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.

 

Shining in the Darkness

2000 years ago, a new Rabbi gathered a crowd of common people on a sloping hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  In the bright sunlight, hilltop villages stood in clear view.  He spoke these words:

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT) 

The Sermon on the Mount was given to ordinary people, yet He said, “You are like light for the world.”  This would have been surprising to simple people, especially because the top rabbis of their day were called “great lights.”  Jesus was shifting the focus from the rabbis to the people: YOU are the light.  Why?  The Father loves the world.  He wants all believers to shine so all people will have light.

The world is in darkness.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but…against mighty powers in this dark world…” Ephesians 6:12 (NLT) 
The darkness of the world is a spiritual darkness.  It is dark because it is evil - opposing the light of God.  War, addictions, violence, injustice, and disease seem to be filling the earth.  Darkness is hitting our families, schools, marriages and cities.  Spiritual darkness oppresses and endangers people.

Darkness brings death, but the light of Christ brings life!

The best news is people don’t have to stay in darkness, confusion, frustration and pain.  

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” John 12:46 (NIV) 

We can choose light, we can choose life. Jesus promised that when we give ourselves to him he will put his light within us and his light will overcome our darkness and it will provide the direction we need in life.  Some of you remember your dark days before Christ.  I’m so glad we’ll never be in darkness again!

The church is a chosen light.

Jesus said “YOU (the church) are the light of the world.”  Isn’t HE the light?  Yes, but He’s no longer physically in the world, so we must shine.  As the moon reflects the sun’s light even when the sun’s down, 

We reflect the glory of Jesus and give light to the world.

Throughout history, the followers of Jesus have been more instrumental in freeing slaves, protecting women, children and the unborn, and elevating the rights of minorities than any other philosophy or religion.  By their light, millions have been lifted from illiteracy and ignorance.  God’s shining people have done more to reverse addiction, disease, starvation and famine than any other force known to man. The Red Cross was started by an evangelical Christian. Almost every one of the first 123 colleges and universities in the US were founded by Christians. The same could be said of countless orphanages, adoption agencies, shelters, hospitals and relief agencies around the world.  As a follower of Jesus, you are the bright light Jesus was speaking of.

“You are the light” is an affirmation of our worth and potential.  As light, we illuminate, reveal, clarify, give perspective, point the way, overcome darkness and save those around us.  What ahuge privilege!

“Here’s His objective: through the church, He intends now to make known His infinite and boundless wisdom to all rulers and authorities in heavenly realms.”  Ephesians 3:10 (TVT) 

It’s time for us to shine!

Jesus commanded us to shine:  “Be like a city on a hill—be like a lamp shining out in this dark world.”

“You used to be like people living in the dark, but now you are people of the light because you belong to the Lord. So act like people of the light.”  Ephesians 5:8 (CEV)

Aren’t you glad you belong to the Lord?  Now it’s time for us to live as the people of light!

How do we shine? Do walk up and say, “Hi—I’m a Christian” ?  No. Jesus said: “Men will see your good deeds and praise the Father.”  People want to see a sermon before they hear one.  Our message comes through in the daily acts of grace compassion we do for others.  We were born for this:

“Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” Philippians 2:15 (NLT) 

A Christian shines like a bird sings.  We don’t fake it and we don’t have to force it. We aren’t ashamed, we just shine!  In their pain, people are drawn to our light.

 

Seven Ways Disciples are Different than Believers

Then Jesus said to those who had believed him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:31-32 (NET) 

Notice two kinds of people here: believers and those who are true disciples.   This may shock some of you, but

not everyone who believes in Jesus is a follower of Jesus.  Understanding that difference is crucial to living an Inspired Life. 

“Do you believe that there is only one God? Good! The demons also believe—and tremble with fear.”  James 2:19-26 (GNT) 

Jesus calls us to more than belief.  He calls us to be His disciples.  

What’s a disciple?  There is much to say about that word, but the idea is one who FOLLOWS a master’s way of life and teaching.  “Disciple” makes us think of the twelve disciples, because they forsook everything and followed Jesus.  The heart of discipleship is FOLLOWING. 

How are disciples different from believers?

