Tampa was a great experience for our students! Many of them had not interacted too much with people of different socioeconomic backgrounds and of different belief systems. Tampa is a very liberal area, and the students were amazed at how so many people did not care about God or want to talk about him. Some of the people our students encountered were even hostile to the gospel of Jesus. Nonetheless, our students continued to share the gospel with others in spite of their fears and apprehensions.
On Sunday we took the students to a local city park where they were holding the VegFest. This was a festival for vegans, vegetarians, animal rights activists, and pet adoption agencies. None of these things are necessarily bad, but the majority of people at this event were very liberal and even anti-Christian. Our students handed out fliers for a brand new church that started in this community only 6 months ago. Monday morning the pastor of this little church let me know they had 2 visitors from the VegFest and one of them gave their life to Christ! Praise God that he used our students to make a difference for eternity!
Take a moment and view this video review of the weekend!
MSMTAMPA from Fruit Cove Youth Leaders on Vimeo.
An Open Door (Part 2)
As we look toward the six challenges of the Advance 2020 plan, we need to picture them as an open door that Jesus is calling us to walk through. He told the church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-8 that “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.”
Is that true for us? Has God placed an “open door” for us to pass through, not in our own strength, but His? Can we see the thousands of new homes and neighborhoods rapidly growing up around us as our “open door” that Jesus has placed before us?
Here is what we know. If God has set it before us:
- He has a purpose in doing so.
- He will bless us, not for having strength but for having faith to go through it.
- He is evaluating, not our strategy, but our faith in following Him.
I felt impressed in a series of messages a couple of summers ago that God was about to call us to something that, if He was not in it… if He was not giving us strength to accomplish it… we would fail.
Soon after, I began to learn about the plans for expansion and growth in the community around us and started seeing the “fields that are ripe unto harvest” as one development after the other came online. We are looking at a total expansion of over 21,000 new homes in the next several years within a ten-mile radius of our campus.
Doing the math, that could mean over 40,000 people coming to St Johns County. Amazingly, this is the second time in our history as a church that unprecedented growth came and changed the community around us. We walked through the “open door” the first time.
And now, the door has opened yet again. The challenge is how to engage a growing and very different population base and embrace them with God’s love. It will require the discomfort that every open door involves: the call to leave our comfort zone to reach new people.
Churches all around us choose to “close their doors” to the open door the Lord provides. They close it through fear, through unbelief and through an unwillingness to change.
We have to decide for ourselves if we will go through the open door that God has given us. And then, decide if we will make the sacrifices and adjustments necessary to take the opportunity.
The door is open. Jesus did it. He is the One who calls us. He is the One who will strengthen us.
But in obedience, we must be the ones to say YES to the open door.
I pray that we will.
FOR MEDITATION: Behold, I stand at the door and knock…. Revelation 3:20
FOR REFLECTION: How is the Lord “knocking” at your door today? Is He calling you to a new adventure… a new direction in life? Is He calling you to go to a neighbor across the street… or a nation across the world? Listen carefully. You’ll hear His quiet but insistent knocking. Will you follow Him through that door today?
Of all the literary images in history, few are more powerful than the image of a door. A door can represent a lot of things. A closed door represents security and safety. In teaching us how to pray, Jesus said, “Go into your closet and shut the door.” This is a picture of secrecy. It can also represent hiddenness. Or rejection: “She closed the door in my face.”
But it is a representation of opportunity as well. A “door” of opportunity is spoken about in Revelation 3:7-8, where we read, “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My name.”
Jesus was saying to the Philadelphian church of that day, “I am opening a door for you….” This is a statement of the sovereignty and authority of Christ. HE opens doors. HE closes doors. HE brings opportunities to us. HE keeps us from going in the wrong direction. HE calls us through those doors.
But He also says in this passage in Revelation that He is giving us… His bride… His church… His body… an “open door that no one can shut.” When God opens a door, it stays open!
Tragically however, we can choose NOT to go through it. Sometimes we are weighed down with a sense that the open door will require too much of us. To those He replies, “I know that you have little strength.”
When God opens a door and calls us to go through it… He does not expect it to be by our strength. It is “not by power nor by strength but by My Spirit says the Lord” in Zechariah.
Maybe a door stands open to you today. God is calling you to take a step of faith to go through it. Not by relying on your own strength but on His… and who knows the blessing awaiting on the other side of that door.
What might God be calling us to through that open door? We will never know…
… without the first step.
