Happy Birthday?

Happy Birthday?  You left Heaven for this dump? Look around, this is a stable; the other babies in this nursery are barn-yard animals.

Your parents are poor and powerless. Everyone thinks your mom lacks virtue and your dad is a sap.

For the short lifetime you will live on earth, you will be un-worshipped, and unappreciated. You will be resisted, resented, and refuted at every turn.

No one who is anybody will recognize you. Only a few blue collar folks from flyover country will have the slightest inkling of your true identity — and, then, only with divine aid.  With overpowering signs will they see… But they will believe so slowly… Their faith will be so fragile…

There are some who will try to trap you with trick questions. One will try to evade you by entrusting your fate to the vote of a mob.

Satan will… recognize you… And at every opportune moment he will come to you… and with his fullest power tempt you. Finally, he will enter human hearts to kill you.

It was in your holiness You came to a place of sinfulness… dirty, smelly, unclean. You came from a place of beauty to one twisted into ugliness. You came as love and life to death and decay… for the very purpose of dying.

What kind of happiness can be found in being born into a world like this? To a life like that?  A party?  A happy birthday?

And, yet, that is exactly what the angel said… Good news of great joy.

Only later would they understand… And Scripture explain… that it was “for the joy set before Him” that He “endured the cross.” Because it was so distasteful and painful, He lived His life and died His death “despising the shame.”

The ultimate cost-benefit analysis… Weighing the cost… Foreseeing the return on his investment… It was for “The joy set before him…”

And for us… “Good news of great joy”

So, yeah… Happy Birthday, Lord Jesus!



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Fall Time Change, A Great Day for an Attendance Emphasis

The fall time changes is a great day for a high attendance day and Sunday school or in attendance emphasis in your worship services. There are several reasons why this is true:

1. Since it is in the fall people, are in school and in their regular routines. No one is going to be at the lake. No one is going to be on the ski slopes.

2. The weather is good. Not too hot and no snow or ice.

3. The time change gives your members an extra hour of sleep the night before. We tell people in our advertising, “You get an extra hour of sleep and an easy head start to a fresh start in church.” Why do it on a day that is hard?

4. Since others will be doing the same thing, it encourages people who have been out of church for a while to get started back. We have all observed how it is harder to get back into church than it was to get started in the first place.

5. An attendance emphasis encourages your small groups to resume doing the things they should have been doing all year. We need to be alert to new people all year. We need to be taking care of our group members all year. We need to be ministering to people all year. But, sometimes, classes get in a rut, get comfortable being around their friends, and become a little ingrown. A high attendance day gives your classes a tuneup and helps them get back to the basics.

6. A big win boosts morale in your congregation. It lifts their vision for what the church can grow to become.

7. If you will have an attendance emphasis on a day that is easy, advertise heavily, and encourage your members to bring their friends, it will help people get started back in church. It can be a new beginning for people who have been out of church. Some will come on the Sundays following the big day.

When you expose people to the people of God and to the word of God, over a period of time, the Spirit of God does a work of God to bring them into the family of God.

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One-Sentence Testimonies Worksheet

A great way to share your faith is by telling your “God story.” However, sometimes we don’t have the time to tell our life story. People are often unwilling to listen that long, but we can get in one carefully crafted sentence. Such one-sentence testimonies can sum up big truths and large parts of our story in simple, thought-provoking ways. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives us such sentences “on the fly,” but it is always a good thing to be intentional about sharing our faith.

Give some thought to how you might complete each of these sentences. As you do, you will find some of your answers really “ring the bell” –that is, they put into words entire seasons of your life– and will help you explain in a few words how Jesus made a big difference in you.

Before I became a Christian…

I struggled with: _________________________________________________

I was looking for: _________________________________________________

I thought: ______________________________________________________

I felt:__________________________________________________________

I was afraid: _____________________________________________________

My goal was: _____________________________________________________

I was always disappointed by: _________________________________________

I gave almost religious devotion to: _____________________________________

I tried finding __________________________ in__________________________

Since I became a Christian…
(Or, Since I began to take my faith more seriously…)

I feel more: _____________________________________________________

I fear __________________________________________ less

I continue to struggle with _______________________ , but one of the things that has really helped me is: ________________________________________________

When I went through __________________________,
I learned ____________________________ about myself

As I have worked on my Christian commitment, I have grown

In ___________________________________________________________

And had to face my_______________________________________________

I have discovered a new ___________________________________________

I realized that __________________________________________________

Being in church…

Has helped me __________________________________________________

Made a big difference for me when ____________________________________

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How to Develop a More Powerful Testimony Presentation (part 3)

This is part 3 (of 3) in a series on preparing your personal testimony…

Don’t underestimate the power of your story. Everybody has a story. Many of our stories intersect and we often relate to the stories of others… if they will just tell them.  The temptation when asked to share our testimony is to replace our story with a devotional. But don’t do it!

