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.

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.

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.

Don’t Go Underground On Halloween by Marty Boller

I’ve been a proponent of servant evangelism for many years. Our Vineyard church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is 13 years old and we’ve always had a heart for the type of outreaches that Steve Sjogren first brought to our attention in the Vineyard family back in the late 1980’s. Over the years we’ve done free food giveaways, hosted farmer’s markets, distributed free flowers on Mother’s Day, raked neighborhood leaves in the fall, and given away free goodies at Christmas parades.

As I write this short report, our church is gearing up for our seventh annual Trunk-N-Treat Halloween event. On October 31st, we turn our large parking lot into a Halloween spectacular that draws in hundreds and hundreds of families from around our city. We line up our cars at the end of our parking lot, making a huge U-shaped loop. For two hours on Halloween night, from 5 PM to 7 PM, we give away candy and treats from the trunks of our cars, giving parents a safe and protected place to do their Trick-or-Treating. At the end of the “U” each participant gets a free hot dog and drink, and a warm greeting from our welcoming team.

Over the years, I’ve had well-meaning Christians question me on why we are cooperating with such a dark holiday as Halloween. I tell them that while I personally hate Halloween (and I’m guessing that so does Jesus), I believe that Jesus wants us Christ-followers to be out there with the masses, loving ‘the hell’ out of those who come our way. Oh yeah, I know, I might be trafficking with evil, but as I see it, God’s love is so much stronger than the powers of darkness.

So my encouragement to you this October 31st? Don’t go underground on Halloween, hiding behind your locked doors or hunkering down in your church buildings. May I suggest that you and your church go ‘public’, moving beyond the typical Hallelujah evening for “Christians only”. Try something risky. Take a step into the darkness with the loving light of God. Try hob-knobbing with some of the pagans this year, letting the love of Christ be evident. And while the time might be too short for you and your church to pull off a full-fledged Trunk-N-Treat, try doing what our youth group has done in past years. We call it a Reverse Trick-or-Treat. We arm our youth group and families with bags of candy and on the night before Halloween, we send them out into neighborhoods, knocking on doors and ringing doorbells. When the folks answer the door, we offer them free candy! Without a doubt our teams come back with many reports of surprised faces and blessed neighbors! I’ve been so thrilled year after year when parents from our neighborhood express their appreciation to me that a local church would provide such a great blessing for them during the Halloween season. As I see it, it’s a perfect opportunity for our churches to bring the light of God into the darkness of the season, for His Name’s sake.

Talk Up The Gospel by Steve Sjogren

I have heard a lot of speculation about the utter demise of spontaneous evangelistic conversations such as verbalizing the Gospel to strangers. I understand the observations of these prognosticators but I disagree with them. It’s true that people are more isolated than ever as they burrow more and more deeply into their self-made digital worlds, but there’s another side to this digital coin. It’s also true that an emotional vacuum is created when people cut themselves off from significant people contact and a greater openness is created for connections with others – yes, even strangers. As people around you venture further into their digital rabbit holes at the same time they grow increasingly open to people contact.

Here’s what I think: people are lonelier now than they were just a few years ago before the digital world made the advances it has. They are now open to conversations with strangers as they once were. A familiar cycle has been created. What was true a few decades ago – people acting friendly to total strangers and being open to conversation about the Gospel – is true once again. This is not just good news – it groundbreaking for all who love Jesus and are seeking to extend the Kingdom of God. This is an amazing time to be alive in this world. This will be a lasting trend worldwide. After all, cell phones are everywhere – so is the isolation and influence that goes with it.

Let’s be wise in these ways and move on the opportunities before us.

Don’t Retire… Refire! by Dr. Gary Sweeten

Every Tuesday a group of us geezers play golf together. We have a lot of competitive fun and we share some about what God is doing in and through us. You see, geezers in today’s world are not like they were even a generation ago.  In fact, one of my favorite books is entitled, “Turning Silver into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace” by Mary Furlong.  Although the author focuses on money, her ideas are on the cutting edge of a new zeitgeist that is taking the western world by storm and those understand it are benefitting enormously.

Unfortunately, only a few Christians even seem to be aware of what is going on culturally, spiritually and relationally and yet it may be the most important spiritual movement since Luther sang, “If I had a Hammer” and went to Wittenberg Castle.  For example, how many of your “Outreach Oriented” folk has heard of “The Purpose Prize”? Recently five innovative men and women had received $100,000.00 Purpose Prize Awards for their “Social Innovation” and involvement in “Encore Careers”! I am hoping to be one of the next recipients.

These people are all over 55 and have refused to retire. Instead they decided to refire to use their time, wisdom, experience and money to do something great for the world.

http://www.encore.org/prize?utm_source=cv&utm_medium=email&utm_content=textlink&utm_campaign=endoct )

Compare that with what too often happens in the churches around the USA. I once sat next to a retiring Vice President of a multinational corporation while flying to Singapore. When he discovered my missionary intentions he share that he was a Believer who was teaching Sunday school every week.  He was on his way to speak at a conference about using video teleconferencing to train managers around the world. I asked what he was going to do when he retired. “Play golf,” he said.

