The Philippines Mission Team is made up of SGCF Singles Ministry members Ariel Grove, Karlee Keller, Linda Laferriere, and Jason Usher and are currently travelling to the Philippines and serving in the Philippine Orphanage, Street Kids PM by participating in some minor construction projects over the next two weeks (June 16th - July 1st). The team can't thank you enough for the ways that you as a church have given to make this trip and their service a reality. Ariel, Karlee, Linda, and Jason all look forward to sharing pictures from their trip with us when they return.
The a letter below is from a member of the team, Ariel Grove, who has written detailing some of the ways that God has used the church's generosity in the past to bless these orphans on the other side of the world.
"For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do." –The Apostle Paul
"Eat your vegetables or no dessert!" –Every Mom
Recently, I read a library book to my daughter Marie at bedtime. The book is called "Little Pea." It's a story about a family of living peas. In this story "Little Pea", (the baby of the family), loves dessert, but not dinner. He wants to skip dinner and get right to the treat. That's typical of many kids, right? But the switch here is this... In Little Pea's world dinner is candy and dessert is vegetables. And Little Pea just wants to forgo the candy and get right to the yummy spinach.
Not sure of the moral here. Maybe kids are supposed to somehow start thinking that spinach is like ice cream and suddenly crave can upon can of leafy greens. Wouldn't it be great if we just wanted what was good for us all the time?
But this story did remind me of how often in the spiritual realm the "ice cream" God has for us starts out tasting like "spinach" before it tastes sweet. I cannot tell you how many times I find my heart resisting the call to read my Bible, or to pray, or to talk to someone about Jesus. So frequently I just have no taste for it, (kind of how some of us feel about spinach). Yet often after doing any of these things – even if it's just because I know God commands it and I need to – I find my heart met by a sweetness from the Lord that is worth whatever small effort I have made. And I find I can agree with the psalmist when he says of God "at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 116:11).
I need to remind myself often that I do not naturally want the things of God on my own. And I need to stop waiting to perfectly desire to do the things God wants me to do before I do them! Indwelling sin will always resist what God wants. As John Owen says, "There is no duty we perform for God that sin does not oppose. And the more spirituality or holiness there is in what we do, the greater its enmity to it. Thus those who seek most for God experience the strongest opposition."
So let's not be surprised if we find ourselves constantly opposed by our hearts when we seek to follow God into a quiet time, or a confession to our spouse, or in giving to the poor, or any number of spiritual endeavors. And let's not wait until that opposition turns to great desire before we do it. We will starve ourselves spiritually by waiting. Instead, let's cry out to God for help, press into His call to follow Him, and watch The Holy Spirit turn our "spinach" into "ice cream"!
--Albert [You can reach Albert at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Like every one else, I watched in shock as the events of the Boston Marathon bombing unfolded on the T.V. screen in front of me. I was filled with grief, anger, and horror as the reports began to come in about the people who were killed and injured. And this event came on the heels of the Newtown murders, the Kermit Gosnell trial, and numerous other tragedies and reports of human suffering that seem to dominate the news from around that the world that we receive every day.
These kinds of reports often raise questions for us about God's presence and purpose in allowing human suffering. And as I sought to think about what to say to the church in light of these tragedies, I was greatly helped by the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, found in John chapter 11. When we looked together at this passage as a church family, we saw that while this story doesn't answer all our questions or reveal everything the Bible teaches us about God's relationship to human suffering, it does point us to the God who suffers with us and for us; the God who feels the pain of our suffering - and suffered unimaginably to ultimately end our own.
During the message, I also mentioned that I would post a link to an article by John Piper entitled,
I hope God meets you through these two resources. Although God doesn't give us exhaustive knowledge of his plans, he does give us enough knowledge to be able to trust in Him. And that knowledge makes all the difference in how we process reports of human suffering, how we deal with our own suffering (whether large or small), and in how we're positioned to bring comfort, grace, hope, and support to others when they are suffering.
[You can reach Chris at email@example.com.]
Ok, I confess – some days I'm a data junkie. I like to know what works and why...and what doesn't. Data often has a story to tell and part of my peculiar interest is figuring how to connect the dots the data is making. So here is some recent "data" from our church that has helped me "connect the dots":
On Easter Sunday we heard three incredible testimonies about how God used others to save Anil, Heather and Fred. I am still marveling at God's grace in their lives. To reach Anil, God used a man dying of AIDS, a football coach, his brother Arun, and Mark Brandenburg - then a persistent co-worker at restaurant. In Heather's story, God used an annoying Christian boyfriend to share the gospel in a season of Jerry Garcia worship. In Fred's story, God used a friend to show Fred his need for Christ's love for others in his life.
