ARE CHURCHES BEHAVING LIKE MALLS IN THE AGE OF AMAZON?

This quote from church thought leader Carey Nieuwhof sums up the institutional church well. It is obvious that only a major disruption , indeed a catastrophe was needed to bring the church to its knees and consider it may not be serving the purposes of God.

History tells us that God uses disruption even major catastrophes for His purposes. History also tells us that disruption leads to innovation which in turn changes the world.

God forcefully moved Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden. This pattern of forced displacement of people by God is in the whole narrative of Scripture. It is an essential part of His global plan for the redemption of mankind which brings glory and honour to Him.

Does God bring destruction and calamity? Does our loving and gracious God cause disasters to occur in the world?     Read these words God spoke to Noah:

I have determined to make an end of all flesh for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold I will destroy them with the earthGenesis 6:13,

God destroyed that He might save. God saved Noah and His family that He might preserve the line of His coming Redeemer.

What about the TOWER OF BABEL: Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth. Genesis 11:3-4

Once again we see a massive disaster brought about by God, which caused massive migration and displacement of people: the foundation of the nations that exist today. A refugee crisis on a much larger scale than today.

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives (eternal life).” Luke 21:17-19

Covid 19 is another of God’s major disrupters. The church needs to recognise that we are in a time when God is doing something new. Therefore, it is a time to get into prayer to seek His leading, just as the church at Antioch did in Paul’s day. Those that read my posts know I believe the church in the prophesied “last days” before Jesus returns to take His Saints to heaven and before He pours out His wrath upon a world which is fast becoming as it was in Noah’s day, will be much like the early church as described in the Book of Acts. It is one of the reasons I am supporting the Kenya House Church Movement (KHC) and I am hoping that some of my followers will join me in that endeavour. None have done so as yet, but that is OK, God’s timing is always perfect. My next post will be an update on KHC.

COVID-19 IS REFINING MY CHURCH

God has not stopped working in our midst. (report by Josh Daffern of Centreville Baptist Church USA). In fact, He’s used this COVID-19 crisis to refine our church, fulfilling 1 Peter 4:12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you. I pray the same is happening in your church through this crisis.

1. This crisis has built resilience in our faith. I have been continually inspired as I’ve checked on our church family. Instead of “woe is me” and bitter complaining, I’ve seen a strength and resilience bloom in the hearts of our church. They want to spend less time talking about themselves and more time asking about how others are doing and inquiring where and how they can help and give back. Their faith has not weakened during this crisis, it has only strengthened.

2. This crisis has fueled new generosity. Like everyone else, the tentacles of this spreading crisis is having an economic impact above and beyond the health impact. But my church has continued to give faithfully, and they’re even going above and beyond to collect food and other items to give away to hundreds of families in our local community. Our church holds to outrageous generosity as a core value, and this crisis is allowing us the chance to truly live that value out.

3. This crisis has forced us to invest in our online presence. Like many other churches, our online presence was not what we wished it was. But it’s hard to invest and expand your online presence when you’re so focused on all the in-person events that happen on a weekly basis. When this crisis hit, we shifted our ministries to online. More than just a temporary placeholder, we’ve leveraged this opportunity to expand not just worship services but all of our ministries to have an online presence. There is still much more we can do, but we’ve jumped years ahead in just a few short months. When we resume our on-campus worship services, our online ministries will remain, because everyone we’re trying to reach lives online. This crisis has forced us to go where people are living, and I for one am grateful for that.

4. This crisis has refocused our attention on what’s important. Where I live (just outside of Washington, D.C.) can seem like one constantly spinning hamster wheel. There’s always someplace to go, there’s always something to do, traffic is always jammed. This crisis has refocused my attention (and the attention of my church) on what’s truly important: family and faith. I am grateful for that refocusing.

5. This crisis has opened up new opportunities to share the gospel. Like the early church in Acts 8, this trial has forced us out of our comfort zone, and we have taken the gospel with us. We’re interacting with our neighbors in ways we haven’t before. New people (and people who would never attend in person) are watching online and hearing the good news of Jesus.

HOW GOD USES CATASTROPHES

The conflict in Armenia has taken the lives of many soldiers and displaced over 100,000 people. All the while, the world has kept silent and preferred not to know about it. In November a Russia-brokered peace deal was agreed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It ended six weeks of war in which thousands of people were killed and displaced. In these conditions, the role of the Church has increased. People just have nowhere else to go. The church becomes the only place where people can be helped. The churches have become the beacons of hope for scared and suffering people. They don’t do services on Sundays because of the coronavirus but they continue serving refugees every day sharing their bread and their homes as well as words of comfort and hope. Even before the war, more than 32% of the population lived below the poverty line. Now with the conflict raging on, these alarming rates are growing every day. Asatur Nahapetyan, pastor and general secretary of the Baptist Union of Armenia, anticipates this conflict to linger and asks everyone to get ready for a hard winter. Over 100 families from Karabakh have been placed by Baptists in their homes and 42 people were accommodated in a conference hall in Razdan.