1.  THE CROSS: Believer look to the cross. A Disciple pick up the cross (Matthew 16:22-24).

2.  OBEDIENCE: A Believer obeys God if it’s convenient. A Disciple obeys no matter the outcome.

3.  DECISIONS: A Believer decides once, A Disciple decides daily. 

4.  FOCUS: Believers focus on eternal life, A Disciple focus on eternal rewards.

5.  PRAYER: A Believer prays when things get tough. A Disciple prays no matter the circumstance.

6.  SCRIPTURE: A Believer twists the Bible to fit his or her lifestyle. A Disciple works to make his or her lifestyle resemble the teachings of the Bible.

7.  ETERNAL IMPACT: Believers make heaven.  Disciples make history.

Are you following Christ, or are you merely a believer?  You have a huge decision to make, but it will be worth everything you have to gain what only Christ can give you.

Becoming More and More Like Christ

“Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son…” Romans 8:29 (GNT) 

The Inspired Life is about the process of becoming more and more like Christ.

1.  There is a perfect blueprint

“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.”  1 Peter 2:21(NLT) 

What is a blueprint? It’s a pattern that reveals how things are to look when you’re finished.  Jesus is that for us.  He lived His life as an example to us.  His way of living, speaking, loving, praying and working through life is a blueprint of how we are to live: He obeyed, so I obey.  He trusted, so I trust. He prayed, so I pray. As incredible as it sounds, we are called to live as Jesus lived…and we can!

“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6 (NLT) 

When I think about how I’m living in comparison to the blueprint I’m following, I fall short and say:  Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.  But when God gets finished with me, I’ll (mostly) look like, live like and love like Jesus.  Are you living with the right blueprint?  How is your relationship with the God as Your Heavenly Father?

2.  There is a construction process

“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.”  1 Corinthians 3:9 

You and I are under construction!  I drove by some tornado damaged homes in Dallas recently that were being rebuilt.  It reminded me how many of us have been damaged in life.  Is that you?  Stop pushing yourself to total perfection.  Be thankful for what God has done so far.

Have any of you ever remodeled or built?  I’ve been through a few construction jobs in the church and the mission field.  It’s messy, unpredictable, expensive, inconvenient, frustrating and exhausting.  How do you get through the building process?

“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God's throne.”  Hebrews 12:2 (GNT) 

You have to focus on how nice things will be when it’s finished.  In a natural construction, you have a new home, church etc.  In this spiritual process, you’ll look like Jesus and have a new, inspired life!

Keep your eyes on Him.  Your marriage, business and ministry is being built.  It’s messy and hard, but it will be worth it if you stick with the blueprint and stay in the process until it is complete.

3.  There is a call to build others

“So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.”   Romans 14:19 (NLT) 

You have a mission to fulfill in your life.  God has given you a purpose and an assignment.  

Recently, Pastors Albert and Genny were honored by Reality for the past ten years of service.  (They are transitioning out of Reality and into Lift, leaving Jordan and April Cannistraci to lead Reality.)  One by one, the testimonies from the kids poured out:  Pastor Albert and Genny invested in me, believed in me, were there for me.  They literally BUILT they students lives.  

Would say God, use me to build the lives of others?  You are not just being built, you are a builder…of others.  As you are being loved, you’ll love others.  As you’re being built, you will build others.  As you become a disciple, you will disciple others.  As He does great things in your life, you’ll do great things for Him.

You may feel unworthy and discouraged…like you’re a mess.  God is not finished with you.  It will be worth it and God is faithful.  There is a blueprint, a process and a purpose…and it WILL be completed.

“I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (CEB) 

 

RECEIVING PURE VISION FROM THE LORD

Pastor David Cannistraci

 

Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”

Would you like to have God show you great and mighty things you’ve never seen?  That’s vision.  

We need a vision larger than our will if we are going to be happy.  

If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.”  Proverbs 29:18 (MSG) 

 

True vision is a revelation of God’s will, not ours.  It comes from God saying, "That is what I want to do; this is how I will do it."  As we follow that, we end up in His will and in the place of joy. 

 

THERE ARE FOUR SOURCES OF PURE VISION IN OUR LIVES

 

1.  Pure Vision comes from the Holy Spirit

 

1 Cor. 2:10-12 [NLT] - But we know these things because God has revealed them to us by his Spirit, and his Spirit searches out everything and shows us even God's deep secrets…God has actually given us his Spirit (not the world's spirit) so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

 

The HS wants to show us the secrets of God’s heart through prophecy, dreams and visions in these last days (Acts 2:13) Be open to the Spirit.  Believe for revelation.

 

2.  Pure Vision comes from the Word of God

 

Psalm 119:105,133 (NKJV) - Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path…Direct my steps by Your word…

 Are you spending regular time seeking God and His vision for your life through the Scripture?  

