During the days of the early church, thousands lost their lives because they would not say two words: Kaiser Kurios, which means “Caesar is Lord.” That’s because they understood that words matter.
You may remember the story of Rachel Scott. She was one of the 13 people who were killed at Columbine High School. Rachel, 17, was a strong Christian and very involved in her youth group.
On April 20, 1999, armed students began shooting people on Rachel’s high school campus. They came to Rachel and shot her twice in the legs and once in the torso. Then they left, only to return moments later. Lifting her by the head, they asked, “Do you believe in God?”Rachel understood that the words she chose would have serious consequences.
These godless men would take her life if she said yes, and perhaps even if she said no. But without hesitation, Rachel said, “You know I do!”
“Then go be with him,” responded one of the boys before shooting her in the head. Rachel received a martyr’s crown that day, I am sure. What would you have said under such circumstances?
Rachel understood that words matter.
Jesus said, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ (Matthew 5:37). In other words, the things you say should be free of duplicity or deceit, and no one should have any reason to doubt your words. Your words should be in alignment with your actions.
On our wedding day, before family and friends and before the pastor, we say “I do!” And when temptation calls, we dig in and firmly say “I won’t.” And when Jesus calls us to follow Him wholeheartedly, we say, “I will.”
Words matter. So use them wisely.
I have noticed that many times, the previews for a film are better than the film itself. All of the best bits are in the preview. But people don’t go to the movie theater to see a preview; they go to see the movie.
In many ways, life on earth is like the preview, and the film is like eternity. The big event is the afterlife, because eternity is eternal, needless to say. It has been said that eternity to the godly is a day that has no sunset, but eternity to the wicked is a night that has no sunrise.
Everyone will live eternally, Christians and non-Christians alike. So that is not the biggest issue. The biggest issue is where we will spend eternity. As a believer, I know that I will be with Christ in heaven. And I know that one day Jesus will come back to Earth and establish His kingdom. I have put my faith and my hope in Christ. And this hope is not wishful thinking or blind optimism; it is a quiet confidence, a supernatural certainty.
Where do believers get this hope? We get it from Scripture. As the psalmist wrote, “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word” (Psalm 119:114).
From the moment we are born, we are on a quest, prewired to long for something more. The reason is because God has made us in His image. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”
Deep in our hearts, we have a longing to be with God. And until that day, we are essentially living between two worlds.
When we think of Christmas and passages pertaining to it, Revelation does not come to mind.
We love the well known Christmas passages, like:
“Unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given” (Isaiah 9:6).
“Thou Bethlehem, though you be little among the thousands of Judah…” (Micah 5:2).
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
But what could the book of Revelation possibly have to say about Christmas?
In Revelation 12 we find the answer to that question. Instead of Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds, we have a different cast altogether. We have a woman being pursued by a powerful dragon who seeks her death.
We also see her prevail over the dragon. This is Christmas from more of a heavenly perspective.
And that is what I will be speaking on this Sunday at Harvest Riverside and Orange County.
I will also bring a biblical perspective on what just happened in the conflict between Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas.
You can attend one of our morning services in person, or watch it all live at www.harvest.org
Plus, there will be special music by the Katinas!
Thanksgiving is now here, and from this point on, we will eat, drink, and breathe Christmas. I don’t mean that we will be reflecting on the Christ’s birth, but we will be experiencing that commercial extravaganza, Christmas!
Commercial culture has pretty much hijacked every holiday. Christmas, instead of being about the birth of Jesus, is instead about Santa, Frosty, presents, and shopping till you drop. Easter, instead of being about the resurrection of Jesus, is about bunnies, eggs, and Spring Break.
But the one holiday that’s remained pretty much untouched is Thanksgiving. The only commercial point of reference is “Black Friday,” the big shopping day after.
But now they are opening up stores early on Thanksgiving Day. Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, a retail research consultant, recently said, “Retailers have basically ruined every holiday. “They have commercialized every single holiday by creating a good reason to promote something and drive traffic.”
But we as Christians should not lose the focus of Thanksgiving. It has officially been an annual tradition since 1863, when, during the Civil War,
President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens” to be celebrated each year.
Giving thanks is something we are commanded to do again and again as Christians. For us, every day should be Thanksgiving (minus the turkey, etc.)!
The Bible reminds us to “give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercies endure forever” (Psalm 136:1).
Now, if God ceases to be good, I suppose you can cease to give thanks. But since that will never happen, Scripture is commanding me to give thanks always.
So, have a blessed Thanksgiving today!
Don’t forget to set your scales back 10 pounds!
As you know, there is serious conflict in the Middle East again. Hamas, an organization that supports terrorism, has been bombing Israel repeatedly. Missiles have landed in Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem, setting off air-raid sirens. 745 rockets have been fired at Israel since Wednesday! Altogether, some 1500 rockets have been fired at Israel in 2012.
