How Voluntary Submission Changed My Life

By Robert

I was born to a 15-year-old girl who had been kicked out of her own home just before my birth. We lived in Austin, Texas, in a small duplex where my mother began doing drugs. I would bounce back and forth between my mom’s place and my dad’s house. The early years of my life were difficult times, filled with confusion and trauma. Over the course of those years, my aunt would take me into her room and molest me. I never told a soul.

Eventually, my mom met an older man who took us in and cared for us in a way that gave the illusion things were going to be okay. But it was just an illusion. My two younger brothers were born, and I felt as though my mom forgot I existed. So much of her attention was given to my brothers and my stepfather. I turned to my friends in the streets to seek refuge and meaning. I would be their entertainment by way of bullying, fighting, stealing, vandalizing, and setting things on fire. But at least they recognized my existence.

My stepfather…

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The Last One Standing

By Cheryl Luke, CR National Director for Cultural Communities

Do you remember playing team games as a child? Two leaders are chosen, and one by one, each leader picks team members. As the crowd decreases, those waiting to hear their name silently scream, “Pick me; I don’t want to be the last one standing!”

Picture the last individual waiting to be selected, their hands hanging at their sides. Looking down. Avoiding eye contact with the “chosen.” Realizing they’re the one that no one would select unless they had no other choice.

As a child, this can be devastating. As an adult, the sense of devastation is no less appalling.

In Judges 6:15, Gideon sees himself as insignificant and irrelevant among his people and family. He carries the weight of being the least of the least. Not only does Gideon feel inconsequential, but he also senses that his people have been completely abandoned by God. However, his perception couldn’t be further from the truth.

There’s more to Gideon than meets the eye! If you look at his situation from a place of sheer survival, one might think this guy is not doing much. He…

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7 Ways to Welcome Guests to Your Celebrate Recovery Ministry

I’ve said this over and over again at Saddleback.

Out of the 200 ministries we have at our church, Celebrate Recovery® is my favorite.

CR is all about changed lives—and that’s the biggest thrill of my life. If you want to know what makes Rick Warren tick, it’s pretty simple: changed lives.

All I need to do is hear one story of a life changed—a marriage saved, a teen who gets off drugs, or someone liberated from codependency—and I’m good for another month.

Changed lives keep me going.

I’ve never been around a ministry that sees so many lives changed by Christ as Celebrate Recovery. It’s a life-change machine—and I love it!

I know that God didn’t design the church to be a hotel for saints. He designed it to be a hospital for sinners. Your church’s Celebrate Recovery ministry demonstrates this on a weekly basis.

But if your Celebrate Recovery ministry is going to be a hospital for sinners and an incubator for changed lives, it needs to be a place where guests feel comfortable to attend.

Think about the first time you showed up at Celebrate Recovery. It…

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3 Ways to Keep Your Listener’s Attention as You Preach

Preaching is tougher than ever these days. For one thing, we can’t assume that people come to our churches with a basic understanding of the Bible like they may have in the past.

But it’s also tougher because of all the media we interact with on a daily basis—from television to email to social media. It seems like someone is always trying to sell us something or convince us about a new idea.

Just open your email, and you’ll likely see a full selection of pitches asking you to buy anything from lunch to a new fishing pole to a vacation. Turn on the television, and the pitching from commercials continues.

Because of this, when unchurched people hear you preach, they assume you’re trying to sell them something. They believe you’re trying to sell them on religion.

That’s not your purpose, but your listeners often don’t know that.

Every week you’re preaching to people who are more skeptical than ever before.

You used to be able to turn up the volume when you had a weak point and keep people’s interest that way. But you can’t do that…

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4 Steps to Achieving Your 2019 Goals

You’ll never find the ideal time to take the next step toward your goals.

So do it now. Those three words could change your ministry. The Bible says, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done” (Ecclesiastes 11:4 TLB).

You can’t wait until your life settles down to reach for that elusive goal. You can’t wait until everyone else is on board to do what you know the Lord has called you to do.

The time is now.

Your ministry must thrive under imperfect conditions or it will never thrive. So get started today with these four steps.

1. Clarify your goals.

God gave you an amazing ability to choose what’s important in your life. Many ministry leaders never stop to think through and identify what’s really important to them. You can’t do what’s important in your life until you clarify what it is.

Take a half day, if possible, and pray about two specific things: What do I value? What do I want to change?

Yes, you should think about your ministry goals, but don’t stop there either. I also usually think through:

How God Gives You His Vision for Your Church

You hear ministry leaders talk all the time about what a church needs to grow. Some say it’s preaching. Some say you need a great location. Others suggest you need a vibrant ministry to children or youth.

All of those aspects are important for a healthy, growing church. But I don’t think they are what’s most important.

You start with leadership. Everything rises and falls on leadership. I see churches in great locations that struggle because of bad leadership. I see churches with great preaching struggle because of poor leadership. Leadership matters.

And leadership rests on vision.

Charisma doesn’t make a great leader. Vision does. In fact, communicating vision is your number one job as a leader. As a pastor, you need to continually clarify the vision of your church. It gets harder and harder (but more and more important) as you grow.

But where do you get vision that will propel your church forward in the new year?

You have to get vision from the Holy Spirit. God’s vision never wears out. His vision will never fail. His vision is better and grander than anything we can think…

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9 Ways to Spot a Great Book for Your Ministry Library

Churches don’t grow without growing leaders.

