Tag Archives: revitalization

Stuck in a Truck

Last year I went deer hunting with a friend of mine up in east Texas. I really enjoy hunting and being outdoors. Hunting was going pretty slow, then it came a gully washer of a storm. We must have gotten close to two inches of rain an hour. Needless to say, the ground was saturated with moisture. Finally, after a couple of hours the rain stopped, and the sun came out. So much for hunting that evening. I thought we would just hang out at the cabin until morning and hunt then. Nope! My friend wanted to go throw corn and deer supplement on the ground for the next morning’s hunt. I said man, it is too wet, we’ll get stuck! We were in his truck, and he was going to do it whether I wanted to or not. Oh, I forgot to tell you that my friend had a stroke years ago and is very unstable on his feet. So, guess who had to go along to dump the corn and all on the ground? Yes, it would be me. Again, I tried to tell my friend let’s not do this – it is just too wet, and we will get stuck. He would have nothing to do with it. Needless to say, we loaded up his dodge 4×4 truck with the corn and proceeded out to the deer blinds.

All was going well until he decided to try and do a 3-point turn in the wettest part of the trail. I tried to tell him just go straight, do not try to turn around here. Nope! He was going to turn around right there. Well, you guessed it, we got stuck. Not just a little stuck, he buried the truck up to its rear axile! Of course, he tried to use four-wheel drive to get out. Nope, he just got deeper. So, then he says, hey someone must dig us out; uh huh and who would that be? You guessed it again, it was my responsibility to dig us out. I got out, and quickly saw we would need a backhoe to dig this truck out. Anyway, I tried to put branches and wood under the tires, nope – way too stuck.

We spent the next three hours trying to get the truck out of a place it should have never been in the first place. Finally, we got someone close by to get us out, not without spraying mud everywhere and putting a dent in the front bumper where the guy ran into a tree when the truck did come out. Then my friend tells me we must pay the guy for getting us out. What? I did not get us stuck you did! We are hunting together, that mean you have to help pay this guy for getting us out. Now not only am I caked with mud, I also am out $100 to pay for getting a truck unstuck, that I did not have anything to do with in getting it stuck!

I say all this because when I think of how comical the situation was, it is much like a church that is stuck. They really have no one to blame except themselves. Bad decisions, regardless of when they are made, they are still bad decisions. Just like my friend who thought he could turn around in an impossible place, so churches will think the same way. Churches will try every available scheme to get unstuck by themselves, but to no avail. I could not tell my friend anything while we were getting stuck – ditto for a church. You cannot tell a church anything until they are exhausted and way in over their heads. Here are some similarities in both situations:

Churches will get stuck going places they should never have tried to go.

Churches will get stuck deeper than they ever dreamed was possible.

Churches will get into a deeper mess thinking they can get themselves out. Finding themselves in a tough situation or faulty decision, churches will continue to “drive forward” thinking they can get out if they just keep going in the same direction.

Churches like 4-wheel drives, think because they have power/resources they can get themselves out of the mess they got themselves into. Just because a church has resources does not mean a thing. Improper use of resources is as bad as not having any to begin with.

Churches will get stuck going off the beaten path.

Churches that hesitate before assessing the gravity of the situation causes them to get sucked into the surrounding environment.

Churches will eventually have to call someone else for help; but only until they have put themselves into an unmanageable situation.

Churches will have to accept unorthodox means to get unstuck.

Churches will blame someone else for why they are stuck.

Churches will have to pay for their bad judgments and mistakes.

Churches will expect everyone to pay for their mistakes. This includes those that tried to counsel them in the process.

There is a moral to this story. Churches must know what they are up against. It is essential to know what needs to be done, but also when can it be done without jeopardizing the whole mission. Doing the right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing. While there needs to be a sense of urgency, there must be clarity and ability to accomplish the task. My friend could have waited until later for the ground to dry up, but he placed a false urgency in getting the corn out on the ground that caused him to ruin that evening hunt and cost both of us money we did not have to spare.

One of the most significant points to this story that I have not mentioned it this: the truck and the church must be aware that they are stuck. My friend refused to believe he was stuck; also, churches will be in denial of their condition. Now when it was finally acknowledged that the truck was stuck; there became a sense of urgency because if we did not get that truck out of the quagmire, it would have been sucked into the mud and we really would have needed a back-hoe to dig it out. A church that hesitates to get unstuck will make it just that much harder to dig out of the hole they put themselves into.

Finally, what did I learn? Not to go hunting with my friend anymore because he put us in situations that kept us from being able to accomplish our task – hunting. I also learned that you cannot put all your trust in someone who has no idea what he is doing. I also learned that someone else’s bad judgements will cost me in the long run.

I hope you got a good laugh and valuable insights at my expense!

