The Deeper Kind of Love by Steve Sjogren

“Love one another deeply for love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Pet. 4:8

As Valentines Day approaches lets take a peek at the power of love that moves through us – both when we reach out and we focus in on our brothers and sisters in the Church.

Sometimes outreach people can become so fixated on reaching out we can poo poo the need for the obvious – to show love to the obvious, the already gathered.

Let’s pull that verse apart:

Love one another deeply

Love those inside the church first.

The call here is not just to merely love but to love “deeply.” It takes far more grace and power to love insiders than outsiders. Here’s my thought – God will develop our ability to love others through the difficult people he places in our lives in the Church we are unable to avoid. As that capacity to love deepens, we will be all the more effective at loving outsiders.

“…love covers

As we love, something redemptive is released.

“Love covers…sins.” That’s an amazing promise! There aren’t many promises that bold in the Bible. When we fail we can choose empowered attitudes and actions that God will anoint to cover our failures. Amazing!

“…love coversa multitude of sins

God’s power is released, our sins and failures are covered, when we love other Believers.

The key is that are willing to aim our love toward others in the Body of Christ. It is easy to shy away from taking advantage of the promise of 1 Pet. 4:8. Believers are far more difficult to love than those outside the Church! They are people in process, thus they are more irritating, sometimes stuck in repeating, irritating patterns and when they change it seems like a very slowww process. Let’s face it, those on the outside, the ones we have no relationship with, are ones we can extend grace to far more readily.

Christian love is empowered by the Holy Spirit.

This kind of love is not brought by human effort. As people who move in the world of kindness outreach we all know from experience that it’s not an act of deciding with our wills that we will love that makes outreach love happen. We need God to give us the desire and ability to move in the power of his love. It works the same way when we reach out to those inside the Church.

…Keep in mind:

Don’t wait until you get your love skills perfected on the inside of the Church before you reach out and serve.

I’ve heard confusion on this point from those in leadership who are concerned about the point of readiness for outreach. I appreciate the concern, but the truth is we will never perfect our love this side of heaven (1 Cor. 13). We will in in a continual process the rest of our earthly lives. We will always be moving toward greater effectiveness in our love. Our role now is to be available to do the bidding of God. He will use us as we are willing to be sent. Ready – FIRE! – Aim. That’s our guiding motto!

 

“What we do in life…echoes in Eternity”

(The Gladiator)

Celebrating My Greatest Mistakes Of 2011 by Steve Sjogren

At the end of the year some time ago I gave a message on a few year-end reflections I had cloaked around “My Biggest Mistakes of the Year.” To my surprise more listened to that message than any in the previous year. The following year I did the same with fresh, new mistakes. Again, there was an enthusiastic response. I continue to make this a year-end message, but I am now doing an enhanced version online for some of my sites – thus what you are now reading.

On the surface of things, it may seem a little dark to ponder one’s mistakes, but I don’t see it that way, and neither does God. In the Bible, God consistently choose people who were prone to make mistakes yet went on to be stellar examples of lives strongly lived.

Peter, for one, was a mistake maker who went on to great things. His mistakes didn’t impair him from greatness. He took risks that often led to failure but always left a deposit of faith in him. He was able to walk on water when the others were afraid to step out of the security of the boat. He failed after a step or two, but he received an amazing installation of faith just the same.

What you read here are my confessions from this past year. Each of them is an area where I blew it but then made a mid-course correction along the way.

Click here or on the above image to download the PDF.

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.

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.

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.

The Crystal Cathedral – BTW, How’s Your Definition Going? by Steve Sjogren

What lessons can we draw from the demise of the Crystal Cathedral?

No matter what you think of that congregation, know that at one time it was a thriving model on the American landscape of churches. It was an amazing, trend-setting place that was super creative.

Things slowly changed however. Mostly the Cathedral stopped defining itself to the public, both locally and nationally. For whatever reason her leaders assumed that the public knew all about this place. That was a common but poor assumption. They were forgotten.

Church plants usually do a good job of defining themselves to their community in their initial phase. It’s imperative that a new church clarify why they exist and how they are distinct in their community. I’m not too worried about new plants, but I am quite concerned about the next phase most plants go through. It’s easy to forget those initial lessons learned and fall into a pattern of an inward focused on money, facilities, staff – and forget what got us to that point of initial momentum. Then BOOM! We become stuck in a cycle of irrelevancy.

If we don’t regularly, clearly define ourselves to our community – through strong acts of generosity, love and service – those around us will have no idea that we even exist. We will soon have no worries about our facilities, money or staff because there will be no one coming!

The church I lead in Oregon has been in Newberg for over 100 years (just SW of Portland). It is well-known to other Christians (18% of the city) but virtually camouflaged to the rest of the people for whom God so loves that he sent Jesus to suffer and die.

Things are beginning to change. We have taken to serving the city in a variety of ways. We are going door to door with hamburgers – squeegeeing windshields at gas stations – cleaning toilets at public places – and using the doors those projects create as connections to share Christ at whatever level fits.

To get back to where we started – if we do a bang up job of defining ourselves by serving we will soon become relevant. We need to make a profound impression on those around us in a truckload of ways. The ways you serve can vary greatly according to your community’s needs. God will speak to you are you pray a famous biblical prayer, “Here we are. Send us!” He absolutely loves to answer that prayer. Count on it. He will speak to you. You will not be forgotten.

Photo by Sarah Mount

 

The Few Can Touch Many by Steve Sjogren

It doesn’t take a large crew to make leave a big footprint.

Victory in God’s kingdom has always gone to the underdogs. God nearly always anoints a miniscule group to do his bidding. I find this encouraging since all that I have started has been small – usually for a long time if not forever. What God builds usually starts (and typically stays) on the smallish side.

I used to say that it started small but then would grow large, but now I see that often numbers usually only grow fat. I now see that it is almost always the case that a radical but small fringe gets the Kingdom lifestyle and message. Why does it stay small? It’s all about the offensive cost of mercy. Jesus said “Many are called but few are chosen” (Matt. 18). The context of that verse could well be restated, “Many are called but few choose” the Kingdom. The Kingdom, as God defines it, is always something that is set up according to his parameters, not ours. Most don’t like that much, so they protest, they decide it’s not for them, and vote themselves out of it like the religious people in Matthew chapter 18 (yes, it was the religious people who decided not to participate in the Kingdom once they figured out how the mercy of God works as in this story).

This Jesus story is fresh with me today. A few of us went out mixing it up with dozens of lost people who, like those in Nineveh, didn’t know their left hand from their right. We did a $1 carwash. We washed people’s cars and paid them a dollar for the privilege of serving them. We stunned many. Numbers teared up. We teared up! I’m always amazed what can happen when a few, enthused, dedicated people move in a common direction and pour their hearts into something. Do something great with God. It only takes a few.