Lessons From An Outward Focused Church by Brad Henson

It’s been twelve years since we moved to Western Kentucky with the goal of planting an  ‘outward focused’ church.  Nine months in we were a part of a team of 12 outward  focused people.

Today Four Rivers is a 4 campus congregation spreading throughout Western Kentucky.   We connect with 500 – 600 people per weekend and have seen our people and leaders  assist in the planting of 6 other churches in the last 12 years.  Four Rivers is truly an outward focused church.  But, it hasn’t been easy.  It hasn’t even been steady.  And honestly, it has been nothing like I expected it would be. During the past 12 years we have had our predictions challenged.  We have faced  disappointment… mainly caused by our own misguided expectations.  And we have  learned many things.

A Few Things I’ve Learned… About Being An Outward Focused Pastor

 

1. There is a constant tendency toward the inward.

This one is an overarching reality I never expected.  I assumed reaching larger groups  of people would solidify our outward focus.  But the truth is, the disconnected and ‘far  from God’ people we reach with an outward mission have their very own ‘inward’  tendencies.  With every new person comes a new beginning of teaching this mission.  And sometimes, the road to spiritual growth mistakenly leads people down a road of self  focus.

We have learned to check regularly the outward focused pulse of the church.  It is a daunting task and can sometimes bring disappointment.  But by looking at where we  really are, we know how to honestly lead.  And this is required of anyone who desires to  lead an outward focused church for an extended period of time.

2. The Lion and the Lamb.  

The Lion and the Lamb metaphor is usually used with ‘end time’ discussions.  But we  have found it is very helpful for us in today’s ministry.  As a church of multi ethnicities, age groups and socio economic groups our diversity makes us stronger.  But it also requires us to lead wisely.  It takes many things to get a lamb to lay down with a lion.

First, you need a lion that stops acting like a predator.  Second, you need a lamb who will believe that the lion is good.  And third, you need an ongoing relationship with behaviors that reinforce those beliefs.  You may be interested in helping your community… but many people do not believe you.  You are a church leader.  That makes you a lion to many.  They feel lamb-like and you  look hungry for their time, money & talents.  To reach them, you have some perceptions  and possible realities to change.

3. Keep the vision ‘visible.’

There is a reason that the Bible uses a ‘visible’ word to describe the church’s meta narrative.  But many church leaders convey ‘vision’ in a purely ‘audible’ or ‘hearing’ based way.  We have noticed people need to see an outward focused vision in order to grasp it.

So we have learned to keep the vision visible.  We regularly put people in front of the  gathering to show and tell their stories of life change.  This means so much more than a sermon about why we should reach out.  We cannot simply tell the mission… we have to show it.

4. Know Your Bible… Know Your Back Yard…

Christian leaders everywhere understand the need to be aware of and guided by the  Scripture.  But Christianity is more than a set of rules, regulations or guidelines.  There is an awareness and intuitiveness of our faith that requires that we know both our belief systems & our local culture.  We can’t expect to focus outward if we are not well aware of what is out there.

And to be clear, I absolutely do not mean this from a judgmental perspective.  Knowing your back yard is so much more than knowing what is wrong with your back yard.  In fact, there are many times that we have to look outside of the church in order to find some of the most exciting things that God is doing in our culture.  Find Him there and join Him in the outward focused ministry He has already begun.

These are just a few of the many things planting and leading an outward focused church has taught me.  Although it has been difficult, I am very thankful to God for this journey.  I hope that my ramblings have helped you as well.

 

I Heart My City by Dino Rizzo

Did you know Jesus has a plan for you in the city He has sent you to?  We see a great example of this in Luke 8:26-38.  This once demon-possessed man is ready to follow Jesus after this miraculous life change.  But Jesus commands him to, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”  Go back to the city I have called you to.  Go back to your home.  Go to your city.  Go to your people.  Jesus was smart.  He knew this city would know this once demon-possessed man.  They would recognize something had changed in him.  Something miraculous had to have happened to make this once crazy man, sane again.  Here we have the first missionary sent to his own zip code.  God has a plan for you in the city He has sent you to as well.