 

3.  Pure Vision comes from fasting and prayer

 

Acts 13:2 (NIV) - While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 

 

Fast and pray a day a week. Get a vision personally!  Not just because I say it…hear God say it.

 

4.  Pure Vision comes from our spiritual leaders

 

Phil. 3:17 (NLT) - Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. 

 

Leaders are people with a God-given vision.  Don’t let someone who doesn’t have the vision speak into your life.  That’s like learning to play guitar from someone who has never played.

 

A SIMPLE BUT POWERFUL PLAN FOR GAINING VISION

 

Habakkuk 2:1,2 (NKJV) – “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected. Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.”

 

Step 1 – Get Alone With God

 

  • Habakkuk said, "I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart..." He had to go to a quiet place, free from distractions.  He had to quiet his own ideas and emotions.

 

Psalm 46:10 (NIV) - “Be still, and know that I am God…”

 

Step 2 – Watch and Listen

 

  • Watching: If you expect God to show you something, you have to watch for it. If you fix your eyes on Jesus, you’ll get His vision. If you fix your gaze upon some desire of your heart, your intuitive flow will come out of that desire of your heart, and will not be pure.

    

  • Listening:  Habakkuk knew the sound of God's voice. Elijah described it as a still, small voice (I Kings 19:12). Most of the time, God's voice comes to us as impressions.

 

Step 3 – Write Down Your Thoughts

 

  • God told Habakkuk to write the vision down (Hab. 2:2). Learn to keep a journal. A journal is not a diary; it’s a recording of the lessons and insights God gives you. God told Moses to do this when Israel was in their wilderness: 

    

Numbers 33:2 (NLT) - “At the Lord's direction, Moses kept a written record of their progress.”  

 

Writing the vision helps you record the direction of God for your life so you can run!

 

But remember “it is for the appointed time.”  At first you may be the only one that sees the vision, but soon others will see it.  Some may criticize it, others may laugh.

 

I see a great vision ahead for us as a church.  I see it all coming together. There will be sacrifice and risk, but I see great things coming out of this house and touching a hurting world.

 

I challenge each of you that desire to see a fresh vision:

 

  • Set aside time this month to sit quietly alone with God, opening your ears and eyes.  Ask Him to show you great and mighty things.  God will answer you in a powerful way. 

 

  • Join with your leaders and friends in this community in a larger vision

 

 

VISION: WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR 2016?

Pastor David Cannistraci

 

Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?”  And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.”  Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.”  Jeremiah 1:11-12 (NKJV) 

 

Vision is a revelation of the will of God.  

 

It is the ability to see into the spiritual world through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Vision is supernatural spiritual insight.  When God gives a vision to a person, He is saying, "That is what I desire to do; this is when and how I will do it."

 

But we know these things because God has revealed them to us by his Spirit, and his Spirit searches out everything and shows us even God's deep secrets…God has actually given us his Spirit (not the world's spirit) so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.” 1 Cor. 2:10-12 (NLT)

 

The Holy Spirit wants to show us the secrets that are on God’s heart.  He wants to give us vision and show us the things he has in mind for us even in this New Year!

 

Vision is essential to our spiritual survival:  

 

If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.”  Proverbs 29:18 (MSG) 

 

FOUR THINGS THE HOLY SPIRIT BRINGS TO YOUR LIFE THROUGH VISION

 

1.  Vision Brings Purpose 

 

When we have a vision, we have the answer to the question WHY? Why am I going to church? (Budgeting, exercising, reading my Bible?) It gives us MEANING. Too often we get a deteriorated vision, and we forget WHY we are doing what we’re doing. Life becomes routine, empty, and meaningless.

 

2.  Vision Brings Motivation

 

Habakkuk says “Write the vision, make it plain… that he may RUN who reads it.”  There is a powerful link between vision and action.  Without a vision, we will not run. Vision motivates and ignites in us desire to be a part of fulfilling God’s divine plan. When you forget your vision, you’ll forget to pray, work and believe for it.  When you have a vision, every day is another step toward making the vision reality.

 

3.  Vision Brings Faith

 

Vision helps you with risk taking.  When you see the vision, you’ll take the chance. You can be a victorious Christian without "stepping out in faith" and attempting great things. William Carey said, "Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God." 

 

4.  Vision Brings Unity.  

 

When we all have a common vision, we can work together across our differences.  “The team that prays together and dreams together stays together.”  Unity is a miracle born by vision.