As President Obama correctly pointed out, Israel has “every right” to defend itself against missile attacks by militants inside Gaza. It should be noted that Hamas deliberately targets Israeli civilians while shooting from within populated areas, such as near mosques, hospitals, and schools.
Hamas, with the backing of Iran, is stirring this pot and the leader of Iran has already stated his “end game.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has vowed to “wipe Israel off the map.” He said, “They ask, ‘Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism?’ But you had best know that this slogan and this goal are altogether attainable, and surely can be achieved. The regime that is occupying Jerusalem must be wiped off the map.”
Why this hostility toward Jerusalem? Because she plays a key role in the last days. Zechariah 12:2-3 says, “I will make Jerusalem and Judah like an intoxicating drink to all the nearby nations that send their armies to besiege Jerusalem. On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone, a burden for the world.”
Dr. John Walvoord, a very respected expert on Bible prophecy has said, “The prophecies about Jerusalem make it clear that the Holy City will be in the center of the world events in the end time. . . .The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs will focus more and more attention on Jerusalem. . . .In all of these situations Jerusalem is the city to watch, as the city of prophetic destiny prepares to act out her final role.”
The Bible tells us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Yet, we know that the people of the conflicts in the Middle East will not find real peace until Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, returns to establish His eternal kingdom.
As Americans, let’s remember to pray for our friends in Israel as they face this increasing conflict.
Let me make a controversial statement:
In some ways, America needs Israel more than Israel needs America.
Years ago, God made a promise to the patriarch Abraham and to his descendants, the Jewish people. The Lord said, “I will bless those that bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (Genesis 12:3). As we stand by the only true democracy in the Middle East, the Jewish homeland, Israel, I believe that God will bless our country as a result. I pray that America will stand by our friend and true ally Israel at this critical time.
I really like Thanksgiving, because there is not a lot of pressure to go out and buy things. You have to get food, of course. But apart from that, Thanksgiving is not about shopping. It is more about getting together with family and friends and doing what most people love to do, which is eat.
A traditional Thanksgiving meal at our home includes turkey, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes made fresh by my wife, gravy, green beans, sweet potatoes with a few melted marshmallows, and fresh cranberry sauce. Then we finish it off with pumpkin pie.
Of course, after the meal, I vow that I will not be eating anything for days. But I am amazed that by about 6 p.m. that night, I am hungry again. Then it is time for a turkey sandwich, and I enjoy that as much as the main event.
We can enjoy the food. We can enjoy our family. We can enjoy our fellowship. But the real purpose of Thanksgiving is to give thanks. It is a day to focus on giving thanks.
Of course, that is easier said than done. Sometimes it is easy to give thanks. It is easy when things are going reasonably well, the bills are paid, we have a roof over our head and our health is good. But when times are hard, we don’t want to give thanks at all.
But here is what the Bible says: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever” (Psalm 106:1 NIV).
Notice this verse does not say to give thanks to the Lord when you feel good. Rather, it says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.”
If God ceases to be good, then I suppose we can cease to give thanks. But since that will never happen, Scripture commands us to give thanks always.
Think about Job. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. In one day, he lost his seven sons and three daughters. It is really unimaginable. Yet we read that after all the calamity that befell him, he worshipped the Lord and said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
How could Job do that? He was giving thanks to the Lord not just when things were going good, but because the Lord is good.
Someone might say, “Well, what if my heart is not in it? Should I still give thanks?” Yes, you should. I don’t know how easy it was for Job to offer praise that day. I am sure it was a sacrifice. And many times when we offer our worship to God, it is just that: a sacrifice. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.”
The Bible not only commands us to give thanks regardless of circumstances, but it also tells us to verbally give thanks to God.
It would be like a husband never telling his wife that he loves her. She needs to hear it from him. And of course, a husband needs to hear “I love you” from his wife, too.
God knows all things. He knows whether we love him. However, he still asks for us to give him verbal praise. Far too often, we fail to give God what is due him. As Psalm 29:2 reminds us, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness” (emphasis added).
It is rude not to say thank you. Children sometimes forget this. They take for granted everything their parents do for them. When you tell a child, “Remember to say thank you,” you are simply teaching him or her manners. Yet it seems that in our culture today, common courtesy is often lacking. When I hold a door open for someone, I don’t expect a lot. I don’t want them to hug me. (Not at all, really.) I don’t want a long, drawn-out conversation. Just a simple “thank you” would be nice. But sometimes we come up lacking in manners.
The Bible tells us that when people failed to glorify God or to give him thanks, their foolish hearts became dark (see Romans 1:20–22). That can happen to us as well. We are so quick to cry out to God in our hour of need, but are we as quick to call out to him and offer thanks after he responds to our requests?