If you want to make a difference in your city you must first love your city.  Loving your city opens ears to hear the gospel, unlocks heart to be loved, and unleashes Kingdom influence.  You can’t fake love.  You can’t love behind your church walls.  You can’t love behind judgment.  You can only “speak” love so much before you have to “show” it in order for others to believe it.  Opening up your heart, your arms, your finances, your resources, your building to others with a ridiculous love for the people in your city will catapult you into God’s purposes like nothing else.

Loving your city starts with knowing your city.  You have to notice, understand, listen, and pay attention to the culture, the rhythms, the condition, the seasons, and the story of your city.  Being with the people will create a love for the people.   Simply researching your city, only creates a data connection.  What you need is a heart connection with the people in your city.  Jesus was always among the people.  He bridged the gap between physical need and spiritual need, because He could see what type of bridge needed to be built to connect with them.  Knowing your city will help you determine how to truly love your city, minister to your city, and provide for your city.

Once you know your city, you act.  Do whatever you can to meet the needs of your city. Know the need, see what you have to offer, and act.  Not too long ago we noticed that cancer patients receiving chemotherapy in local hospitals were not receiving the nutritional snacks they really needed.  A lady in our church started with 5 volunteers and went once a week to bring a healthy snack to a cancer patient.  One year later we are in 5 hospitals, 5 days a weeks, and have served thousands of snacks.  We have been able to share the love of Christ with thousands through a simple healthy snack.

When you know your city and act on the true needs within the city, there will be impact.  Know, act, and impact will follow.  You will be blown away by the access, opportunity, influence, and visibility that opens wider than you imagined possible.  The government starts calling you to solve problems in the city.  They know your name.  Road blocks and red tape are no longer blockades to ministry.  Door after door begins to open.  You set the example for others.  People start thinking, “Maybe the church does know how to solve some of these issues in our community for the cause of Christ.”  You are advertising without even having to advertise because serving creates chatter.  Let’s create lots of chatter!

You want people pulling up on your property saying, “I heard from someone that this church would help me.”  Be necessary.  Be seen as a solution.  Is your church necessary to your city?  Does it matter that you are here?  As churches we often ask ourselves if the poor matter to us, but the real question is, “Do we matter to the poor?”  Does your city need you?  I believe they do because they need Christ.  Let us be found faithful with the piece of earth God destined for us to serve on.  Love your city.

Evangelists of Unbelief by Rice Broocks

I’ve been deeply challenged by the tireless efforts of the men and women that advance the cause of the “new atheism” into the empty hearts of postmodern westerners.

Nature abhors a vacuum so in the absence of faith, unbelief or atheism becomes the anti-cause. The mission of these atheist crusaders is to rid the world (especially the young) of religious faith and “superstition.” They carry their message with zeal and with the confrontational style that rivals any fundamentalist preacher. In short, they seek converts – people who will “repent” of religion and follow the secular path to freedom.

Caricatures of the worst aspects of religion make it easy to gain people’s attention. Lumping all religions together, it becomes one monstrous “straw man” that can easily scare the average listener more than hell itself. Tragically, they are gaining momentum, especially in the arena of the university campus and the media.

If this were a boxing match, the Church would be sitting on a stool in the corner of the ring, dazed and confused and doubting whether we were really “called” to this fight. What can we learn from their efforts?

Talking to Ourselves

First and foremost: We must start engaging our culture with the Gospel beyond the church walls and stop just talking to ourselves. The majority of the effort we exert as Believers is talking to fellow Christians about being better Christians.

“Missional Church” is a term we debate vs a real mission we do. We have deceived ourselves by not obeying the Word ( James1:22).

Most of the people in our churches have heard enough to be teachers themselves, but are defenseless against the basic arguments and accusations of the opposition.

The Gospel is the answer to the cries of the human heart, but the lack of zeal to proclaim it demonstrates our lack of faith in its power.

We can also see that if we don’t step up and speak a clear message, the enemies of the Gospel will gladly take our place.

