God is Always With Us, Fighting for Us!

Why is there a Christmas?

I believe there’s a Christmas because “God’s faithful love endures forever!”

That’s a phrase that appears over and over in the Old Testament (mainly in the Psalms). It includes the Hebrew word, hesed (appears 248 times in the Old Testament), which describes God’s faithful love, loyalty, and devotion.

God’s faithful love eventually led God to sending his Son into the world.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. (John 3.16, CEB)

One of the greatest promises of Christmas is that God is with us. In fact, God is always with us, fighting for us!

In Matthew’s gospel, after the report of Joseph’s dream about Mary’s pregnancy, we’re told …

Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means ‘God with us.’) (Matthew 1.22-23, CEB)

God is with us!

We don’t know much about the early years of Jesus’ life, but I imagine they were not the easiest years. Little did Mary and Joseph know what they were signing up for when they agreed to follow God’s plan for their lives.

On the night that Jesus was born, the angels proclaimed a revolutionary message …

Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2.10-11, CEB)

“Good news” was used in connection with Herod as well as the titles, “Savior” and “Lord,” particularly in celebration of his birthday. Then, the birth of a new, true king was announced!

Life wouldn’t get any easier. After giving birth to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus find themselves running for their lives. They lived in Egypt while waiting for the threat on Jesus’ life to die down.

God had to literally fight for us by fighting to keep Jesus’ safe. God will do all he can to rescue us. Peter writes, God doesn’t want, “anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives” (2 Peter 3.9, CEB).

God is always with us, fighting for us!

I love Psalm 23, especially the last verse …

Yes, goodness and faithful love [hesed] will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live. (CEB)

God’s faithful love doesn’t just “follow us” (as older translations put it), but “pursues us”! God is always with us, fighting for us!

I’ve always loved the way Max Lucado describes God’s love …

If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart. And the Christmas gift he sent you in Bethlehem? Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you.

God’s faithful love endures forever. It’s what is behind God’s desire to be with us and to fight for us. This Christmas, I’m reminded God is always with us, fighting for us!

Praying for the Church at Christmastime

What an exciting time! And, what an incredible opportunity for the Church as we celebrate Christmas—God’s rescue mission to save the world!

As the Church prepares to celebrate Jesus’ birth, and offer Christ, over the next few days, here’s what I find myself praying.

O God, thank you for your great love, and for sending your Son Jesus Christ to rescue the world!

Thank you for rescuing us and for calling us to be part of your rescue mission to save the world. During this season, please use your Church as never before to be a light, and a voice of hope, in a dark and hopeless world. Give us favor, and please use us to make your name great!

Lord, “enable your servants to speak your word with complete confidence” (Acts 4.29, CEB). “God’s kingdom isn’t about words but about power” (1 Corinthians 4.20, CEB), so please empower what we say and do so that it will breathe life into people’s hearts!

May people’s hearts be open to the work of your Spirit this Christmas season, especially as seekers attend worship services over the next few days. May our worship honor you, and may it transform all who attend, both followers and seekers!

Thank you, O God, for all you are doing this season. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in what you are doing in the world! Amen.

What are you praying this Christmas?

(I invite you to join me in praying for the Church. See previous prayers: awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, compassion, action, unity, power, favor, endurance, trust, discipline, courage, vision, provision, humble & hungry, patience & persistence, unpredictable & uncontrollable, and receptive hearts).

“The Seed”

The latest book by Jon Gordon that I’ve read is The Seed (see previous posts on The Energy Bus and Training Camp).

The Seed is about helping you find your purpose in life and at work. The book is a fable centered around Josh, a talented young man who has lost his passion at work. His boss gives him two weeks off to clear his head and decide if he really wants to work at the company.

Josh takes a trip into the country where he encounters a wise farmer who gives him a seed with a lesson. The farmer tells Josh, “You’re lost because you don’t know your purpose!” He says …

Purpose is our ultimate guidance system that provides us with direction for our lives. Purpose fuels passion and this passion gives us confidence and vitality to go after our dreams. To live without purpose is to wander aimlessly through life like dust in the wind. … But when you find your purpose, you discover the power that fuels all of creation. You find your reason for existing. You find the path you were meant to travel and the passion to thrive on your journey.

Adversity plays a key role in shaping our lives and our purpose in life. The farmer says, “adversity is not a dead end but a detour to a better outcome than you can imagine.” Parents, in particular, have a tremendous opportunity to model how to handle adversity: “the greatest lesson we can share with our children is the way we live our life and how we respond to adversity.”

The farmer offers great advice regarding work. He says …

… don’t choose where you will be the happiest–choose where you will learn the most. … Where you experience resistance, you find the lessons that you are meant to learn. People often run when they face resistance, but to grow you must face it and learn from it. We often have to go through things at work and in life that don’t make us happy, but they teach us lessons that lead to our happiness in the future. Every job, good or bad, trains us for the work we are meant to do in the future. Challenges only make you stronger.

As we encounter adversity, it’s helpful to remember that God is in control, and God’s timing rules. The farmers reminds us …

(The universe) runs on God’s perfect timing (GPT). There is a time and a season for everything. There is a time for action and a time for rest. There is a time for events to happen and a time for delays. Delays in life happen for a reason. Humans don’t like delays, but they are essential for a human’s preparation and growth.

The farmer outlines four stages as we discover our purpose: Preparation, Planning, Growth, and Harvest. Adversity prepares us for our calling. Then …

… the seed must surrender its own vision and desires as it is placed in the ground. It must die to itself so it can give life to something greater–something that will rise up from the ground and grow beyond its humble origin.

