The Three Questions of Christmas

A special Christmas message from David Cannistraci

 

Questions are a part of life.  All parents know that children LOVE to ask questions.  WHY seems to be their favorite question: Why do I have to? Why can’t I stay up? Why can’t I go?  And every exhausted parent inevitably will at some point in their life say what they are not supposed to say: ”Because I SAID so!”

 

There are seasonal questions many ask:  What will I get for Christmas?’ Will my bonus be larger than last year? Then there are the more serious questions: Will my medical results come out all right? Should I propose to her or wait a little longer?  What does the New Year hold for me?

 

God has an answer for the question in your heart today.

 

In the Gospels, I came across three questions asked in the Christmas story by different people, and saw how beautifully God revealed His answers to them. One of these questions was asked before the birth of Jesus, one directly involved His birth and one was asked after His birth. The first question was:

 

1 - HOW CAN I BE SURE? (Luke 1:18)

 

In the Luke 1 we read about a godly couple; Elizabeth and her priestly husband Zechariah. They were too old to hope for a child but they desperately wanted one. Over the years I’ve prayed for couples with no children and you can just see their hope and their hurt.  I’ve also seen incredible miracles in our church on this!  Without a doubt Elizabeth and Zechariah went through this kind of pain as they prayed over this personal issue. 

 

But one day when Zechariah was lighting the incense in the temple, to his amazement, the angel Gabriel turned up with an astounding message that God would bless them with a baby in their old age! 

 

(This is a part of the Christmas story because this child, born about the same time as his cousin Jesus, would become John the Baptist who would prepare the way of the Lord and tell everyone who Jesus was.)

 

Sadly, in a response of unbelief, Zechariah asked the question “How can I be sure of this?” and ended up losing his voice for a season. In the end, God was true to His Word, Zechariah believed and got his miracle.  His voice returned and Zechariah and Elizabeth became parents.  God is faithful!

 

I’m wrestling with this very question about a ministry situation in another city.  Is it God’s will?

 

This Christmas, let’s begin to say, I believe what God said is true!

 

The end of the year is close by and maybe it’s not been a great year for you. You may think it’s too late for your dreams to be fulfilled. But hold on, you can be sure that God will fulfill His plan in your life. Don’t allow unbelief to say, How can I be sure? God can miraculously reveal Himself and change your situation in a day!

 

The second question in the Christmas story is,

 

2 - HOW WILL THIS BE? (Luke 1:34)

 

This question was asked by Mary when the angel Gabriel came to her with an astounding message. Though still a virgin, she was to give birth to the Son of God whose name would be called Jesus. Mary asked, “How will this be?” 

 

I see this as more a question of surpise than of unbelief.  She was trying to grapple with how something that had never happened before could actually take place. The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…For nothing is impossible with God.”

 

This Christmas, let’s all believe: Nothing is impossible with God!

 

After accepting the angel’s message with childlike faith, Mary said in verse 38, I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.  When God gives you a promise or prophetic word, be confident that He will fulfill it, in His time. We are always wise to pray, Let your will be done in my life according to what you have promised.

 

That brings us to the third and last question:

 

3 - HOW CAN I FIND THE KING? (Matthew 2:2)

 

The Wise Men who followed the Christmas star from the East asked WHERE IS THE ONE WHO HAS BEEN BORN KING OF THE JEWS? The corrupt King Herod was threatened by the birth of a new king and summoned them to ask the same question only for horrible reasons. They didn’t give him the answer. 

 

After they left Herod, the star led them to the King - the exact place where they could worship the baby Jesus and present precious gifts to Him. While the star was God’s gift to the Magi, the newborn King was God’s greatest gift to the world: So great that His birth split history into two divisions, BC and AD! 

 

33 years later, just before Jesus was crucified for our sins, Pilate asked Jesus: "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king.  For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

 

Today, people are still searching for a King. We all look for someone or something to protect us, guide us, provide for us and defeat our enemies as a king would do.  Jesus said, “Seek and ye shall find” but we must seek with a right heart.  Herod searched to assassinate the child, while the wise men sought to worship Him. The Lord spoke through Jeremiah, “You shall find me when you shall search for me with all of your heart…”

 

This Christmas, let’s all pray: Jesus, Be the King of my heart.