The church with a symbolic name Noah’s Ark (in Ararat) is providing shelter for 40 people. At first, the refugees were really afraid of Christians regarding them as sectarians but now they don’t want to leave. Pastor Araik says that people from Karabakh are not very religious and many of them still retain the Soviet spirit, but there are no atheists in trenches. The church in Ararat has 700 members. They all minister to refugees as one strong united team. “It’s the only place where we are welcomed,” say women refugees, who didn’t want to know anything about God just yesterday. They learned to pray in the church and when their husbands who are on the front lines call their wives many now say, “We didn’t believe in God but it was your prayers that kept us safe” women and children say to their pastor often, “When you pray we sleep well and we stop having nightmares.” Everyone lives on prayers here. It all started on the first day of war when the pastor called the mayor’s office and said that the church was ready to take in refugees. It’s been filled with people since then. It’s important to understand that the church prepared themselves for this ministry even before. The pastor says that successful work with young people changed the way the society viewed the church. “We fed 40 people every Saturday and took hot lunches to 20 families even before the war. Everyone knows us as the ark of hope and salvation. For people, we are not just a religious organization but a charitable organization. Although it’s interesting to see how the state church starts to imitate us. Priest David started doing what we do, preaching the Gospel, visiting people in their homes, meeting them and talking to them. Even the police say to people, ‘contact the church; they’ll help you there.’ Everyone respects us now.” Pastor Vazgen from the church in Abovyan says something similar: “Almost all the refugees that we received in our church have made a decision to follow Jesus.” The church in Artashat is also filled with refugees and it’s also filled with the spirit of hope.

 While evangelical churches of Armenia are serving their people we have an opportunity, even responsibility to pray for this ancient Christian nation.

GOD USES CATASTROPHES FOR HIS PURPOSES

Nickey Gumbel, vicar (pastor) at Holy Trinity Brompton in London, developed the world-famous Alpha Courses and has decades of experience with in-person small groups. Like so many, he never considered online groups as a viable option and only transitioned his church’s small groups to online when forced by the coronavirus pandemic. A few short months later, he is a true believer in online groups and their advantages According to Gumbel, here are nine ways that online groups are actually better than in-person groups:

1. Everyone is more relaxed. Think about it: instead of walking into a strange environment, everyone is sitting in their favorite chair at home, they’ve got their coffee or tea (or whatever) fixed just the way they want, and they’re in their comfortable clothes. All of this puts a person at ease, leading to better discussion.

2. Everyone is in their own home. For most, home is a place of solace, and it’s much more inviting to join a group while at home. Some actually have a reluctance to walk into a church building or someone else’s home, so this can be an incredible advantage.

3. Travel time is cut down. This isn’t as big of an issue in smaller towns where distances are reduced, but in larger urban environments, travel time can be a groups killer. For instance, the average commute time where I live (Northern Virginia) is about an hour each way. Adding another meeting with travel time on top of that can be a huge hindrance. Online groups eliminates the travel time.

4. The total meeting time is shortened. Because travel time is eliminated, the total meeting time is shortened, making it easier for people to commit to a group.

5. Childcare becomes so much easier. Unless your small group meets on Sunday morning at church when children’s activities are going on, childcare for young families can be a deal breaker for in-person groups. Gumbel shared about a single mom that was able to join an online group precisely because it was online and she didn’t have to try and arrange childcare for her kids.

6. The conversation flows better because everyone knows each other’s names. Even in groups that have met for awhile, people aren’t confident that they know everyone’s names. This can lead to reduced interaction out of fear of getting someone’s name wrong. When you’re on an online group meeting like Zoom, everyone’s name appears by their screen. As simple as that sounds, this is actually a big deal. Everyone knows everyone’s name!

7. There’s an easier out if you don’t like the group. People like to have an exit strategy before they try something new (like a small group). Think about the hurdles facing someone debating whether or not to try out a small group for the first time: they’re walking into an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. If they don’t like the group, they’re stuck there at least for the rest of the meeting, longer if they feel a social obligation to continue. With online meetings, there’s an easier out: just get off the call. This easier out actually incentivizes people to try something new.

8. People tend to be more open online than in person. Call this the social media effect. Have you ever noticed how people tend to share more openly (even when they shouldn’t) online? It’s as if the screen gives them a sense of transparency where they can share how they really feel. This works for online small groups as well. Gumbel shared in his podcast interview that after leading in-person groups for decades, he was shocked at just how quickly his new online group shared and how quickly they went deep. Also, a good leader can make sure that all participate in the meeting, with the mute button. he can make sure no one person dominates the meeting.