Prepare a Testimony, Not a Devotional
Don’t preach. Sermons and devotionals are both good things. However, they are different from a testimony. Your testimony is the story of how God worked in your life. So tell what God has done for you, not what we should let Him do in us. Your story, rightly told, will be challenging in and of itself. Sometimes, people recommend that we always include at
least one scripture passage in our testimony. I would amend that to specify passages that
are part of your story. Don’t just throw a verse in there because you are “supposed” to
use one. I heard a great example where a man told about the time he fell asleep at the
wheel only to wake up under a billboard saying, “The wages of sin is death.” He went on
to tell how it made him think about his spiritual condition and then how God later used
his familiarity with the first half of that verse to show him the meaning of the second half,
“But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Come Across as “In Progress”
Folks relate better to our weaknesses and struggles than to our successes. Celebrities may
draw bigger crowds, but people often get more out of hearing an honest person with
whom they have more in common. Humility and honesty grace a testimony. When you
are able to say, “It is hard, but God is making a difference,” they hear the reality of their
own world. They perceive that where you are now is within striking distance for them,
too. They may not feel that way about the pro football player who makes a couple of a
million dollars a year.

Put in Enough Prayer Time and “Think” Time
God can and does put words in our mouths spontaneously. As a pastor, sometimes find
myself listening to some really neat sentences flowing from my own lips, knowing that
they came from the Holy Spirit. I refer to those times when He adds to or subtracts from
what I’ve prepared as “Divine editorship”. However, it seems that God has done this most
and used me most when I have spent the most time praying and meditating on what He
would have me to say and what would be most helpful for my listeners to hear.

Improve on Your Presentation
Look for ways to better tell your story. Do your listeners seem to be hearing what you are trying to say? You may be surprised to discover the parts of your story to which people relate. If it seems to enlighten and encourage, make a point to always include it. Eliminate those things, which upon reflection, were not necessary. Smooth out the wording of the parts you had trouble explaining. Ask God to guide you.

Quick Summary
A testimony is a story that illustrates a point. An effective testimony tells your God story in such a way that your hearers understand it, relate to it, and then continue to think about it. It is about what God has done for you and what God has done in you. It has the purpose of giving people a mental picture of what it would be like to come to know Christ or to grow in a specific area of life. It makes the hearer think, “So that is what it looks like!”  It is a personal story, so it has the power to help people see themselves and their own feelings in your experience. A testimony is for those who need it; it isn’t for the purpose of entertaining a church “audience.” A testimony has hit its mark when a listener “gets it” and then finds himself considering his own relationship with God.

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How to Develop a More Powerful Testimony Presentation (part 2)

This post is the second in a 3-part series about sharing your personal testimony.

If we are going to be able to communicate through our testimonies, really communicate, then we are going to need to open up, declassify some of our stories, and let people see our hearts.  So…

Relate Human Emotion
No one has had your exact experience, but we have all tasted of the same basic emotions:
love, hate, fear, hurt, confusion, confidence, embarrassment… One mark of an
effective testimony presentation is that it tells your unique story in such a way that others
can relate to your feelings. They imagine how it must have been for you and identify with
you. For example, a man whose wife came to the Lord before he did, might tell how at
first he felt threatened by his wife’s faith and how he feared it would cause her and the
children to lose respect for him.

Use Thought-provoking Sentences
In thinking through your life and preparing your testimony, develop succinct sentences
which sum up the main points of your story. Fine-tune these sentences. Word them in
such a way they will help others to get the picture and will cause them to think. These
sentences will prove helpful, not only when you use them in presenting your testimony to
a group, but they will also enable you to quickly make your point in personal
conversations. In conversations you won’t have the time to tell your entire life story. Nor
can you say, “Hold on a minute and let me think of a good response to that.” So have a
few one-sentence testimonies in your “tackle box,” ready to use when needed. The
point isn’t to have everything written out and memorized, but rather to give your listeners
a few “handles” with which to get a better grip on what you are saying. Some examples
might include: “I used to feel like I was my own God until the heart attack,” or “Growing
up, I was always the kid who had ‘cooties’; my self-esteem suffered a lot until I came to
know Jesus Christ.”

Have a Plan to Land the Plane
Sometimes people have trouble knowing how to conclude their testimonies. Usually, because how to stop is the one part they haven’t thought about. When you ride the wild horses, it’s hard to know how to get off. So, here is one place where a good thought provoking sentence can be a big help–to you as the speaker, as well as a way to help your listeners continue thinking about what you have said.