 

The same Jesus can rule in your heart and answer your every question if you are willing to invite Him in.  Let’s open our hearts to Christ and receive Him as our King.  Let’s thank God for fresh faith and deep certainty for a new year.  God bless you and may your dreams be fulfilled during Christmas and into 2017!

 

Favor is Better

“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” Proverbs 22:1

 

There’s a supernatural ingredient that can make our life better: God's favor. God says favor is more valuable than money.  If you can tap into favor, you will experience the BETTER that God has.

 

WHAT IS FAVOR?

 

“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”  Psalm 30:5 (NLT) 

 

Favor is a divine advantage and power to please the right people at the right time without even trying. It’s the opposite of a lifetime of anger and sadness (break it off!).  It’s It is different than favoritism - God shows no one favoritism (Rom. 2:11), but when a person has the favor of God, things do get better.

 

Favor inclines people and events to your advantage effortlessly and automatically.  

 

When we have favor, people like us and don't know why.  Favor promotes us in adversity like Joseph, preserves us in danger like Esther, increases us in famine like Ruth and insulates us in trials like David. 

 

The favor of God is amazing!  It opens what is closed, unlocks what is locked, lifts what’s cast down, remembers what is forgotten, defeats whatever opposes and silences whatever accuses.  Favor gives us a break we really need but don’t deserve.  It brings us before the right people when we least expect it. Favor is better than money, fame, time, looks, opportunity, connections, entitlements and hard work.

 

One moment of favor can accomplish more than a lifetime of human effort.

 

  • When favor rests on you, it brings you into ease.

 

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:17 (NIV) 

 

  • God wants us to enjoy favor like the early church.  Favor will increase our joy and make us fruitful.

 

“Praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  Acts 2:47 (NIV) 

 

HOW TO EXPERIENCE FAVOR

 

1.  Favor comes to the humble.

 

1 Peter 5:5 (NIV) - “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

 

Have you ever noticed how God humbles us when we’re cocky? It’s good: He’s prepping us for favor.  I absolutely believe that those years of pain and humiliation as a kid humbled and prepared me to lead.

 

Isaiah 66:2 (NIV) - “Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

 

2.  Favor comes to the holy.

 

Psalm 84:11 (ESV) - “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.  No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

 

Right now, God is exposing crookedness.  He is requiring integrity and uprightness.  We don’t have to be perfect - it’s not about sinlessness. His grace covering us as we look in faith to Him.  But He still says,

 

Leviticus 26:3,9 (NIV) - “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands…I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers…”

 

3.  Favor comes to the hungry.

 

2 Kings 13:4 (ESV) - “Then Jehoahaz sought the favor of the Lord, and the Lord listened to him, for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them.”

 

We all face hardships and oppression form the enemy.  Why does God allow it?  Sometimes it gets us to the next level.  He wants to rouse kings out of comfort-zones.  He wants us hungry for BETTER.  

 

Here’s a principle I’m learning:

You get what you go for.

 

Under attack? Good!  Seek favor, kings.  Jesus said ask and knock because if you seek you will find.

 

I believe we are entering a season of the Lord’s divine favor.  Many have been through the fire and God has worked in our lives to get our hearts hungry, humble and holy before Him.  This is your time!

 

Luke 4:18-19 (NLT) - “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

 

We can enjoy the seasons of favor God has for us because Jesus came with an anointing to set us free.  It is only because of Christ that we can experience God’s favor.  I’m so glad he came!

 

Here's the challenge before each of us today: Be humble, be holy, be hungry.  Stop trying to do it by yourself.  Get right with God and live an upright life.  Ask God for favor, and receive it today by faith. Let favor bring you into a lifetime of ease, joy, rest and fruitfulness.  Favor is BETTER!

