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Be Connected To Christ!

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

The beauty of grapes…

What do you consider to be the most important spiritual principle? Certainly there are countless great answers. Surely there are many acceptable and reasonable answers to the question. So here is mine:

One of the blessings of living in California is seeing the beautiful vineyards in a region of the globe renown for producing some of the world’s best grapes. It is breathtaking to see row after row of vines lifted up on stakes hanging with heavy clusters of grapes as far as the eye can see. An image that is easily associated with Jesus’ teaching in John 15 where He declared that He is the true vine and His disciples are the branches. The whole imagery of grapes lifted up watered and pruned to produce fruit, more fruit and much fruit is familiar to people in this part of the world as it was to Jesus’ original audience.

The Master explained that the key to bearing fruit was the believer’s connection to Christ. Jesus repeats the word abide [meno] almost ten times in ten verses to emphasize the cause and effect relationship between bearing fruit and dwelling with Christ. To abide means to remain or dwell with. To continue the agrarian imagery we can see that abide means to be connected to – like grapes to a vine, and a believer to Christ.

Jesus repeats the word abide [meno] almost ten times in ten verses to emphasize the cause and effect relationship between bearing fruit and dwelling with Christ.

Selma, California, is a region in the fertile Central Valley of the state and is recognized as the world’s largest producer of raisins. You can drive for miles in awe seeing row after row of large clusters of grapes lying on the ground upon brown paper drying in the California sun. It is an impressive and a sobering site because the only difference between a grape and a raisin is the connection to the vine and the passage of time.

In the context of John 15 Jesus’ theme was fruit bearing rather than salvation. So, I’m not suggesting that any true believer can lose their salvation. What I am suggesting is that someone who is intimately connected with Christ manifests the beauty of grapes in all their fruit bearing glory. Christians who are distant from Christ start to appear more like raisins in their spiritual lives. So how can you as a follower of Christ and a Christian leader remain close or intimate with Christ? I’d like to suggest three ways to remain connected that have been essential to my spiritual life:
1. Connecting to Christ through the Word of God,
2. Connecting to Christ through prayer, and,
3. Connecting to Christ through the awareness of your story intersecting with the author and finisher’s work.

What does connecting with Christ through the Word of God mean? As followers of Christ we know intuitively the importance of the Bible as God’s revelation. Also, we have discovered that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God [Matt. 4:4]. So disciples seek to regularly read the Bible. Perhaps you have a plan to read a certain number of chapters a day or week, or perhaps a certain amount of time for bible reading. As leaders who teach the Bible you also spend presumably significant time studying the Bible to prepare to teach. These times of Bible reading are opportunities for connecting with Christ. Each of us has ideally had the experience of sensing God speak to us through His word. You’ve sensed that a particular verse or passage of Scripture was God speaking to you in a unique way that was intimate and wonderful – the epiphany moments.

I remember early in my ministry experience when I read John 15 and came to verse 5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” I felt so convicted. It felt like God was speaking in a still small inner voice to me that I was trying to do ministry in my strength and that my intellect or disciplines could not produce any good apart from Christ. I felt humbled as I sensed God speak, but wonderfully encouraged that God was speaking and it was intimate, powerful, and I knew I was connected even as I was corrected. Then I sensed the Lord gently encourage me with the promise that is also contained in verse 5, that if I was connected to Him I would bear much fruit. Again there was the awareness of the reality of the risen Christ and the peace comfort and assurance of our connection and His desire to bless me. This experience was merely one of countless that would be enjoyed and cultivated through the years.

Connecting through the Word can be likened to a marriage relationship. My wife and I enjoy many meals together and time together when we discuss the events of the day, life, our plans, and perhaps our feelings. Generally there is an overall sense that we are connected in relationship and that I want to hear from her and share with her. Sometimes they can be somewhat superficial and sometimes amazingly vulnerable and intimate.