FOR MEDITATION: I am the door…. John 10:9-10
FOR REFLECTION: Think about “open doors” in your life right now. What is stopping you from walking through them? Fear rooted in unbelief? Indecisiveness rooted in an inability to trust God? When He calls you through a door… He is always waiting for you on the other side. God never sends us without His strength… and His presence.
Gratitude is good for the heart. A thankless heart is an unhealthy heart. One of the characteristics of people living in the last days is a heart that doesn’t know how to be grateful. (2 Timothy 3:2). The people who impact us most are not graceless, thankless, self-involved, complaining people. They are generous, outgoing, giving and full of grace.
Thanksgiving is one day of the year when we are reminded by the GOVERNMENT, no less, that we are to be thankful. How sad that we must be reminded to be thankful for the gifts of sacrifice made for our freedom or the gifts that flow from the Father of Lights Who gives every “good and perfect gift.”
Gratitude should mark the path of every genuine child of God. Sometimes we may surprise ourselves at how much we take for granted when we consider the gifts of:
Life and breath, family and friends, health and healing, eyesight, hearing, taste, touch and smell, clothing and shelter, food and finances, access to groceries, warmth in winter and a/c in summer, cars, roads to drive on, religious liberty, education, clean water, electricity, a free nation, a church building to worship in, a Bible to read, the promise of eternal life and hope in Jesus, the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin … … ….
You get the point. The list can go on and on… but sadly it often doesn’t. It stops far short of all the blessings that God graciously and generously supplies. “All of our needs” are provided for in Christ Jesus, Paul the grateful apostle tells us.
One of the greatest of all Christian graces we can practice and build on is giving thanks with a grateful heart. It will eliminate self-absorption, complaining, anxiety and a hundred other ailments that tear us down. And as the old hymn says, “it will surprise us what the Lord has done.”
“Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which passes understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Today I pray that you will take the time to do just that!
A while back my wife used a word in an O.R. suite at Mayo Clinic that raised a question among some of her peers. She used the word “confliction” in a sentence and there was immediate pushback in the room. One of her peers was adamant that confliction was not a real word. I also thought she had invented a new word… a pretty good one at that. But it turns out that “confliction” is a real word, a noun that relates to “a prolonged state of disagreement or conflict.” Look it up. And don’t play Pam in Scrabble!
Maybe “confliction” is a good way to describe what may be happening around some Thanksgiving tables this year. While ideally the setting of a meal or sharing around a table is a picture of reconciliation and peace (the Lord’s Supper is such an image), it can be at times just the opposite.
Allow me to give you a gift this Thanksgiving. Not a new recipe for fried turkey… something better. A way to find peace at your table.
The table is an ideal place for conversation. Unless you are planning on having your turkey and trimmings sitting in front on the TV or on the sofa, you will no doubt find yourself in face-to-face conversations around the table. Some frankly dread this experience. It seems that if a conflict is brewing, the face-to-face intimacy with family around the Thanksgiving table will bring it to the surface.
Try these guidelines for communication and conversation this year:
LOOK at the person who is speaking. Communication is 80% visual and physical. A great deal of that is determined through eye contact. Make an effort to look in their direction. Looking communicates value to the person… even is it’s a child who is speaking.
LISTEN with curiosity. It isn’t called “paying attention” for no reason. Listening costs something. It takes something out of you when you “pay” someone attention. Ban technology and TV at the table for one hour so listening can happen. James said, “Let every man be quick to hear… slow to speak… slow to anger.” (James 1:19 ). We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
LEARN something from the people around you. As you “pay attention” to them, make it your aim to learn something about them that you didn’t know when the meal began.
LEAVE disagreeable and volatile topics off the table. Don’t talk politics. Let go of past hurts. Make it your goal this year to forgive an old offense that you may have packed with you when you came home. Let it go… once and for all.
While these four “L’s” will not guarantee the absence of “confliction” around your table this year, they will certainly minimize it. And this year, instead of just saying grace…
… live it.
FOR MEDITATION: And give thanks in everything, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
FOR REFLECTION: Season your thanksgiving meal this year with a healthy dose of laughter, kindness and forgiveness. And above all, let your conversation be seasoned with God’s grace.
It is amazing to me how we can sometimes miss the forest for the trees. I mentioned several weeks ago that the priority of Jesus was clearly proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Yet many of us seldom speak about, preach about, teach about or even think about the very thing that was obviously Jesus’ FIRST priority.