A few weeks before that, you might recall I had the privilege to preach from Ephesians 19. The Ephesians Christians were sharing their faith so intentionally with their neighbors that many were saved and turned from idol worship. We know this because they quit buying shrines and statues of the goddess Artemis which caused a huge riot in the city!
A powerful moment for me in that message was when I asked people to raise their hands if they were led to faith in Jesus Christ through a friend or relative. I will never forget all the hands that were raised that morning! I would estimate three-fourths of you put your hands up.
As I seek to connect the dots of all this data – from Ephesus, to Anil, Heather, and Fred – and then to you and I raising our hands, I am reminded of this: The chain of Christian witness from the upper room in Jerusalem at Pentecost some 2000 years ago to our own auditorium a few Sundays back remains unbroken.
See, when you and I connect the "dots" of God's saving works, we see that this is often how He spreads His message: He invites others to the Savior through regular people like you and me that He has already saved.
The Barna Group (www.barna.org) does a tremendous amount of research in the area of evangelism. In a US survey of 15,000 people, 80% of people said they came to faith in Christ through a friendship...80%!!! Compare that to the less than 6% that said they were converted through large organized evangelistic events, a personal crisis, a church contact, a church event, a Sunday school, or contact with church leaders. What's more interesting, Barna found that three out of every four born again adults (75%) were intentional to live their lives in ways that affect non-Christians to cause them to raise questions about the Christian life.
Here's what I see in this: evangelism is very effective through friendships and so we must be intentional to look for ways to share the gospel with our friends. Jesus said in John 15:1- "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friend." So, can I ask you to also love them by asking God to give you courage to give whatever is necessary, even risking a part of your relationship with them, so that those same dear lost friends might come to know Christ personally and be saved eternally?
Don't hear what I'm not saying - you should love and care for your friends & family in all kinds of ways. But please don't think you have to wait for them to ask you why you are the way you are. Share the gospel with them because they are dear to you. Share the gospel with them because their eternal lives are at stake. O let us be marked as a church that speaks the truth of the gospel in love!
One of my favorite tools to explain the Gospel is called "Two Ways to Live". Check it out at their website. I have the application on my phone ready to share at any moment. It comes in many languages as well as a children's version for sharing with youth.
And of course there are numerous books on the topic of sharing your faith. Our bookstore carries Randy Newman's Questioning Evangelism and Bringing the Gospel Home. My two cents is that these are probably two of the most encouraging, helpful and winsome books on personal evangelism available.
And don't think you need to pick the perfect book or have the perfect words. Find a resource that helps you share the truth of Jesus' death and resurrection for their sins and then call them to turn to Him for forgiveness and power to follow Him as their Savior and Lord. Do this gently, respectfully, lovingly, and courageously, but don't over think it. The Nike commercial got it right. Pick a book, read, pray and practice, and then "just do it". Share with your friends
Do what someone probably did with you so that you could raise your hand when I asked how you came to know Christ as Lord and Savior: Be intentional; interact with lost co-workers, classmates, friends and neighbors. Pray for courage and for God to give you a deep love for them to be honest about Jesus in a clear and gracious way. Let's do our part to continue the chain of witnesses from the upper room onwards.
[You can reach Trav at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
As most of you know, I've been enjoying having my daughter and my grandson living here with us with for a few months. Watching Johnathan laugh, learn to crawl, grow in interaction, and become totally huge is a blast.
One of things I've noticed is how dependent he is on others for almost everything in his world. Although he can scoot around and grab stuff more effectively now, he still lives a day-to-day existence where the only way he can get what he needs is to cry out for it. Someone bigger than he is, someone more independent, someone with greater power and reasoning and wisdom has to provide for him and make choices for him, all the time.
Eventually, of course, he'll get his sea legs and learn to explore his world more on his own. By the time he's 6, he'll be able to do a lot for himself. By 13, even more. And by 20, we're hoping he'll be an effectively functioning human being who can provide for others as well as for himself. And maybe, maybe he'll even be able to do his own laundry.