This is how I view my regular Bible reading times. In addition, we have regularly scheduled date days or nights where we spend significant time together. In the midst of those opportunities there have also been wonderful memories and times of intimate connection. In my marriage I thank God for the comfort in our relationship and the general awareness that we are connected. But I also long for those special times where the sense of connection and intimacy is greater. Those are the epiphany moments I’m seeking to experience with Christ through His word. Sometimes they come in the course of routine reading and sometimes they are cultivated as I carve out significant time to hear from God through His word. But whenever they happen they are treasured.

What does connecting with Christ through prayer mean? Have you ever had one of those experiences where you are praying and feel especially connected to Christ? Sometimes our prayers don’t seem too connected or inspired. I assume we’ve all prayed for God’s blessing over a meal without a great sense of connection.

I was recently reading the account of Paul’s voyage to Rome and the terrible storm [Acts 27]. At verse 29 we read, “They dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come.” Who are the “they” referred to in the verse? Presumably the Egyptian sailors or Roman soldiers on board the ship. So presumably the Egyptian and Romans are pagans praying to pagan gods. They pray for “day to come.” In essence it is a prayer to stop the storm or to survive the storm. Certainly Christians should pray like this to the true and living God. We should cry out to God in our desperation and make our requests known to Him. However as followers of Christ our prayers can reveal a deeper sense of connection to God.

For example my wife suffers from lupus. It is appropriate and good for me to pray and ask God to heal her and to cure the lupus. But when I’m feeling connected to Christ [or want to feel connected] my prayers may sound like this, “Lord what do you want me to learn from this? How are you using this to teach me to be more compassionate or empathetic? Lord how are you using this to make me a better husband or dad? Jesus will you please remind Karen that you are using this for your glory and her ultimate good. Please show her that you love her and that she is not being punished.” When prayers are intimate and/or intense there is often a wonderful sense of connection to Christ.

When prayers are intimate and/or intense there is often a wonderful sense of connection to Christ.

What does connecting to Christ through the awareness of your story intersecting with the author and finisher’s work mean? Sometimes we make the connection of the intersection of our life story and the author and finisher of faith – Jesus [Heb.12:2]. While riding my bike on the Pacific Coast Highway [PCH] I was hit by a car. The car was likely going over 50 mph and I wasn’t wearing a helmet. I suffered an elbow fracture and plenty of abrasions and lacerations. Remarkably I walked away and six weeks later was essentially fully healed. Following the accident I had the awareness that God had spared my life because He was going to keep using my life to represent Him and advance his kingdom. There was a sense of connection as I saw God’s story and my story intersect. Throughout each day in countless ways there are opportunities to see the intersection of God’s story and your life. When you discover the intersection there is often a greater sense of connection to Christ.

I’ve discovered that when I seek to be connected to Christ and pursue these familiar places of connection to Him that I tend to feel more like a beautiful cluster of grapes rather than a spiritual raisin. So for me the most important spiritual principle is to be connected to Christ.

I’ve discovered that when I seek to be connected to Christ and pursue these familiar places of connection to Him that I tend to feel more like a beautiful cluster of grapes rather than a spiritual raisin.

Pastor Bruce Zachary planted Calvary Nexus in Camarillo, CA and is the director of Calvary Church Planting Network. Many of his resources are available for free online, including Kingdom Leaders and the Church Planting Manual. You can follow Pastor Bruce on Facebook and Twitter @BruceZachary.

The Benefits of a Spiritual Exercise Plan

I’m no authority on the subject of physical exercise but it seems to me that the people who seem to benefit most have an exercise plan. Exercise in the physical or spiritual realm requires intentionality and tends to be more effective when done with another. People who want to develop in the physical realm determine the various options such as weight training, cardio, flexibility, etc. and then seek to create an exercise plan that is right for them. The plan is designed to help you grow from where you are to where you want to be. An exercise partner ideally encourages you and creates accountability in a way that helps you to implement your plan. Creating a culture of intentional growth is great for the individual and the community.

