Love Your Neighbor

Last year was a very difficult year in many ways.

Our culture has been battered by one crisis after another: scandals, shootings, angry protests, and a constant barrage of mad pundits shouting at each other in the media 24 hours a day. Our nation is deeply polarized and fractured into splinter groups that demonize each other on the internet. And, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in violence in our streets, schools, theaters, and now even in churches.

We’ve seen the rise in vile bigotry, hateful racism, and ignorant prejudices against different cultures and immigrants—in a nation that was built by immigrants! I imagine the Statue of Liberty is weeping. And we’ve seen the videos and heard the voices of people genuinely hurt by injustice or poverty, or by having their job shipped overseas.

How should followers of Jesus respond to all the anger we see erupting today? How can God’s family, the church, be the “peacemakers” and the “ministers of reconciliation” that Jesus commands us to be? How do we build bridges to each other instead of walls around our hearts and homes? We can begin by loving like Jesus loved.

Here are five important ways to do just…

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Vision

You may be overflowing with vision for your ministry, but there is a point where you have to stop thinking about it and talking about it, and instead, start doing something about it—moving your vision toward a tangible reality. I’ve met thousands of pastors with incredible vision for ministry in their community, but sadly they never got past the thinking stage.

What good is a vision when it stays stuck in your head? Or if it languishes in the “talk stage” and never launches into the sea of faithful action? The vision behind Saddleback Church would be nothing more than that—a vision—without the steps of faith taken to plant, and then grow, the church.

God rarely asks you to take leaps of faith; rather, he encourages you to take small steps that grow larger as your faith grows larger.

But you’ve got to take the first step to get to all the other steps!

In the opening chapters of Joshua, the Israelites faced a faith-step: They stood just across the Jordan River from the Promised Land, a vision of home burned into their hearts during 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Their new leader,…

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Life can get busy for anyone, and this is certainly no different for pastors. And for pastors, there is a rhythm to our year that involves seasons of more intense ministry, like Christmas and Easter.

Regardless of the season you’re in right now, it’s always appropriate to withdraw and spend time seeking God’s favor on your life and ministry.

If we want to fulfill God’s vision for our lives and ministries, we must continually hear from God. We must believe that hearing from God daily is a requirement for us to truly shepherd our congregations. It is not just an add-on to our list of things to do; it is a necessity for being a loving and effective pastor.

The prophet Habakkuk says, “I will climb up to my watchtower” (Habakkuk 2:1 NLT).

This is his way of saying, I’m going to get alone with God.

It doesn’t matter where you get alone with God. You just need to find a place. I happen to like outside.

When my kids were growing up, I actually built a little prayer garden down on the slope behind my house where I could get away to pray and focus on…

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Mercy

God wants you to be an agent of mercy in the world.

Everyone needs mercy because everyone has messed up. We’ve all hurt other people and made mistakes. We’ve all sinned and we all have hurts, habits, and hang-ups as a result of the mistakes we’ve made.

Mercy changes the lives of people who have made mistakes, and we who have received mercy freely can change the world around us by showing mercy to others.

Here are four reasons to keep showing mercy to others.

1. Show mercy to others because God has been merciful to you.

The Bible says that God is merciful. It is emphasized all through the Bible. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of verses that talk about God’s mercy and his love, his compassion, and his grace.

Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace you have been saved” (GNT).

The point of that Scripture is this: God wants me to act in the same way to other people.

2. Show mercy to others because God commands…

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Give Gift

By Danny Duchene, National Director Celebrate Recovery Inside

“Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and my words.”

A few weeks ago I taught the “Give” lesson from the Celebrate Recovery Leader’s Guide. As I was preparing the message, a statement from Pastor John Baker stood out for me. He said, “By placing God first in your life, you will realize that everything you have is a gift from him.”

This was the pivotal statement for the lesson on “Give.” All that we have comes from God. This includes material possessions, our recovery, and even the encouragement we have received from others. In reality, it was God working through people that brought recovery and encouragement into our lives. Even our faith is a gift from God.

When we share our faith with others, we are sharing a gift given to us. It was the greatest gift when Jesus gave his life. “ did not even keep back his own Son, but offered him for us all! He gave us his Son—will he not also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 GNT). Take a moment…

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Christmas Gift

Lori’s brother was given a 23-year sentence. Out of compassion Lori chose to raise her brother’s daughter. Becky was only 3 years old when Lori became her new mother. Since Becky’s dad was arrested close to Christmas, the season always came with difficult emotions. But when Becky was 5 years old, something new began showing up that reminded her of her daddy’s love: Angel Tree gifts, brought through Prison Fellowship’s Project Angel Tree. For the next 10 years Becky was an “Angel.” This means that from the age of 5 to the age of 15, Becky received regular gifts from her daddy, who was incarcerated. Every year, when the Angel Tree gifts were brought by local church volunteers, Becky jumped up and down with delight, because not only was she getting a Christmas gift, it was from her daddy.

As Becky entered her teens she gained a better understanding of her dad’s circumstances. She realized that her dad was not buying and sending the gifts to her by himself, but that caring people she had never met were volunteering their resources and time to bring her gifts in the name of her daddy….

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The difference between being a church attender and a church member is commitment.

Attenders are spectators from the sidelines; members get involved in the ministry. Attenders are consumers; members are contributors. Attenders want the benefits of a church without sharing the responsibility.

