A New Church Launches

Before and after stories can be very inspiring.  Above, you see the before and after pictures from RiverStone Christian Church, which launched on Sunday in Oregon, IL.  The picture on the left was a part of a virtual prayer walk on Ignite’s website.  We put the prayer walk up to encourage people to pray that God would fill up the auditorium of the church with new people on March 20.  As you can see from the picture on the right, God answered these prayers!!  (There were 132 people in attendance on the opening day, the auditorium was filled.)

Darla and I (along with the rest of Ignite’s staff) attended the grand opening.  What a great day it was!  Newcomers were welcomed by friendly people, there was anticipation in the air that could be felt and the sound of many voices talking filled the church before the service began.  I walked several people down to where the children were taught (RiverKids) and greeted others as they came through the doors.  The music was good, the message (featuring the Prodigal Son) hit the mark and we remembered the sacrifice of Jesus during a time of communion.  I especially appreciated watching people on the way out of the service as first time attenders expressed gratitude for a new church in town and told me they would return.

There is something special about the birth of a church!  I have been privileged to be a part of almost 30 new churches in the past 15 years and I can honestly say that this feeling never grows old.  I know that this church will bring Jesus to Oregon and Ogle County.  I know that lives will be changed because this church was started.  I know that this church will have a positive impact on the town and region as it pours out light and living water.

I am thankful for a church (First Christian in Oregon) who decided it was time to leave a legacy for those who were unreached in the area.  (The church being filled with people brought tears to the eyes of several from the old church.)  I am thankful for Craig and Sarah Arnold who came to Oregon to plant RiverStone.  I am thankful to be a part of an organization that is willing to step outside where we normally go to start something new that will bring Jesus to people.

What a wonderful day Sunday was!  Like Craig told his launch team last week, “Sunday is not the finish line of the race, the race officially starts on Sunday.”  I am praying that RiverStone runs the course ahead with strength, vigor and perseverance.

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When the Wind Blows

The past couple of days in Chicagoland have been pretty windy (40 – 50+ mph gusts).  As I was sitting in my upstairs office listening to the sound of the wind against our house, I was reminded of something that happened in Acts 2.  “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”  The first indication of the Holy Spirit’s arrival was the sound of a violent wind.  After the past two days, I know that sound intimately.

The recent weather brought a couple of observations:

The wind can be experienced:  Not only was the presence of the wind obvious because of the sound it brought, but it also had a powerful touch.  I went on a walk during the wind and when traveling against it, I was bent over from the effort of pushing my way along.  The presence of the wind can be felt.

The wind has a definite effect:  I saw this as I watched the clouds racing across the sky being pushed by the wind.  There was trash blowing down the street as it was picked up and moved by the wind.  Then there were the trees that bending and twisting to the force blowing through them.  (I talked to one friend who lost a couple of large limbs from his trees because of the relentless pressure from the wind.)

The wind has power:  This power can change things rapidly.  We saw this during a recent blizzard as the wind covered up tracks made in the snow in minutes.  The wind can blow out the burners on a gas grill and will multiply and magnify fire as it feeds it with air.  Another indicator of the power of the wind was seen when the tornado sirens went off on Tuesday night because of strong storms rolling through our area.  (All of us have seen the power contained in tornadic winds.)

Jesus said in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

I wonder what would happen as I let the wind of the Spirit blow through my life more consistently.  Would I experience his directive effects more clearly, would I see his power at work more closely, would I spread his influence more broadly?  The next time you are out on a breezy day, think about the gift that God has given to us and about how his presence is impacting your life.  This is something I’m going to do.  Let the wind of the Spirit blow…

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Seeing God’s Active Hand

I was in a series of meetings last week when a recurring theme bubbled up:  God’s active hand.  Each of my friends told me a story about how they had seen God’s hand at workin their life.  The first story was about how God had provided the ministry job for my friend at exactly the right time.  He described how all the different pieces fell into place and when we prayed together at the end of the meeting, I thanked God for what he had done.