In the spiritual realm we need to be careful to avoid reducing a relationship with Christ to a spiritual workout or creating any impression that doing more spiritual exercise makes you more right with God. If you are in Christ you are right with God because of the work that Jesus did and by receiving that gift from God by faith when you submitted to Christ. Nevertheless, I’ve discovered through the years that a spiritual exercise plan and an accountability partner have helped me to grow in Christ. Similarly, I’ve seen that a spiritual exercise plan has been helpful for new believers, mature believers, and Christian leaders. So how do you create a spiritual exercise plan?

Consider the list below and set personal goals for your spiritual development. Don’t worry about comparing your list with someone else’s plan it is not a competition, but a personal spiritual growth plan.

1. Bible reading: for example consider a Bible reading plan to read through the Bible in a year. Perhaps you want to create a plan based on a certain amount of time (e.g. a half hour) for a certain number of days each week, or any plan that works for you.
2. Prayer: plan to set aside time to pray alone or with others. Consider a list of prayer requests to help you.
3. Reflection: Take time to journal or for some quiet time to reflect about God and your life with Christ.
4. Sharing your faith: How often would you like to share your faith with an unbeliever or unchurched person?
5. Authentic relationships [community]: What is your plan to be involved in a community group?
6. Serving others: How would you like to serve God by serving others in the church in this coming season?
7. Generosity: How do you plan to give of your financial resources to advance God’s kingdom through the church in the coming year?

Once you have a plan share it with a friend who will help to encourage you and keep you accountable. I try to meet with my spiritual exercise partner every couple of weeks to talk about life in general, any challenges we are facing and to encourage one another to keep growing in Christ. These times are far more than reviewing a checklist. Sometimes we don’t even talk about our spiritual exercise plans, and these meetings are some of my favorite times of life.

Remember the purpose of a spiritual exercise plan is to help you to grow in your relationship with Christ and others. It is a flexible plan and you can adjust it whenever and however you choose. I suspect that the last thing that Christ desires is you feeling guilty that you are not doing enough. Instead consider the plan as a tool to help you be intentional about your growth.

Pastor Bruce Zachary planted Calvary Nexus in Camarillo, CA and is the director of Calvary Church Planting Network. Many of his resources are available for free online, including Kingdom Leaders and the Church Planting Manual. You can follow Pastor Bruce on Facebook and Twitter @BruceZacahry.

Your 1st 200 May Be Terrible

Ed Compean has planted and pastored churches in Nairobi, Kenya and now is a church planting coach and mentor to many church leaders.


Tim Keller effectively communicates the gospel of Jesus Christ through preaching, but concerning young pastors the well known preacher recently said to church planters, “For the first 200 sermons, no matter what you do, your first 200 sermons are going to be terrible.”

For the first 200 sermons, no matter what you do,

your first 200 sermons are going to be terrible.

When applied as designed, the Calvary Church Planting Network Church Planting Manual places a strong emphasis on development of teaching and preaching in the season of equipping before the church plant. Critical, but loving feedback usually provides a great time of growth for future church planters. As the church plant moves past a core group, and especially past the launch of Sunday services, there becomes less and less opportunity to grow in preaching by receiving valuable feedback and coaching. In those first sermons of the new church the enemy who hates the church planter, and the fledgling local expression of the church, will be active to convince the planter he is useless. While not forgoing the tools of spiritual warfare, I would like to suggest three ideas for the church planter to continue the pattern of growth begun in the teacher training of the Calvary Church Planting Network Church Planting Manual.

Critical, but loving feedback usually provides a great time of growth for future church planters.

Planter: Ask Your Wife (or other key person)
Unless he is terribly unique, at some point on Sunday afternoon the church planter will ask his wife some version of, “So, how did the message go today.” The 10-minutes that follow may be the best preparation for the following week’s sermon. This point obviously presumes the planter is married. If not, then another key person can be identified.