A Covenant to Seek the Lord in Troubling Times

Pastor David Cannistraci

 

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!  Psalm 20:1

 

This last Sunday, GateWay’s San Jose campus was alive with a prophetic sense that it is time to seek the Lord as never before.  The Lord had impressed me early Sunday morning that with just 90 days until the election, these are pivotal times.  Then I saw that for the next 180 days,  as our new president will be sworn in, that America is entering a tumultuous era and a spiritual tipping point.  I could only share with our elders, pastors and church: It is time to seek the Lord.

 

Troubling times are surely here. 

Since late June, nearly every day has carried forward an unbroken series of events we could never have imagined: Terror in Istanbul, Nice and Germany, reports of senseless violence against innocent black young men, vengeful murders, politicians falling into disgrace, and nations in crisis.  Many families are in crisis as well.  We keep waiting for a breather so we can process all these events and our unsettled emotions, but the events keep piling up quicker than we can cope. I have a feeling this could continue and even escalate.

 

I am not afraid.  I am determined to seek the Lord and encourage you to do the same.

 

Troubling times are times to seek the Lord.  When we as people of faith finally realize we can’t depend on politicians and human solutions, it leaves us in a really stable place.  Looking to man is bound to disappoint us.  Whether you are voting red or blue, when election day arrives, we will still desperately need God no matter what the outcome.  Trusting in chariots and armies is a fools game. I’m glad there is still a God in heaven who hears and answers prayer.

 

As wise king named Asa found himself in troubling times.  A prophet came and made sure he knew something: 

 

The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them.
In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil. One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress.  But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” (2 Chronicles 15:2-7) 

 

Asa wisely made a covenant to seek the Lord.  Everyone followed, and the Lord protected them as a nation.

 

The promise in this passage is that we can seek Him and find Him in troubling times. 

 

I call upon all our people on all three GateWay campuses: Let us seek the Lord as never before.  I call on my friends in the city and my friends across the nation: Let us lead our people to God over the next 90 days.  I call on all my international friends: Make a covenant.  Call a time of prayer and seeking God.  Let’s believe that He is with us and He will answer us in the day of trouble.

LOOKING BACK ON A WEEK OF HEARTBREAK

I can't remember this much pain in our country since 9/11.  It's different now of course, because instead of us waking up to an enemy's attack from without, this week we woke up to a nation attacking itself.  Hatred, inflammatory words, fear, rage, guns and murder are being used by Americans to hurt Americans in the most revolting and painful ways. Young men of color are dead, police officers are dead, families mourn inconsolably, our national racial divisions are widening and our political leaders are practically useless. The enemy quietly pours gas on the flames, pulls the strings and smiles.

So we talk. Talking can be therapeutic if it's done in a healthy way and I'm glad people are taking time to dialogue and take a stand.  I do pray that listening, humility, forgiveness, honor and especially nonviolence will shape the conversation more than rage, division, fear, revenge and violence. 

This has been a heartbreaking and exhausting week especially for people of color. Kathy and I, along with our family and staff are standing with our friends and family members of color.  We can see that being black in our society is too often a painful, frightening and grossly unjust experience.  We also stand with our nations police officers, the vast majority of which are brave, honorable and utterly indispensable in our society.  Count us among those who will use their voice to stand for what is right as well as to offer friendship to those in pain.

I have been in six special services this week where these issues have been beautifully addressed.  We had prayer each time, and led a prayer team on these and other issues at the Capitol building in Ohio where I was speaking.  While I was away, our church family prayed together as one, with Pastor Jordan, Pastor Chris, Apostle C and many others offering words and Scriptures to guide everyone.  I've seen so many things I'm proud of on social media from my friends, family and colleagues.  The conversation is alive.

Still, I look back on a week of heartbreak with mixed feelings.  We have such a long way to go, and all the work, pain and tension is overwhelming.  But I still believe that things will be better as the church loves, weeps, prays and leads the way.  Dr. King was an evangelical Christian pastor.  That brings me courage and hope.  

As our hearts are breaking, let's keep the prayer and dialogue going in the spirit of hope.  And let's not forget who the real enemy is.

God's Heart for Cities

Luke 19:17 (NET) - “…Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.”

