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Archive for February, 2011

I find it interesting that some congregations have church buildings in out-of-the-way places and yet the ministries are thriving.

And there are other congregations that have buildings in aesthetically challenged, industrial areas and yet the parking lots are packed on Sunday morning.

According to most church growth gurus, a choice location on a major road close to growing residential areas is the ideal setting for a growing church.

That’s good when it can happen, but that isn’t what builds a church’s ministry.

Huh?

Isn’t ministry all about “location, location, location?”

Nope.

It wasn’t that way for Jesus and it isn’t to be that way for us.

Ministry is about providing hope for the hurting.

It’s that simple.

If people know they’ll find hope at a certain church as they experience God’s love and understand their purpose for living, they’ll find their way there whether it’s in a swank subdivision or on a busy highway between storage warehouses.

This is the truth that I’m trusting as the pastor for the congregation I serve in south Miami and this is the truth that every member of a church in a “challenged” location should trust.

I share this message today because of a simple, yet profound lesson in Mark 1:45. The setting is this: Jesus had just healed a man with leprosy and had told him to not tell others of the miracle. Jesus knew that if word spread of the compassionate healing, then any effort to enter local towns in Galilee would be chaotic as the crowds would beseige Him in the streets and marketplaces.

The healed man told everybody he saw about the miracle, though, and so Jesus had to stay in “lonely places” in the countryside in order to not cause major disruptions in towns and villages.

Yet, the Bible says, “the people still came to Him from everywhere.”

Why did they leave their homes and their towns and walk long distances to reach Jesus?

Because they were hurting in their flesh or in their souls and they believed that they could find hope by finding Jesus.

Listen, I was humbled this morning when I read this passage from the One-Year Bible. I was stirred to pray more actively for wisdom on how to lead my congregation toward becoming a better lighthouse of love, a better fountain of Living Water, a better hospital of spiritual, emotional and — through prayer — physical healing.

The more hope like this that people find at my industrial-location congregation, the more filled the building will be even though our location is not what church growth gurus would recommend.

Provide hope from on high and people will find your church building, my friend.

They found Jesus out in the boondocks. They’ll find your church if your congregation offers what Jesus offered.

This is my assignment. I pray that it will become yours.

As always, I love you
Martiin

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When you and I gather at church to worship, it is important that we approach the Lord with clean hearts.

I was reminded of this fact this morning while reading from Exodus 40. In vv. 30-32, the following words are found:

He (Moses) placed the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it for washing, and Moses and Aaron and his sons used it to wash their hands and feet. They washed whenever they entered the tent of meeting or approached the altar, as the LORD commanded Moses.”

We don’t have wash basins in the foyers of our churches so that we can wash our hands and feet before worship. But the idea of approaching the Lord in a cleansed state is still valid because of how it demonstrates the desire to honor the Lord as holy.

Imagine going on a date with a special someone and not apologizing first for a hurtful statement or action in the days preceding the date. There would be a huge cloud over the time together, a cloud that could have been swept away by the humble act of asking forgiveness.

With an apology, though, the date would be so much more enjoyable for both.

I believe that each of us will please the Lord more with our worship “date” if we take a few moments for prayer before the service. Ask God to cleanse you of your sins committed in the past week.

Ask Him to reveal to you any attitudes that need washed away and then give Him the freedom in your heart to do the sanctifying work that is humbling yet helpful.

If your congregation’s pre-service format isn’t conducive to this heart-prep time because of noise in the auditorium, then find an empty classroom for such or take a few moments to do so while still in your car in the parking lot.

You can imagine how pleasing it will be to the Father to see you preparing your heart for worship in this way.

You’ll be honoring Him.

You’ll be preparing yourself for more effective worship.

And you’ll be setting a good example for others who need to do the same.

Please do this whenever you enter the “tent of meeting” at your church.

If you’re already doing this, please drop me a line to share your experiences with me. I’d like to know how others are preparing themselves for worship.

As always, I love you
Martin

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I’m so glad to know that there is no struggle we face that is greater than our Lord’s strength to carry us through to the other side of trouble.