A pastor friend offers a short class for pastor and elder’s wives on how to critically listen to a sermon and it may be good to consider something similar for future church planters. In the meantime I suggest planters ask their wives to read the “Teaching and preaching” section in the appendix of the Church Planting Manual. It is amazing how with a little forethought and preparation how sophisticated a listener can become and how much invaluable feedback a wife can bring.

Planter: Ask the Core Team
I strongly suggest a debrief meeting of the previous Sunday service early enough in the week to prepare for the coming service. As discussions of setup, sound balance and timing of the offering are discussed, it is also valuable to ask a few key questions about the sermon. It would probably be profitable to develop a template of four or five key questions concerning the message and save more in depth discussions for another time. Questions could include:

• What was the object of the message?
• How were my mannerisms?
• Where there any illustrations that did not work?
• How did this apply to the congregation’s head (intellect), heart (inner being), and hands (application)?
• What was he main takeaway point of the message?
• What could I have done better?
• What worked well?

Planter: Ask a Coach
As a planter moves out of the mentoring relationship of his sending church, the coaching relationship typically becomes the key to development of the planter spiritually, but also in practical church matters like preaching. It is advised that the coach listen to several messages (presumably not the whole first 200), from a planter and make note of good and bad patterns.

How God Uses Pruning to Grow a Church

Pastor Pilgrim is the lead pastor of Reality Church Tampa, a Calvary Chapel church plant located in downtown Tampa. For more information about Reality, visit www.realitychurchtampa.com.

 

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21

We all know that the word “grow” means “BIGGER”. My son Aiden is 10 years old, but was born two months premature. He was literally the size of a peanut butter jar. For some reason the nickname “Peanut” didn’t…stick…(pun intended). Within a matter of months he was skyrocketing through the growth charts. The doctor must have said “100th percentile” at least a dozen times. Our baby was becoming “bigger”. He was growing. We hear that companies are “growing” and that usually equates to expansion: bigger customer base, bigger reach, more locations, increased revenues. Grow means bigger. Right?

When I was growing up I bought a pack of foam dinosaur “pills”. The box promised that if you got them wet, they would expand into huge foam triceratops that I surmised would wreak havoc on your little sister. So I dropped them in the tub with me half expecting to be mauled by a T-Rex before my feet turned into raisins. I was gravely disappointed.

Thankfully I had tear-free shampoo.

Growth Doesn’t Mean “Bigger”

What if when we spoke about churches, assuming that a growing church meant a “bigger” church, we had it all wrong? What if a “growing” church instead actually meant a “healthy” church? Job seemed to lose everything, and yet at the end of literally the worst day of his entire life, Job uttered the worshipful assertion, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”. It was in the midst of loss, of losing almost all that Job held dear, that he worshiped. Why? Is this some sick sarcastic attempt at mocking God?

Not at all.

What if a “growing” church instead actually meant a “healthy” church?

A Lesson From Job

Job knew what many church planters have come to discover after a few months or years of faithfully tilling the soil. He came to understand what Jesus would say centuries later in John 15: “and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Job understood that God is the giver and the taker. He prunes that we may bear fruit.

Job understood that God is the giver and the taker. He prunes that we may bear fruit.

A Lesson from Jesus

I don’t pretend to understand gardening. My wife Jenn just planted a beautiful organic garden in our backyard and I’m working hard at helping her make it a success, but I don’t have anything close to a green thumb. What I do know is that if we want a healthy garden, it needs our attention. It needs our tending. It needs sweat and effort and lots of water. Jesus said He was the Vinedresser, the faithful gardener. He’s paying plenty of attention to His garden! And Jesus said if a branch is bearing fruit, it must be pruned. Not to punish it. Not to cut it off. But to cause it to bear much more fruit.