 

I was sitting in my chair on Sunday May 1, 2016 when I received the vision I’m now calling “TEN CITIES: A Multisite Vision to Reach Out.” I’ve been sharing it with our church the past few weeks and it is changing our view of who we are and what God wants us to do.  

 

I’ve also been announcing that in response to the Holy Spirit’s direction to fulfill our vision of reaching people with the Gospel that GateWay will be one church in three locations as of August 28.  Faith Summit Church in Clovis, led by Pastors Sam and Kim Beckworth will become one with usand transform into GateWay City Church as our Clovis campus.  This is a marvelous way for all of us to be stronger and better at reaching people!

 

I believe God is giving us authority in cities beyond San Jose to preach the Gospel and make disciples.  And it is not because we are amazing.  It’s because GOD is amazing.

 

“Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  2 Corinthians 3:2-6 (NIV) 

 

There’s a SPIRITUAL NEED, a HARVEST OF SOULS and a DISCIPLESHIP MOVEMENT coming.

 

This vision only makes sense in light of how much God loves cities.

 

GOD’S HEART FOR CITIES

 

The Lord God Almighty has a heart for cities.  He created them for a purpose.  

 

“In their misery they cried out to the Lord, and he saved them from their troubles.  He led them on a straight road to a city where they could live.”  Psalm 107:6-7 (NCV) 

 

Over one-half of the world's population lives in cities…Three out of every four people on earth. Many Christians think cities are evil places. If they were asked, they would say the city is a curse, not a blessing. However, that is not God's view. After all, the human story begins in a garden and ends in a city!

 

The devil did not invent cities, God did.  He uses cities to heal us, connect us and bless us.

 

1.  God calls us to love cities.

 

“Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”  Jonah 4:11 (NLT) 

 

When Jonah was told to go to Nineveh, the great city of its day, he went and preached well, though inwardly he hated the city. He preached to people, but he didn’t love them. Too many preachers are like Jonah. And when God said, “I won’t destroy Nineveh,” Jonah got extremely angry because he hated those the Ninevites. 

 

So God came to Jonah and said, “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than 120,000 people in darkness?” As Tim Keller points out, the word “feel sorry” there is the Hebrew word “to weep.”  He says, “Jonah, I weep over this city. Why don’t you weep over them? 

 

Our God loves cities.  This is reflected best in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

 

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it…”  Luke 19:41-42 (NIV) 

 

GateWay: Today I believe Jesus is approaching our city in a new way.  I know beyond any doubt that the heart of Jesus is looking at our community and longing to something through us.  

 

Are you like Jonah? God says, “Are you weeping over the city? Does your heart go out to it? Do you love the place? Do you remember what I’ve done for you? We’re called to love the city.

 

Loving cities is at the heart of our mission as a church.

 

2.  God calls us to identify with cities.

 

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NIV) 

 

The Israelites were in exile, conquered by the wicked, terrible city of Babylon.  God did not tell them, “Hate the Babylonians! Resist them, stay away from them and as fast as you can, get out.”  He says, “Settle down. Builda family. Identify with the city. Weave your lives into the life of the city.  I’ll use you there and bless you there.”

 

An intercessor is someone who identifies with a people or a city.  When Nehemiah prayed for the restoration of Jerusalem, he didn’t pray as if he were not part of it.  He said, “Both I and this people have sinned.” (Neh. 1:6,7)  God calls Christians to be intercessors for cities and stay identified with cities.

 

3.  God calls us to reach cities.

 

As he was getting into the boat the man who had been demon-possessed asked if he could go with him. But Jesus did not permit him to do so. Instead, he said to him, “Go to your home and to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you, that he had mercy on you.” So he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him, and all were amazed.”  Mark 5:18-20 (NET) 

 

This verse reveals part of my heart in the Ten Cities message.  Decapolis was a place that Jesus saw a great response to His compassionate ministry.   He had a heart to reach cities that were in need.  This vision drives us. 

