I have had some interesting discussions recently about the state of the church. One person commented, “Hey Pastor, the church seems to be growing.” Another whipped back, “Yeah but it’s nothing like it used to be.” One family expressed their appreciation for the good worship and feeding from God’s word that takes place each Sunday morning and Thursday evening. While another bemoaned that the services were too long for their comfort level. Many see the church rebounding from past struggles as others think we’re in the same old rut. So just how are we doing anyway? Is the church half-empty? Or half full? More importantly, “Are we doing what God has called us as a congregation to do?”
With that challenging question in mind, I began looking for some objective criteria for determining church health that was more than mere opinion. And I came across something very interesting. It was a flyer published by our denomination entitled The Ten Leading Indicators of a HEALTHY CHURCH. It included things like: Centrality of God’s Word, Passionate Spirituality, Fruitful Evangelism, High-Impact Worship among others. But what really got my attention as I read was that in a healthy church there is a common thread that connects all ten. That thread is a deep commitment on the part of the people in the church to build and not tear down, to edify and not dismantle, to help and not harm. In short, it is to approach the ministry of the church with a positive attitude, and to speak blessing to and about the members of our church family. Oh, I’m not talking about a sort of “Pollyanna” mentality that ignores problems and the sometimes painful realities of life and church ministry. I am talking about a basic heart disposition that recognizes and affirms we are on the winning side, that God has already secured the victory, and that He wants to bring about that victory in our lives individually and in our church family corporately.
Each one of the ten leading indicators is a wonderful goal on which we can set our sights. We need to be a healthy church. And I believe that is (or at least ought to be) the goal of every member of this fellowship. So I urge you to find ways to encourage and strengthen your sisters and brothers. Seize opportunities to bless and build up. Shun the temptation to entertain a critical spirit about our church family. I would remind you to recognize the incredibly positive message of God’s overflowing and everlasting love for each one of us! And, when it comes to our relationships with the other members of the family of God, keep in mind this passage in the book of Colossians.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,
Opportunities abound for useful service in the Master’s kingdom. God has blessed us richly here at Living Hope Church. Let us not be weak and tentative in serving our precious Lord. And let us heed the admonition of Scripture to “…Encourage one another every day, as long as it is still called “today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13 NAS20) May we each one know the joy of His fullness as we seek to do what He has called us to do.
In Christ our living hope,
FROM PASTOR'S DESK
How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? Some of you will reply, “Quite well, thanks for asking.” For others, “I’m doing well with a couple of them, but that exercise program has really been an uphill climb.” And for most of the rest of us, “What resolutions?” As we roll into August, we approach what I like to think of as a second ‘New Year’. In the church for many years, we have approached the beginning of the school year as a new beginning in our calendar. A time to retool and start fresh with ministry. And our local school district is starting classes on August 23rd. So, this seemed like a good time for a newsletter article about new beginnings in our church ministry.
We are all aware that with the lifting of the Covid restrictions, it’s almost like we are coming out of hibernation. And for our church, I have had a strong sense from the Lord that He is beginning a special work among us and in our community. But I’ve also had to admit that from a ministry standpoint, we need to get our ministries up and running. While it is important that we make every effort to regrow our church, the spiritual health of our body of Believers is my greatest concern. Church growth has a direct correlation to church health. A church is healthy when her members are walking in the Spirit as a way of life. This would be reflected in the individual’s personal life by a growing relationship with the Lord Jesus, a deepening love for His Word, and ongoing evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, and the fruit of faithful ministry (church growth).
New beginnings and new ministries do not happen without prayer. So as we look at starting again, I want to devote this final part of my article to the church prayer needs. They include but are not limited to:
· Sewer hookup will cost upwards of $50,000.
· Staff needs in the church office
Education and training ministries
· Children’s ministries restart – Children’s Church needs more workers. Nursery needs workers. Mid-week club ministry needs workers.
· Youth ministries restart – workers for Junior High and Senior High ministries.
· Small group ministries restart– we need a coordinator.
· Discipleship training – both one-on-one discipleship as well as small group discipleship groups.