History has shown that God will allow a Goliath to taunt His people, knowing that someone like David will be provoked into action.

May we be shaken out of our stupor, get off the stool and get back into the fight for this generation.

Photo by lewishamdreamer.

Guerilla Love by Vince Antonucci

Elizabeth Morris is a woman from a small Kentucky town who, two days before Christmas in 1982, was sitting up one night waiting for her son Ted to come home from his job at the mall. He was in college but was home and working a temporary job over Christmas break to make some extra money for school. And he was late. At 10:40 p.m., Elizabeth got the telephone call that all parents fear. “Mrs. Morris, this is the hospital. Your son has been killed in an accident.”

A 24-year-old man named Tommy Pigage had been driving drunk – his blood alcohol level was 3 times the legal limit – and had crossed the highway’s center line & smashed head-on into Ted’s car. The drunk driver was only slightly injured, but 18-year-old Ted Morris was dead.

Elizabeth and her husband, Frank, were devastated. Ted was their only child. And their anger only escalated when, at the trial, their son’s killer, Tommy Pigage, was only given probation. Elizabeth says that day after day she would replay her mental videotape of that night like a horror movie. She wanted revenge. She would fantasize about driving down the road, seeing Tommy walking, and driving him into a tree, then watching him die slowly in agony. She actually spent a lot of her time tracking Tommy, hoping she could catch him violating his probation so he could be sent to prison.

There was only one problem. Elizabeth was a Christian. And as she brought her feelings to God, and prayed about all of it, she came to the realization that her heavenly Father had also lost His only Son. But on the cross Jesus had said, “Father, forgive them” about the soldiers who had tortured and crucified Him. And that in a very real sense she had put Jesus on the cross, her sins had, and yet God had forgiven her. And she realized that she had to forgive Tommy. She decided to and then offered forgiveness to the man who killed her only son.

But … check this out. She didn’t just forgive him. She and her husband actually began to build a relationship with their son’s killer. And after some time they led Tommy Pigage to Christ. Because of their influence, in part because of their compassion, because of their forgiveness, because of their guerrilla love, he decided to follow Jesus and become a Christian.

That’s what I like to call guerrilla love. People have misconceptions of Christians – that we’re judgmental, holier-than-thou, isolated, homophobic, hate-filled, and too political. And we need to tell those people about Jesus. But why would they listen to someone they feel that way about? And why would they want to become like someone they feel that way about? And so we have to destroy their stereotypes. And we do it by ambushing people with the love of God. Compassionate connection must come first.

We need to tell people about Jesus, but compassionate connection comes first. We lead with love. We ambush people with the grace of God. We attack the misconceptions people have of Christians – that we’re judgmental, holier-than-thou, isolated, homophobic, hate-filled, and too political. No one who believes that about us will listen to what we have to say, so we destroy those stereotypes, and we do it with love.

A guerrilla love ambush could be buying someone’s dinner, giving your garbage man cookies, throwing a block party, inviting the unpopular person at work to lunch, doing yard-work for your neighbor, or … forgiving your son’s killer.

We’re taught in 1 Peter 3:15-16 that we’re to live in such a way that it forces people to ask questions. Questions like “Why are you like this?” “What’s so different about you?” “Why do you have the hope you do?” “Why do you love the way you love?” Repeated love ambushes destroy misconceptions, and force people to ask questions and, when they do, we get to tell them about the reason we love, about the one who inspires and gives us the power to love, we get to tell them about Jesus. And the grace we’ve shown will have already overcome their resistance. They’ll want to listen to us, and they’ll be open to becoming like us.

And that, well, that’s guerrilla.

 


 

Vince Antonucci became a Christian out of a completely non-Christian background and ever since his passion has been reaching the “lostest of the lost.” He was the founding Pastor of Forefront Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, a church where 72% of the people who attend were previously unchurched non-Christians. Vince recently moved to Las Vegas where he started a new church, Verve, in the heart of Sin City, just off the Vegas Strip. Vince is the author of I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt (2008), and Guerrilla Lovers (2010).