9. Group dropout rates are reduced. A final positive aspect that Gumbel noted was that in his short time leading online groups, the dropout rates seem to have reduced. In any in-person group you start, the number you start with is hardly ever the number you finish with. It’s too easy for people to talk themselves out of getting dressed up, getting back in their car after a long day’s work to go to small group. If you’re not feeling well, if you’re got a lot to do, if childcare falls through (or any number of other things), you miss the group. With an online group, people tend to stick longer, leading to reduced dropout rates.

Likewise, I am a Board Member of International Christian Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) Australia and have been blessed greatly with the use of Zoom not only for meetings with Australian delegates but we now have Zoom meetings for Asia and the World for leaders and potential new members.

‘Explosion of the Miraculous’: Thousands Hit the Streets in FL Where Souls Were ‘Running to Get Saved’

Huge crowds of Christians and people hungry for the gospel gathered in several cities across Florida over the past few days to stand together and proclaim the name of Jesus.

The “Let Us Worship” tour led by praise leader Sean Feucht came to Lake Eola Park in Orlando on Saturday. Despite the rainy weather, thousands of worshippers poured their hearts out as they sang, danced, and repented of their sins.

“Last night drug addicts and prostitutes off the streets were running to the altar to get saved!! The harder it rained, the more God kept pouring His Spirit out!!” Feucht wrote on Instagram. Go to the website seanfeucht to be inspired.

GOD USES CATASTROPHES FOR HIS PURPOSES

In Acts 8, a massive disruption upset the Christian world. Led by Saul of Tarsus, massive persecution drove Christians from their home base of Jerusalem. Up to that time the new Christian movement was centered in Jerusalem and was confined to Jews. By the end of the book of Acts the church was more Gentile than Jewish and the church at Jerusalem was a side note. What made the difference? During the disruption, one church used it as an opportunity to innovate, and innovation changes the world.

In Acts 11:19 we see the Jewish Christians scattered from Jerusalem, where they were only telling other Jews about Jesus. But in Antioch it was different. The Christians there spread the gospel and opened their doors to both Jews and Greeks (innovation #1, Acts 11:20-21). Not only was this church open to non-Jews, but they also sought out Jews with scandalous pasts, creating an opportunity for the same Saul of Tarsus to provide leadership now that he had become a follower of Jesus (innovation #2, Acts 11:25-26). When a famine struck Judea, the church at Antioch is the first church recorded in Scripture to voluntarily collect resources and intentionally send it off to assist another church (innovation #3, Acts 11:27-30).

The COVID-19 crisis is another massive disruption (not interruption). This is the moment for the church at Antioch to rise up, to blaze boldly into the hybrid digital world we all now live in and spread the gospel in new and powerful ways. As church thought leader Carey Nieuwhof accurately questioned, “are churches behaving like malls in the age of Amazon?” I believe that churches that treat the COVID-19 crisis like a minor interruption are like malls, like the church at Jerusalem. If your church is waiting for this crisis to pass so that things can go back to normal, you might be waiting awhile. There will be a new normal we will eventually settle into, but it won’t be the old normal. A worldwide pandemic disrupts the world in ways that will forever change us. I believe that churches that leverage the massive disruption of the COVID-19 crisis are innovating in the age of Amazon, like the church of Antioch.

The above is an abbreviated version of an article by Pastor Josh Daffern of the Centreville Baptist Church Virginia USA “This is the Moment for the Church of Antioch to Rise Up”

Check out the first sermon “The Mystery of Catastrophes” I have put up on my revised website http://www.powerpointsermons.net

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GOD USES CATASTROPHES FOR HIS PURPOSES

BAPTISMS, MIRACLES IN MINNEAPOLIS

While many media outlets are focused on the protests and riots in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, something incredible is happening in the same city where Floyd died.

Baptisms are breaking out near the site of Floyd’s death.

Joel Bomberger said, “Baptisms happening right now in Minneapolis! Right at the corner of where George Floyd was killed!”

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Bomberger is a preacher with the grass-roots evangelism organization Circuit Riders®. According to the Circuit Riders® (CR) website, “Circuit Riders is a missional community based in Huntington Beach, California. Since 2011 we have experienced tremendous open doors to reach the lost, revive and encourage the body of Christ and train and empower thousands as proclaimers of the gospel.”

Christian recording artist and CR worship leader Lindy Cofer said, “JESUS IS ALIVE. THIS IS GOOD NEWS: Spontaneous baptisms in Minneapolis and too many testimonies to count!” Cofer added, “I’m at loss for words but I’ll try! We had a Circuit Riders team amongst many others head to Minneapolis and WOW. ONLY JESUS. @alvinmuthoka @instagrahammarshall @yasmin.isabellpierce and so many more.. We thank you for courageously hopping on a plane to simply take Jesus to the streets.”