching outwardly” or “with agony.” This was not a flippant “Lord, please save Peter (yawn), or whatever” kind of prayer. This was a “storm the gates of Heaven” prayer: Oh Lord, deliver Peter!
Have you prayed like that for your family?
Have you prayed like that for your church?
Have you prayed like that for your country?
James 4:3 tells us, “You have not because you ask not.”
“Constant prayer” could also be translated “with intense desire.” Much of our prayer has no power in it because there is no heart in it! If we put so little heart in our prayers, we can’t expect God to put much heart in answering. God promises that His people will find Him when they search for Him with all their heart!
3. It is a prayer that is prayed together.
“Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
There is power in united prayer! Jesus said, “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19 NKJV). This speaks of two people with the same God-given burden praying together.
When you have a prayer need, get other believers to pray with you about it. All around our country, and indeed the world, people are praying for America today.
There is a fourth thing that we notice about their prayer, and it is not at all commendable like the first three: they prayed doubtingly. Yes, they prayed to God, passionately and together, but they also prayed doubtingly. Yet even though their prayer was weakened, it still was mightier than Herod, and mightier than Hell!
God answered the prayer of the church and sent an angel to deliver Peter. The doors of the prison opened and when he was out on the street the angel left him. Peter then went to a house where the believers gathered for prayer. In other words, Peter went to a prayer meeting where they were probably praying for him!
He knocks at the front door and a girl named Rhoda answers. She cannot believe her eyes, so she goes and tells the disciples that Peter is at the door! How did these great men of faith react? “‘You’re out of your mind,’ they said. When she insisted, they decided, ‘It must be his angel!’ Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed” (Acts 12:15–16 NLT).
So you see, in spite of their lack of faith, God still came through! Clearly there is an important place for faith in our prayers. And no doubt we, on many occasions, have hindered the working of God by our unbelief. But sometimes we just don’t have as much faith as we ought. Even then, God can intervene as He did for these doubting believers.
There is the story in Scripture of a man who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus. Jesus responded, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes!” (Mark 9:23 NKJV). Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” And Jesus delivered that man’s son from demon powers.
Look at how things change as a result of powerful prayer! In the beginning, we saw a seemingly all-powerful Herod wreaking havoc on the church. Herod had on his side the power of government, the sword, and the threat of prison. So the church used their secret weapon: prayer!
We have another secret weapon: gospel proclamation. That’s what America needs—the gospel proclaimed. Every one of us as pastors need to see people coming to Christ in our churches. New believers are the lifeblood of the church. You show me a church that does not have a constant flow of new believers and I will show you a church that is beginning to stagnate. We have a choice: evangelize or fossilize!
Pastors, I urge you to call people to Christ every week at your churches. I urge you to exhort your people to reach others with the gospel. We have two big evangelistic events you can utilize: the SoCal Harvest at Angel Stadium (August 28–30) and Harvest America, live from Dallas in November.
Praying and preaching—those are our secret weapons!
The story ends with the great Herod giving a speech met with adulation. They audience shouts. “It’s the voice of a god and not a man!” The Jewish historian Josephus adds the detail that his clothing was made completely of silver and shone so brightly in the sun that the people hailed him as a god. And upon this (Josephus says) the king did not rebuke them nor reject their flattery. Both Luke and Josephus agree that He was judged because he glorified himself instead of God; he was killed on the spot.
At the beginning of the chapter, Herod is on the rampage, arresting and persecuting church leaders. At the end, he himself is struck down and dies. The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison, and Herod triumphing. It closes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the Word of God triumphing. Man has his will, but God will have His way. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
When I travel and have a meeting in the morning, I ask for a wake-up call. The arrest of Simon Peter was the church’s “wake-up call.” As we observe the National Day of Prayer, let’s pray for America to wake up! Let’s pray for a great spiritual awakening to sweep our land:
Father, we come to You to pray for our nation, the United States of America. How You have blessed us through the years, Lord! We rightly sing, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.”
Yet we see trouble in our culture today. We see the breakdown of the family, crippling addictions, and random acts of horrific violence. Lord, we need Your help in America.
In recent days, we have done our best to remove Your Word and Your counsel from our courtrooms, classrooms, and culture. It seems, as President Lincoln once said, that we have “forgotten God.” But Lord, You have not forgotten us! You can bless and help and revive our country again.