Who Is Doing The Evangelizing? by Steve Sjogren

I don’t want to sound heretical but I have an observation to make. My friend Fred was prolific at leading people to Christ in the first few years of his Christian life as he came out of the music scene in Los Angeles and pointed something out to me I thought was interesting. He noticed that the vast majority of people who come to Jesus weren’t so much led to the Lord by someone or by a church that was doing a bang up job of evangelism. He said his role was mostly to befriend folks, to share what God had done in his life then to invite them to church where they could sense the presence of God, pray a simple salvation prayer and the “Deal would be sealed” as he put it. You might call it Presence evangelism more than Informational based evangelism.

Hundreds of books have been written from the perspective that it’s the church’s responsibility to do the working of evangelism – and to a degree that’s right. It’s of course clear from Scripture that Believers play an important part in leading people to the Lord. Let’s not entirely change that equation. At the same time we need to recognize what God is doing as well – that a big percentage of people worldwide are being directly engaged by the Holy Spirit directly by various means other than linear means of evangelism.

If this is true what does it imply regarding our evangelism approaches? We need to be doing a lot of seed planting. We need to find some measure of satisfaction in the ministry of nudging many toward Christ whether they actually come to know Christ through us or not. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 3:6, it’s about planting, watering as well as harvesting. Before there is a harvest it’s necessary to diligently plant and water. Sometimes there is a lot of repeated planting and watering before a harvest comes about. My professor friend George Hunter agrees with me – on average in our day it takes a person about 12-20 revelatory connections for a person to be converted. In his words, “Steve, that’s a lot of toilets that need to be cleaned.”

I’m going to continue to proclaim the Gospel as clearly as possible to as many as possible. At the same time I recognize God is quietly, persistently up to something dynamic in the hearts of many we will perhaps never engage in conversation.

Motivating the Start-Up by Doug Murren

One of the best ways to build morale in an early work is recording milestones. This can be done ahead of time or after. But every church has milestones they can see ahead or have added to their success. I think there are several categories that could be looked at: financial, staffing, locations, impact on people’s lives measured by conversions, and missional progress.

One milestone may be a major gift that started you in a new level of ministry. Or a milestone may be the first person that receives Christ. Or your first baptism. Celebrating these steps of progress builds morale. And morale is the most valued asset of any church. So build it step by step.

Parties are great to celebrate milestones through as well. Have some cake and coffee after a service celebrating a milestone. Keep a record of successful events and report and review them regularly in newsletter form.

One Tuesday afternoon I asked God for an African American keyboardist, for the owner of the lot next to us to sell even though he had obstinately refused many times and for someone to head up the construction of an addition we were planning.

I told my partner in the ministry God was going to answer that day. That afternoon a talented African American keyboardist came into our offices and said she felt she was supposed to see if we needed a keyboardist. And our neighbor called me over to talk under his large cedar tree. He said he was ready to sell. And to top the day off a builder, new to the church, who had just retired, asked if he could help on our addition project. It was a great day. I talked about those milestones for years and still do.

Stories are the backbone of every great church. Stop and make a list of milestones that you will pass by faith. Share them with your leaders and watch them grow from seeds in your heart.

Look forward as well to milestones that await you. It could be hiring your first staff person or getting your first meeting place. Or setting up your first board. Or maybe your first public meeting. Whatever it is mark it, celebrate it, record it, and communicate it.

3 Fun Easy and Inexpensive Holiday Outreaches by Steve Sjogren

1. Bread Giveaway

Everybody likes bread! Especially from those high-end bread stores with Bread Company somewhere in the name… Did you know that you can arrange to receive day-old bread from specialty bread stores for FREE? You can also check with national chain grocery stores that have in-house bakeries. Talk to the store manager and explain your outreach concept. Tell a few stories of the people you are helping and you will likely establish your “daily bread” connection. It will only take one or two of these connections to begin a substantial ministry in your community.

Many of these stores do not have a reliable source to distribute their old bread to. The key is to be consistent and reliable in picking up their bread. You will need to have a team and as schedule so you don’t disappoint the bread store managers. As a good public relations gesture, write a letter of thanks to the store manager for his company’s generosity to the community (and don’t be surprised to see it framed and posted on the wall of the store).