We find a classic example of this in a New Testament account of 10 men with leprosy who came to Jesus and begged him to have mercy on them and heal them. So Jesus did. He told them to go and show themselves to the priest, and they would be healed. Then we read, “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. …” (Luke 17:15–16). Interestingly, the term used for “loud voice” originates from the same word as “megaphone.”
Ten were healed, but only one came back, and he was as loud with his praise as he was with his request. This serves as a reminder that we should do the same.
Once I had a friend — I’ll call him Bill — who worked out everyday at the gym. When we got together, he liked to flex his bicep and say, “Greg, feel this!” Bill’s muscles were rock hard.
Then one day I heard terrible news. Bill had died of a heart attack. Even though he appeared robust and powerful, his heart was diseased. Inwardly, as it turned out, Bill was a weakling.
I keep Bill in mind when I think about the church today. Outwardly everything can look promising. A ministry may appear to be going very well. Yet the inside reality can be another story. What makes a church body grow big doesn’t necessarily make it grow healthy.
The past two decades have witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of large churches, including “megachurches” (congregations of 1,000 or more), around the country. As a result of pastoring a large congregation, I’m frequently asked about our success at Harvest Christian Fellowship. What kind of church-growth formula do we follow? Can what we do at Harvest be applied to any church, anywhere, with similar results?
I understand these questions and the motivations behind them. Pastors would rather preach to people than to open spaces. And let’s face it, something would be terribly wrong if Christians weren’t interested in seeing churches grow. But it’s time to take a hard look at what church growth means.
In an article entitled “The Myth of Church Growth” featured in Current Thoughts and Trends, David Dunlap cites some troubling statistics.
For example, during the very time megachurches have sprouted across the landscape, the proportion of Americans who claim to be “born again” has remained a constant 32 percent. According to Dunlap, growth isn’t coming from conversions but from transfers — up to 80 percent of all growth taking place today. He goes on to quote C. Peter Wagner, one of the leading spokesmen for the church-growth movement, who admits, “I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with the church growth principles we’ve developed…yet somehow they don’t seem to work.”
I would suggest that one reason they don’t work is because they tend to approach church as if it were a business. For example, some church growth experts are telling pastors their “customers” no longer attend to commune with God, but to “consume” a personal or family service. In a recent survey of 1,000 church attenders, respondents were asked, “Why does the church exist?” According to 89 percent, the church’s purpose was “to take care of my family’s and my spiritual needs.” Only 11 percent said the purpose of the church is “to win the world for Jesus Christ.”
These attitudes concern me and many other observers deeply. A business-driven response may make things only worse. In the long run, if we train consumers instead of communers, we’ll end up with customers instead of disciples. It might fill up an auditorium, but it will never turn the world upside down for Christ.
The last thing I want to do is discourage any person or ministry, or cause division. We must be careful about limiting the ways God can work; but we also need to be aware of how our strategies — even well-intentioned, statistically valid ones — can actually take us off course.
Allow me to suggest how certain popular church-growth “rules” can put a church’s health at risk when slightly misapplied or taken to extremes.
Church-Growth Risky Rule #1:
If it brings people in, it pleases God.
Recently I attended a pastor’s gathering where many participants expressed frustration with the lack of numerical growth in their churches. One pastor said to me, “My feeling is, whatever works, and if it pleases God, that is what I want to do.”
I understood his good intentions, but I couldn’t agree with him. “You know, I don’t want to be nit-picky,” I said, “but I really have to differ with you. It’s not whatever works; it is whatever is pleasing to God. Period.”
Why? Because if it’s pleasing to God, it will work.
If there was ever a church growth plan that did work, it was the one the early Christians used. Talk about numbers. Talk about effectiveness. This church exploded. Why? Because they knew why they were here on earth and what they were supposed to do.
A careful reading of Acts 2:42-47 shows that the early church didn’t make bigger and better their business. Instead, they focused on five priorities: worship, prayer, evangelism, learning, and loving. The passage ends with the words, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved”(KJV). The first church didn’t have a problem with growth because God took care of the growth as they took care of honoring His principles.
Church growth is ultimately God’s business, not ours to control. Our commission is to live out the gospel individually and whole-heartedly in community. Then, in keeping with God’s will, “the Lord added to the church daily” will become the success story of our church. Not every pastor will necessarily have a “megachurch,” but he will have a growing one.
Church-Growth Risky Rule #2:
The less confrontive or overt the gospel message, the better.
One positive aspect of the recent growth movement is the emphasis on getting nonbelievers to come to church. I’m concerned, however, that in a sincere effort to get their churches to grow, some pastors are exchanging entertainment for exhortation and gimmicks for the gospel.