Dr. Jim Grant

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Filed under 2021 posts, Church Revitalization

Cooking with a Stove not a Microwave

Cooking with a Stove Not a Microwave

The adage “A watched pot never boils” pertains to a stove top cooking process, not a microwave timed cycle. I guess I am old school, or just old but I remember when we would bake bread at home. The process was to mix the flour and ingredients into a dough. The dough would have to rise, we did this by placing it on the wood stove. [We had two wood burning stoves for heat] Of course you must punch the risen dough to let it rise again, when the yeast had fully activated the dough would be placed in pans and prepared to go in the oven. After a time of cooking, the fresh bread would be done, and we indulged ourselves in this fresh bread. Of course, times have changed, but another old saying is “better than sliced bread” meaning that things were greatly improved.

I bring all this bread making dialogue to get to the point that some things just take time, and those short cuts while they may achieve the same results, are not necessarily the same quality or as lasting. When it comes to putting a revitalization process into action, short cuts do not help. It has been said that a revitalizer should expect to invest 3 years into a revitalization situation. In our technological world of instant results this is a troubling duration.

This is where the church and revitalizer must develop a patience discipline. God is not in a hurry, we are! The LORD took 6 days to create, after each day beginning with day 2, He took time to reflect on what He had accomplished and said – “It is good.”

When I was a child growing up, we had cartoon Saturday’s; two of my favorite cartoons were the Jetsons and the Flintstones. These two cartoons depict what I would describe as our dilemma when it comes to Church Revitalizations processes. On the one hand you have the Flintstones with their Neanderthal living conditions and on the other hand you have the Jetsons with their space age technology. We live in the 21st century and have developed into more of the Jetsons world. I can still see Jane putting some tablets into a bowl and punching some buttons and instant presto lunch was made!

I say all this to say, we must be careful to take our time in revitalization actions. We really do have people in our churches that are old enough to remember when they were growing up that a radio was the only source of entertainment. Now I must warn all that having patience does not mean slow, it means take our time and ensure that what we are doing is going to achieve the results that are needed.

I have been guilty of wanting to move faster than the situation warranted. When we move at our pace to get our results, we usually leave people behind and wind-up having to do “battle damage clean up.”

Revitalization is people and people are the church. I have shared with pastors that if they think they are moving to fast, they probably are, and if they think they are moving too slow, they probably are not gong as slow as they think.

Communication is key is revitalization work. Timing also is crucial. In scenarios such as mergers, replant and restarts the catalyst must make sure the church and people are following. This brings me to another aspect of taking our time, dating. I know you are saying WHAT? If we look at revitalization situations, they do take on a dating climate. How many of us have had long term dating when we were courting our spouse? I have known some who dated for years before they finally decided to marry. Revitalization is about relationships not about pushing a process through. The revitalizer must be a PEOPLE first and TASK second person. This is a difficult aspect of revitalization. I struggled with wanting to get to the results that sometimes I left the people behind or worse, neglected them totally to get to the goal I had conceived.

In dating again, it takes time to know the other person, such is the case with a revitalizer. Revitalizers will have a set to tools and skills to work through revitalization, but we cannot forget that we are dealing with people not inanimate objects. Revitalization is NOT about us, but about the people of God in a real situation that needs the MAN of GOD to lead them out of the wilderness.

Now having said all this about the revitalizer; the other side of the coin is the people involved in the work. The leader must clearly communicate the urgency of the work, yet not allow the church/people to wander around aimlessly. I have found that churches/people are all about talking about what needs to be done, but struggle with actually doing something.

While patience is a virtue that must be present, inaction cannot be tolerated. There comes a time where action must take place.

How does one develop patience? Slowly!

  • Revitalizers must get before God, before he gets before people.
  • Pray before acting and keep praying.
  • Develop the Plan of God for HIS people.
  • Instill the Will of God through scripture to the people.
  • Communicate the PLAN over and over.
  • Gather the people so you can lead them.
  • Move towards the goal in unison.
  • Take rest stops along the way.
  • Trust God for results, not processes, or books.

I leave you with two other truths: James 1:12

Rome was not built overnight.

The turtle beat the hare in the race.

Dr. Jim Grant

Executive Director

Galveston Baptist Association

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God doesn’t forget

Numbers 26-27, A census is taken. All the tribes of Israel [12] are counted. The key here is every man above the age of 20 years old. Numbers 14:26-35. In Numbers 13-14 we have the story of spies looking at the Promised Land. We have the “Church Business meeting” that Israel has and votes 10-2 not to go into the Promise Land. Instead of Faith, they lived by Fear of the giants and the fortified cities. God had already given them the Land, God promised Abram the land back in Genesis 17/22. Where ever the sole of your feet trod, I have already given it to you. After they reject entrance into the Land, they have a “parking lot business meeting” and decide they should go across. They are told, don’t do that because God is not with you. Point: When God opens the door and we fail to go in; don’t expect the door to remain open! Israel has a great loss of life and defeat, because God was not with them. They knew He was not because they had the “Pillar of fire and Cloud” showing them the way. Israel, like we do not listen when God speaks. If we hear, we do not act. This is disobedience and GOD does not bless disobedience. All that to say in the recording of the census of the tribes, we find 601,730 people we counted. These people would die in the Wilderness. I did some quick math; there are 14,600 days in 40 years, divided by 601,730 = 41 people died everyday for 40 years! The generation that got out of Egypt [chronic complainers and stubborn] didn’t get into the Promised Land. The last person to die of that generation [other that Caleb and Joshua] was Moses.