 

GateWay City Church has a clear vision:  Inspiring Transformed Lives.

 

We see a life-giving church that GATHERS, GROWS AND GOes.  We see a family church that helping men, women and children to grow.  We see a church full of prayer, new life freedom, prophecy, and healing miracles.  We see a friendly church with people of every race and age worshipping together.  We see a church where people connect in small groups.  We see a church that trains and sends people.  I see a church in unity with the city church driving back darkness and welcome the love of the Jesus into the community.  We see an expanding church, growing with campuses and church plants and international connections.

 

Is that a vision you can get excited about?  Is that worth all the work, giving and prayer?

 

I want to ask you about your life RIGHT NOW.  Do you see anything?  Jesus does.  He sees such treasure that came to find you and claim you as His own.  Do you see anything?

 

Let’s ask the HS for VISION in this New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTMAS PEOPLE

CHRISTMAS PEOPLE

CHRISTMAS: It’s the story of Jesus coming into the world. A baby, a manger, a star in the east, God with us—you remember the story. But WHY? Why did Jesus come? He explains in His owns words:

John 18:37 (GNT) – “I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth.”

It’s been a great year, but this Christmas, let's ask ourselves: What’s MY purpose? Why was I born?

God is raising up a people, who—like Jesus—understand why they’ve come, and YOU are one of them.

CHRISTMAS: A JOURNEY INTO PURPOSE

John 12:27 (NKJV) - “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”

Jesus had eternal glory in heaven. But the Father’s plan took him on that journey into humanity where He encountered pain, limitations and betrayal. He faced the loneliness at Gethsemane, agony of Calvary.

Why did He do this? Jesus had a PURPOSE. And He wants to give you one too.

Every purpose has a timing that must be discerned.

My journey into purpose was a surprising one, as I considered myself unlikely for a calling. I never sought these things out, but PURPOSE came to me, just as it now comes to you. God has brought you here to be a part of this cause and vision. You can’t run from the cause, it’s all over you!

I have not always clearly understood the call, but I have always felt it keenly. The purpose determines where you live. The purpose determines how you live. It moves you to give, work and pray. And it brings you through periods of great discouragement and darkness.

WHAT IS OUR PURPOSE IN THIS CRUCIAL TIME / SEASON?

John 20:21 (NLT) - “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

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

Christmas people have the same purpose that Jesus had.

In The Christ of the Indian Road by the great 20th century missionary and theologian E. Stanley Jones, Jones asked Gandhi how to introduce Christianity to India. Gandhi replied, “I would suggest first of all that all of you Christians, missionaries and all begin to live more like Jesus Christ.”

RIGHT NOW, everyone has a purpose

Acts 26:18 (NLV) – “You are to open their eyes. You are to turn them from darkness to light…from the power of Satan to the power of God. In this way, they may have their sins forgiven. They may have what is given to them, along with all those who are set apart for God.”

A lighthouse along the coast was tended by a keeper who was given enough oil for 30 nights and told to keep the light burning. One day a woman asked for oil so she wouldn’t run out. Then a farmer needed oil for a lamp to read by. Still another needed some for an engine. The keeper was moved and gave out just enough oil to satisfy all. Near the end of the month, the lighthouse tank ran dry. That night the beacon was dark and three ships crashed on the rocks. 100 lives were lost. When officials investigated, the man explained what he had done. “You were given one task alone,” insisted the official. “It was to keep the light burning. Everything else was secondary. How could you miss this one simple purpose?”

Philippians 2:15 (NLT) – “Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.”

RIGHT NOW, everyone can be involved

Ephesians 1:11 (NLT) - “For he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.”

There’s a pattern in history: People suffer, God hears the cries of suffering, God raises up a person, God ends the suffering through that person. Hear this prophetically:

You are the person God has chosen to change the world.

Every man, woman, child has a place. Small group discipleship maximizes the individual’s destiny.

Ephesians 4:13 (GNT) - “And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature.”

Purpose: We are servants not spectators.

1 Peter 2:9 (CEV) – “You are God's chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. God has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Now you must tell all the wonderful things that he has done.”

Do you ever wonder what God thinks of you? If you’re lost, He finds you so valuable that He sent His Son for you. You may feel God doesn’t care about you, but He does. He proved it in Christ. You matter!

If you’ve already accepted Christ, you’re chosen and He wants to use you.