The ministry is simple and straight forward. Knock on the doors of the houses and apartments. Say, “Hi, we’re giving away fresh, free high-quality bread. Could you use some, or do you know anyone in the neighborhood who could use some?” Give recipients an outreach card and offer to pray for them as you hand out the bread.

How Do You Find People To Give Bread To?

Cold calling (just knocking on doors) in lower-income neighborhoods and apartments complexes works fine with this project. Stay away from neighborhoods closest to the donating store.

What You’ll Need

2. Big Christmas Party

People in need don’t always celebrate Christmas properly because there aren’t Christ-centered celebration opportunities. You can sponsor an event that will be fun and cause everyone to focus on Jesus.

The elements of this celebration include playing games and singing songs. As you sing Christmas carols, make sure the words are available. It’s also fun to have a few inexpensive rhythm instruments to play along with.

Someone can share what Christmas is about in a very positive and upbeat way – simply explaining, “Christmas is important to me because…”

Decorations and refreshments and a meal can be simple or elaborate, depending on the inclination of your group.

For about $1 per photo, you can take Polaroid pictures of kids with an ethnically correct Santa. Design a simple backdrop and get up-close with the camera. Mount the photo on red or green construction paper and add the child’s name and year with a gold or silver marking pen.

At the conclusion of the party, give away small gifts as people depart – perhaps a Bible or devotional book. Consider giving away the decorations as well.

How Do You Find People Who Would Enjoy A Christmas Party?

Invite those who are already connected with your ministry to those in need. Give out fliers or invitations at previous events in the neighborhood, or simply walk around the neighborhood and distribute fliers.

What You’ll Need:

  • facility to host the party
  • Polaroid camera and film
  • construction paper
  • glue sticks
  • gold and silver marking pens
  • refreshments
  • outreach cards

3. Winter Survival Kits

Winter can be hard on the body and the soul.  A survival kit is great encouragement to everyone who receives one.

The kit contains a packet of facial tissue, lip balm, throat lozenges, and an outreach card.

In Action

Our churches have had great success with this project as we have aimed it at parents and business professionals. We go to parks that parents frequent with their children and downtown sidewalks as business professionals make their way out to lunch. When those we meet notice how nice the kit is, they are very grateful and usually end up striking a conversation with us.

Where To Go

  • campuses
  • parks
  • neighborhoods
  • sporting events
  • downtown
  • commuters
  • shopping centers

What You’ll Need

  • zip lock plastic bags
  • lip balm
  • throat lozenges
  • individual packets of facial tissue
  • outreach cards

Why Outreach Cards

When doing a project, it is important to have a means to connect with those you serve. An outreach card is a business-sized card you can leave with those you have served so they can get back in touch you if they desire. The idea isn’t to accomplish a sales job where you promote your church. Rather, it is a simple way to leave your church’s name, address, phone number and service times so that when future needs arise, those you’ve served will have a way of reconnecting with you. The idea is to be available without giving out personal addresses.

If you need outreach cards for your holiday projects, we highly recommend those on our sister site at KindnessResources.com.

Christmas Outreach Card

The 90 Day Outreach Challenge by Steve Sjogren

Church plants need to find creative ways to connect with the non-believing culture around them. If you pray for not-yet Believers to show up they will. But how do you lead them into relationship with Christ? Usually there is a process involved in leading them to Christ.

When my wife Janie was seeking to know who the Lord really was, she asked God to reveal himself at the beginning of the summer. On June 1st she prayed an open ended prayer: “Show me who you really are by the end of the summer.” She promptly forgot about her prayer but God was at work arranging her circumstances. Some months later she ended up at a wedding (for a couple who weren’t even engaged in June) thousands of miles away. That was Labor Day weekend – the end of summer! She took a several hour car trip with a couple of turned on Believers who enthusiastically shared the Gospel with her. She became convinced that Jesus was Lord and that she had misunderstood him. On the Saturday before Labor Day weekend, marking the end of summer, she was converted to Christ!