I work in Revitalization and have often asked the question “Will we have to lose a generation of Church people before GOD can do anything with us again?” It saddens me that we, today are very much like the nation of Israel, chronic complainers, always wanting what we want at the expense of the generations around us. There is a contingent of churches and church people who are always wanting to go back in time to “the good old days.” As I write this , our nation has been engaged in the effects of a global pandemic; my greatest fear is that we will have learned nothing from it and will seek to return to “normal” when it has subsided. We must remember that normal wasn’t working then, so it won’t work in return either.

While the rebellion and stiff-necked character of Israel is well documented in the Old Testament; it is also revealed in individuals. In this case Moses is the person. Look back with me at Numbers 20:8-12 where Moses was dealing with a recurring problem. The people didn’t have water and were grumbling against him. This is the second time that God provided the miracle of water from the ROCK. In Exodus 17:1-7 we find the first incident. Moses was told to “strike the ROCK at Horeb.” Mount Horeb is Mount Sinai – the Law giving place. Moses struck the ROCK and water came forth as God promised. But in this second event, Moses was told to “Speak to the ROCK.” In his anger with the people, Moses Struck the ROCK twice with the rod. Water came forth, but what a cost to Moses. In chapter 27:12 – 14, Moses is reminded that he also will die in the Wilderness because of his own disobedience of striking the ROCK  instead of speaking. You may say that was awful harsh for one disobedient act to not be allowed to enter into the Promised Land. I must remind all of us – one sin prevent us from God’s presence. It was one sin that caused Adam to fall. One sin that makes us guilty. Moses of all people, having been with God on the Mountain, heard God speak and shared the revealed Glory, He of all people should have remained obedient. Moses took out his frustration on the ROCK. This ROCK is Jesus! Jesus need only be struck once for the sins of mankind. To strike Jesus the ROCK is to re-crucify Him. Moses never entered into the Promise Land; the Abundant Life because of his sin. There are millions I believe that are still stuck in the Wilderness because of their continual sinning against God. The sin that Moses committed – vs. 14 “you did not treat Me Holy.”

Oh how we forfeit the blessing of God because of our sins! Joshua and Caleb with a new generation was allowed to enter in the Promise Land. Will our present day churches be so stubborn and continue in sin, which prevents them receiving the blessing of GOD? Will a generation of rebellious churches who want to go backwards instead of forward die before God can lead another generation in to His blessings?

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Judah Cast from Yahweh’s Presence

2 Kings 24-25; the end of the road for Judah. Fallen is Samaria and Israel – the Northern Kingdom [Lost 10 tribes]; a 150 later noting has been learned by Judah. Assyria and Egypt had been fighting for control of the “Promised Land” – somehow through pay-offs and treaties Judah was able to live in relative peace. Kings like Uzziah and Hezekiah who did right in the eyes of the Lord extended their existence. Judah was not without sin; but God was faithful to keep His covenant that he made with David even though Judah deserved the same judgment as Israel for their idolatrous ways. I think that Israel/Judah felt they were exempt from the judgment of God that He displayed on the Canaanite tribes. However, Israel and Judah followed the sins, iniquities, transgressions and abominations of the nations God had expelled out of the “inheritance” of Israel.  This is not the first or the last time that arrogance and pride will cause Judah/Israel to be led into captivity. Jeremiah and so many other prophetic voices warned Israel and Judah to repent and return to the ways of the Lord. Jeremiah preaches 50 years, yet all he gain was deaf ears to his message.

After faithful King Josiah is killed, there is a series of kings with a very limited reign and influence. The world power shifts at this point from Egypt and Assyria to Babylon, more specifically to King Nebuchadnezzar. Because Judah persisted in rebellion and idol worship, God allowed Babylon to come to power and lead them [Judah] into captivity and make the Promise Land desolate except for the poorest of people. The Promise Land laid waste!!!!!!!   Why?  Easy answer Judah and Israel left God for gods – But I think that the Promise Land had become so polluted, God and to “Purge” the land of the people and idols so He could restore it again under Ezra and Nehemiah. Sometimes I think that there needs to be a purging of the Church Body before God can do His work in the lives of the Remnant.

An undertone is how God is Merciful even in His judgment. There were three deportations by Babylon – the land was stripped of all the royalty, educated, skilled and craftsmen. Judah was also allowed to continue [return] to worship Yahweh. The exile of Judah was prescribed and implemented under the Hand of God. Jeremiah told Judah “don’t resist the Babylonians, but go into the land, build houses and live among your captive masters. Isaiah 45-66 is called the Post-Exilic chapters of Isaiah or better known as Deutro-Isaiah. Many prophets foretold of the return of God’s people after 70 years in exile.