The same is true of disciple making. When Jesus returned to Heaven at His ascension, (see Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:8), He left clear and very specific directions to the remaining disciples to “Go… and make disciples of all nations….” Somehow we have misinterpreted Jesus’ words to mean either (1) make converts or (2) bring people to a church service. We have excluded the phrase “make disciples” from our vocabulary and our thinking. When we ask the average Christian “what is your strategy for making a disciple” or “who are you discipling,” the surprised or blank stare that we receive tells us that the church Jesus left behind has not done a very good job with the very thing He told them to be about!
So what is your strategy for making a disciple? Let’s go ahead of that question. Do you realize that, as a follower of Christ… a disciple yourself…. you are called to this? If not, who is to do it? Only pastors and church staff leaders? Only missionaries? Only “super” Christians? Everything in the New Testament points to the right answer: You are. We are. All of us. One-on-one we are to be building relationships with people and imparting the teaching, the things that Christ commanded us, to them. And then they are to go and do the same.
We are to REACH people with the truth of the Gospel. They are to be baptized as a symbol of their belief. Then we are to REPRODUCE the life of Christ in them and they in turn are to reproduce this in other people. Finally, we are to RELEASE people into their kingdom assignment as God has called them. Our job is to “catch and release,” not “catch and keep.”
The fact that this sounds so radical to us is an indication that this process is exactly what is needed today for the church to become what Jesus fully intended and died to leave behind. We are to be disciple-making disciples. Who is already in your network or family that God has put in your life to do just this? Children? Spouse? Sibling or parent? Neighbor or co-worker? We must begin somewhere, and our “Jerusalem” is the easiest place to look. Ask God to open your eyes and help you see the one who is “next” for you.
Let’s change St. Johns and Duval and Clay County and Jacksonville and Florida and the USA and the world… and make disciples.
FOR MEDITATION: And you will be my witness in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Acts 1:8
FOR REFLECTION: Who has God placed in your path who needs to know what YOU know about Jesus?
One of the most daunting and troubling issues that has surfaced in recent months and years is the prevalence in our culture of suicide, especially among our younger population. Suicide has always been with us as an issue though one that is marginalized and seldom discussed, especially in church settings.
A couple of years ago, Rick Warren, popular pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life, experienced the painful loss of his adult son, Matthew, to suicide. Matthew’s death followed months of agonizing mental and emotional issues that had intensified to the point that he could no longer see going forward. He ended his life tragically while still in his twenties.
Recently a young man in our community, a high school senior, took his life with virtually little or no warning signs that he was going to do this. It is rampant, and families and surviving members of the household of these kinds of tragic deaths are crying out for help. Where do they go to find understanding, wholeness and hope?
Our responsibility toward this issue as a church, I believe, is great. Many who take their lives have simply lost their hope. We have hope to share. While some among us have walked the dark valley of depression, there is still not much said or done to address this chronic and enveloping problem in our community and culture.
On Sunday, November 20, we will host the Executive Director (CEO) of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr Frank Page. Dr Page and his wife Dale have experienced the death of a beloved daughter to suicide. He will be sharing some of that experience with us in his presentation. I truly hope that many who need hope or healing in the face of losing a family member to suicide or who may themselves be contemplating taking their own lives will make their way here Sunday.
IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS IN THAT PLACE, PLEASE INVITE THEM TO COME WITH YOU!!!! You never know when something said on Sunday will bring help and hope to a hurting world. This is so vitally important… please don’t let the opportunity pass you by.
And with this said, please pray for those around us who, every day, are struggling with depression and this terrible loss of hope. And may God bring abundant grace as we hear His Word proclaimed Sunday.
See you then!
FOR MEDITATION: Jesus wept. John 11:35
FOR REFLECTION: If you have ever felt so alone that suicide seemed the only solution to your pain, please know that Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. Call out to Him. I promise you, He’ll hear you!
In an article from the London Telegraph dated November 4, a survey was discussed asking the question: Do you intend to pass along your religious faith to your children?
A full quarter of survey participants responded “No.” The majority of those surveyed claimed to be faithful Christians. The reason they gave for not seeking to transmit their faith to their children was “following their religious beliefs will cause them to be socially marginalized at school.” Translation: It will make my child unpopular if it becomes known they are religious.
If social intimidation becomes the criteria for not following Jesus, then the faith we hold dear is in jeopardy. In a world where people are saying yes to Christ at the expense of life itself, is fear of becoming unpopular really too high a price?