· Evangelism training
· Outreach events – men’s events, women’s events, holiday-themed outreaches, and just general events that welcome the community to meet Jesus.
· Hospitality team – workers.
Facilities maintenance, repair, and improvement
· Media team – livestream, computer display techs, sound techs.
· Music – worship team vocals, musicians.
· Greeting and Usher teams.
This is not an exhaustive list. In fact, my prayer is that we will see innovation and new ideas add to and even replace items on the list as we seek to make disciples of Jesus and develop a multigenerational community of His followers. So let us embrace this new beginning for our church. And let us resolve to obey what the Holy Spirit tells us in First Peter,
“The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins (1Pet. 4:7-NAS20).”
May He find us walking in the Spirit, diligent in prayer, and fervent in our love for one another when He comes.
In Christ our living hope,
I was working on a visitor letter recently to one of the newcomers to our church and had a crazy thought, what sort of things would Jesus include in a welcome letter if He were the pastor here? I don’t think it would be ‘cheesy’ comments such as “your needs are our greatest concern” or some ominous challenge like “get your act together bucko, you’re running out of time.”
Seems to me that Jesus would talk about the availability of living water or the provision of the bread of life that satisfies our deepest hunger. Perhaps a line or two about the promise of resurrection and life eternal. It just always seems like in the Scriptures that when Jesus met someone new, He told them about the love of God. And for the visitor, Jesus might mention that God really loves the world or say something about the New Commandment, that we should love one another with His love.
Perhaps Jesus would include an invitation to share a meal with Him. After all, He told the Laodicean Church (Rev. 3:20) that He was actually at their door knocking, waiting for them to open it and welcome Him in. Of course, He would likely be careful to identify Himself: the Good Shepherd, the Vine, the bread of life, living water, the resurrection and life, the Messiah, one with the Father, etc. And in light of who He is, He might offer the opportunity for the newcomer to self-reflect so as to see their own need for the Savior.
As it turns out, Jesus did write some letters to churches in the past (technically, He dictated them to the Apostle John, who wrote down the words, Rev. 2, 3) but He is doing His welcome letters a little bit different these days. In the book of 2 Corinthians, the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, describes the Corinthian Believers themselves as “a letter of Christ…” Here is the whole quote,
“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all people, revealing yourselves, that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Cor. 3:1-3 NAS20
So, it turns out that we, the followers of Jesus, are His welcome letter to the newcomers to the church. And not just to the newcomers but to everyone with whom we come in contact. He is writing to this lost, dark, and hopeless world through the medium of us. That’s why it is so important that we remain in Him, vitally connected to the “Vine” so that the communication of His life and love can be clearly visible in and through our lives. And the great thing about being a letter of Christ is we don’t need a stamp. Jesus has already paid the postage in full!
May God bless us all as we live out the Gospel to everyone around us!
In Christ our living hope,
Jesus placed such a high premium on the importance of our love for one another that He called it a new commandment. The Old Testament had directed the child of God to love your neighbor as you love yourself (Lev. 19:18). Jesus’ New Commandment takes this a step further. He said we are to love one another just as He (Jesus) has loved us so also are we to love one another (Jn. 13:34-35). So significant is this expression of love that Jesus said this is how people will know that we are His disciples.
A logical result of that kind of Jesus-driven love is that we will live in harmony with one another. And indeed, the Holy Spirit encourages the followers of Jesus throughout the New Testament to be of the same mind toward one another (Rom. 12:16; 2Cor. 13:11; Phil. 2:2; 1Pet. 3:8). Jesus actually prayed for our unity the night before His crucifixion (Jn. 17:21).
My burden for the church, for our church is that as we come out of this Covid season we remain vigilant to stand firm against the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6:11; 1Pet. 5:8-9; Jam. 4:7). We are not ignorant of his plans (2Cor. 2:11). The devil has used Covid against the churches to divide and conquer. From masks to vaccines our love and unity has been attacked relentlessly. Instead, we are to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3), even in the midst of a pandemic shutdown. So, my call to us, the body of Christ is not that we keep wearing or stop wearing masks, but that we,
“…Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so must you do also. In addition to all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Col 3:12-15 NAS20)
In the grand scheme of eternal life, when we stand before our Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ, we are not going to be evaluated on how correct we were in our response to the CDC guidelines, we are going to be evaluated on how fully we obeyed the New Commandment. As this season of reopening continues to blossom, may we, by our love for one another, display to everyone that we belong to Jesus.