If we don’t take in truth, we can’t give it out. Over the years at Saddleback, I’ve developed a habit of reading myself out of a rut. When I’m struggling to figure out what’s next or to break past a growth barrier, I’ve leaned into reading before taking my next big step. Few habits will help you in ministry as much as a regular diet of reading.

Every profession has its tools. You can’t be a doctor without a stethoscope. You can’t be a carpenter without a hammer and a saw. The minister’s tools are his books. We’re in the feeding, leading, and communicating business. Reading helps us do that more effectively.

With the new year just a few days away, it’s a good time to start a new reading habit.

But what kind of books should a Christian leader read?

Good ones.

I agree with James Bryce, who is credited with saying, “Life is too short to spend it reading inferior books.”

Here are nine ways you can find a jewel amid all the books out there.

1. Start with the author.

This…

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Lights are everywhere this time of year. In Southern California where I live, you’ll see the first lights go up in the early fall as stores start decorating. Then the cities follow by getting theirs up. Finally, as we finish up Thanksgiving leftovers, many of our neighbors are adding Christmas lights to their homes.

Christmas falls just four days after the longest night of the year; so all of this light comes at a good time.

It’s fitting. When we’re in the darkest part of the year, the light of Christmas breaks through.

Light is a major theme in the Bible. In fact, in the stories of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels, we read of a star showing the wise men the way to Jesus. We read of the angels performing a dazzling light show to get the attention of the shepherds, so they could make their way to Jesus.

In fact, Jesus tells us that the reason he came on that first Christmas was to bring light into the world. He says in John 12:46, “I am Light that has come into the world so that all who believe in me won’t have to…

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By John Eklund, National Director – East

It’s pure torture when you’re a growing teenager and an array of the greatest food ever created is laid out in front of you amid the awe and splendor of your grandmother’s finest dishes, neatly folded napkins bearing the images of autumn leaves, and gleaming silverware whispering sweetly to you, “Pick me up and dig in. What are you waiting for? It’s going to get cold . . . eat, eat.”

Then you’re suddenly interrupted by another voice, carried over the steaming mashed potatoes, the turkey, and the stuffing, asking the question that is the gatekeeper between you and an epic feast of magnificently gluttonous proportions.

“What are you thankful for?”

Sigh. What was I thankful for? Same thing I am grateful for today, I imagine. Each year the question was raised at our family Thanksgiving dinner. And I expressed my monosyllabic gratitude with only enough enthusiasm to get me closer to those homemade rolls glistening with melted butter.

“Health.”

“God.”

“Food!”

I was asked this question again by members of my Forever Family as we talked and laughed through our annual Fried Turkey “Fryday” Feast that preceded this past week’s Celebrate…

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By Karen

Hi, my name is Karen, and I am a grateful believer in Christ who struggles with fear and anxiety.

I came into the world weighing less than three pounds. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when I was just 2 years old and was subjected to five surgeries before the age of 10. I had one additional surgery my sophomore year of high school. All the surgeries were traumatic and fearful events that came with many unknowns.

I don’t remember comfort, compassion, or explanations regarding the surgeries I endured as a child—just feelings of fear and vulnerability. The one thing I did know, the one thing I was sure of, after wearing many braces and being subjected to a lot of different physical therapies attempting to make my body work right, was that there was something wrong with me. I was not the same as everyone else. I was different.

From as far back as I can remember, fear and worry ran my life. Very early in my childhood, my anxiety physically manifested itself in painful stomachaches so severe that our family doctor had to put me on medication. I worried about my…

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5 Ideas for Your New Year’s Sermon

After almost 40 years at Saddleback, I know how tough it can be to come up with a holiday sermon. I like preaching around holidays because I know I’m connecting to something that’s on people’s minds, but it’s hard to come up with something fresh and engaging year in and year out.

As we head into the new year, I know you’re probably preparing for one of your most important sermons of the year. Sure, Christmas and Easter sermons get lots of attention because you’re likely preaching to larger crowds. But the first sermon of the new year tends to bring in people who are trying to fulfill a New Year’s resolution to get back into a church.

So as you prepare your New Year’s sermon for 2019, I thought I’d share with you five of the ways we’ve tackled New Year’s sermons at Saddleback through the years. Some of them started off a new series, while others were stand-alone sermons.

I hope these titles and topics give you some inspiration as you prepare.

1. New You for a New Year 

Our happiness tends to revolve around our ability to…

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5 Tools to Help People Grow Spiritually

All living things grow. It’s evidence of life. If a child doesn’t grow to physical maturity, that’s a tragedy.

And if people in our congregations don’t grow spiritually, that’s a tragedy, too.

Many churches focus on getting people in the doors and maybe making a salvation decision. But that’s only a small part of our responsibility.

Jesus gives us another example. During his ministry, he started by urging people to “come and see.” And they did! People began to follow him. But then Jesus slowly turned up the heat. He began adding qualifiers, statements that start with “You’re my disciple if”:

  • You love one another (John 13:35)
  • You abide in his Word (John 8:31)
  • You deny yourself (Matthew 16:24)
  • You make Jesus your prime allegiance (Luke 14:26)

Eventually, Jesus took it a step further and said that a person had to “come and die” (Luke 14:27) to be a disciple.

But Jesus didn’t start with “come and die.” He moved people slowly from “come and see” to “come and die.”

That’s what discipleship is all about. And I learned early in my ministry at Saddleback that I couldn’t grow the church….

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