We recently conducted a survey at our church and found that over 40 percent of those who attended had become Christians at one of our services. If people walk away from our services with a good feeling but no idea who Jesus is, I know we have really missed the boat.
Graham Scroggie said compromise is what “prompts us to be silent when we ought to speak for fear of offending.” Of course, drama, videos, music, and other media used to communicate Christian faith in churches today aren’t compromises by themselves. Yet we must be sure that gimmicks don’t take the place of the gospel. Let’s be sure we are actually proclaiming the whole gospel — including sin, judgment, and salvation.
Church-Growth Risky Rule #3:
Find out what your church is hungry for and feed it to them.
People and churches develop an appetite for what they are accustomed to being fed. A church with a steady diet of feel-good sermonettes in place of solid teaching from Scripture might eventually grow to become a large congregation — but it will be weak and immature.
You could easily conclude that many congregants want the church to be light and hassle-free. No heavy meals or five-course messages. But just because people have developed an appetite for empty calories doesn’t mean their bodies have no need for nutritious meals.
When our two boys were younger, they didn’t understand why my wife, Cathe, and I wouldn’t let them exist on a steady diet of Hostess Twinkies and Ding-dongs. Nevertheless, we insisted on a balanced diet. Why? Because the boys’ appetites didn’t feed their real, long-term hungers.
There’s a reason Scripture tells pastors to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). Whether they always feel it or not, human beings have a deep need to know the meaning of life and the reason for their existence. The answers people need can be found only in God’s Word and in a living relationship with Jesus, “the bread of life” (John 6:35).
Church-Growth Risky Rule # 4:
Target your church to a particular demographic.
Despite their diversity, the believers of the early church maintained a love and unity so powerful that they enjoyed the favor of all (Acts 2:47). Who wouldn’t want to join in on such a love feast? As a result, their numbers exploded and thousands came to Christ.
Nevertheless, one trend in church growth is the attempt to target churches to a particular niche of “consumers.” You might call these designer churches. Every decision has a particular “consumer” in mind.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with trying to find ways to reach out to a specific segment of society and make a connection or with using common interests as a springboard for the gospel. Yet we need to be cautious about mistaking our circles of comfort for our calling. Philip went to an Ethiopian court official (Acts 8); Peter went to a Roman centurion named Cornelius (Acts 10); Paul went to a Philippian businesswoman (Acts 16). Each one of those contacts was instrumental in helping to spread Christianity around the known world.
A problem with catering only to a certain group of people is that we miss out on the great power and beauty of diversity. Something exciting happens when we walk into a church and see different ages, cultures, tastes, and races with one thing in common — Jesus Christ. That is a truly loving church. And that church will grow.
I believe the church in our generation has a unique opportunity to have an impact on the world. God has opened doors, and we can use this opportunity to get the gospel out and turn the world upside down for Jesus Christ.
As we do, we should remember that God’s church is not a business. It may grow larger to some extent when it’s treated like one; but it will probably not be God-centered, nor will it have a good prognosis for living out that dynamic first-century example. Ultimately, God’s church is based on heavenly, “upside-down” principles that nearly always go against the world’s grain.
We simply need to do the Lord’s work the way God has taught us in Scripture, as demonstrated for us in the Book of Acts. Clearly and systematically, we need to present “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). That’s how God will bring change and growth to His church, and that’s how the church will change the world.
If so, you will want to tune in to our radio broadcast today where I am teaching from the book of Revelation.
There is a special blessing promised to the person who reads, hears, and keeps the word of this great book (see Revelation 1:3). By the way, this is the only book in the Bible where a blessing is specifically promised to the reader.
In this sweeping overview of human history–past, present, and future–we are given a heavenly perspective on life.
The word revelation means “unveiling.” That’s because it is not God’s desire to conceal, but reveal.
In our radio broadcast today, we start a special series on the Seven Churches of Revelation. Jesus effectively tells us what He thinks of the church. To hear the broadcast, go to
Today is Veterans Day.
It’s important that we take the time to remember and honor our more then 22 million military veterans. It’s because of their selfless service and sacrifice that we live in a free country today.
I will be interviewing a genuine American war hero today. His name is Captain Scotty Smiley. Scotty is an Army Ranger and combat-diver qualified infantryman, and also is the Army’s first active-duty, blind officer and its first blind company commander. On April 6, 2005, he lost the use of both eyes when a suicide car bomber blew himself up thirty meters in front of Scotty’s IAV Stryker vehicle.
Scotty has an amazing story of courage and faith.
I will also be speaking from Revelation, chapter 12. The title of my message is “How to Overcome the Devil.”
Join us LIVE or watch the webcast at www.harvest.org.