 

The best way to bless a city is for us to follow Jesus together.  He went to earthly cities, wept and ministered. He identified with its people. He preached the gospel incities, and he sacrificed himself in a city.  he rose again in a city.  

 

He has a heart for cities.  As His followers, we should ask ourselves:  Are we ready to join Jesus in His heart for cities?

 

Don't Grumble and You Won't Stumble

Grumble: to complain somewhat pointlessly; to mutter on sullenly, to speak out of unhappiness and discontent.  Grumbling is the exact opposite of gratitude and praise.

But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, "Does this cause you to stumble?" John 6:61

"Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door." James 5:9

"We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages has come."  1 Corinthians 10:8-11 

"Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain." Philippians 2:14-16

Instead of grumbling, try gratitude.  

Cultivate a thankful heart.  Write a letter to someone you appreciate.  Tell them how grateful you are for what they have done for you.  Sing a song of praise to God.  Make a list of your blessings.  Tell others how blessed you are.  You'll keep yourself from stumbling.

ARE MIRACLES FOR TODAY?

The Bible is clear that God’s power often manifests in the form of a miracle. Do you believe they are for you?  Do you believe they are for today?

Here’s something Jesus said that makes me believe they are:

“I tell you, anyone believing in me shall do the same miracles I have done, and even greater ones, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask him for anything, using my name, and I will do it, for this will bring praise to the Father because of what I, the Son, will do for you. Yes, ask anything, using my name, and I will do it!” John 14:12-31 (TLB) 

Jesus is clearly encouraging us to believe for miracles.

WHAT IS A MIRACLE?

Webster's dictionary defines a miracle as an "extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs."   Miracles were a regular part of the life of Jesus.  He healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the hungry, and calmed storms.  There are at least 30 miracles in the gospels, but John implies many more:

“Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down…the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” John 21:25 (NLT) 

If Jesus did miracles, and promised we would do miracles, should we expect miracles?  Of course. Miracles are part of Christ’s eternal character.

Hebrews 13:8 (NLT) - “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

HOW DO MIRACLES HAPPEN?

To get clarity on this astonishing thought, let’s think about how God’s power operates. 

  • God’s power operates through the Holy Spirit.  God the Spirit is the vehicle of God’s power, including miracles. In fact, while everyone who believes can see miracles take place, the HS has given some people the “gift of miracles” (1 Cor. 12:10 and 29). 
  • God’s power operates when faith is present.  The miracles in the Bible took place when people believed God and His Word.  That is not to say that we can control God with faith.  Because He is so great, all we can do is believe Him and worship Him. He is sovereign and He does as He pleases, but when faith in His promise is present, miracles do take place.  

“All things are possible for the one who believes.” —Jesus Christ

If you want a miracle, reach and stretch yourself out in faith for it.  Adam and Eve had to reach for the tree of life.  For every miracle in Egypt that Moses did, he first reached our his hands.  When Jesus did miracles, the gospels often say He reached out His hands.

  • God’s power operates progressively. Healing happens over time but it’s still God’s power. There was a man whose eyesight was progressively restored under Jesus’ healing ministry.  It took several applications of heaven's medicine to clear his vision.  Don’t expect all power to be instant!
  • God’s power operates instantly.  This is known as a miracle.  

MIRACLES ARE FOR TODAY

Jesus is clearly promising that if we believe and follow Him, we’ll see miracles even greater than His own.  Why would He make that promise?  What is the value of a miracle?

1.  Miracles establish GREATER witness.  Miracles bring an effective testimony: Jesus is who He said He is.

“…By giving them power to do miracles the Lord proved that their message was true.” Mark 16:20 (ERV)

Miracles establish the identity and authenticity of Jesus and the Gospel.  When Jesus calmed the storm, and even in the miraculous way He died, people said “Surely this is the Son of God.”

Our eyes should not be on miracles as much as on Jesus.

2.  Miracles encourage GREATER faith.  His miracles were done and recorded to bring people to heaven.

“Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” Jn 20:30-31 (NKJV) 

Can you imagine the revival we’d have if we would experience more of the miracle power of God?