Yet one of the biggest hurdles you face as a church leader is convincing attenders they need to commit themselves to the church family and become members.

Today’s culture of independent individualism has created many spiritual orphans who hop from one church to another without any identity, accountability, or commitment.

Many believe it is possible to be a “good Christian” without joining a local church. How can you convince them otherwise?

God is not silent on the issue. The Bible offers many compelling reasons why every believer needs to be committed to and active in a local fellowship. And one of the best things you can do is communicate this biblical reasoning on a regular basis.

Here are six biblical reasons to commit yourself to membership in a local church.

A church family identifies you as a genuine believer.

I can’t claim to be following Christ if I’m not committed to any specific group of disciples….

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The Path

Why do churches have so many members who give little or no evidence of Christian commitment or even conversion? Why do many churches find it difficult to motivate members to give, serve, pray, and share their faith?

The answer is simple. The members were allowed to join with no expectations placed on them. You get what you ask for!

While becoming a Christian means to commit yourself to Christ, becoming a church member means to commit yourself to other Christians. Paul mentions two different types of commitment in 2 Corinthians 8:5 – “First they gave themselves to the Lord; and then, by God’s will, they gave themselves to us as well” (GNT).

At Saddleback, we call these the first-base commitments. You commit yourself to Christ for salvation, and then you commit yourself to other Christians for membership in our church family.

At Saddleback, we only expect of our members what the Bible clearly expects of all believers. These expectations are summarized in our membership covenant. It is the most important element of our membership class.

We have four requirements for membership:

A personal profession of Christ as Lord and Savior, baptism by immersion as a public symbol of…

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Giving and Multiplying Fruit

God came up with the idea of multiplication.

If you give him your time, he multiplies it. If you give him your money, he multiplies it. If you give him your talent, he multiplies it. If you give him your energy, guess what? He multiplies it.

It’s the same principle as planting seeds. Second Corinthians 9:10 says, “God gives seed to the farmer . . . God will also give you seed and multiply it. In your lives he will increase the things you do that have his approval” (GW).

Think about that: God will increase the things you do that have his approval.

Farmers know that seed must be given away for it to increase. If you keep seed in a sack, it doesn’t do any good. But when you plant it, it multiplies. When you plant one corn seed, do you just get one corn seed back? No, you get a stalk with hundreds of corn kernels. When you plant one watermelon seed, do you only get one seed back? No, you get a bunch of watermelons with hundreds of seeds in them. God multiplies whatever little bit you give him.

“Remember that…

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Vision and Direction

It’s been said many times by many different people that everything rises or falls on leadership. I don’t think that’s ever truer than in ministry. Charles McKay, a former professor at California Baptist College, used to say, “If you want to know the temperature of your church, put the thermometer in your mouth.”

You can’t ever take people further than you are yourself, spiritually or any other way.

I remember when I was interviewed on the ACTS television network by former SBC president, Jimmy Allen, and he asked me about starting new churches. He said, “How important is location?” I told him that location is the second most important thing. But the most important thing is not location, but leadership in a church.

You don’t have to be a charismatic leader (in the emotional sense) to be a great leader. Personality has almost nothing to do with dynamic leadership.

Vision Matters

It’s not the charisma of the leader that matters, but the vision of the leader. Whatever your assignment may be in your church, no matter what your ministry concentration may be, your number one responsibility of leadership in that area is to continually clarify and communicate the…

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Friends

Some of the greatest preachers in history were great at introducing and delivering sermons, but poor at closing them. We preach Christ and we preach a Gospel that calls for commitment, so powerful preaching presses for a verdict.

This is an area I spend a lot of time on when I’m preparing a message because a sermon without a conclusion is a message without a purpose. Changed lives come from great conclusions. John Stott said, “If there is no summons, there is no sermon.”

First, avoid these four common mistakes:

  • Don’t just summarize the message. Ask people to act.
  • Don’t announce that you’re concluding, especially if you don’t mean it.
  • Don’t blame the clock and rush to a conclusion.
  • Don’t introduce new ideas or extra points in your conclusion.

Instead, conclude by doing these things:

1. Always point back to Jesus Christ.

Jesus is center stage. The goal of preaching is not to get people to fall in love with you as the preacher but to get them to fall in love with Jesus. Since the Bible is the story of Jesus’ redemptive work, every sermon ought to draw people to the cross…

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Freedom

By Alexandra Applegate, Storytelling Intern at Saddleback Church

The echoes of Jerry’s screams bounced off the walls and the vulgar words he used rang in his ears, making his wife and children recoil in fear. When he lost control and became inconsolably angry like this, it was hard for Jerry to look in the mirror and not see his own parents.

Jerry’s father was a military man who believed physical abuse was a form of discipline, and Jerry’s mother spent most nights drinking rather than being with Jerry. The time spent at his father’s brought physical bruises and tears while the time spent at his mother’s left him questioning why he wasn’t her first priority. Consistently being mistreated and forgotten about by his divorced parents left him with an anger he didn’t know how to separate himself from as an adult.

“I had my father’s anger. It was explosive at any given time,” Jerry said. “When something didn’t go my way, I got angry. If I couldn’t control the situation, I got angry. I yelled, I cursed, whatever made me feel better at the time.”

During his adulthood, this anger continued to lurk around every corner of Jerry’s…

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