In Christ our living hope,
FROM THE PASTOR'S DESK
A few years back news outlets reported a heart-wrenching story. In Los Angeles, a car sped out of control and crashed into a house, killing a sixteen-year-old girl as she slept in her bedroom. Adding to the crushing sorrow for the girl’s parents was the discovery that the person driving the vehicle that killed their daughter was driving under the influence. This is, in every way, an absolutely senseless tragedy. While there are many lessons to be learned here, there are two observations I would make in light of this case.
First, as if we needed more reminding, we live in a fallen world populated by sinful human beings. Disobedience to God (sin) is far more than a mere personal matter, as was the case when the driver chose to get behind the wheel while inebriated. Often our sin does indeed affect others (as was the circumstance here). Our actions have consequences and so more than ever we need to keep in step with the Spirit, remembering that we were created in Christ Jesus not for sin but for good works (Eph. 2:10). So put off the old, sinful flesh and put on the new creation.
The other observation to keep in mind from this tragedy: none of us know what our tomorrow holds. Whether we are sixty or sixteen, for all we know today could be our final day. The psalmist (Ps. 90:12) prays, “…Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” The New Testament continues this theme in Ephesians 5:14-15, “So then, be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” While certainly these verses issue a call to godly living and with that call a greater effort to obey God’s will, I think they also exhort us in our relationships.
We need to keep short accounts with the people around us. For most of us, we have families that we need to treasure not battle. That is true too for our church family. And they need to know that we love them. This month and next as a culture we set aside two days, one to honor our Mothers and the other our Fathers. If you still have yours, go out of your way to encourage them with your love.
Also, when it comes to relationships, this incident should be a reminder to parents that even though our children are a precious gift from God, He is still the One to determine the number of their days. As much as we want (expect) them to outlive us, we simply do not know if that will be the case. So love them enough to give them clear boundaries, to put aside your anger, to blend your firm discipline with copious amounts of laughter and reading and singing and talking. In short, prize the moments you have with them ‘making the most of your time.’
While stories like this one make us long for the soon return of Jesus, our work here is not finished until He says so. And that work includes not only the Great Commission but also the Great Commandment, to love one another even as He has loved us. So let’s redeem our time in the days ahead, walking in the Spirit and letting love and encouragement dominate our relationships. And when He does come, either for His Church in the Rapture or for us individually in death, we will have no regrets.
In Christ our living hope,
FROM THE PASTOR'S DESK
There is lots of pressure on the church today. With all the shutdowns, many churches have seen their giving drop to unsustainable levels. Even as we begin to open a little, many churchgoers are unwilling to regather. Will the church survive? I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew Sixteen, “…I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” That promise is on the heels of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mt. 16:16-18). So, the answer to the question as to whether the Church will survive is a resounding “YES”. While individual local churches may succumb to the pandemic shutdown, the body of Jesus Christ is growing in strength and maturity. He is building His church and government shutdowns will not overpower it.
It is important to understand something about the meaning of the term “church”. The Bible calls it the body of Christ (Eph. 1:23, 4:12; 1Cor. 12:27). And the body of Christ is made up of every born-again believer in Jesus Christ regardless of where they live or what local fellowship they attend. We are fellow members of Christ’s body with all the born-again believers in the Morongo Basin and throughout the world. And this is the church that Jesus is building. It is so much bigger than just one local fellowship.
Does this mean we are to be merely spectators while Jesus does all the work? No!!! In Ephesians Four the individual members of the body of Christ are metaphorically called “joints” and “individual parts”. So, in talking about the growth of this body it says, “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Eph 4:16 NAS20)” Each of us needs to be working properly, supplying ministry to the rest of the Body so that it can continue to grow toward maturity.