There's something great about watching people take responsibility and learn to function independently. But I think there's something inherently dangerous about it too. Yes, there's sweetness to be able to drive yourself somewhere instead of needing your parents to do it (teens, can you say "sweet"?). But as we grow up, we're also subject to this delusion that we can do life solo. Not meaning we don't want anyone else around us, but that we can handle life on our own, without much or any assistance from others. Self-sufficiency seems to be in our genes, and our society reinforces the idea that we have the inherent ability to make wise choices and accomplish great things. Contrast that with the words of Jesus in John 15:5: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
Nothing? What did Jesus mean? What he didn't mean was that we literally couldn't do anything (like walk, eat, talk, make decisions, etc.), although unless he sustains our breathing, brain activity, mobility, etc. we really can't do anything. What he meant was that our choices will not bring God glory or bring good to others (bear fruit, bring life, work to fulfill God's plan and to reveal His kingdom, etc.) unless those choices are led by and empowered by God's indwelling Spirit. This is why prayer is indispensable to our relationship with God. Prayer says to God, "I am not made to be independent from you. I need you. I recognize that I was created to be in a relationship where you are the provider and I am the "providee.'"
We are in a season as a church where our need for God's guidance and wisdom and Spirit are more evident to us than ever before. While that may seem humbling to admit that, it's also freeing. Because if God is the only one who can provide for us, that frees us from feeling like it all depends on us. Our job is to ask, to seek, to knock. God's commitment is to hear us when we do that. Admitting our dependence on God may shatter our delusions of self-sufficiency, but also brings the sweetness of knowing that we were made for this. Dependence is the normal Christian life. And we'll also know the sweetness of God's many promises to hear and answer us when we call out to Him.
Will you join with me and others in our church as we tell God that we need him desperately, and then enjoy the sweetness of watching him honor his promise to provide everything we need as His people? I hope that you will.
Chris [You can reach Chris at email@example.com.]
Can you imagine what it might look like to arrive at our church on a Sunday morning and no one was serving?...
There would be no signs out as you approach the school.
The custodian might greet you.
There would be no pre-service prayer meeting.
You would need to keep all your children with you because there is no children's ministry.
The school would look like...well...a school. There wouldn't be any signs directing you where things were.
We would have no sound system, no musicians; lyrics would not be projected and you probably couldn't hear the sermon unless you sat in the front row since there are no microphones. And the sermon would not be recorded nor put on the website.
No offering would be taken nor communion served.
Any guest brave enough to stay certainly would not know where to go, would not be greeted at the door, and would not receive a welcome packet even if they did find their way into the auditorium. They would not have an opportunity to meet others at the guest reception and neither would anyone follow up with them later in the week. No resources for yourself, your family or a friend could be purchased.
I know that's an extreme picture and far from real.
But I want you to see that serving really matters!
Every Sunday we need over 75 people to pitch in on 15 ministry teams to make Sunday work and to ensure that members and guests are served effectively.
Now many of you are already serving on Sundays and for that I want to say "Thank You!!" And of course, all of you serve the church by faithfully pursuing the grace of the gospel in Jesus – and by faithfully sharing the gospel with others and meeting needs around you. Those are all great ways to serve...please keep doing them! And THANK YOU for being a church that understands that we are to model Christ by serving.
However, right now the immediate and most pressing need for our church is almost exclusively on Sunday morning teams. I know not everyone is able to serve on Sundays (such as moms with little ones), but if you're not yet serving – and you can - we need your help! The children's ministry, greeting & communion team, Sunday morning prayer team, guest reception, guest follow-up team, sign team and so on, all need servants. Almost 40 people are needed. Now, not every team requires membership and typically none require you to serve consecutive weeks. But the need for our Sunday teams is real. So...if you are not serving anywhere on a Sunday team, please consider helping our church this way.
Paul commands us through the Holy Spirit, "serve one another in love" (Gal 5:13). The church is worthy of our service because it is His bride – and my prayer is that many of you would have a desire to serve our church in this particularly needed way right now. And speaking more broadly - if you're not currently serving at all within the church in any way – I want to ask you to consider what is preventing you from serving somewhere? I would appeal to you to serve - as God calls all of us to do our share (1 Peter 4:10). I have talked with many who have come from other church experiences where 80% of the serving load was done by 20% of the people. Let's be marked by joyful serving because it reflects the gospel at work in us! Oh Church – let's get 80% of the work done by 80% of the people out of gratefulness for all that Christ has done in redeeming us!