True to answering her prayer, God moved by the end of summer. God loves a challenge! He takes the prayers of not-yet Believers seriously.

Making deals with God

Consider this:

Make deals with the not-yet believer. It’s a daring stand off. Either God will move specifically or nothing will happen. I’ve seen God move time after time in these situations. He loves to prove himself to Seekers.

Choose 3 things they need to see God move in their life to prove himself. Choose things that are measureable, for example jobs and finances. Stay away from romantic situations – those are too subjective. Pray in agreement for those things to happen.

I recommend you give it 90 days to see God show up. Come together at the end of those 3 months to compare notes.

In my experience the person in question will often have either forgotten about the prayer or will be convinced God didn’t answer their prayer, but when you look at the specifics it is usually clear that God clearly did move.

At that time bring them back to the original agreement – that they would open their hearts to Christ. Bring them around to the notion that God is madly in love with them! Pray together. Start their relationship with Christ.

Evangelism Is Not Just Relationship by Rice Broocks

Or “You don’t have to know a drowning person to save their life.”

There has been enormous emphasis placed on the need for relationship with people as the prerequisite for evangelism. So much so that some go as far as saying that relationship with others should be the only motive and not the hidden agenda of evangelism.

Relationship-Relationship-Relationship…This seems to be the word of the hour. I spoke to church planters who had not succeeded in their efforts to launch a ministry. As I dug deeper it became apparent that they made a lot of friends and very few disciples. In fact they admitted, they rarely got to the Gospel. “We focused on building relationships first.”

So here’s the question: how soon should the Gospel be introduced in a relationship with someone?

Looking at the ministry of Jesus, many times He spoke directly to people in their first encounter.

  • The woman at the well
  • Nicodemus
  • Legion – He cast the devil out of him during their first meeting. Jesus called people to follow Him with no relationship at all. (It doesn’t appear that He even had introduced Himself fully yet.)

Paul had a similar pattern in his witness.

He preached immediately after his salvation.

He was beaten and suffered as a result.

He confronted strangers in Athens, in Macedonia, in much of what was recorded in Acts.

I believe that the Gospel comes sooner in biblical examples of witness not later. For me, the Gospel has actually produced authentic, lasting relationships with others.

Things to remember:

Preaching the Gospel takes boldness.

The Spirit must fill us with His passion and power. If we are honest, our reluctance to preach the Gospel may just be a case of being a man pleaser or being ashamed of the Gospel.

Preaching produces persecution.

It’s much easier to say nothing. If the Apostles would have only done community service or waited on tables they would not have been persecuted as severely. If they hated Him they will hate us. We are an aroma of life to the saved and an aroma of death to those who are perishing.

Preaching the Gospel produces faith.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. No preaching means no faith. In order for them to believe they are going to have to hear the Gospel.

I certainly believe building relationships is important.

Many times it takes a number of hearings of the Gospel to be saved. I also believe there is wisdom in knowing when we should speak to people about Christ and how we can maximize the impact of our witness.

Someone recently told me “We must earn the right to be heard.” As I pondered this statement, something didn’t sit right with me. As much as I tried to understand what he really meant I couldn’t help but think that according to the Scripture, Jesus earned that right for me as well. We preach in the authority and righteousness He earned through His life and death.

In fact if a person’s eternal soul is at stake then we should have some sense of urgency in our efforts. Remember, you don’t have to know a drowning person to save their life.

The First Conversion by Steve Sjogren

We tend to associate Cornelius’ conversion in Acts 10 solely with his coming to Christ, but sometimes Scripture gives more diverse examples of the notion of conversion. The life of this Italian cohort in Acts 10 is one such example.Cornelius was influenced by the Spirit of God for a time prior to his conversion to Christ (what I would call his second conversion) which was followed by his third conversion (the dramatic filling of the Spirit that happened at the preaching of Peter). Granted, his second and third conversions happened almost instantaneously, one after the other, but these two were distinct experiences. The question is, what led up to his two profound conversions? Lets focus on his first conversion.

