Monthly Archives: January 2009

When recession hits the church

What role does the local economy play in the budget of the local church?

The obvious answer is that as people tighten their belts personally it impacts their giving to charitable causes such as the church. But how should churches plan their budgets in light of the economy?

Our church is beginning the process of planning the budget for our next fiscal year. This week we communicated to our ministry leaders this process we will follow.

Today, the local news had two headlines that grabbed my attention.

Seattle P-I up for sale.” The state’s longest publshing newspaper, which rolled off the press in 1863 is up for sale. If a buyer is not found in 60 days, the paper may close its doors forever.

Boeing plans workforce reduction of 4,500.” Because of the dramatic slowdown in airline business and the broader impact of the global recession, Boeing will lay off about 5 percent of their workforce in Washington State.

What impact should these headlines have on our planning process? Do we boldly put together a faith-stretching budget? Do we hunker down and allow pessimism to influence our plans? Do we seek to balance realism with faith? Only time will tell.

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Posted by on January 9, 2009 in Church, News stories


Self-centered prayers

I was struck this week by how selfish and self-centered my prayers are.

A woman from our church in Seattle went to Portland earlier this week for a funeral and was stranded there when the rains came and a 20-mile stretch of I-5 was closed due to the flooding in Chehalis. We were asked to pray that she would be able to get home by today. One person was concerned about who would teach her Sunday School class this week if the roads didn’t open in time.

On the one hand, this is a valid prayer request. God cares about every area of our lives. We can bring all of our burdens to him.

On the other hand, this seemed so inconsequential and self-centered.

Why wasn’t I praying for the hundreds or perhaps thousands who were displaced and homeless because of the flooding? the economic needs of the truckers who were stranded on the side of the road? the businesses who couldn’t receive supplies because of the road closures? the patience of those who were stranded? the spiritual needs of those who were waiting? the safety and stamina of those who were working round the clock to reopen the roads? the believers and churches in the flooded areas, that they might rise up and minister to those in need?

Instead, I was content to pray that one person would not be inconvenienced more than necessary.

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Posted by on January 9, 2009 in Personal growth, Prayer


Microwave spirituality

How do you walk with God if you’re always on the run? How do you “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) in a noise-filled world where everyone is clamoring for your attention?

Rather than address the real issue of misplaced priorities, it seems like we simply make it easier for people to live faster. Rather than call for change, we merely soothe people’s guilt, pat them on the back, and send them on their way.

I am preaching this week on the nature of the church and what it means to be a community of faith, as described in Acts 2:42-47. In verse 42, it describes the first century church in Jerusalem, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

In the midst of my research, I came across an article in the LA Times entitled, “A closer, faster walk with thee.” The author lists several titles from publishers who are attempting to fit God into people’s busy lives. The list includes:

  • “The One Minute Bible, Day by Day.”
  • “5 Minute Theologian: Maximum Truth in Minimum Time.”
  • “Aunt Susie’s 10-Minute Bible Dinners: Bringing God Into Your Life One Dish at a Time.”

Small wonder the church in general and Christians in particular are so weak and ineffective today. We have gone from continually devoting ourselves to the Scriptures to feeling good about spending one minute with God! God is simply one priority among many rather than THE PRIORITY of our lives.

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Posted by on January 9, 2009 in Books, News stories, Personal growth


The danger of affluenza

“It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity.”

Surprisingly, this quote was not made today. It was stated in 1890 by Frederic D. Huntington, in Forum magazine. I found the quote in Crazy love: Overwhelmed by a relentless God, by Francis Chan. It is even more true today.

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Posted by on January 8, 2009 in Books, Culture, Quotes


Profanity in preaching

Is it ever appropriate to swear when you preach? Normally, I would emphatically say “NO!” Which is why I swore with great trepidation in the introduction to my sermon yesterday.

I wanted to cast a new vision for ministry for United Evangelical Free Church in Seattle as we began the new year. In a series entitled, “Seeing the world with 2010 vision,” the first message was “A vision for outreach.” I began the sermon by stating,

“At the risk of offending you, I want to begin my message this morning by stating three facts.

Fact #1 – Within one mile of the church, there are at least 14,000 who are going to hell without Jesus Christ. (These facts are from ‘First-view‘–a demographic study of the 98117 zip code from The Percept Group.) The population of our zip code, the 98117 zip code is about 30,000 people. 47% of our population has no faith involvement. That’s about 14,000 people who are not connected to any faith or religion. The number is probably higher because of those who are involved in a faith, some of them follow Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, Islam, or groups such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, or Unitarians, religions that do not preach salvation by grace through faith. But conservatively speaking, at least 14,000 people within one mile of the church are going to hell without Jesus Christ. That’s fact #1.

Fact #2 – Most of us here this morning do not give a damn about fact #1.

Fact #3 – For many of you, you are probably more bothered that I said the word, ‘damn,’ than you are that 14,000 people within one mile of the church are going to hell without Jesus Christ.