As bad as it was in the destruction and deportation of Judah, the siege of Jerusalem and the starvation of the people; God was still merciful in that He did not destroy all the people, but left a remnant. We may be looking at a similar situation here in our own USA; the condition of the Church is deplorable; the Gospel has been polluted; we worship our worship not God in our services. I truly believe God is not pleased with the Bride! But there is a remnant that hold to the Truth of God’s Word, it will be the Remnant that God will use – like the Church in Sardis there are those who have not “soiled their garments.” We the Church today must take heed to the warning given to Strengthen what remains, to Hold fast to the Truth.

Years ago America thought it was invincible from attack from an enemy on its own shores – thinking that the distance was too far for the enemy to attack unnoticed – then Pearl Harbor happened and took away the arrogance and pride of invincibility. God is doing a great work among many other “pagan” nations. The Chinese and the Muslim countries are experiencing great numbers of converts to Christ. Yet here in America the church is dying and has gone into apostasy in much of the land.

Will America be restored? Will there be a revival? Will the Church heed the warnings of Israel and Judah? Will America have to Fall before it returns to the Lord? All questions we must answer personally and collectively.

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Adversaries and Advocates

Ezra 5-7 presents the Spiritual battle with Kingdom of God work. The adversaries brought allegations and rumors about the motives for rebuilding the Temple. In the work of God, there will be many insiders and outsiders that will question the motivation of pastors, ministers and laymen. No one is exempt from the scrutiny that “Man” brings against the work of God. At this point anyone in ministry must remember that there is politics in Church. To not recognize this is fact goes beyond naivety into just sticking our heads in the sand. The people who had lived and occupied the city and surrounding area resisted any changes to their world. Anyone in ministry understands the problems of trying to change/improve a Church congregation. People all people acquiesce to a place of comfort. Once there they don’t want to be moved – even if the changes are for the better. We live in a difficult time of ministry to the Body of Christ. Too many Churches are dying. It has become epidemic across denominations and America. Estimates project that America could close 100,000 church within the next five years. [Quote from Thom Rainer]. As a revitalizationist, I have found that some Churches would rather die than do what is necessary to live. The resistance that Ezra and the Jews experienced from the local people is not that dissimilar to what we find in our own neighborhoods. In Ezra there were letters written filled with accusations against the work.  I know pastors receive letters, many times unsigned from people who are disgruntled. I had some good advice as a young pastor – if people haven’t signed them – shred them. Back to our passage – King Darius instigates a search through the historical records to find out if the accusations are true or false. In the search, Darius finds King Cyrus’ decree allowing the Jews to rebuild. The records substantiated the work and the Temple restoration began again. There is another application here – especially for the Believer: Satan will contest any and all movements to live a holy life. He will bring accusations against the brethren. Satan is a liar, and the father of lies. So many people have tried to restore their lives through the work of God, only to have their failures and motives brought into question. All of us are guilty of sin and rebellion. Satan would rather that we wallow in our failure rather than bask in the glory of Jesus Christ’s redemptive forgiveness!

In chapter 6, we have the Temple restored and the celebration of worship through the Passover. The Temple, which believers are has to be restored when life and sin have devastated and destroyed the place of worship to our King Jesus. It takes work, hard work to stay the course to restoration. I have met so many people who felt because they had fallen back into sin, or lapsed into some rebellious behavior, that they lost their salvation and were no longer fit for God use. Our God is longsuffering and merciful – our salvation has never been based on our behaviors, but the Saviors blood and righteousness. The foundation of our salvation is the Finished work of the Cross by Jesus. So don’t let Satan or any of hos emissaries try to destroy your faith. While we will always have adversaries we MUST remember that we have a Great High Priest and Advocate that is defending us before the Father in Heaven. Jesus our Savior and Advocate is our defense against the wiles of Satan. We are not strong enough to defeat Satan – but he has already been defeated – do not let his lies imprison us again. Romans 8:1 – no condemnation!

The scriptures tell us that righteous, godly living by us that the Father will make even our enemies to be at peace with us. King Artaxerxes reacts favorable towards Ezra when he visits in Chapter 7. Throughout chapter seven, we hear of the graciousness of King Artaxerxes towards the Jews and specifically the work of Ezra, the priest, the scribe and the man of God.

If America is to be a righteous nation, it must deal with its failures and sin. There is great devastation in the Land. Many evil spirits are at work to destroy anything that can be used to proclaim the Glory of God. There are churches and individuals that must correct their “lives” and rid themselves of unholy behavior. There are thousands of churches that need to “get to work” instead of resisting the movement of God. Also there are Pastors who need to remember who called them to the ministry and not succumb to the wiles of the evil present in churches and the world!

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Hello Its Me! – Ezra

Good morning

to all my followers, I’m back – I have transitioned into a new job, I now work as the Executive Director of the Galveston Baptist Association – Yes I have moved from Illinois to Texas. I have been behind on my posts for the last 6 weeks. Therefore during the weeks until January 2019; I will use the reading/reflection time to update the posts I have not addressed in our reading.