The second meeting was with a friend from college and he detailed the story of how he and his wife had met.  She was a visitor to the campus where he was attending graduate school and their paths intersected a couple of times during the course of a single day.  By the end of the day, he had asked her to join him for a cup of coffee and when she left three days later, they began corresponding and were married within a few months.  (They have been married for over 30 years.)  As we talked about the incredibly precise timing of how things had worked out, I saw God’s hand at work.

The final meeting was with a friend who told me about a shortfall his ministry was facing at the end of 2015.  On December 30th, his financial administrator called to tell him about a bequest that had come into the ministry that day.  The amount of the bequest covered the shortfall (almost exactly)!  After he told me his story, I said, “I love seeing the hand of God at work!  This is the third God-story I have heard today!”  As we prayed together, I thanked God for his provision and care for this ministry.

Recently reading through the book of Ezekiel, I came upon the final verse of the book, “And the name of the city from that time on will be:  The Lord is There.”  This phrase, Jehovah-shammah, describes the active presence of the Lord.  This is a reality we can count on as we live following Jesus.  God will never leave or forsake us, he is always there for us.

I want to hear more stories of his active hand at work.  I want to open my eyes to seeing his active hand at work around me.  I want to share the stories he creates by showing up.  Watch for his hand and then share the story, it will encourage and strengthen others.

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I was reading through Luke when I saw the story about the Samaritan village who did not welcome Jesus because he was headed for Jerusalem (Luke 9).  James and John, the sons of Thunder, asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to burn up the nonreceptive villagers.  Jesus responded to their request by rebuking them and then going to another village.

I began thinking about this story as I tried to pry a child proof electrical protector from an outlet.  I had a lamp plugged into the open receptacle and the child proof protector functioned very well as I couldn’t get it out.  I finally just unplugged the lamp (which is where the picture above comes from) and was able to get electricity out of the plugin.

After spending a couple of minutes of frustration, I chose to use what was easiest and most accessible.  Looking at the story from Luke, I realized that Jesus wasn’t going to force his way onto a group of people who weren’t interested in having him there.  Instead, he chose to go on to the next village.  Maybe at some point in time, the villagers who refused Jesus would be receptive, but until that time, he went where he could be heard.

When it comes to starting new churches, we ask our planters to pray and look for “people of peace”.  These people will be open and receptive to hearing about Jesus and will welcome the planter’s desire to start a church that will bring Jesus to people.  These people often open the relational door for the planter to talk to others about what he is doing in that community.  One of the best practices we embrace:  go to receptive people first.

Going back to the picture above, which receptacle is open to being used?  I want to reach as many people for Jesus as possible.  I also know that the ones I need to give my best attention to are those who are receptive / open to hearing about him.  My goal:  Keep my eyes open for those who are open.

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Building Spiritual Muscle

I was reading Proverbs yesterday morning when a familiar verse caught my attention again.  “If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength.”  (Proverbs 24: 10) We are a month into a new year and 2016 will bring all sorts of opportunities and challenges for each of us.  If we want to be ready to meet the things coming our way, we need to build spiritual strength (muscle).

I go to the gym several times a week to lift weights.  I told my lifting partner the other day, “I really don’t enjoy this at all…however, I know the benefits that building strength has on our long term health.”

Thinking about building spiritual muscle caused me to reflect on something Ignite did  for the second year in a row:  30 Days of Prayer.  This emphasis is critical to the overall health and vitality of Ignite.  For 30 days, a group of us gathered to pray for church planting, for different people groups in Chicagoland and for the city of Chicago.  We lifted up our new church plants, prayed for more planters and asked God to open our eyes to new ways of starting more churches to reach the diverse populations in the region.  Each day we completed our prayer time together, I felt stronger and more focused.  I know that this time was vital for Ignite as we sought the Father’s heart and listened for his voice.  (We also saw several specific answers to prayers that we prayed, which was wonderful to witness.)

These 30 days prepared us to face challenges and to have the strength to endure forward as we “accelerate Jesus’ mission across Chicagoland by starting churches”.  We don’t want to “falter in times of trouble”, no, we want to push through challenges coming our way.  For this to be true, we need strength.  Building spiritual muscle does not happen by chance, but is a byproduct of time, effort and focus.  Prayer builds strength and reliance on the Father and it was the right way to start the year.  I’m looking forward to seeing what God has in store for Ignite in 2016.