Scripture tells us that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Lord, in Your mercy, we ask that You would exalt our country again. We have had a number of great awakenings in America. We have experienced times of refreshing, and revivals that changed not only the spiritual but also the moral landscape. As the psalmist said, “Will You not revive us again, So that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6).
That is our prayer for America today, Lord. Send a mighty spiritual awakening that will turn the hearts of men and women, boys and girls, back to you. You have told us if we will humble ourselves and pray, and seek Your face and turn from our wicked ways, that You will forgive our sins and heal our land. Forgive us today, Lord, and heal this troubled land that we love so much. We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ.
Here is the transcript of a message I recently gave to pastors and leaders on how to develop and maintain an “evangelistic culture” in their churches. I talk about how an evangelistic event like Harvest can help, but the church needs to be inviting people to Christ every week, not just for an occasional special event. You might want to pass this on to your pastor.
A Harvest Crusade is really just a “shot in the arm,” a catalyst to rally the troops, a call to battle. But the ongoing work of evangelism happens in churches. In fact, what’s needed in our churches today is an evangelistic culture.
This is not something that happens naturally; it happens supernaturally. Things always default to mediocrity—never to quality. That’s true of businesses, restaurants, stores, and even the church. If you see quality, and life, and an evangelistic culture, it is there because of effort.
And that effort starts with you as the pastor or ministry leader. You cannot take people any further than you yourself have gone. As Paul told Timothy, the farmer that labors must first be a partaker of the fruit (see 2 Timothy 2:6).
How can you have an evangelistic culture in your church?
1. If you want to start a fire in the pews, begin with the pulpit.
If there is a mist in the pulpit, there will be a fog in the pews. C.H. Spurgeon said, “The Holy Spirit will move them by first moving you. If you can rest without their being saved, they will rest, too. But if you are filled with an agony for them, if you cannot bear that they should be lost, you will soon find that they are uneasy, too. I hope you will get into such a state that you will dream about your child or your hearer perishing for lack of Christ, and start up at once and begin to cry, ‘O god, give me converts or I will die!’ Then you will have converts.”
2. If you want to see people come to Christ, you must articulate the gospel.
You might say, “But I’m a pastor, not an evangelist!” That may be true, but Paul told Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” You need to specifically break down the gospel and explain it to people. Try to imagine that you are a nonbeliever hearing it for the first time. Use language a person will understand.
There are certain elements that must be in play for the gospel to be the gospel. We need to tell people they are separated from God by sin, that Jesus died for that sin, and that if they repent and turn to Him, they can be saved. Our message is “Christ and Him crucified.”
Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation.” There is power in the simple message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
You need to start giving invitations for people to come to Christ. This takes a commitment, because there is always the possibility of failure. But there is an even greater possibility of success. It’s worth the risk. At the end of your message should be an evangelistic “hook.” No matter what the topic, there is always a way to wrap it up evangelistically. The key is to transition to the cross. Preach this part of your message with urgency, “as a dying man to dying men.” You must trust that God will bless His Word and convict people of sin.
When Peter was preaching on Pentecost they were “cut to the heart,” and they said, “What shall we do?” In Acts 2:38–41, Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.”
Like Peter, you must be intentional in your invitation, preaching for a decision.
3. You must be clear in your invitation.
This is where it breaks down for most preachers. I have heard pastors and speakers give excellent messages with a call to Christ. Then it all falls apart in “the mechanics” of it. People do not understand what you are asking them to do.
By the way, there are many ways to skin a cat. There are a lot of ways to ask people to respond to your invitation. You can have people stand up and pray, you can have them pray with you and then send them to a room for follow-up, you can have them come forward to the front and lead them in prayer. The main thing is that we call them to Christ. There needs to be a “moment of decision.” We don’t have the specifics of an invitation in Scripture. But we have many instances of people repenting and believing in large numbers.
This is a good time to get out of “preach mode” and be conversational. Use the vernacular, as though you were speaking to a person one on one.
4. You must have a follow-up system in place.
I’m talking about counselors who have been trained to encourage new believers. If a church does not have a follow-up ministry for new converts, something is not right. A church that does not have a constant flow of new believers will stagnate. New converts are the lifeblood of the church. We have a choice: evangelize or fossilize.