Today we look at Ezra – I will go back and get Eccles. and Songs of Solomon later.

The time has now passed for the Babylonian captivity [70 years], the edict from King Cyrus has been given and the Jews as they are called can now return home. As a side note both Ezra and Nehemiah should be viewed as almost one book. The city of Zion lies in shambles. The only inhabitants are the common people and the displaced ones from the Assyrians and Babylonians. Jerusalem is in ruins! Something that Israel/Judah never conceived. I find it interesting that we have just celebrated the 77th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Needless to say, many felt America was safe from any foreign attacks. We must be careful in our isolation/leisure for it will lead us into a false sense of security.

Another side note – Ezra and Nehemiah have been used extensively by Church Revitalizers in the last 10 years as a “model” to restore and rebuild churches that are dying, declining and plateaued. Also so we can connect the dots, it was during the 70 yrs that we get the Book of Esther. Even while Israel was in captivity, God was still with His people.

Ezra is a priest while Nehemiah is an administrator/leader. Both of these men were needed to rebuild the City of God. I find it interesting that King Cyrus granted all the materials and resources for Zerubbaal to rebuild – he was the first to go back and try to restore the city and Temple. However, all the resources were used by the people to build “cedar lined” houses. When questioned about this – the people retorted, “it’s not a good time to build.” How ironic that when God gives the order and provides the materials from a pagan king, the people of “God” say the time is not right? Cyrus gives a great testimony “He is the God who is in Jerusalem.” Cyrus even tells Ezra that God has appointed him to build again. I wonder how many churches have sought the answer for their churches from the LORD, but when the answer comes, refuse to act? Dying churches don’t die overnight, but a consistent rejection of God over a period of time. When God moves – so must we!

All the vessels taken from the Holy of Holies were returned, the materials provided, the people let go to return to Jerusalem, some 42,000. Plus animals and such that would be needed to establish life again.

Not just anyone could return to Israel and claim property – the inheritance rights of the returnees – in fact there is a great spiritual application – Chapter 2:59-60, tells us about those who could not prove their ancestry, were exclude. There is a record book called the Book of Life; everyone who has rights to the inheritance granted to them by our Heavenly Father MUST be found in the book. If your/our names are blotted out – God will say unto us “Depart from Me , I never knew you.”

In the book of Ezra we find that the task was to restore the Temple, and that Nehemiah was to rebuild the walls of the city. It makes perfect sense that when a people have been so devastated by their captors, the first place that must be reestablished has be the place of worship. If a Church is going to be revitalized, it must return to the place of worshipping God in His holy sanctuary. Too many churches elect to do the “administrative tasks” and address organizational issues  – as I have said so many times, if we do not have God first place in our lives, this includes the Church Life – then all that we could/would do would be like rearranging the chair on the deck of the Titanic – the boat is still going to sink!

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You’ve Gone Far Enough

In Numbers 16 and 17 we find that Israel [congregation] confronts Moses [pastor] about just who is important and who isn’t.  It always amazes me how short a memory we have about the past. Israel has just tasted defeat because of their lack of faith and rebellion against the LORD. Now they want to take on the LORD’s anointed.  The clan of Korah – Levitical ancestry challenges Moses and his authority. The Levites were chosen by God to do the administration of the Tabernacle/Sanctuary. Two-hundred and fifty leaders stand up to enact a coup. They tell Moses “You have gone far enough!” Now let’s think about this a bit. Moses reluctantly takes the task of delivering Israel out of Egyptians slavery; he has led them through the Wilderness and been the spokesman for them to God.  Now that the future 40 yrs. is before them – which means wandering around and dying; they bow up and say they are equal to him. “All the congregation is holy, and the LORD is in their midst . In other words – Moses you just aren’t all that! We are just as good as you.”

Now this is a very interesting story – one could ask why the LORD would include it in the scripture? Additionally, what do it mean to us today. This is just my thoughts – but one could look at the story of the congregation versus the Pastor; or the Ministerial leadership against the Laymen in a church.  I have often found that many pastors labor in conflict and difficulty when things are going rough. When congregational life improves, then we find the people want to take over from the leadership – using the justification that they are “God’s people” too. This has the impact of bringing the pastor/leadership down to the pew level. I believe today there is a lack of respect for the pulpit in many congregations. Sometimes this can come about because the pastor/leadership is weak or the congregation looks at the leadership as “hired employees.”

Back to our story of Korah – Moses does his normal response, he seeks the LORD. The incense and censer test will determine who is holy and who isn’t. Moses tells Korah “You have gone far enough.”  Many a conflict arises in congregational life about who is in charge and who isn’t. The Pastor is called to be the under-shepherd; he is to lead the flock/sheep in accordance with God’s will.  Moses has already led them where God wanted them; but they refused to follow. We often have read that Israel is compared to a stubborn, hard-headed sheep.