We have a cabinet filled with pretty plates and cups and bowls—silver, crystal and china. We look at them, but we never use them. God doesn’t want us to be crystal he can only look at. He said you are beautiful and special and gifted…let me use you.

Jesus knew His purpose and His time. He followed the Father’s plan in every area of His life. Now, He has a purpose for each of us. And somehow we are together in that purpose. As we come to the end of 2015, I challenge every one of us to become a person of purpose!

SURVIVOR: THE LOCAL CHURCH

By David Cannistraci

Have you noticed how reality television shows are sweeping our nation? Like it or not, shows like NBC’s Fear Factor and The Apprentice, ABC’s Extreme Makeover and Fox’s American Idol are revolutionizing the way millions of us entertain ourselves.  

While some of these shows contain objectionable content, I must admit to enjoying CBS’s Survivor series.  Survivor has an interesting set-up: For 39 days, 16 castaways are stranded in a dangerous remote location.  They are forced to band together and carve out a new life.  They have to use their wits to form tribes, build shelter, find food, and win rewards.  Day by day, the rough conditions and competitive challenges test the endurance of the survivors, while cameras capture their unscripted experiences. Those who succeed are rewarded and stay in the game. Those who fall short risk being voted off at the Tribal Council. Each week, another contestant is voted off, until only the Sole Survivor remains to claim the reward: a million dollars in cash.

When I first saw Survivor, I was overcome with a strange deja-vous experience. Where had I seen this kind of reality before?  The social clicks, the secret divisions, the unbridled rivalry and shocking betrayals. Then it came to me:  I know where I’ve seen this. These people are in my church, and they’re playing this game!

That’s when an idea for another reality series was born in my heart:  Survivor - The LocalChurch!  Okay, this may be a little over the edge, but before you vote me off the island, just think about it.  As believers in local churches, we are like strangers stranded in a strange world.  We band together into groups, carve out new lives, and struggle to work together.  All too often, we hurt each other and lose our rewards.  Shouldn’t we learn how to overcome these challenges and become Soul Survivors?

SURVIVAL SKILLS

All kidding aside, as a pastor, I want to see people become successful in the local church experience.  God designed the church as a place of healing, blessing, maturing and restoration for our lives, and it can work beautifully.  But since we’re talking about reality, we should face the fact that sometimes the church can be a pretty dangerous place.  Anyone ever been abandoned by a distracted leader?  Betrayed by a brother once trusted?  Blindsided by a church split? 

Despite the many blessings of the local church, we can be hurt there, especially if we don’t know what the rules are.  In the Survivor series, everyone has to follow the rules of the game or they lose their chance to win.  What are some rules we should stick to as we work toward surviving in the sometimes-perilous setting of the local church?

1.  Don’t compete with other members of the tribe.  Ted faded out of his church because he constantly clashed with Gene.  It didn’t seem right to Ted that Gene was made an elder. Besides, he had been in the church a long time.  Why hadn’t he been promoted? 

Nobody wins when carnal competition kills the spirit of unity.  That’s why Paul warned Timothy to mark those who have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk…and constant friction” (1 Timothy 6:4-5, NIV). The health of any spiritual tribe begins with a love that draws them together into one heart and vision to succeed together.
  
2.  Flow with your tribal elders.  Will and Donna became enraged over the direction the worship pastor gave them for their dance ministry, and began a subtle campaign against her in the church.  Why couldn’t they dance when and where they felt led?  These manmade rules were grieving the Holy Spirit!  They eventually left, pulling their daughters out of the youth group and away from the friends they loved.  

It may not be a popular truth, but the Bible teaches us to fully cooperate with our spiritual leaders—and with good reason.  “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls…” (Hebrews 13:17).  Having a balanced relationship with a healthy Christian leader is key to our survival.  Resisting them is resisting God, and opens the door to hardships (Romans 13:1-2).

When we have a disagreement with a leader, we should determine if it is a matter of essential biblical truth (like the deity of Christ), or just a difference of opinion (like what color the sanctuary chairs should be). If a leader is in violation of God’s Word, humbly appeal to them.  But when it comes to mere differences of opinion, the Lord expects us to cooperate for the sake of unity and our own spiritual health.  

3.  Avoid unreasonable expectations of the tribe.  Pam joined her church with high hopes that this would be the place where her deepest needs would finally be met, but within a year announced that she was upset because the leaders never seemed to have enough time for her. She missed the message of David, who said, “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him” (Psa. 62:5). 