The harvest stage is “where you reap the harvest you have sown with your seed.” The farmers suggests, “During the harvest stage, your purpose becomes so clear you can say it in a simple sentence.”

But it’s one thing to know your purpose, an even bigger challenge “is finding the courage to follow it and live it in the face of adversity and naysayers.”

If you’re struggling in your current job or if you’re wrestling with your purpose in life, this book could be helpful.

The Lord is Great!

Recently, Adam Weber, pastor of Embrace Church (a United Methodist Church) posted a prayer on Twitter that has stuck with me …

This prayer, and this attitude, is essential for staying humble and hungry. Focusing on God’s greatness keeps us humble. God’s greatness keeps us wanting to know God better. You can see this attitude in John the Baptist, who said, “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3.30, CEB).

The desire to make God’s name great also keeps us from building our own little kingdoms. If we stay focused on glorifying God, we will be less likely to seek glory for ourselves!

Interestingly, the phrase “The Lord is great!” appears eight times in the Psalms (in the Common English Bible). Of those occurrences, the phrase, “the Lord is great and so worthy of praise!” appears three times (Psalm 48.1, Psalm 96,4, and Psalm 145.3). The Lord is great and so worthy of praise!

If we know that the Lord is great, we are much more likely to trust him in every situation and to know that nothing is impossible with God. We are more likely to takes risks, to obey God, and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. We are more likely to live a life worthy of God’s call. No wonder the psalmist said, “Magnify the Lord with me! Together let us lift his name up high!” (Psalm 34.3, CEB).

How does God’s greatness inspire you to live for God?

“Direct Hit”

Several years ago, Paul Borden consulted with the leaders of the Susquehanna Conference. The Matthew 28 Initiative, a strategy for transforming congregations, developed out of that experience (read more at Growing Effective Churches).

I’ve written about Centre Grove UMC’s experience with Matthew 28: see Transforming Congregations Through the Matthew 28 Initiative (the before) and The Matthew 28 Initiative In Review (and after). See also the recent article on the cover of the conference’s newspaper.

Borden’s book, Direct Hit: Aiming Real Leaders at the Mission Field, is a good manual for Matthew 28. The book shows pastors how to lead churches to become outward-focused, focused on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s what transformational leadership is all about. Borden states, “Your purpose as a church leader is to lead a congregation to find those strategies and tactics that will enable followers to effectively reach those lost and dying people with the good news” (28).

An outward focus is essential. In fact, Borden says, “Congregations have two types of customers,” primary and secondary …

Primary customers are the ones who are not yet part of the congregation because they do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Secondary customers are the disciples who are already involved in the congregation. (33)

Since it’s natural for churches to turn inward and focus on “secondary customers,” there will naturally be barriers to becoming outward-focused. Borden lists some barriers to leading change in inward-focused congregations, including the fact that “Most pastors do not see themselves as leaders.” Further, pastors often “perform in an environment where faithful endeavor is honored, but fruitful results are not expected or demanded” (20-21).

Borden argues …

few pastors have taken seriously the role of leading an entire congregation to change from conducting ministry for personal consumption to conducting ministry for the purpose of transforming the community that surrounds it. (22-23)

But that’s exactly what must be done. Borden states, “Healthy congregations are outward-focused, and they maintain that focus against tremendous forces that are constantly encouraging an inward bent.” That doesn’t happen in a vacuum. These churches “are led by pastors and a team of leaders who are clear about their mission and focused on achieving a vision” (22).

So, what are the behaviors of transformational leaders? Borden discusses several …

  • Passion
  • Courage
  • Flexibility
  • Missional
  • Wisdom
  • Positive
  • Responsibility

Passion is highly important. It “comes from God’s work in our lives,” and is “at the heart of all effective leadership” (31).

Courage is also essential because leading change is never easy!

The control of established congregations by people who do not want to grow and are unwilling to give up privileges of membership is the biggest problem faced by those desiring to lead congregational change. The movement from an inward focus to an outward focus, with rare exception, demands a major shift in who controls the behaviors of the organization. Tackling this major issue demands courageous leaders who are willing to risk all for the sake of the Great Commission. (34)

Transformational leaders must also be missional.

The command to make disciples requires an entirely different kind of leader than one called to oversee current disciples and perhaps grow congregations by reaching others who are already disciples. The most effective pastors today are missionaries at heart. (38)

I love that phrase: “missionaries at heart.” If pastor’s are going to be transformational leaders, they must be missionaries at heart!

Transformational leaders are also positive; they do not feel the need to use guilt or coercion. They simply cast vision.

Positive leaders are constantly showing disciples what God can do and wants to do, and how God is delighted to use disciples to bring about the kingdom of God. These leaders do not lead by compulsion, using guilt to get people to serve. Rather they cast vision, assume the best, and then develop new leaders and disciples who have been convinced that they can do many things in time and space that will have eternal value. (41)

Borden devotes two chapters to vision and creating a sense of urgency. Borden writes, “Vision is derived from the passion of a leader who has a prophetic fire burning within the soul to accomplish something significant for God” (45). Borden details how pastors can effectively develop and communicate the vision.

Borden also gets practical in helping congregations move forward and suggests recruiting three teams for the development phase: a prayer team, a vision team, and a team of leaders to implement the change.

Leading change, and transforming congregations, is not easy, but for the church to truly be faithful to God, it’s work that must be done. Borden states, “The whole purpose of congregational transformation is to get congregations once again fulfilling God’s mission” (57).

Direct Hit is built on the belief that churches ought to be about the mission of making disciples of Jesus and that pastors must lead churches to be passionate about, and devoted to, that mission!