Don’t Assume
We know that a person ought to be a Christian. We know that a person ought to be a member of a good church. We know that a person ought to want to profess faith in Christ before others. However, people who were not raised in church do not even know what we are talking about, much less feel that they ought to do it. Working on the assumption that your listeners share that “sense of oughtness” is kind of like starting in the middle. So explain how you came to realize what you ought to do. You might even share some initial misconceptions you might have had. Tell your story in such a way that listeners without a church background will begin to consider, “Maybe that’s the answer,” instead of, “What is she talking about?”

Weave the Truths of the Gospel into Your Story
When sharing a salvation testimony, weave into your presentation truths of the gospel as they naturally fit into your experience (“I thought, ‘Good grief; it is a gift!'”). Lose the lingo and describe what you’re talking about.  Saying something like, “So finally on Friday night of the revival I walked the aisle and was saved” doesn’t communicate enough information. Explain how, “What I heard the preacher say that night brought my previous thoughts about God into focus. I put my trust in Jesus Christ to forgive me and to change my life. The effect was so powerful that I didn’t care who knew. As my first step of obedience, I joined the church that very night!” Key parts like this ought to be adequately explained and not put into “Christian shorthand” with terms like “walked the aisle.” (Is that anything like walking the plank? Do we really want to give people the idea that walking the aisle will save them?)

Which Time Were You Saved?
Make clear, also, the distinction between your salvation experience and subsequent growth
experiences. I’ve heard testimonies and found myself wondering, “Was he saved the first time or the second time?”

Cut to the Chase
Unless a date or place is an interesting and important part of the story, don’t tell it. Get to
the point. Don’t bore your listeners with extra details that do not help to move the plot
forward. Ask yourself: Is this part of the theme I need to hammer out or not?

To be continued…

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How to Develop a More Powerful Testimony Presentation (part 1)

Have you been asked to “give your testimony” at church or in a Bible study? Here is the first in a series about how to prepare a more powerful testimony.

So what exactly is a testimony and what makes one more effective? A testimony is a story that illustrates a point. It is about what God has done for you and what God has done in you. It is a personal story, so it has the power to help people see themselves and their own feelings in your experience. A testimony has hit its mark when a listener “gets it” and then finds himself considering his own relationship with God.

Be Clear About Your Purpose
Your concept of a “good testimony” will determine much about how you go about preparing to tell your story. Success, of course, relates to how well a function fulfills its purpose. The purpose of a basketball coach is to recruit and prepare players to win games. Thus, we measure the success of coaches by their won/loss records. There are two purposes of a testimony: first, to give God the credit for coming to our rescue when we were helpless. A testimony’s second purpose is to give others a concrete example of the power of God and His ability to change lives.

Have Jesus Come Out The Star
Since a testimony is telling the story of how God came to rescue us when we were unable to help ourselves, it would seem obvious that Jesus should come out the hero. Yet, we have all heard “testimonies” which are really a tribute to a person’s own grit and determination. I can’t convince you what a clever and charming and good person I am… and glorify Jesus at the same time. Neither is a testimony a tribute to the church nor to some person who has been helpful in our lives. While it is good to describe how God used others to bring His word to us, they should not be the leading characters. One such testimony boiled down to this: “I was lost, but then I joined the youth group.” A testimony is about how we were at the end of our human resourcefulness, at the end of our rope, and how Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Either Jesus is the hero or our testimony grades a zero.

Tell One Testimony at a Time
Most anyone who has been a Christian for any time has more than one testimony. He has his salvation testimony, of course, or he isn’t a Christian. However, a Christian should also have growth testimonies. A person may be able to share her testimony about how the Lord taught her the importance of a consistent personal devotional time and one about how God is helping her overcome an unforgiving spirit. Sometimes a person tries to tell all of his testimonies at once and goes on too long for the occasion. Testimony is not a synonym for autobiography. A testimony should be more like a television commercial–one theme, tightly developed and packed into a short time–than a mini-series.

Hammer Out a Theme
Your testimony has a plot. Perhaps, you were searching for something. Maybe, you looked for it in the wrong places. God spoke, you resisted. Finally, you were brought to a point of crisis. Either dramatically or in a quiet and low-key way, you submitted to Jesus Christ. He began to work changes in your life and you found that the deepest needs of your heart were being met. What were you seeking? Why were you so stubbornly resisting God? These are the themes of a salvation testimony. One deacon told how he had been raised in an unchurched home, but which was honest and had the work ethic. He was told growing up that one always had to work and earn everything he had, that one should never expect to be given anything. He traced the theme of how he was brought to realize that salvation was a free gift from God. Growth testimonies have similar themes. They tell how the Lord showed us our need for growth in a specific area and how, as we submitted to His will, He graciously empowered us. An effective testimony traces such a theme through your experiences in life.