In this passage we are confronted with the power of God and His protection of his servants and intolerance for rebellion. Korah forgot who they were – nothing they had done qualified them for the priesthood; yet now they boasted of themselves. While Korah thought they were confronting Moses and Aaron, but in reality they were confronting and challenging the LORD. The story continues with Moses interacting with Dathan and Abiram; who refuse to come see him – throwing the failure of obtaining the Promise Land on him, when it was the people who decided not to go.  I have wondered sometimes why Moses decided to stay with the rebellious people? He had opportunity to let the LORD start over fresh with him – I believe it is the pastor’s heart of Moses, even though the people were adamant against him, he stayed with them, interceding and pastoring them. Finally the anger of Moses with the insubordination and rebellion reaches its apex – Korah just kept pushing against Moses’ leadership. The righteous anger of Moses draws the attention of the LORD. “Separate yourself from Korah” the ground opens up and the 250 men are swallowed up.  You would think that after the display of power from God people would get a hint – Nope; the murmuring continues and a plague is sent  that 14,700 die.

In a revitalization thought – how is a pastor to shepherd a people who do not respect or honor the position of pastor? How many business meetings have happened where the pastor/leadership was raked over the coals about something they had no control over? How many times have congregations risen up against the LORD by rising up against God’s man? We wonder why churches die and decline – I think it is a result of the Pew taking over the Pulpit. Now don’t get me wrong, there are bad pastors, just like there are bad congregations. We all have no grounds for boasting of ourselves. We are the priesthood of God, because He made us so!

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Some Things Never Change [Here we go again!]

I am back from my recovery from open heart surgery. When we left off we were reading Leviticus; obviously I can’t capture all of our readings for the last seven weeks – so I want to pick up with Numbers 10. In Leviticus and the first nine chapters of Numbers, we find the continued instruction for the people and priests.  They are still at Mount Sinai; they camped at Sinai for a year. Israel has been out of Egypt for about 18 months when we come to Numbers 10. The track record of the people thus far is not a good one. It seems that every time the LORD tested them to determine their obedience, they failed. The people complained from the beginning of the Exodus; complaints about being drawn out to die at the Red Sea; complained about no water, or food. We even have the episode of blatant rebellion in Exodus 32 with the Golden Calf while Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Law. The scripture tells us that Israel is an obstinate and stiff-necked people. I was reading recently from Thom Rainer about the three kinds of church revitalization attempts. [http://thomrainer.com/2015/05/three-types-of-church-revitalization-introducing-church-answers-monthly/] He identifies them as Acquisition [90%], Covenantal [40%] and Organic [2%]. Acquisition is similar to replanting or restarting a church with new leadership. Covenantal pertains to a church agreeing on certain changes with a catalytic change agent; and Organic is when a church tries different methodologies and programs to stop the declining and dying.  My point in referencing this is that Organic is least successful because while the processes and programs have been changed, the people’s behavior/attitude has not. Some churches would die than change. When we know that upwards to 1000 churches will close this year just in the Southern Baptist Convention; obviously something has to done. If Thom Rainer’s success rates are accurate; then only when radical “surgery” occurs will there be any real effect on the dying/declining churches. As I titled this blog post, some things never change. Change is inevitable; if change doesn’t occur, death will.

Back to Numbers 11; when Israel is told to leave Mt. Sinai and head to the Promised Land; the people pick up where they left off with complaining about everything. Their complaints find the ears of the LORD and Moses; now Moses has to be commended for even when the people seem bent on ousting him, he intercedes for them. Remember now the people are still in the Wilderness; they complain about the Manna and wanting meat to eat. The fury of the LORD brings fire that singes the outskirts of the camp. The rabble as they are called continue to stir up strife and controversy. Rather than praising the LORD for deliverance from slavery and the daily sustenance. The people have a nostalgic moment, thinking back to Egypt – their memory was skewed for they made Egypt far better than it was; claiming they ate fish, leeks, cucumbers, melons, onions and garlic. To me that seems like the formula for indigestion!  The people continue to complain – “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” This is the struggle with Church Revitalization – that which needs to be done, cannot be done for people would rather be like Israel and remain in Slavery [Egypt] then to move forward in the power of God. Since there are so many churches closing, one would think that people would do what is necessary for the blessing of God – Israel in its complaining still expected to receive the blessing of God – instead they got the plague of the quail. They asked for meat – boy did they get it – the point that it came out of their nostrils. Murmuring continues even from the family of Moses; Miriam and Aaron balk at the leadership of Moses. [Familiarity often breeds contempt]. After a bout of leprosy they get back in line with Moses authority.

Too often churches that once had a viable ministry decline because the focus become “What’s in it for me?” Another way of saying this is the church become “inward focused.” So what is the solution? There must be a heart change before there is a behavior change. The heart must return to the authority of the Holy Spirit, we call this REVIVAL. Israel never did change; they continued to be a stiff-necked people; would that we would learn this lesson in our time.