I believe this pandemic is a plague, permitted by God to get our attention that the return of Christ is very soon (Lk. 21:11). Jesus compared His followers who would be alive just prior to His return, to the household staff who had been given jobs to do while their boss was away (Mk. 13:34-37). They are to do their jobs and stay alert for their master’s return. The job of the church is clear: we are to work to fulfill the Great Commission (Mt. 18:18-20; Mk. 16:15; Act 1:8). Our enemy has tried to use the pandemic to divide the churches and get the church members to stop working. But we are not ignorant of his schemes!
Join us for the Easter celebrations this month. Good Friday Service sponsored by the Pastors Fellowship will be at noon at Crossview Bible Church here in Yucca Valley. And Living Hope Church will be hosting the Community Easter Sunrise Service here in our Amphitheater starting at 6:00 a.m. By the way, this is the 70th anniversary of the Sunrise Service!
Indeed, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; and He will build His church! May God bless you richly.
In Christ our living hope,
March is the month that everyone becomes “Irish” for a day. Because it is in March that we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th. The scope of the celebrations vary from community to community, but the consistent focus is on wearing green outerwear (or accessories) and assorted pagan revelry. Little attention is given to the man himself as people celebrate the anniversary of Patrick’s death on March 17th. I’d like to correct this omission, so I offer the following historical information.
There are several things we know for sure along with a number of legends that have been added to the story of Saint Patrick (or “Patricius” as he would have been known to his peers). He was (most likely) born in England and in his youth was carried captive into Ireland where he was a slave for six years. During that period of slavery, he turned to God and put his faith in Jesus for salvation. He escaped from his bondage and returned to England where a few years later, God called him to go back to Ireland and preach the gospel to the Irish people.
In the writings of Patrick that have been authenticated as genuine, he said this of his capture, “I was then about sixteen years old; but I was ignorant of the true God, and was led away into captivity to Hibernia (Ireland)." Then, in talking about his conversion he states, "After I arrived in Ireland every day I fed cattle, and frequently during the day I prayed; more and more the love and fear of God burned, and my faith and my spirit were strengthened, so that in one day I said as many as a hundred prayers, and nearly as many in the night."
Then in describing his work of evangelism in Ireland he explains, "I am greatly a debtor to God, who has bestowed his grace so largely upon me, that multitudes were born again to God through me. The Irish, who never had the knowledge of God and worshipped only idols and unclean things, have lately become the people of the Lord, and are called sons of God."
For his authority to do his ministry he appealed to the Scriptures (not to Rome or the Pope or “tradition”). His ministry took place during the Fifth Century (c. a.d. 440 to a.d. 493) and he is aptly called “The Apostle of Ireland.” So, as you encounter the various celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day this month remember that the truly important contribution of this faithful follower of Jesus was his evangelistic outreach to the people of the Emerald Isle.
In Christ our living hope,
The Bible often uses the word picture of a distance race to describe the Christian life. I have been impressed this past year with our need for endurance, thus the marathon metaphor has really rung true for me. As I thought about my need for endurance, the passage that came to mind first is in Hebrews.
Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:1-2 NAS20).
The “witnesses” of verse one refers back to the heroes of the faith mentioned in chapter eleven. These heroes showed us that by faith, we can endure, we can finish the race. And so it is important that we do what they did, rid ourselves of every obstacle and sin which entangles us and look to Jesus for the endurance to run the race that has been set before us. We also see in the second part of the passage that Jesus was able to endure the cross because of “the joy set before Him.” Let us embrace the “joy” that has been set before us, an eternal future with our wonderful Savior!
The other “run the race” passage I thought about is in First Corinthians.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win (1Cor 9:24, NAS20).
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write this during a time a great turmoil and uncertainty in the church and for Paul personally. In effect, he is reminding us that the circumstances are part of the “race”. This is where we are so we need to stop waiting for changes our circumstances that may never come. We must run the section of the course we are on at the time and not wait around for the course to change.
A great deal of uncertainty remains as we move into February of 2021. But our Lord Jesus remains constant. He never changes, He is always faithful, and nothing is too difficult for Him. So what we need in these uncertain times is endurance. To press on to keep running this race on the section of “track” on which we currently find ourselves.