Sometimes people get disappointed when they discover the church can’t meet all their needs. The truth is the church isn’t supposed to meet all our needs. Only God can do that.  Instead of expecting too much of others, remember that people are not our source. Let’s put our trust in God.  He never disappoints!

THE ULTIMATE IMMUNITY CHALLENGE

In the Survivor series, survivors are challenged to win immunity—a guarantee that they cannot be voted out of the game by their opponents at the tribal council.  In the local church version of Survivor, we are challenged to position ourselves to be immune to the attacks of our spiritual enemy.  One of the ways we can do this is by understanding how to deal with the issue of offenses.

Nothing brings believers into defeat quicker than unresolved offenses.  The enemy uses offenses to create an atmosphere of hostility and tension in a church.  His goal is to sow seeds that lead to slander, backbiting and gossip.  Once those dynamics are in operation, the church’s mission is jeopardized because everything centers in selfish interests.  Worst of all, the Holy Spirit is grieved and our close fellowship with Him is broken.  

We can overcome the challenge of offenses by choosing the pathway of peace.  Sue had worked hard to prepare for her ministry to the four- and five-year-olds on Sunday morning.  She knew how important children were, and she didn’t mind the extra responsibility when her turn came to help out in children’s ministry.   Though it wasn’t an easy job, Sue took special care to make sure that the children would enjoy their time learning about God’s Word.  When Troy slipped and banged his forehead on a bookshelf, Sue felt terrible.  She tried to explain how it happened to his mother, but before she could finish, Troy’s mom interrupted curtly and accused Sue of neglecting the children.  Those words were like arrows in her heart.  But Sue was a strong believer, and decided not to react unkindly or become offended.  She knew that offenses could rob her of the blessings God had for her in children’s ministry.  Later on, she was able to smooth things out with Troy’s mom, and they became close friends as a result.

Jesus marked out the pathway to peace in the local church, where He knew that issues would arise between believers: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15).  These powerful words confront us with at least three challenges we must press through when we are offended:

1.  Can we keep it honest?   When Jerry asked Marvin why he was upset, Marvin shot back, “I am NOT upset!”  Oh really?  We need to get truthful with ourselves and then with those who have offended us.  Cover-ups and denial are unhealthy, and make us an easy target for the enemy.  Jesus said, “Go tell your brother what your issue is.”

2.  Can we keep it private?  When we go to our offender, we must do it privately.  It’s a mistake to bring others into our offense, even under the veil of “sharing prayer needs.”  Telling another of our hurt is a cheap attempt to chip away at their character, and a harmful violation of the spirit of unity and love. 

3. Can we keep it redemptive?  According to Jesus, the goal is to regain our brother.  That’s the power of the cross working in our relationships.  We’ve all seen attempts at reconciliation end up in a mess because the goal was to set the record straight instead of regain fellowship.  But victory doesn’t come when we humble our offender or prove them wrong; it comes when we make a faithful effort to restore the relationship.  

By the way, keeping spiritual immunity involves a responsibility to listen when someone comes to us with a relational issue.  Let’s hear what they are saying, and examine ourselves to see if their perspective might be valuable.  If there is a hurt, let’s do our part to get it healed, and move forward to our place of greater maturity. 

We face an immunity challenge every time an offense arises: Are we going to hook in and risk losing our connection to God’s people, or will we choose forgiveness and reconciliation?  If we are wise, we’ll follow the words of Jesus and keep it honest, private and redemptive.  

What if we find ourselves in a spiritually unhealthy atmosphere?  Is there ever a time when we might need to leave a church in order to remain a healthy survivor?  It is true that some church environments are toxic and even abusive.  In those situations, we need to seek the counsel of mature and healthy believers and pray about God’s order for your life.  He may well lead us to leave, but it is important that we “go out with joy, and be led forth with peace” (Isaiah 55:12).  It is never right to react out of offense, or to create a division that brings harm to others. 

You and I are not called to play games, but we are called to be spiritual survivors.  Isaiah prophesied of a spiritual nation that would overcome the dangers of their day: “For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 37:32, NIV).

I believe we are those survivors that God is passionately calling forth.   It would be great if every local church were completely safe.  But then, where would the challenge be, and how would we grow in a spiritual hothouse?  If we’ll apply the survival skills we find in God’s Word, He will zealously watch over us to see that we thrive in the local church.  

Let’s renew our commitment to the local church.  When we face pain, let’s stay with the pathway of peace.  And whatever we do, let’s not give up on the real blessings churches bring to our lives.  We’re called to be survivors, and that’s a challenge we need to face together!