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Falling In Love Again

Falling In Love Again

The topic for this issue is “The Basics of Revitalization.” To answer the question I had to answer what is the basis for revitalization? Is it just trying to get the saints revived, or is it something much more. We all know that our Country and the world for that matter, needs a great revival. By that I mean the Church has to come back to its first love in the Lord Jesus Christ and desire to live holy consecrated lives. If the Church will get right, then there is the possibility for the communities, countries and world to become awakened to the sovereignty and Kingdom of God Jehovah. I began to ponder, really, what is the basis of revitalization. I thought I might write about some of the tenets of how revitalization needs to be approached or possibly talk about the requirements that need to be in place before revitalization should be attempted. But neither of those resonated with me. I didn’t want to talk about the pragmatism or the philosophy of revitalization; there are already enough books and articles to cover those topics. Instead, I think the most basic issue in revitalization is the subject/object itself – the Church. This is what drives me in revitalization attempts – the Church. We find that scripture supports revitalization. When we investigate both Old and New Testaments, we find that the Father is brokenhearted about Israel, his people failing in their commission to bring glory to Him and the Gospel to the nations. The same is said by Jesus when He gives John instructions to “write to the Churches” in Revelation. I will note two of the Churches and the message or ultimatum they are given later.

Israel was the Bride of Jehovah in the Old Testament; albeit a very unfaithful one. The Church is the Bride of Christ; Ephesians 5:25-29 is clear about what Christ desires the Bride to look like. The Church is the body of Christ in the world, just as Israel was the “Bride” in allegory in the book of Hosea. The ministry of revitalization in its fundamental goal is to restore the Bride of Christ to a healthy loving Bride to the Bridegroom. Scripture informs us that the Church belongs to Jesus, the Bridegroom; and that he will build the Church. There are great examples in scripture where the Church was triumphant [Especially in Acts].  There are glorious stories of how the people of Israel overcame great odds and enemies to win victory after victory through the power of God at work within their midst. When Yahweh is supremely worshiped by His people there is great wonder and power displayed. But – Oh that word, Israel did not remain true to the Father. It seems that mankind is always wandering and looking for some new adventure. Instead of being satisfied and content with the God of the universe, we look for cheap imitations or an easier way to being religious. It doesn’t take long for the Church to drift from God – Israel lasted only 40 days before they replaced God with a Golden Calf idol in Exodus 32-34. The book of Judges is a vicious cycle of faithful and unfaithfulness by God’s people. Surely, with Jesus the Son as the head of the Church; we New Testament Believers will learn from our Old Testament brethren, right? Wrong! For we find in Revelation 2 and 3 that there is another message, Jesus will in fact snuff out the Lamp of a particular local church if it is not representative of Him.

Jesus isn’t the only one that is passionate about the Church, the Apostle Paul filled his epistles to the “churches” with instructions and admonitions to live and act rightly according to the holiness of God. It is the local church that needs revitalization.  There are so many books and models that have been developed to try and bring the local churches back to life. But just as Jesus addressed different “I have this against you” issues; so each local church must come to a “new reality”. Obviously the local churches did not see, or rejected the problems in their church, or Jesus would not have had to address them. NOTE: by now many of you have begun to debate with me about possible interpretations of the Revelation 2-3 passage. You may take a different position on why and how Jesus wrote to the churches, even taking a “they are examples” of church issues. Whichever way you want to address the passage I have referenced, you must acknowledge that JESUS WROTE TO THE CHURCH! The Church represents Christ, when the Bride no longer “loves” her groom; the Groom has every right and responsibility to call the Bride to account.

So the basis of Revitalization is about the Church body or Bride whichever metaphor you like, becoming alive again and falling in love with the Bridegroom, Jesus the Son of God. Revitalization is about recognizing the drift and departure from the Word of God; admitting that it is not on task of pleasing the Master; that it has become internally driven rather than outwardly; seeks its own will rather than the Will of the Father.

In Church Revitalization, there are three different audiences – plateaued, declining or dying Churches. The difference is, only a matter of degree of departure and remaining “Life” left in the Body.

In Revelation we are given seven Churches with varying degrees of problems and tribulations. Some are under attack, but most have “settled” for their particular state of being. In addressing the Church at Ephesus, the problem was it had lost its first love. Now we must remember that this church was founded by the grand Apostle Paul, was pastored by the great missionary pastor Timothy, Paul’s protégé. It was also the home church of the Beloved Apostle John and I believe the final resting place for Mary; Jesus’ mother. One would think with all that notoriety and prestige, surely this would be a Church that would be steadfast in faithfulness. But Jesus says, “I have this against you, you have lost your first love.” In other words, you have forgotten Me. Something every Church has to be careful about is the purpose for their existence. I would call Ephesus an Orthodox Church. They believe right, are solid on doctrine and truth, but have become mechanical in their worship and love for the Lord. It’s almost like an old married couple that forgot what brought them together in the first place and have settled for an EXISTENCE instead of a RELATIONSHIP. Ephesus was in need of a second honeymoon. Jesus spells it out this way – REMEMBER-REPENT-RETURN. The fire had got out of the marriage with Jesus! Ephesus had to get back that “Lovin Feeling.”