5. You must start and maintain an evangelistic culture.
People always return to mediocrity, so you must not let this culture die. Our crusade can help, but ongoing evangelism is something you must do in your church. Your people must invite other to church! In almost all cases, new converts at our crusades end up in the church of the person who brought them.
If you just announce the crusade and put out invitations, you might see some growth. But if you urge and exhort your people to bring nonbelievers, it will grow.
If you are thinking, “That just won’t work in our church!” then change the culture of your church so it will. Do a series on the importance of sharing one’s faith. When we were in Australia for a crusade, we were told that “invitations” were something that didn’t work there, but God can and did work in Australia just like He does here.
Let’s all pray for an evangelistic culture in our churches.
It seems I am asked more questions about the afterlife than any other topic.
Will we remember our life on earth when we are in Heaven?
Will we recognize one another in Heaven?
Will we be married in Heaven?
The list goes on.
We will deal with those questions and many more Sunday at Harvest in my message,
“The God of the Living” from our God Came Nearseries.
You can join us for one of our services or watch it LIVE in HD video at
I heard a story about a pastor who was walking down the street and came upon a group of boys, all between the ages of 10 and 12. They were standing around a dog, and the minister thought they might be planning to hurt it. So the reverend yelled out, “What are you doing to that dog?”
One of the boys said, “He’s just a stray dog from our neighborhood and we all want him, but only one of us can take him home. So, we decided whoever tells the biggest lie gets to keep the dog!”
The pastor was incensed, and launched into a 10-minute message against lying. He ended by saying, “Don’t you boys know it’s a sin to tell a lie? Why, when I was your age, I never told a lie!” The boys looked at each other for a moment and said, “Alright, give him the dog!”
Fact is, lying and deception begin very early in life. The six-month-old, before he can even speak, learns how to engage in fake crying. It’s all downhill from there. Then, as we get older, we learn the “fine art of excuse-making.”
What’s the difference between a lie and an excuse? Answer: not much. An excuse is “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie” or “a lie dressed up for dinner.” In other words, an excuse is just a fancy lie.
An excuse is really a lack of desire (in contrast to a reason). Excuses are what we offer instead of reasons. When you don’t really want to do something, you make an excuse. It’s been said, “He who excuses himself accuses himself. The bottom line is, we know excuses when we hear them.
Excuses only satisfy the people who make them. We have all heard them: My dog ate my homework. Sorry I’m late, but my alarm didn’t go off! The check is in the mail. Lying, deception, and giving excuses have become far too common. Studies show that most resumes are full of misrepresentations:
71% increase tenures of previous jobs.
64% exaggerate accomplishments.
60% overstate the size of the departments managed.
53% cite partial degrees as full.
48% inflate salary history.
Studies also show that one quarter to one third of all workers tell lies to explain their tardiness or absence. An article in USA Today dealt with this penchant we have for making excuses. It pointed out that “each of us fibs at least 50 times a day.” We lie about our age, our income, or our accomplishments. And we use lies to escape embarrassment.
According to the book Excuses and Lies, the top lies are:
• “I’ll be ready in a minute!” (Girls may say this more.)
• “I’ll do it in a minute.” (Guys probably say this more.)
• “Of course I’m listening!” (Probably a guy saying it to a girl.)
• “Nothing’s wrong!”
• And finally, “Yes, dear!”
Add to this some other lies we may tell:
• “You look great” (when they don’t).
• “But we can still be good friends.”
• “She means nothing to me!”
• “I’m from your government, and I am here to help you.”
Then there are excuses. We’ve all heard and used them at one time or another. And most of the time, they are not even creative! George Washington said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”
Since man’s beginning in the Garden, he has made excuses. The first excuse was made by Adam: “It was the woman You gave me!” The second was made by Eve: “The serpent beguiled me.”
Have you been hiding behind lies and excuses lately?
We were back in our “God Came Near” series last Sunday at Harvest Riverside and Orange County. This series is a chronological look at the life and ministry of Jesus from all four gospels.
There are a lot of things that hold people back from coming and/or growing in Christ. For some it’s their possessions, for others their career, and even others, personal relationships. But no thing or person should keep you from following Jesus. I spoke about that in my message, “What’s Your Excuse?”