On another note, thanks to all who attended the Annual Congregational Meeting on January 24th in the Amphitheater. We had a quorum of members present and so were able to vote on the three agenda items. First, we elected Dominic Heiden to be the Church Moderator. He will preside over our business meetings. Scott Reynolds was elected as the Vice Moderator. Second, the membership gave a vote of affirmation to the two Elder candidates, Glen Kippel and Jorge Rodriguez. And third, we approved the proposed 2021 Budget (copies are available in the church; call ahead to arrange a time to pick one up).
May God bless us all to run with endurance the race that has been set before us!
In Christ our living hope,
FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK
I begin this year with a few questions.
Covid was the dominant feature of 2020. What will be the dominant feature of 2021?
While we all hold out hope that with the new vaccines Covid will soon become a thing of the past, what if it doesn’t?
Do we face 2021 with boundless optimism, or an uneasy dread?
Will this year see the return of the Lord? And if He does come back this year, will you and I be among those who love His appearing? Or, will we be among those followers of Jesus waiting to “get around to it” but just ran out of time?
Will we see a great revival? And if we do will we be ready for it?
Will we see the rise of wholesale government sponsored persecution against the followers of Jesus? And if so, will we be among those faithful ones who stand firm against the schemes of the devil?
No doubt you too have a lot of your own questions as we embark on this new year, especially considering the year we just completed. As far as the specific details for each answer, we’ll just have to live this next year and find out. But overall, we have from Jesus the answers we need to excel in this new year. He said in John 15,
Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (Jn. 15:4-5 NAS20)
Success for the follower of Jesus is that we bear fruit for His kingdom. I think sometimes we redefine success to mean our own personal prosperity or advancement. We triumph in this life only when we seek to promote the program of our Lord Jesus. When Jesus promises that God will provide us with our material needs, it is only after we seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33). Jesus also said My sheep hear My voice, I know them and they follow Me. In addition, He said, the ones who persevere to the end will be saved. So we have the task in 2021 to “follow” and “persevere”. We can only do that when we “remain” in Him.
I hope Jesus comes back to gather His church to Himself in 2021 (1Thess. 4:13-17; 1Cor. 15:51-52). If not and we have to live out the year here on planet earth, I would love to see a mighty revival take place in our land. That boys and girls, women and men by the thousands put their faith in Jesus and are born again. Revival comes when God’s children pray earnestly, fervently, regularly. One of the best ways to “remain” in Jesus is to pray and pray often. God answers prayer when we pray; we do not receive answers to prayer when we do not ask.
So, let us be among those in 2021 who dedicate themselves, their time, their property to furthering the kingdom of our Lord Jesus. Let us be instant in season and out of season to preach the word. And let us earnestly, fervently, regularly go to our God to ask, seek, and knock! May God bless you richly in 2021!
In Christ our living hope,
As the pandemic drags on…what would you say has been the hardest thing about 2020? For me, hands down, it has been the limited access to my family and my church family, the people I love. The highlight (or lowlight if you will) of this frustrating reality, is the current stay-at-home orders handed down by our state and county leadership saying we should not have extended family holiday meals and celebrations. I get it. It is easier to spread the virus when we are in groups than if we are only with those from our own household. But it is painful to forgo these holiday traditions that have been going on since before we were all born.
What matters though, is NOT whether we are able to maintain the holiday traditions of large family gatherings. For it is the family itself that fills up those traditions. What matters is what those traditions represent. The holidays simply give us the excuse to do something particularly important: to gather the family together. In a way, our extended family represents the footprint of our generation on the world in which we live. We affirm that when we meet, even if it is only once a year.
I know it feels almost trite and cliché, but I would rather wait a year to gather the family to celebrate great holiday traditions than gather them for a COVID funeral in January of 2021. So, if we need to downsize or even skip gathering for the holidays this year, then it seems to me a reasonable trade off.
So give better gifts this year. Talk on the phone more with your loved ones. Use your ZOOM or FaceTime or Skype, anything that facilitates more communication with your family, the people you love. And if you feel like your craving for the sentimental is just too much to bear, then watch a syrupy Christmas movie, have a good cry, and tell somebody you love them! From my family to yours, wishing you a very merry Christmas!!!
In Christ our living hope,