Tell the Key Stories
Certain events epitomize whole periods in our lives or entire struggles. As you prepare, think about the key event which pretty much sums up the whole point. How did you come to stop feeling self-sufficient? What was the key turning point for you? Specifically, how did you come to realize your need of Christ? What caused you to take spiritual matters seriously? Name the things which attracted you to Jesus Christ. How were you brought to the point of crisis? What finally clinched it for you?

Some believers need to declassify some of their life experiences. People need them to open up and tell what they were looking for, how they looked for it in the wrong places, how it felt, and what they feared, and how God intervened. People need to hear it because they are now where you were.

To be continued…

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Which Way is Really Better?

Though it wasn’t in the name, First Community Church was a large Southern Baptist congregation, solid in doctrine, and forward-leaning regarding evangelism and missions. They added a missions pastor to their staff and started sending out various kinds of mission teams and established schools to train national pastors. Before long, the work grew to fourteen different countries around the world.

Pastors of smaller churches in the area heard about the efforts at First Community’s annual Pastor Seminar. These pastors approached Pastor Danny Bright about forming a network, where smaller churches, that couldn’t afford to have a missions pastor on their staff, could contribute to the missions effort. Bright saw this as an opportunity to minister to smaller congregations by giving them the opportunity to be part of world evangelization. The additional funding would enable the International ministry to expand to new countries and engage additional unreached people groups.

First Community added associate missions pastors to their staff to oversee the expanded work. They had learned through their varied experiences that they needed to do a more thorough job of screening potential overseas personnel. Some mistakes had been made along the way and a few international crises had been navigated. So they tried to fix the glitches in the system.

In order to promote the work among the other churches the international workers would come into the smaller churches and explain the work. There was also an expanded web site and more printed materials to promote the offering. Eventually, First Community added an office building to their campus to house this growingly complex operation.

Everyone had agreed up front that all of the churches and their members could do more working together than they could apart. Some could give a little and some could give a lot, but everyone could be a part. And it worked out just that way. In fact, quite a number of churches affiliated with other evangelical denominations joined the network because they liked the personal connections they felt with the missionaries. Eventually, the funding coming in from the smaller churches grew to be a significantly larger portion of the budget than what First Community was putting into the missions operation.

Seeing the percentage of the budget coming from the smaller churches, some of the pastors from these churches felt there should representation from among their churches on some sort of a board to provide accountability. First Community agreed and the International Ministries ministry was created as a separate organization with its own board.

As time went by, more and more funding was required for overhead. While funds weren’t being wasted, processing the offerings from the ever-expanding number of supporting churches, overseeing the training of the growing number of missionaries, and so forth required more personnel and funding. It was, after all, a large operation.

Other mega-churches began to copy First Community’s International Ministry. They were adding their own mission pastor staff and building their own networks of supporting churches.

Eventually, in all these churches combined, the number of stateside paid staff administering these operations was, put together, larger than the states-side staff of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. There were numerous presidents of missions boards, accountants, trainers and training facilities, and development directors competing for the offerings of other churches. Consequently, the International Mission Board was actually getting a larger percentage of receipts out of the country and to the mission field.

Eventually, some members of First Community began to express how they were increasingly feeling disconnected from the work. It had grown to be so large it now seemed impersonal. Pastor Bright tried to remind everyone that evangelizing the whole world is a big task and working overseas in multiple countries is very complex with all the legalities and language and cultural training involved. “Besides,” he asked them, “which is more important: how being involved in the work makes us feel or how this will impact the lives that will be reached in a larger operation?” “It’s not about us,” he said. Nevertheless, some of the members of First Community and some of the smaller supporting churches started a smaller, leaner organization designed to create a more personal connection between churches and missionaries.

So what is the point of this made-up story?

There is a learning curve to doing a new ministry, especially missions. It is poor stewardship to reinvent the wheel and doing so increases number of critical mistakes made.

If the point of First Community creating a network was so smaller churches could be involved in the work, isn’t that what the International Mission Board is already doing?

If it is waste and duplication we want to avoid, isn’t the best way to avoid that by participation in the denomination? Instead of every church having its own missionary society?

Can part of what we are seeing going on around us, as more and more people disregard their denomination, reflect the attitude that ministry hasn’t really been done until we ourselves have done it?

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