YOU ARE ATTRACTIVE TO GOD

By David Cannistraci

Once you experience the love of God, you’ll never feel unloved again.

They thought she was fast asleep, but Leah heard everything—Rachel’s flirtatious invitation, Jacob’s coy reply, and the hushed sounds of her husband stealing a moment of passion with his other wife.  The warm night air carried the unwanted report to Leah’s lonely tent.  Such news had the same effect each time it came, deflating her hope of ever being the cherished one.

Though Leah loved Jacob desperately, she felt completely invisible to him. Her desperation to attract her husband’s attention was so intense that it often blurred the line between real life and wishful thinking.  Had Jacob stolen a glance at me the other day?  Did he wink approvingly, or am I imagining it again? Leah’s heart ached to be desired by the only man she had ever loved.

The silent stars shone brightly above, but offered no hopeful signs to her famished heart. Her reality was cruel and unavoidable: As the older, less attractive of two sisters, Leah had been forced on Jacob by her father.  She was his first wife, but would never be his first love.  

How do you survive emotionally in a world where you know you’re unloved?  As a pastor, I’ve seen many women face this heartbreak. Some are wives who go to desperate ends to win the love of their indifferent husbands.  Others are single and feel invisible to men in the church.  They wonder what might happen if they relaxed their spiritual standards and got out more —would anyone notice them then?  

Many women deal with the devastating lie that they are unattractive and unwanted by building protective walls around their hearts.  They shield themselves with the busyness of a career, the refuge of perfectionism, or the comfort of some guilty self-indulgence.  When the isolation becomes too painful, they might resort to provoking a conflict with those they love, hoping to prompt a breakthrough.  Others may run away, praying to be pursued.  Nearly all struggle with sadness because their attempts to write a new life-script always wind down to the same tragic ending: They are alone, unseen, unloved.

The story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel is an inspiring chapter in the larger narrative of the Christian faith, but it also communicates a special message to women seeking emotional fulfillment:  A man can never fully satisfy a woman’s heart.  He is not meant to fulfill her deepest needs.  Only God sees a woman’s need, and only He can meet it.

Waking Up with Jacob

Laban’s awkward daughter grew up in the painful shadow of her younger sister Rachel, a stunning beauty with a stormy personality.  The Bible says “Leah’s eyes were weak and dull looking, but Rachel was beautiful and attractive” (Genesis 29:17, AMP).  It wasn’t easy being the plain one.  Everyone knows the world is nicer to pretty girls, and ugly ducklings aren’t crowned as prom queens.

Jacob had fallen for Rachel at first sight.  He never gave Leah a second look, but he was willing to work seven long years to seal a deal for Rachel.  When their wedding day finally came, Jacob was eager.  The ceremony was grand; the applause of family and friends delightful, and Rachel looked picture-perfect.  The couple would soon be alone.

Imagine Jacob’s alarm when it was the bridesmaid Leah, not his bride Rachel, who lay beside him in bed the next morning!  Laban had switched Leah for Rachel in the night, anxious that his homely daughter would never get a man otherwise.  Jacob erupted when he discovered the fraud.  He was now obligated to two wives: Rachel, who was attractive, and Leah who was not.  

At the core of every woman lies a desire to be loved and cherished.  She wants to feel beautiful to her husband; wanted and needed as an equal.  She needs to know that her heart is safe and that she will always be respected and desired above all.  

What must Leah have felt that morning as she overheard Jacob complaining to Laban: “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I?” (v. 25)   If Leah had ever hoped for love—if she had ever dared to think she could compete with her beautiful sister—her illusions were dashed that morning.  When Leah woke up with Jacob, she was also waking up to a world of hurt: she was an unwanted bride, trapped in a loveless marriage.

Catching the Eye of God

Leah’s first months as a newlywed were overshadowed by three emotional clouds: she felt unsightly, she felt unwanted and she felt unloved. But in her pain, she would encounter a ray of hope that would eclipse her years of rejection and fill her with new self-worth:  Leah discovered that she was attractive to God.

The Bible says, “Because Leah was unloved, the LORD let her have a child, while Rachel was childless.” (Genesis 29:31, NLT)It is one of the most striking ironies in all of Scripture: Rachel the beloved was barren, while Leah the unloved caught the eye of God and became fruitful.  The tables were turned, and in a culture where childbearing was the highest mark of divine approval, Leah was suddenly holding all the cards.  Though Leah had been undesirable to Jacob, she was irresistible to God.  