Check out the list of ministry teams on this website, talk with others to help you figure out where you could be most helpful, and sign up for a ministry team. Throw your life into serving in this local church, just like the church plant team did 6 years ago and continues to do so now.
[You can reach Trav at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
In February 2010, we had snow that closed the school for 3 weeks in a row. Chris pastored the church through that season with an email he entitled 'Sovereign Snow'. I re-read it today after our Christmas Eve service was cancelled due to snow, as was ministered to once again by these thoughts. Here it is :
I like snow. Well, at least I like it in limited ways and in limited amounts. Seeing it as it falls from the sky and gradually blankets the trees, the fields, the grass and the hills, does cause me to marvel at the God who creates things of beauty even in a world that lives under the curse of a paradise lost. But I discover that my affinity for snow quickly diminishes when it changes my plans. All it requires is a mere half hour of shoveling it, and my mood sours. Add to that the cancellation two weeks in a row of the best and most important event in the life of our church, the Sunday meeting, and changes in our youth ministry plans, and many more hours of shoveling snow, and soreness of back and the cumulative effect of hours lost and projects delayed, and my mood has evolved from sourness to stinkiness. Apparently, it doesn't take much for me to find fault with the King of the Universe. I wish I could say that this experience was confined to snowstorms. Sadly, it is not. On a daily basis, my agenda is being challenged. Questions of supremacy and sovereignty rage in the smallest mundane moments of my life. An unplanned conversation with one of my children, a leaky faucet, a leaky dog, heavy traffic, a responsibility delayed which can be delayed no longer, flu symptoms, etc. You get the picture.
In numerous mundane moments and in major snowstorms, a test is occurring. The test is this; "Will I bow to the supremacy and majesty of the transcendent all-wise and ever-good God, or will I find fault with His plans because they don't seem to acknowledge my own plans as supremely valuable?" Job struggled to comprehend the goodness that lay behind drastic and calamitous changes to his plans and his life. And in Job 37:5-13, one of Job's friends is reported as saying to Job: "God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. For to the snow he says, 'Fall on the earth,' likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour. He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it. Then the beasts go into their lairs, and remain in their dens. From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning.
They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen."
So, I have a choice. And so do you. The choice is so simple, but humanly so very hard. I need to face the facts; God is in control over everything. Comparing our plans to God's plans, Thomas Watson asked, "Whose will is it that is better guided, His, or mine?" And every time I face this choice I am reminded that I need a Savior who is able to change my grumbling God-critiquing heart. And what God asks of me, what God requires of me, isn't neutrality over his sovereign interruptions. What he requires is worship and thankfulness and the acknowledgement that every snowstorm and every interruption is from his hand and from his love for me. That's not humanly hard. It's humanly impossible – except, with God, "All things are possible". Maybe it's just the preacher in me that propels me to feel the need to send something to encourage your souls. Or maybe it's just that I've been musing on my own failures and what the snow has revealed in the heart of this sinful senior pastor. So whether you hear this as pure confession or personal exhortation, I hope it will serve your soul today. And I invite you to let the truth that God is always sovereign and always good flood your hearts and fill your mouths again. So that even though the snow means we're apart from each other, we can worship Him together through Jesus Christ. Through his atoning death, Our Savior has secured that His agenda will be the one that is accomplished in our lives. May you and I look at snow and countless other unplanned events and stand in awe and say to God, "You are God, and I am not." And pray that we can be together to worship Him this coming Sunday! In the grace of the cross, Chris
Albert here. A few weeks back I preached a sermon on Acts 2:42-47 called "A church is born" in which I mentioned Tim Keller's 10 tips for personal evangelism. I also mentioned I would send them out to you, so after much ado here they are (with a couple additions by me to clarify):
TIM KELLER'S 10 TIPS FOR EVERYDAY EVANGELISM
1. Let people around you know you are a Christian in a natural, unforced way.
2. Ask friends about their faith – and just listen.
3. Listen to your friend's problems and perhaps offer to pray for them.
4. Share your problems with others – testify to how your faith helps you.
5. Give them a book to read (a book sourced in a Biblical world view).
6. Share your story (how God led you to Himself and has changed your life).
7. Answer objections to and questions about Christianity. (Be prepared by reading apologetic authors like Keller, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and Ravi Zacharias.)