(BTW:  Stay tuned for our weekly “Power Up By Praying” prayer call beginning March 2 at 12 pm CDT.  Check http://www.ignitechurchplanting.com for more information.)


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From a Newcomer’s Viewpoint 2

Yesterday, we had our Ignite Planter’s meeting in Joliet.  As the meeting started, I used the verse from John 4 where Jesus says, “Open your eyes and look to the fields, they are ripe for harvest.”  Then I told the story of my friend coming to church that I began to blog about earlier in the week.  Let me describe the rest of my experience in church that day.

When my friend entered the door, I was there to greet her.  I thanked her for coming and then took her around the lobby, introducing her to some of my friends.  Each of them greeted her warmly and thanked her for coming to Adventure.  I showed her around the facility to make her feel at home (offices, children’s area, bathrooms, etc).  Then we walked into the auditorium and she saw someone on the worship team that she knows.  That person came up to her and told her it was good to see her at church.  When we sat down, another friend she knew came and sat on the other side of her.  This friend said, “I normally sit over there, but I saw you here, can I sit with you?”  I took the program and told my friend some of the things that she could expect during the service (this was her first time in church).  During the service I talked her through what was going on so she would feel comfortable.

When the service ended, several people talked with my friend and thanked her again for coming.  I asked her if she had a Bible at home and when she said “No”, I asked if I could give her one.  (I had one out in my car.)  I gave it to her and showed her a good place to start reading (the book of Mark) and then said that I would be happy to answer any questions she might have at any time.

The next day, she texted me and expressed gratitude for inviting her, telling me that she had felt loved and welcomed.  I glad she felt this way, because I wanted to make her first church experience a positive one.  I know she can find the guidance that comes from knowing Jesus from the Bible, but I also know that the journey is much better in community with others in the church.  I also know she felt this way because I spent time giving her the attention that she deserved.  While it was true this time, I also know that there are many newcomers to the church that I don’t treat as well as I did my friend.  And that’s just not right!

Thinking about this, I determined that I am going to make a better effort to be ready to greet people who are new to the church with more attention and care.  I challenged our church planters to try and think like people who are coming to church for the first time (this is a hard exercise for many of us).  Every church can make their services more guest friendly, but doing so takes a willingness to look at what we do through the eyes of a newcomer.

This experience had a profound effect on me, I think it will help me be a better follower of Jesus and a better help to those who are on the front lines of ministry:  planters and pastors.  Let’s keep our eyes open, many times receptive people are right around us, just waiting to be asked.  Extend the invitation and then be there to help them feel at home.

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From a Newcomer’s Viewpoint 1

A friend of mine attended church with me on Sunday.  A couple of weeks ago, we had talked and she mentioned that she was at a point in her life where she felt like she needed some guidance.  I talked with her about the guidance I receive from Jesus and then the conversation went to the strength that comes from seeking him together with other people.  That’s when she spoke the words that really hit hard, “It’s difficult to walk into a church when you don’t know anyone.”

That conversation made me realize something:  I need to put myself in the shoes of people who are walking into a church for the first time. This action takes a lot of courage as it can be intimidating, scary and definitely uncomfortable.  (I visit new churches on a regular basis and even though I am accustomed to walking into a new place, I have felt all of these emotions at times.)

I asked if she would be interested in coming to church with me some Sunday and she thought she might.  I assured her that I’d invite her the next time I was going to be in town at our home church.

I was in town on Sunday and when I invited her, she said she would be there.   My promise to her:  I will meet you in the lobby and will be looking for you when you walk through the door.  (I was and I will describe the rest of the day to you in my next post.)

Here are some questions that came to my mind after thinking about what my friend said:  When a guest comes through the door, how are we going to greet them?  Do we have a strategy for welcoming people (beyond a greeting at the front door)?  What is our plan for helping new friends navigate the landscape of the building, service schedule and other intricacies of the church?

If we think ahead by processing these questions, we will not only be a church that helps people feel welcomed and loved.  We will also be well on the way to helping people connect with Jesus and his family, the church.

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