I don’t normally swear when I preach, and I would not recommend it, but I did this morning to make a point. I believe that we as individual Christians, that we as a church, have grown comfortable and complacent in our faith. We have grown comfortable and complacent about our task.”

From there, I used John 4:31-38 to cast a vision for outreach for the coming year. The vision is based on John 4:35b, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

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Posted by on January 5, 2009 in Preaching


Seeing the world with 2010 vision

Today, I am starting a four-part sermon series to introduce a new vision and goals to our church for the coming the year. I want to encourage the congregation of United Evangelical Free Church in Seattle to see the world with 2010 vision. In terms of physical vision, 2010 vision is the ability to see at 20 feet what the normal person sees at 10 feet. Thus, it is the ability to see distance. In terms of spiritual vision, 2010 vision is the ability to look beyond the four walls of the church and see the community. It is the ability to focus on sharing the message of the gospel with those who need Christ. The verse the vision is based on is John 4:35b in the ESV (English Standard Version), “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

Here is our logo and the goals I would like the congregation to reach for in 2009.


By 2010, we will . . . [1]

  • Add 20 new families, at least 10 of whom are unchurched.
  • Lead at least 20 people to faith in Christ, baptizing at least 10.
  • Increase our missions’ giving to 20% of budget, and send at least 10 adults on short-term ministry trips.


To make this vision a reality, we will . . .

  • Pray diligently, depending on God for revival and results.
  • o We will meet for corporate prayer on the 3rd Sunday of each month, beginning January 18 at 6pm; “Seeking his face.”
  • Train, equip, and motivate people to share their faith where they live, work, and go to school.
  • o Every ABF will go through the “Becoming a contagious Christian” course in 2009.
  • o Develop a strategy for discipling new believers.
  • Remove any unnecessary barriers that hinder us from reaching unchurched people.
  • o Change the name of church.
  • § Vote on whether or not to change the name at the annual meeting in April.
  • § If the vote is “Yes,” we will have three suggested names for people to choose from by June.
  • o Shorten the purpose statement.
  • § Shorten current statement to “Building a community to change the world.”
  • § Keeps the idea of the current statement but condenses it to a more memorable one.


[1] On the one hand, numbers are not a reliable measure of success and effective ministry. They can be a source of pride and lead to trouble (2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21). On the other hand, God includes specific numbers to measure the growth of the church in Acts (2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7; 11:24). In setting these goals, we follow the advice of Proverbs-we make our plans, commit them to the Lord, and trust him to accomplish what he wants (Proverbs 16:1, 3, 9).

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Posted by on January 4, 2009 in Church, Preaching


A heart for the harvest

In John 4:31-38, Jesus challenges his disciples and us as well to see the world and evangelism with new vision. He points out that we need a new sense of priority (31-34) and a new sense of urgency (35-38).

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (NIV)

It struck me that Jesus is teaching four principles of ministry which address four myths we seem to have. The first one relates to developing a new sense of priority while the remaining three relate to developing a new sense of urgency.




My needs are the most important (31). Mission is more important than maintenance (32-34). In 4:1-30, the disciples go looking for food while Jesus goes looking for people. The disciples are focused on material needs while Jesus is focused on spiritual needs.
There is plenty of time for evangelism later (35a). Now is the time for evangelism (35b). An agricultural proverb said you had four months between planting and harvesting. “Relax and take it easy.” Jesus pointed out the harvest is ready now.
People are not interested in spiritual things. People are more open and ready than we think (35b). We have believed the lie of the enemy that atheism is on the rise and Christianity is dying. Jesus said the fields are ripe for harvest.
Evangelism is not my gift. Someone else will do the job. We each have a role to play in the harvest (36-38). Whether sowing or reaping, we each have a role to play. We need to keep our focus on the harvest.
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Posted by on January 3, 2009 in Evangelism, Ministry, Scripture


A new year

What does God have in store for us in 2009?

  • More trials?
  • Greater challenges?
  • Increased prosperity?
  • New hope?
  • Disappointments?
  • Victory over sin?
  • Growth towards godliness?
  • Increased fruitfulness?
  • Change of venue?
  • Beginning new habits?
  • Stopping old habits?
  • New opportunities for faith and trust?
  • Movement towards convergence?
  • Saying “Hello” to new friends?
  • Saying “Goodbye” to old friends and/or family members?
  • Greater joy?
  • Stretch marks in faith?
  • Births?
  • Deaths?
  • Breakthrough in personal growth?
  • “Ah ha!” moments of insight?
  • Answers to prayer?

While I don’t have the answers to these questions, I am confident that whatever God has planned will require faith. It will entail learning how to depend on his grace. It will undoubtedly drive us to our needs in prayer.

May 2009 make us more Christlike. May this year bring us closer to heaven.

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Posted by on January 2, 2009 in Personal growth