8. Invite them to a church event (like a Sunday meeting, CG event, or a Bible Study).
9. Offer to read the Bible with them. (See David Helm's book One to One on ideas for how to do this well.)
10. Take them to a course that explores Christianity. (We offer a course called " Christianity Explored" and Trav says it will be offered in the first half of 2013.)
And from the original blogger who summarized Keller's tips:
"What Keller also advises is that we (generally) start with 1-4. If people are interested and want to talk more you can move them to stages 5-7. If they're still interested go on to stages 8-10. Sometimes people will want to go straight to 10, but often people start from way back and need some time to think and discuss things in a non-pressured way."
(You can find Keller's full sermon here.)
Why I liked these...
I found Keller's ideas confirming and freeing because they make sense to me of what it means that God calls me to be "in the world but not of it" (John 17:14-16, 1 Cor. 5:9-10). Since I am "in the world," God calls me to speak and share my life with my unsaved neighbors and relatives - not to hide my life from them or pretend I don't have problems. So, for example, wisely sharing what's happening in my life with close relatives – like money challenges and seasons of discouragement or illness – is part of what it means to be "in" this fallen world we all live in. But because I am "not of the world" - my hope, my answer, and my resource for dealing with this fallen world will be very different than those who don't trust in Jesus. And I need to share that with them too – or I am hiding and pretending I am not "in the world" again. Of course, Keller's list is very general and so how you might walk it out is particular for each person.
But keep in mind also - while his ideas can really be helpful for "setting the table" to share Christ with someone - if we want to truly evangelize then we must come to the place where we ask the person to consider the claims of Jesus Christ. In other words, we need to keep in mind that any evangelism without the Gospel...isn't evangelism.
Stating it generally – Gospel evangelism should present the substance of these truths (see e.g., Rom 3:19-26):
1) God is holy and cannot tolerate sin, but He must punish those who violate His holiness.
2) We are all sinners and He must judge us all with eternal condemnation.
3) Jesus was punished in our place. He died for all of our sins and He rose on the 3rd day confirming God's acceptance of His work on the cross
4) Eternal Salvation is a free gift received by faith in the finished work of Christ for our sins. Those who truly trust Christ for forgiveness will never ever be condemned but are reconciled to God forever and have eternal life.
(For a very comprehensive presentation of the Gospel, read this.)
So while I've qualified Keller's "10 Tips" somewhat, what I love most about his list is that it invites us to be honest with people about who we are and, through that, to be honest with them about who Jesus is.
God help us to always be ready and unashamed to share Jesus as Lord – and to do that "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15)!
As I finish writing this note it has been over a full day since the horrific and tragic shootings in Newtown and it is still very difficult to know how to respond.
What happened yesterday is shocking and heartbreaking. How do you think and speak about the unthinkable and unspeakable?
Even though we may not know those affected personally - as parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters - we are still abhorred and grieved. And if we feel this way - how much more grieved is our God, who lovingly created and carefully fashioned each one of these precious lives - made in His image – cut down so horribly on Friday (Gen 9:5-6; Psalm 139:13-15).
Many of us ask why - and how - God could allow such a thing. And it is right to recognize He did allow it. While He did not cause this tragedy, we do not shy away from the difficult truth that the Lord allowed evil to orchestrate something horrible in Newtown, CT. In the mystery of His sovereignty He allowed the hearts of many parents and children to be terribly and utterly broken with a heart breaking only He can heal.
But Scripture tells us – and we must not forget - that He is not in the least indifferent to our suffering - or to the heinous acts committed yesterday. He is deeply grieved and afflicted in His heart at the evil men do to others (Gen 6:6). Scripture actually describes God as shocked at the horrors committed against children (Jer 35:32). And He is deeply, deeply affected by the sorrow and grief of suffering people (Is 63:9; John 11:32-39).
Yes, God cares deeply about our suffering. And He knows – by His own experience - the suffering experienced by parents and children in Newton. As a Father grieving over a Son - and as a Son suffering for His Father's will - God experienced unimaginable suffering.
The Gospel of our crucified Lord tells us our Savior was "a man of sorrows". And, as he recounts in his 53rd chapter, Isaiah graphically tells us why this term was apt: Jesus was "despised", "rejected", "afflicted", "oppressed", "condemned", a soul in "anguish", "smitten by God", "put to grief", "scourged", "crushed" by the Lord, ... "slaughtered". As a Son given over to death - and as a Father suffering the murder of His Son - God is intimate with unspeakable suffering.