I urged him to consider working with a Christian organization to set up conferences for people like me. I could stay home and still teach around the world.  He said, “I don’t think my Pastor would allow me to do that. I haven’t been to seminary or anything. I am just a layman. I’m pretty sure he will let me continue to teach Sunday school though.” YIKES” I thought! “Teach Sunday school when  the Christian world desperately needs internationally trained leaders; with money?”

Cincinnati has over twenty thousand men and women retired from P&G, GE, Kroger, etc who have financial resources, time, broad experiences, creative minds and spiritual depth. How many Pastors but are equipping them to use their gifts, talents and ideas to reach the world?  One of my Seasoned Believing friends has over 200 patents but his church has no idea how to unleash his creativity. Another is founder of a $100 million dollar company that every church, ministry and mission in America could use. The only time he is approached by his ministers is to donate on another building. One man is regularly asked to train non profits about ethics but is not asked to teach in his home church.

The old church paradigm of top down organizational bureaucracies with huge buildings is finished. Most leaders are still trying to build for past generations of pew sitters. Just think, they could be offering prizes to innovative entrepreneurs who change the world Monday through Saturday.  “Seasoned Believers” don’t fit into anyone’s strategic plan unless it is to support the budget or hire a retired minister to take bus tours of the Creation Museum.

The leadership magazines talk about recruiting young people who are open to new ideas. In fact many youth are stuck in their own myopic friendships. We who have been innovators all our lives are ready to lead new ventures for the Kingdom.  Treat us with respect and understanding and ask us to create our own ways of reaching out to those around us. Reward us by understanding that we know what is going on and the silver in our hair can be gold to any Pastor with the guts to turn us loose.

Here is a secret about Steve Sjogren. As a Pastor he was not afraid to recruit older, wiser gray beards more experienced than he.  Steve sought out strong men and women then promoted and affirmed them. As a result he looked like the hero. Be a genius. Recruit a bunch of Seasoned Believers but DO NOT hold their hands or suggest bus rides to visit a museum!

PS. Since originally writing this article in 2009, God gave some Seasoned Believers in SLS a chance to reach out to families with disabled kids.  The churches have ignored them but they desperately want to learn how to have a relationship with God to help them through their struggles.

Sweeten Life Systems

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What’s In A Name? by Randy Bohlender

History does not tell us if Earnest Shackleton was a particularly religious man, but surely he was prophesying when he christened his ship The Endurance.  Even though he understood the overwhelming challenge he face in attempting the first march across Antartica, so much happened that he could not possibly have anticipated.

How would he have known…

  • That the ice would be early in the fall of 1914, leaving them trapped in the ice, far from their goal by January of 1915?
  • That the spring melt of 1915 would not free their ship, but that it would remain fast until October?
  • That once the ice did begin to shift, rather than breaking free, his ship would be crushed, leaving his men to abandon the craft, only to stand on the ice staring down through the hole where the ship used to be?

How would he have known…

  • That he and his men would spend 497 days either on the ship or on ice floes before they set foot on land once again?
  • That once they found their way to land, it would be Elephant Island, one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
  • That he would be forced to split the party, and a portion of them would have to once again take to their open boats for a fifteen day sail through a storm that sunk a 500 ton steamer?
  • That his portion of the party would include McNish, a carpenter that he threatened to shoot for insubordination, but recognized that he would need his skills later.

How would he have known…

  • That on their second landing, they would put ashore on an island that was inhabited, but find themselves on the opposite side of the whaling camp, separated by a glacier never before crossed by man?
  • That after climbing the glacier with little or no climbing equipment, they would need to slide down the other side through thick fog, sitting in shovels for sleds?  When his men objected, Shackleton is credited with saying “Well, we very well can’t go back…”.

In the end, Shackleton worked to collect each of his men and returned to England having not lost a life in the journey.  How could he possibly have known that when he named his ship The Endurance?

As leaders, we chart the course for our initiatives early with a hundred finite decisions that work together to establish the culture for our ministry.

  • Do you cancel an outreach because it rains?  You’ll cancel it for other reasons.
  • Do you boldly approach strangers or hang back, waiting for them to make the first move?  You’ll hang back your entire life.
  • Do you lead by example, knowing it’s going to be harder – and more rewarding – than you expected?

Ministry – as much as Shackleton’s odyssey – requires an uncommon endurance. The same goes for those of you on the adoption journey.  Going in, you know there’s a lot to it.

You can’t pre-imagine every struggle that will materialize.  At the end of the journey, you innately know it was worth it all, even if it required every bit of your endurance.

You might as well get used to the idea and call it what it is.