He prayed regularly.
God put into Cornelius’ heart a hunger to draw near to seek him. Perhaps to a degree this invitation is given to all mankind. Sadly, few respond with a willingness to seek the Lord.

He probably connected with God through the only model he had seen – the prayers of the Jews who sought the Lord at various times of the day at his local temple. Though some of them no doubt merely went through the rote motions of prayer, Cornelius was sincere in his approach to seeking out God. God was able to get through to his hungry heart.

Cornelius was a Gentile so he was not allowed onto Temple grounds. Originally Jewish temples were to have an outer court that was to be dedicated to Gentile God fearers who were seeking to know the Lord. By the time of Jesus, nearly all temples had given up on these spaces in favor of turning these into stalls that sold sacrificial animals for pilgrims. It was this area at the Jerusalem temple where Jesus turned over tables and chased out the moneychangers and animals. Cornelius’ connection with God in prayer was a testimony of God’s willingness to draw near to anyone who is hungry to draw near to him.

As Cornelius prayed, God began to speak to him. Eventually God spoke clearly even to the point of sending an angel who spoke to him to call for Peter. He heard clear directions as to where Peter was located, what to ask Peter to do, and who to gather at his house. Cornelius had a deposit of faith for all of this to happen. When Peter arrived shortly thereafter, Cornelius’ nearest family and friends were there and ready to hear. He had told them about his angelic chat. Wouldn’t you come to hear Peter’s message if you heard from a reliable friend about the angel visitation?

As not-yet Believers pray regularly and sincerely for God to reveal himself they are likely to have an encounter with the God of the Bible before long. I have had numerous conversations with Seekers who have been in a responsive mode and inclined to seek after the Lord. My encouragement to them has been to open themselves up to hearing from God as he reveals himself. The problem with many God seekers is they are fearful of confining themselves to a single approach to God, or what they consider a too narrow approach to him. In so fearing they cut themselves off from what he may show them. Thus they are not entirely open hearted.

I have often encouraged them to give God a specific timeframe during which to reveal himself – for example, a 90-day period. Also, to give God a few things to prove himself in what is measureable – usually three matters that can be clearly tracked and evaluated at the end of those three months. I have done this a number of times with God-fearers and seen God come through consistently manifesting/proving his reality to them. My own wife, Janie, came to Christ through such an arrangement. She prayed that God would show her himself as he really is by the end of the summer. She prayed that open ended prayer on Memorial Day weekend (the beginning of Summer). She promptly forgot about her prayer – something common with these situations. In the end, she was surprisingly converted on Labor Day weekend – the end of Summer. It wasn’t until a bit later that she remembered her “deal” with God. Such arrangements are best done with Christian friends who can keep track of the passing of time and can schedule a meeting at the end of the 90 days. Perhaps Cornelius made a deal with God along these lines and God revealed himself to this Italian leader.

He gave generously go the Poor.
God impressed upon Cornelius’ heart a value for caring for the Needy. He was a generous man or at least he became a generous man. In a sense, he was initially converted in his pocketbook. God calls us to generously give to matters that are his values. As we draw near to God, his values become our values.

One of the first matters God impresses upon us is the need to treat people differently.

Near the top of the list of his values is the Poor and how we treat them. As we draw near to the Poor we draw near to God. In turn, as we draw near to God, God gives us the desire to draw near to the Poor. This is the pattern of Scripture and the testimony of church history.

As he drew near to God, the Father began to sensitize Cornelius’ heart to the things that were kingdom values. In other words, the matters that were important to God became important to Cornelius. It is probable that Cornelius had little exposure to God’s word considering that he was not allowed onto Temple grounds. Perhaps he heard occasional verses quoted by passing Jews. It’s difficult to know. In any case, Cornelius’ conversion is a testimony to the sovereign ability of the Holy Spirit to call sincere people into relationship with the Father.

Let’s bring many to the Lord. At the same time, let’s pray that God intervenes directly in the lives of those around us like our friend Cornelius. Once he initiates the first conversion, it will be a short time until the second and third conversions take place.