And not only this, but He knows how to use terrible suffering to accomplish inestimable good. By enduring the suffering of His cross, God was reconciling mankind to Himself and rescuing us from the eternal suffering He desires no one to taste (1 Tim 2:4-6, John 3:17). The eternal judgment awaiting us all could only be averted by His own torment. And so He covered Himself with our iniquity – and He suffered the just punishment for our iniquity – because suffering was the only way a just God could redeem us from our iniquity (2 Cor 5:21, Is 53).
And so, as we - and our nation - understandably ask for answers, I am of the mind that we don't need answers as much as we need to see God as He truly is. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us to see afresh a suffering, heart-broken, sin-bearing, crushed-by-death Savior and to see His Father – suffering His loss for our redemption.
I don't know how any other type of God could know how to comfort devastated people like those suffering so grievously in Connecticut - or give hope to those of us left bewildered and numb in shock in the wake of this tragedy.
Because of His own experience as a father and son, God understands how to comfort those parents and children in unimaginable suffering - and He even knows how to redeem them through it (Heb 2:18; 4:14-16; Rom 8:28, Gen 5:20).
This is a day lacking in answers - yet there is hope in a God who alone knows how to heal all of this - and how to make unfathomable good result out of unfathomable evil - just as He did at Calvary.
Please pray for those suffering through this, and for our nation, that the Holy Spirit would communicate the compassion, comfort, and redemption of a Father and a Son. Albert, on behalf of the pastors
If you would like to discuss any of this further you can reach Albert on his email at email@example.com.
(P.S. John Piper has written helpfully about God's care in the midst of tragedy and it is very good. You can find it HERE.)
We recently wrapped up our series entitled "Treasuring the Living Word".
We hope these teachings on reading the Bible were helpful for you. I was ministered to personally. Challenged to remember how vital the Word of God is and how it should have more access to my heart than I give it.
What a gift and privilege it is to have access to God's very thoughts and words. I should not take it for granted! A few times during the last month I have reflected on the millions who have no knowledge of the Bible and even worse - the many who live in nations where oppressive governments forbid the Bible from even being shared among the people. What grace that we live in a nation that still allows us to freely learn, know, and share God's only Holy Word! And what a treasure to steward.
As Trav mentioned at the end of my message last week on our devotional lives, we want to post the "10 Ideas To Help You Interact With God's Word." These can be downloaded and read here.
Please remember these "10 Ideas" are suggestions and not commandments. While God commands us to let the "word of Christ dwell in us richly" (Col 3:16), exactly how we do that will vary for each person. I hope you find these thoughts helpful.
Below you will find is a list of resources we have recommended throughout the series to help you connect more skillfully and more devotionally to God's word.
Thirty-two high schoolers and adults went on our church's first mission trip called Mission Miami 2012. We spent 9 days in south Miami June 16-24 to help spread the word about a new church plant and share the gospel with the community. The new church is led by Jose Prado and is still quite small with about 50 people including children.
Our goal was to contact 10,000 people in the immediate neighborhood of the church, provide a community vacation bible school during the week and put on a family festival.
The week was spent preparing for the festival we had on Saturday, June 23rd. The festival was a time of fellowship, food and fun where people from the community could meet members of the church and find out more about the new church. We worked all the elements of the festival so the church members were free to interact with people who came.
In the mornings on Monday-Friday, half of our team did the Vacation Bible School. The other half distributed flyers for the festival in the local neighborhoods. We delivered primarily in neighborhoods but also went to shopping centers, restaurants, and businesses.
We delivered in the scorching sun, the pouring rain, the humidity and with tired feet...nothing stopped us! We walked an average of 5-7 miles every day! The vacation bible school team had a VERY energetic group of children and they feel like they walked even farther! We had a lot of fun together and it was very fulfilling to know we were serving the Lord and reaching the lost.
Miami is noted as the one of the most un-churched cities in the United States. We saw this firsthand distributing flyers in the neighborhoods. There were simply no churches in all the neighborhoods we visited. We walked miles and miles through these large, dense neighborhoods and didn't see a single church. Yet back home, we can count 5 churches in just a small square block area. Our hearts grew for the people there and we understood more clearly as the week went on why Jose wanted to plant a church where he did.