“Anything God has ever done, he can do now. Anything God has ever done anywhere, 

he can do here. Anything God has ever done for anyone, he can do for you.” —A.W. Tozer

3.  Miracles express God’s GREATER kindness.  Miracles are really the result of the extreme kindness of God—intense and huge, healing and life-changing.  They are God expressing His goodness in our lives.

“The Lord gave [Paul and Barnabas] the power to work miracles and wonders, and he showed that their message about his great kindness was true.” Acts 14:3 (CEV) 

My goal for you is to inspire you and build your faith to receive all He has for you. Miracles are a part of who Jesus is and what He does.  They come when we believe God, reach out and let the power of His Spirit move however He chooses to.  God has a miracle for you today.

“You are the God of miracles and wonders! You still demonstrate your awesome power.” Psalm 77:14 (TLB) 

 

God’s Power is GREATER

No matter what we’re facing in life, God’s power is greater.

 

This Easter, I hope you’ll take the time to think deeply about what the resurrection means for your life, especially in terms of God’s power.

Paul said, “I pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe Him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand… Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come.”  Ephesians 1:19-21 (NLT)

What should we know about God’s power, the resurrection and what it means for our lives here today?

HOW POWERFUL IS GOD?

The Bible clearly teaches that God is omnipotent - all powerful! - and there is nothing He cannot do.

“Ah Lord God!  Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You!"  Jeremiah 32:17 (NASB) 

  • God’s power is greater than natural power.  Psalm 93:4 says, “The sound of the water is loud; the ocean waves are powerful, but the Lord above is much greater.”
  • God’s power is greater than medical power. 
  • God’s power is greater than intellectual power. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
  • God’s power is greater than financial power. 
  • God’s power is greater than political power. Sorry candidates…I’m told this: “Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them. But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”  Psalm 146:3-5 (NLT) 
  • God’s power is greater than death.  The most potent thing we face in life is death.  We fear it. We cling to life and fight it, but death always wins.

A friend of John Ortberg’s used to travel to rural communities where they didn't have churches to do funerals. He’d ride along with an undertaker in a black hearse. One time, they were on their way back from a funeral, and John’s friend was feeling tired and decided he would lie down in the back of the hearse and take a nap. The guy who was driving the hearse pulled into a gas station, and as the attendant was filling the tank, he jumped when he saw a body laying in the back. Just then the sleeper work from his nap, tapped on the window and waved at the attendant. John’s friend never saw anybody run so fast in his whole life!  Death carries such power!

The resurrection of Jesus Christ reveals God’s power over death.  Matthew 28 reports what happened after Jesus died on the cross and was buried in a sealed tomb: 

“At dawn Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary went to look at the tomb… An angel of the Lord rolled the stone away from the entrance. Then he sat on the stone. He was shining as bright as lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here. He has risen from the dead as he said he would…”

HERE’S WHY THE RESURRECTION MATTERS SO MUCH

The cross reveals God’s love, but the resurrection reveals His power.

The death of Jesus on a cross reveals God’s GREAT LOVE. Jesus loved us enough to die for our sins.  Why did He have to die? He paid the penalty for our sins so we wouldn’t have to pay with our lives.  

This is the gospel: 

You are more sinful than you ever thought.  

You are more loved than you ever dreamed.

God has more power than you ever imagined.

The resurrection reveals God’s GREAT POWER.  He arose, breaking the power of death.  This gave Jesus the authority to bring everyone into His kind of life - eternal life, life GREATER than death! 

If you were in some dark remote prison, and someone who loved you came to rescue you, but died trying, you’d be grateful, but you’d still be in chains. If Christ had died to save us, but had not risen again, we’d still be subject to the prison of death.  Apart from the resurrection, He would only have proven His love. But He HAS defeated death and promises…

“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” John 11:25-26 (NLT) 

Happy Resurrection Sunday everyone.  And let’s remember…No matter what we’re facing in life, God’s power is greater.

How's Your Church's Culture?