This has been true in my life and this has been true in yours.

Even in those times when our faith wavered and we toyed with the idea of trusting our own wisdom and strength, God’s mercy and protection continued.

He knew then that we were clay people still being refined and strengthened in the fire and Her patiently loved us, provided for us, put hedges of protection around us and waited for the light bulb of spiritual realization to come on in our hearts.

And it did.

Thank God.

A well-known verse that helps me many times is Proverbs 3:5-6. You know it. It says that we are to trust in the Lord with all of our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. In all our ways, we are to acknowledge Him and He will direct our paths.

When I do this, my life and ministry are better. When I don’t, they’re not.

It’s that simple.

I share this information today because of a passage in today’s reading from the One-Year Bible.

The righteous may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers them from them all” (Psalm 34:19)

The fact is that a saving relationship with Jesus Christ is not intended to save us from facing problems in this life, but instead to save our souls into an eternal life where there will be no more problems but instead eternal bliss.

In His mercy, God does deliver us from many of our earthly problems, whether they be physical, emotional or financial. But earlthy deliverance is not why Jesus died on the cross.

Our deliverance into eternal, holy fellowship with the Father and His children is why Jesus died on the cross.

Listen, we’d all like to have lives with no earthly troubles. And, in fact, we do have seasons when the troubles seem to be less prevalent.

But then Satan is given more freedom to test our faith and more problems appear.

At such times, our faith can shine and our God can be exalted.

We simply have to trust more than ever that our help comes from on high and that the Lord will deliver us from the problem, whether in the short term by guiding us into resolving the problem or in the long-term by strengthening and guiding us to live with the problem until we graduate to glory.

Either way, we’ll be delivered.

We’ll be refined.

God will be glorified.

And isn’t that what it’s all about, anyway?

As always, I love you
Martin

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Moses’ brother Aaron wasn’t stupid, but he sure did a dumb thing.

And then he gave what ranks as one of the lamest excuses in history.

I’m talking about when he made a golden calf idol while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 commandments and other Old Testament laws from God.

You recall that Aaron, when confronted about his sin, blamed the people whom he said made him throw their gold into a fire and out jumped the golden calf (Exodus 32).

The people wanted a masquerade of religion but their subsequent behavior shows that their real desire was for fleshly sin.

Incredible, huh?

It was only by the interceding grace of Moses and the patient grace of God that all the Hebrews except Moses weren’t destroyed on the spot, the Bible says.

As crazy as this situation was because of failure to trust God, you and I are to be careful about pointing fingers at Aaron and the sinful Hebrews.

For we’ve come up with some crazy, creative excuses of our own to rationalize our sins.

If you and I were to look over our lives and honestly diagnose why we fell into sin, there would certainly be times when our choices seemed “Aaronic” in their absence of logic.

Listen, the best way to avoid looking stupid in God’s sight is to avoid stupid decisions.

If Aaron had adopted a philosophy of making sure that every action would please God, then he would have never been caught up in the “I want to be a hero” moment. He would have told the people to wait from Moses to come off the mountain with the words of God’s leading.

Please, my friend, recognize that whenever Satan is tempting you to solve your problems in a way other than God’s ordained path, you are being lured into a trap.

Please make sure that your spiritual desire is for a surrendered relationship with God, not for a religious “check the box” that appeases the conscience while your indulge in pleasing the flesh.

As always, I love you
Martin

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It is such a small slice of scripture, these words from Exodus 30:14-15.

But the messages are huge.

God plays no favorites.

Every soul is worth the same.

Here are the words:

“All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the LORD. The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the LORD to atone for your lives.”

The “crossing over” refers to the taking of a census in the Israelite camp and the resulting gift for Tabernacle ministry costs that each person counted would be required to give.

If the rich or poor were to give the same amount as a token, atoning gift for their lives, then clearly God sees no variance in the worth of their lives.

If God doesn’t see one soul as more valuable than another, then we shouldn’t, either.

Listen, dear friend, there’s only one way that we can play favorites in the Church and not sin. And that’s by treating everybody as our favorite.