The Lord was faithful in SO many ways from the beginning of fundraising all the way through the actual trip. Our church helped us raise $25,794 in 4 months. The Lord provided every single thing we needed for this mission to happen.
Our team grew in an awareness of God's continual presence in our lives through our team meetings, preparation work and ministry work in Miami. We grew in a love for each other and for Miami. We beheld what it meant to know that with God, ALL things are possible.
The family festival we provided on Saturday was truly a miracle. We got a lot of rain during the week and there was 90% chance of rain for that Saturday. We woke up on Saturday morning to more rain and temptation doubt. We met as a team, heard from God's word He was sovereign even over weather and then prayed. It looked doubtful. We continued with our plans certain that God would use us rain or shine!
In route to the park, the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds! It was absolutely amazing!! We were (and still are!) in awe of the power of our Heavenly Father. The festival was a huge success; from 10am to 4pm, God brought 108 people and all of them signed up to find out more about the church! We were thrilled to have so many people that our "work" (preparing food, organizing games, crowd gathering on the streets, etc.) hardly seemed like work at all. One last detail- it started to pour again after we returned to our hotel!
We experienced that God, the great I AM, is in Miami....literally!
Look at the word- MIAMI. He's not just in the middle, though.
He is over all, through all, and in all of Miami.
"You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit." 1 Thessalonians 1:6
As we've been delving into 1st Thessalonians on Sundays, a consistent theme we've encountered is Paul's concern for the church as they endure persecution.
Currently, for most of us in the United States, the trials we face don't come in the form of religious persecution like that endured by the Thessalonians. But, for much of the world, persecution is a daily reality. Christians have endured intimidation, imprisonment, torture, and death for over 2,000 years. And today in places like Pakistan, Nigeria, and China it's no different.
We can feel humbled, overwhelmed, and even discouraged as we hear about those across the globe who are suffering greatly for the name of Christ. But as Chris recently reminded us, we have a powerful tool in the midst of the persecution of our brothers and sisters: prayer. Through our prayers for those enduring persecution, our all-powerful God gives powerful grace so that weak saint remains faithful. Through our prayers for their steadfastness – and even their joy – in the midst of suffering, God confirms that they are His. Through our prayers for their witness, God proclaims a hope-giving message to their loved ones - and even to their persecutors - that the Gospel is real and is able to save. And through prayer, God blesses the praying - with fresh perspective and a growing love for His people.
If you're not already praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters, would you consider prayer as a means to obey the exhortation of Hebrews 13:3: "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body."
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction..." James 1:27 Just a few weeks ago, Doug Hayes, director of Covenant Mercies, preached to our church family from "the Good Samaritan" story in Luke 10: 25-37. There, Jesus reminds us that our God is a God of compassion and steadfast love. He calls on us to seek His grace to be like the man who stopped in the midst of competing allegiances to love his neighbor in need. As Doug told us about Covenant Mercies' mission to care for orphans in Uganda, Zambia, and Ethiopia he invited each of us to consider loving our neighbor through joining Covenant Mercies orphan sponsorship program that helps indigenous churches care for the fatherless. The Apostle Paul makes clear in Eph 2:8-9 that our salvation is "a gift of God" through faith alone and "not a result of works". How much we need to hold onto this truth every day! However, its important to remember that in the very next verse he tells us that - having been saved - we are created new in Christ Jesus "for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
If you aren't already supporting an organization that seeks to relieve suffering and to bring the gospel to some of the millions of orphaned children in the world, would you consider the "good work" of supporting Covenant Mercies mission to care for orphans in Africa? You can find more information at www.CovenantMercies.org
Thank you for considering!
Welcome to Sovereign Grace Church of Frederick! If you are reading this blog post, you must realize there is something really different about our website. Our new website launched Thursday April 24th after a lot of hard work and dedication.
We've completely redesigned our online presence, bringing in a host of new features and functions to help you know what's available and what's going for all ages across numerous ministries at our church! We hope that our new web home will be inviting, informative and helpful to both our visitors and our members. Additionally, we hope you find the new website to be simpler and much more intuitive to use.
I want to express our sincere gratitude to Marjorie Somerville for the many hours of effort put into the new site and learning the new content management system. Our heartfelt thanks also goes to our website developers Eric and Sara at Mercy Tree.com. We are also indebted to Todd Bentzel and Brad Willock for their technical support during the entire redesign process.
Come on in and take some time to get familiar with the new site. We are grateful to God you are here!