A Lesson In Media Res

In the last two months God has been pruning His church. I have counted over a dozen people who have left the church I pastor for various reasons, and it can be very discouraging and challenging as a pastor trying to pour into people’s lives when they remove themselves from the community. A church planter has sacrificed his (and his entire family’s) life to make investments that seem to be trivialized and expendable by the very people he is wanting to “do life” with. To get a dozen nonchalant “we’re leaving, but we love your family” conversations is enough to decry counseling or some wayward counsel from Job’s friends.

It is hard to grow “big” when you are seeing a net loss.

Unless “grow” meant healthy.

And if it is indeed God’s church, they are indeed God’s people, and you are indeed God’s servant, then you must submit yourself to the realization that He has the right to give, and the right to take away, and His name will continue to be blessed.

Even if the foam velociraptors are smaller than you expected.

God’s Word Speaks

Pastor Terry McNabb of Calvary Chapel Portland shares about the importance of relying on the power of Scripture to speak to people’s lives. Wise words after over 20 years of ministry!

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When preparing sermons I am constantly faced with addressing deep personal issues in people’s lives. How can I help people out of life-long destructive habits that they are sometimes comfortable with or completely unaware of? It’s so easy to become impatient and irritated with people instead of reminding them of the love and grace of God. In fact, preaching today has degraded into speaking of a God of love that doesn’t ask us to change from our sin. God loves us as we are. Over twenty years of ministry I have seen over and over again how God’s word does the job of speaking right to people’s hearts in a gracious way. It just happened as I taught Jonah 4 of how Jonah became angry with God and wanted to die. Quite an overreaction! This is a common issue. People are bitter about something that has happened in their lives and it must be God’s fault. When I might have become too pointed and critical about a problem of bitterness toward God, the Scriptures spoke right to the heart. As I told the story of Jonah’s anger because God was merciful to the Ninevites, people could see how foolish Jonah was. His anger didn’t make sense. He was in God’s will and had a successful ministry so why was he angry? The lessons were clear…

1) Jonah’s part was just to deliver the message not to write it. 

2) God wasn’t asking Jonah for his opinion on the outcome of his ministry. God wanted to be merciful to Nineveh.

3) Unhappiness doesn’t mean we are out of God’s will. Jonah was in God’s will, he just didn’t like what God was doing.

4) God was patient with Jonah even in his anger and God is patient with us.

As I told the story, people could see how foolish Jonah was. They could see themselves in Jonah and how easy it is to become caught in bitterness even when God is working in our lives.

Seeing the deep needs of people is a great responsibility. In sermon preparation God’s Word will do the work for us. We could never speak right to the heart as God can. Our tone is often lacking grace or our words so general that it isn’t helpful. If we are just teaching the Word then people aren’t offended at us. They can see the lesson in the Word of God and realize they must deal with what God has shown them.

In sermon preparation God’s Word will do the work for us. We could never speak right to the heart as God can.

 2 Tim 3:16-17 – All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 

Bible App For Kids

As parents and as pastors, we’re always in search of ways to help people engage more in God’s Word. Technology has opened many new doors for ways that people can get into God’s Word, and there’s a new door opening…

One thing almost every American has on them at almost every waking moment is their smart phone. The team at LifeChurch.tv created an incredible resource for smart phones, tablets, and computers called YouVersion. The YouVersion Bible app has been installed over 100 million times and is used by people around the world to read, watch, and listen to the Bible. It’s available in hundreds of versions in over 100 different languages! It’s an unprecedented technological distribution of God’s Word that we cannot afford to overlook or utilize.

With the infiltration of technology, and kids as young as just 1 or 2 years old using iPhones and iPads, the team at YouVersion has just released a revolutionary new Bible app just for kids!

Your kids can journey through some of their favorite (or soon-to-be favorite) Bible stories, interact with them, and learn as they go.

As a parent, this is a priceless resources to use with your kids.

As a pastor, this is a valuable tool to pass on to your church to get families into the Bible together!

Below is a preview of the new kids’ Bible app in action. Download it for FREE on their website.