Please do so.

For when you don’t, people notice it.

Especially those who don’t make the top tier of your list.

I’ve seen way too much favoritism in churches over the past few years. It’s not pretty. Sometimes, it downright stings.

Who likes being ignored by the self-proclaimed “cool” people?

Take a cue from God.

Love everybody the same.

View everybody’s time and attention with the same value.

God does.

We should, too.

As always, I love you
Martin

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Before there were problems, there were solutions.

This lesson became clear to me after reading from Proverbs 8:22-26 this morning in the One-Year Bible.

It’s not a long passage, but it contains enough Wordcrafting to give me confidence of the supernatural origins of the ideas and principles that it contains.

I encourage you to read the passage that is part of a larger segment from the One-Year Bible. Perhaps your heart will be stirred in a similar fashion.

To have been formed before the heavens and earth came into being means that perfect order preceded random disorder.

And that teaches me that the purpose of wisdom is to guide us into restoring an orderly manner of thinking and acting into how we and others approach a fallen world disordered by the multiple, lingering effects of sin.

Please, my friend, view wisdom as your friend, as your roadmap to orderly living. Please seek an in-filling of wisdom into your heart, mind and soul so that you can see more of God’s orderly ways bringing stability into your life’s randomly disordered ways.

Please know that for every problem you face, there is a wise solutions that already exist.

Satan and his trouble-making teammates can cook up some major-league headaches for us, but there is NO problem that he can create that is greater than the wisdom God already has in place to overcome it.

This is my confidence and my desire.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through wisdom, your days will be many and years will be added to your life.” (Proverbs 4:10-11)

I’m sure that this is yours, as well.

As always, I love you
Martin

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It wasn’t until yesterday morning that I realized just how ignorant I am about America’s lust for gambling.

I knew, of course, that millions of people would bet on the Super Bowl. I’ve never done such a thing, but at least I recognize the competitive allure of trying to win something by chance rather than by hard work.

Some of you perhaps have bet on the game in the past. I’ll leave it to the Lord to speak to your heart on that one. I’m certain, though, that any winnings that came your way were not the result of God’s favor but instead were ungodly incentives to prompt further gambling.

What blew me away yesterday was the news that America’s lust for gambling is so rampant that thousands of people gambled on whether Christina Aguilera’s singing of the national anthem would be under 1 minute 54 seconds or over that amount of time.

I’m not making this up.

By now, you’ve probably heard that she messed up the words of the song, not just in turning one-syllable words into entire, warbled paragraphs, but also with leaving out part of the song.

Here’s an excerpt from a news article about the song and the betting associated with it:

“Some bettors thought that they should immediately get their money back because the prop bet relies on the singer to actually sing the right words. Others had a problem with the timing. The over/under bet settling at 1 minute and 54 seconds from time Aguilera opened her mouth to the time she finish. Bodog’s official time was 1:53:7, meaning that those who took the under won. But bettors on Twitter were telling me that Bookmaker.com was paying out for the over.

“Sportsbook.com spokesman Mike Pierce told CNBC early Monday that it had timed out Aguilera’s anthem at both 1:53 and 1:54 and was going to make a determination sometime on Monday.

“It’s unclear what the discrepancy seems to be, but it might be the fact that Aguilera added the word “oh” after she sang the word “Brave.”

To me, this is an unbelievable waste of time and money by thousands on something so insignificant in the big picture of life.

And we wonder why our economy is in such a mess.

When I read this article and when I thought of people I know who see gambling almost as gardening, my heart was pained.

I’m am prayiing that God open my eyes to ways that I can more effectively teach against gambling. I’m not as sharp in this respect as I need to be in order to provide the shepherding influence needed by the people in my circle of influence.

I hope that I will be within the near future. For people keep throwing money away in all sorts of ways, particularly with the lottery.

Please, my friend, don’t gamble.

Do the sure things.

Tithe as God commands.

Pay your monthly bills.

Pay off debts with money that you are tempted to gamble away.

Save.

Give to those in need, not to those in greed.

These things are sure to please the Father.

As always, I love you
Martin

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