It’s not the admired or the beautiful that capture God’s heart.  God prizes the Leahs.  He favors the empty, not the self-satisfied.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

God has always been attracted to unloved, overlooked people.  He explained to Jacob’s descendants, "The LORD did not choose you and lavish his love on you because you were larger or greater than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! It was simply because the LORD loves you…” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8, NLT) 

He chooses those that others overlook.  Writing of the precious diversity in the Body of Christ, Paul reminds us that“…the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care…So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-24, NLT).  As if to illustrate this truth, Scripture reveals that it was Judah, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah, whose tribe eventually produced a descendant named Jesus Christ.  Rachel was eventually able to give Jacob two sons, but The Desire of All Nations came from Leah, the least desired.  Christ was the stone which the builders rejected, but He has become the most important stone of all (Matthew 21:42). 

If you have ever questioned your value or beauty as a woman, you need to understand something.  In the eyes of God, you are more exquisite and rare than you can imagine.  You may have seen yourself as flawed, but God’s take on you is something entirely different.  Never forget that “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV) 

In His eyes, you are well worth pursuing.  He is chasing you, breaking through the walls that you have built to protect your heart.  His favor is overtaking you and healing your seasons of neglect, rejection and pain.  And whether you are in a loveless marriage or no marriage at all, your Creator is today your Husband (Isaiah 54:5).   His promise in the midst of your pain is “you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood…the Lord has called you back from your grief—as though you were a young wife abandoned by her husband” (vv. 4-6, NLT).  You don’t need to catch the eye of a man—you’ve caught the eye of the King of Kings.

Learning to be Loved

Now it was Rachel’s turn outside the tent.  While she watched and wrestled with feeling second-best, Jacob and Leah began a family. Leah began to heal, and with each new child, her heart grew stronger. The progression of her children’s births reveals her journey as a woman learning to be loved by God.  As time passed, and each child was named, another step in Leah’s passage from pain to praise is revealed.

Leah named her first son Reuben—The Lord Sees—for she said, “The Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now” (Genesis 29:32). Leah knew she was not first in Jacob’s heart, but she was hopeful that Reuben’s birth would change things. 

Still looking for her husband’s love, she gave birth to Simeon—The Lord Hears— saying, “Because the Lord heard that I was not loved, he gave me this son” (v. 33).  She was still unfulfilled, but she had learned an important lesson: God’s goodness could address her feelings of rejection.  This was a major step toward wholeness.

She called her next son Levi—Connected—saying, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have born him three sons” (v. 34).  She longed for intimacy and was hungry to connect emotionally.  That need would soon be met in a surprising way.

Jacob’s affection for Leah may not have changed much, but something was changing in her.  She named her next son Judah, which means Praise, saying, “Now I will praise the Lord” (v. 35). With this fourth son, Leah was able to shift her perspective. Instead of looking for Jacob’s love, she learned to look to the One who always had loved her.  At that moment, praise was born.

Leah’s journey reveals that a woman must learn to let God love her.  She begins by believing the Lord sees my pain and the Lord hears my cry.  This kind offaith is the foundation of her healing.  Her next step is to redirect her need to connect with a man and bring it straight to God.  A woman’s heart is changed the moment she says, “Though I haven’t connected with Jacob, God is enough for me.”  When Christ truly becomes her everything—when He is all she needs—her heart is finally filled, and she begins to birth to true praise.  

Leah’s entire way of thinking changed.  She moved from the vulnerability and misery of “I am unloved and unwanted” to the joy of “I am beautiful to God.”  Her focus shifted from what she lacked in life to what she possessed in God.  Her shame and pain lifted instantly.  Sorrow and abandonment became fading memories. 

Leah had looked to a man for validation. It never came.  If it had, she might never have recognized that God’s approval was all she needed.  When a woman places a man at the center of her life, she cannot avoid misery and disappointment. But when she learns to give her heart completely to the Lord, she becomes fruitful and enters into a life of complete satisfaction.  

If you’ve become tired of waiting for Jacob’s love, why not embrace God’s love and find your place of praise and healing?  No one can care for you like Him. He satisfies the deepest need. He heals the wounded heart and teaches it to be loved.  If you’ve been feeling like Leah waking up with Jacob, it’s time to hear that you are attractive to God.  When you learn to let Him love you, you’ll never feel unloved again.