In the second church I want to address the church at Sardis. It is the DEAD church according to Jesus. But they think they are healthy and alive. This is a grave situation that needs a serious “Wake Up call.” The Church doesn’t even know they are dead, how sad a commentary! The Church had a Name in the community and among themselves that they were alive and healthy. An unreal reality had entrenched itself in the church. In Revitalization, the first order of business is KNOWING SOMETHING IS WRONG. A fresh, but honest assessment of the true condition must be diagnosed and embraced.  Sardis is an “Unfinished Church.” It had been alive at one time, and there was still hope, but the cure is “Strengthen that which remains.” Usually in a Church there is a REMANANT that God can use to restore the Church, as was the case at Sardis. But in restoring the Church revitalization does not mean return it back to its heyday, but return it back to ministry for THE CURRENT DAY. Too many Churches live in the past. This is true of a lot of Brides. They remember their beauty and slim figures, but time has taken effect on their bodies. If you think about this a little, there is a great illustration here.

Churches that need revitalization are those “whose love have grown cold.” In both Churches, it was time for them to Repent – the first step after conviction of sin and departure. It takes humility and a willingness to swallow our pride. Most Churches can do Church, but then again Doing Church was never the task – the Bride was called to faithfulness to the Bridegroom – Be the Church, that all Our Savior wants.

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Crumbling Churches

This blog entry focuses on Revelation 2-3, even though our reading went through chapter 8. I may do another blog to capture the importance of the Seals and Trumpets.

There is much being said about the condition of the Church [universal] in America. Two schools of thought are used to approach the problem of declining, plateaued and dying churches. The % of church that fit into these descriptors is estimated at somewhere between 80-90%. The approaches to cure/remedy the epidemic are increased church planting – plant churches to replace those that die; and church health/revitalization measures to restore existing churches. Now when we think of the statistics of 4400 church closing their doors every year in all American denominations, these two measures have a formidable task.

How did the churches get in the condition they are in? Was there some specific universal problem? It is very obvious that the USA is no longer a “christian nation.” [If it ever really was] Christian virtues and values are under severe attack, for the worldview is no longer one of Judaeo-Christian ethics and morality; but one of humanism and relativism. I am speaking from my position of being a boomer generation. I remember when there was a common belief system evident between the “Church” and the Community. This is no longer valid. For a multitude of reasons, the Church and the community, as well as country has a competing set of values and virtues.  Many efforts have been made to try to connect the church world and the community together; often at compromise of the Gospel. I know of one major hurdle all churches have had to face in the past 40 years, is the music wars. I don’t want to fill this blog with all the outward problems the “Church in America” has, but focus more on the why.

In the book of Revelation; Jesus addresses seven church that are on a mail route in what is known today at Turkey. In five of the seven churches; He brings condemnation upon them for things they either were allowing or were no longer doing. Much has been said about the church at Laodicea, which is the lukewarm church. Interestingly enough, there was the cold dead church called Sardis; which I really only see them as further down the road in degree  of closing their doors.

Jesus addressed each Angel of the specific church, which begs the question, does each church have its own Guardian Angel? And why did Jesus address the Angel and not the Pastor? The answer to both of these questions is yes, churches have an angel and because the angel is the Messenger of God to the Church, the message was one which carried great authority. However, the pastor in many cases could be part of the church problem.

I have discovered that churches do not suddenly decline or die; there is a gradual “falling away” from the things of God.  The first step; [and this can be found in the book of Hebrews] is the church becomes Apathetic – no feeling. One can think of the church at Ephesus, they had lost their first love. The spark or passion for the Lord had been extinguished.  I couldn’t help but think of how many couples tell me that they have “fallen out of Love” with their spouse. Interesting when you think of Jesus as the Bridegroom, and we being the Bride. There are many churches that fit the Ephesian model; they do a lot of good things, but its in the tradition or flesh and there isn’t any blessings from God. The second step that leads to dead and dying churches is Apostasy – heretical teachings. This captured the majority of the churches indicted by Jesus. They had allowed false teaching and teachers to come in to the church and “pollute” the Gospel. Often church life is influenced by people with loud voices, deep pockets or charismatic personalities. I have found that churches often will remain silent on controversial or conflicts because they just want to try and keep the peace. Here again is a compromise that leads to destruction of the Gospel. People want to believe and act they way they want to believe and act; not the way scripture sets forth. The woman Jezebel and the Nicolaitans were problem people; yet churches refused to exercise church discipline.  Preachers were preaching for money and a following then as they do now. Apostate is where the church is no longer sound on doctrine and theology – many of the cults existing today come from churches who have not dealt with false teachers. The last cause for dead and dying churches is Anarchy – or really a rebellion/revolt against God. The church has forfeited its place within the Kingdom of God. Jesus gave each church a warning with a judgment if they did not Repent and Return to Him. Their lamp would be blown out. Why are so many churches dying today – these three downward steps lead them to death. The answer –  Repent for the Day is at Hand!; or I will close your doors – it is Christ’s church, He said He would build it, He is the authority and has the right to affirm or deny churches that may or may not be His!

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