Worse, in the survey the participants were asked, “what do you tell your children about your faith?” The reply: Nothing. It never comes up.
While this survey was conducted in London, as an increasingly secular society, we are in great danger of the same thing happening.
This article tells us more about the faith of the parents than it does about the children. Does something that never comes up in family conversation…
…really mean that much to you?
For Meditation: “These things pass on to your children…. Deuteronomy 6:7
For Reflection: How are you seeking to intentionally pass on your faith to the next generation?
Advance 2020 is an initiative that was introduced last summer as a means of Fruit Cove Baptist Church fully engaging the changes, growth and ministry field around us. As St Johns County and the surrounding communities in Duval and Clay continue to expand and grow, we have to look to the “fields that are white unto harvest” that our Lord has called us to tend.
Part of that means we must turn our eyes outward and less inward. We live in a “serve-us” culture that tends toward self-centeredness and leads us to ask the wrong questions in a critical time.
The question is not, “how can we serve US,” but “how do we serve THEM.” How do we turn our attention, our prayers, our resources and our people OUTWARD rather than INWARD in our focus?
This is the primary focus of Advance 2020. In addition to setting a hopeful attendance pattern on our campus of 2,020 by the year 2020, we hope to continue expanding our ministry reach in the following ways:
- By moving toward a multi-campus ministry approach (one to begin this spring).
- By participating with 20 church revitalization projects in struggling churches.
- By participating personally, locally and internationally with 20 church plants.
- By maintaining a total 20% Great Commission giving guideline to bless ministries in our county, state, nation, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
- By establishing a mental/emotional health network and ministry to meet the increasing crisis of these kinds of needs in our community. This ministry will be known as “The Cove” and will ultimately be located physically on our campus but will “stand alone” as a separate entity.
None of these initiatives will take the place of our ongoing presence and ministry at 501 SR 13. They will add to and enhance what we are already doing. This is an aggressive growth initiative that will require much prayer, much exercise of faith and much sacrifice for the goal to be met in three years.
This is our moment to shine as a ministry. This is an assignment so large that, if God is not in it, it will not succeed. We must rely on Him for the vision, the enthusiasm and the direction. As we do so, we will engage, engage, and embrace our community. And we will…
FOR MEDITATION: The fields are ripe unto harvest. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He may send forth laborers into the field. Matthew 9:38
FOR REFLECTION: Which aspect of the Advance 2020 vision most captures your imagination, your vision, and your heart? Begin praying earnestly about how God is already calling you to be part of that.
One of the attributes of love we read about in 1st Corinthians 13, is that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” We sometimes get paralyzed in moving toward forgiveness by the fear that, if we forgive, we will get hurt again. And we may. In fact, it’s likely to happen. Forgiving does not mean discontinuing caution or “playing dumb” about who the person is who injured us. We may be in an abusive relationship with a spouse or parent who berates with their words. Until they get help and address the core issues, they will hurt you again with their words.
But forgiving does not bring an iron-clad guarantee against future injuries with it. In fact, loving… and forgiving… always leaves us vulnerable. But to never forgive… or to never love…. simply makes our hearts hard. We have to risk the possibility of future injury even when forgiveness has been offered and received.
And remember also. Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. There are some people we desperately need, for our own sake, to forgive but reconciliation takes two. They may refuse your offer of forgiveness. And if they are unchanged in their spirit or personality they will probably hurt again.
That being true, we are still not “off the hook” when it comes to the biblical mandate to forgive as we have been forgiven. But for the sake of our spiritual and mental and emotional healing, we must “keep no record of wrongs.” Love and forgiveness are bad record keepers. We must continually choose both to love and to forget where our attempts to love have not gone well or resulted in injury. If we live continually bringing up the past, the present will never be free. We must “keep no records….” Lose the files. Delete the injury from our hard drive.
God’s promise to forget our sins is actually an assurance that “our sins will no longer be counted against us.” This is what the cross guarantees for us. Our sin has been totally scrubbed clean… the past, present and future… and will not be reckoned against us again. It’s not that God could not recall what we had done. It’s that He promises to choose NOT to do that.
And that’s what we must do. Losing the scorecard of injuries against us is not a mental exercise but a choice of our will. We decide to forgive and forget.
And then we will be totally free.
FOR MEDITATION: For I will forgive their wickedness and their sins will I remember against them no more. Hebrews 8:12
FOR REFLECTION: What painful memories need to be deleted from your memory bank?