CULTIVATING THE RIGHT CHURCH CULTURE

David Cannistraci

Many kinds of church culture are celebrated today. Model churches tout their specific approach to music, decor, organizational style and doctrine. Problem is, there can be no “one size fits all” approach to church culture.  What “they” are doing may not be fitting or even possible for “us.”

So then where should a local church’s culture come from?  The pattern of the Father sending the Son into the world.  When Jesus said…

“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21), He was affirming two vital truths:

  • The ministry of Jesus Christ continues on the earth through us - the church.  
  • We are being sent “as” (GK kathos) - “in the same manner” that the Father sent Jesus.  

The Father sending the Son should drive our ministry culture.  So how did the Father send the Son?

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  John 1:14, 16-17 (NKJV)

Jesus Christ was grace and truth on a mission.

We carry on with the ministry of Christ by moving in His mission, filled with grace and truth.

1.  Cultivate a Culture of Grace

People are drawn to grace, acceptance and a sense of being valued.

An atmosphere of grace was evident whenever Jesus was with people. Unlike the religious culture of His day, He refused to condemn.  His message to the woman caught in adultery was not “You sinner!” but, “I do not condemn you. Now go and sin no more” (John 8:11). 

His culture of grace and acceptance was magnetic.  Sinners avoided the Pharisees, but yearned to be around Jesus because He loved them.

We need more grace in our church cultures!

Three “Culture of Grace” Extinguishers

  • Condemnation.  How is failure handled in your church? It’s unattractive when churches come across as judgmental and “holier-than-thou.” 
  • Religiosity says, “Measure up! Keep our rules and we’ll we accept you.”  A culture of grace has a completely different feel that says, “We love you as God loves you.  Come discover something better.”
  • Intolerance.  Christians should be kind and loving, not harsh and disapproving.

Ministry in a multicultural world must be saturated with unstoppable kindness. 

This is one reason we have not made political parties a part of our culture.  We are not a Tea Party church or progressive church…we are a Jesus Church.  We are trying to reach all people: homosexuals, broken families, young people etc.  We are careful about creating a culture of grace.

2.  Cultivate a Culture of Truth

Being grace-filled does not imply a reluctance to speak truth or challenge sin.  In fact, we must challenge the sins and idols that rob people of true life.  Love compels us to speak the truth so people can flourish.  

Most our our churches are strong in the word, strong in truth.  We are a strong truth and doctrine movement, and we all know that is such a blessing.  

Don’t compromise truth in order to reach a culture.

 

Like Christ, we can teach the law and all the commands of God from a place of love, not legalism. Just as a loving father’s rules instruct and protect his children, God’s standards point the way to a flourishing life.  

  • One of the tools we created to help embed this into our church culture is our INSPIRED LIFE SERIES which MFI members are all receiving.  It is a manifesto of the Christian’s call to be a disciple.  If you want the sermons, please email me and I’ll send you what I have.

3.  Cultivate a Culture of Movement

 

The context of the glory of Jesus “full of grace and truth” is God’s movement toward man.  God had a mission.  He sent Christ who became flesh. Grace and truth came as the movement of heaven to redeem mankind.  Our ministry culture must reflect a similar sense mission and movement.

 Missio Dei - God is on a mission to seek, save and redeem. 

This mission controlled the life and message of Jesus.  The same Missio Dei must continue in the church, bringing forth a passion for evangelism, outreach, missions, church planting and reaching lost people which drives us at every level. 

One of the best ways to begin creating a culture of movement is to make a deep and wide review of mission and purpose. 

  • What is our God-given strategy for reaching unreached people?
  • Do we have an updated vision, mission and values document?
  • Does everyone clearly understand what our church is all about? 
  • Does our church culture help or hinder our mission and vision?
  • Are we prepared to sacrifice preferences in favor of our mission and vision?

It can be very helpful to have a facilitator help draw out your church’s unique vision

Then, believe God for the people and culture to become missional.  

Never stop leading people into a mission to reach out.

The right church culture is never copied or franchised.  It must be conceived and become flesh through the passion of God for a specific community. It may involve methods but it can only flow from the source of all life in the church: Jesus Himself, filling us through the Holy Spirit with His grace, truth and mission.