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It’s Time

If you knew you had access to a place where you could connect with God 24-7, where He could literally transform your entire life, where it was like the oval office to your world and you even had the key already…what would you do? This place is called the mind.
God makes a big deal out of the mind and shows us it’s the battleground for where we experience daily victory. Who has ever had a bad day? It could be that your car has issues or you simply wake up on the wrong side of the bed. In Hebrews 13:5 we read, “…you always have God’s presence. For hasn’t He promised you, “I will never leave you alone, never! And I will not loosen my grip on your life!”


Highways of the Heart

As I am sitting here working on this blog, I received a call from the mechanic saying that there is more work needed to be done on our car today than we had anticipated. And the price tag for this work is one best read sitting down. This comes on the heals of several other challenging circumstances I have faced just
today. So I find myself at a crossroads facing a decision. What will I align with, what will I believe and what voice will I listen to? Will I allow the swirl of the moment to determine where my heart
is lead, or will I take a moment and allow God, my Good Father to build His highway in my heart? My mind and emotions unbridled, attempt to build a rogue highway…. however, when my spirit rises up I am able to put my emotions in their proper place and make a choice to line up with Truth.


Be the Encounter!

We have a chance everyday to encounter God through receiving His love and giving it away. That might seem simple but that’s because it really is! Often times we can think of God encounters as big earth shattering events – which can be true. But often times, God encounters us in the little things throughout the day. We just have to open our eyes to see Him move. So what does love look like? The most famous love passage we find in the Bible paints a vivid picture – 


Hope Overflowing

Hope is one of the most powerful doorways to encountering God in our lives. In today’s culture, it seems as if hopelessness is the new acceptable norm. In fact, if you are hopeful about something, you must not know the whole reality! Just turn on the news or go on Facebook to get what’s actually going on…Let’s just laugh at that! God paints a very different picture. In Romans 4 we read, “Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.” Hope is defined by the One living inside of us – not by our surrounding circumstances! God is always in the business of making something beautiful out of nothing.


God Is Blessing Your New Year

God pours out His blessings all the time.  Some blessings, like the sun, the rain and the air we breathe, He pours out on all people.  Other blessings are reserved for those who love the Lord and recognize they are called according to His purposes in this life.

Dozens of verses from the Bible speak of His blessings.  I chose an even dozen below to help you start your new year in confidence that God is on your side. 
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Jeremiah 29:11
The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.  He refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.  Psalm 23:1, 3
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and donor; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.  Psalm 84:11
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him.  Matthew 7:11
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19
Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.  Luke 1:45
His favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.  Psalm 30:5
The One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.  1 John 5:18
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  2 Corinthians 9:8
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  Psalm 23:6
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 1:3
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28
So resolve this year to not be anxious about anything.  Instead, in every situation make your requests known to God through prayer and petitions offered with a thankful heart.  Then you can be sure that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
God bless your new year, day by day by day!



The Battle Over Jesus’ Birth

I loved the way our family celebrated Christmas when I grew up.  It was a family spectacle with a wonderful tree glistening with silver tinsel and lots of lights, including magical ones filled with water that bubbled in bright colors all day long.  Friends and neighbors dropped off cookies, candy and gifts.  Carols were sung by strolling carolers.  Four Sundays of Advent prepared our hearts to hear the story of Jesus’ birth presented on Christmas eve with candle light, beautiful music and a crèche depicting baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by animals, shepherds and wise men. 

What a magical time for us children, retelling again and again how Jesus came as God’s unique gift to humanity on a starry night when angels sang to fearful shepherds tending their flocks near Bethlehem.

Then, much later, we discovered the pagan origins of Christmas and how many of our Christmas customs had origins in a Roman holiday dedicated to their god of agriculture.  The Romans ate and drank a lot, and lit candles to fend off the darkest days of the year. They could only hope the sun would return once again.  In the 4th century the church fathers finally redeemed those misdirected customs by associating the season with the birth of Jesus. 

In early America Puritans banned Christmas celebrations as pagan, and Congress actually began its first session in 1789 on Christmas day, an ordinary business day.  Christmas was widely seen in the Colonies as an English thing fit mostly to be ignored.  Not until after the Civil War in 1879 did Congress proclaim it to be a national holiday.  Charles Dickens’ famous story, “A Christmas Carol“, published in 1843, is credited with re-framing the holiday as a family-centered event, popularizing it in the public’s mind.

The last 50 years, Christmas controversy has continued. We’ve seen atheists oppose Christmas displays in the public square, merchants turn Christmas into the biggest selling season of the year, and the words “Merry Christmas” widely displaced by “Happy Holidays” out of political correctness.  Today, Christmas is viewed by the secular world as a season of heightened depression and increased suicide (fact check: suicide rates are actually highest in spring).  Psychologists say Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) peaks this time of year when unrealistic expectations and excessive self-reflection increase, perhaps due to winter weather and diminished daylight.

Who’d have thought this wonderful holiday dedicated to celebrating the birth of a perfectly innocent baby could be so controversial or, so…well, SAD?!

We shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus Himself said: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  When He said this He was teaching His apostles about the need to go and tell people that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  He foresaw the opposition that would come to their message.

At Christmas time Baby Jesus looks so sweet and innocent lying in the manger.  Beautiful baby Jesus destined to save the world from itself.  Isaiah called Him: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

This particular Christmas let us remember once again “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”  This is the reason for the season.  It’s a beautiful thing, indeed.

May you have a hope-filled, Spirit-filled Merry Christmas, indeed! 


Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel

We are in the midst of the church season called “Advent”, which means “coming” and refers to the first coming of Jesus in Bethlehem and also his promised Second Coming to reign on earth as King.  Liturgical churches such as Lutherans, and Episcopalians celebrate Advent for four Sundays before Christmas, typically reading scriptures out loud together related to Jesus’ coming. 

In the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent became a 40-day period of fasting in preparation for baptism on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.  That date comes twelve days after Christmas, as proclaimed in the popular Christmas song, The Twelve Days of Christmas.  The word Epiphany means “to reveal” and so Advent became associated with a series of four major revelations about Jesus, including:

  • The visit of the Magi, or “Wise Men” to Bethlehem, which revealed Christ’s Kingly nature;
  • Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River when God declared in a voice heard by all that Jesus was God’s beloved Son;
  • The miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, which revealed Jesus’ supernatural powers and released great faith in His followers;
  • The future Second Coming of Christ that will usher in His rule over the whole world for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6). When Jesus was taken up to heaven,  the angels declared (Acts 1:11): “Men of Galilee…why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” 

This Christmas we too focus intentionally on the Coming of Christ.  The unerring Word of God tells the story of His supernatural birth as a human being, His many miracles, His finished work on the Cross, and His dispensation of the Holy Spirit that enables us to experience God directly for ourselves.  Through the power of the Spirit we can hear God’s voice, walk in the gifts of the Spirit and perform miracles just as Jesus did.  As we grow in Christ, we are transformed by His Spirit from glory to glory into greater and greater likeness of Him.  The ultimate glory is this: Christ coming to life within each of us, our one true hope of lasting glory.

The prophet Isaiah foresaw this (7:14): “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel”, which means “God with us.”  This is my favorite name for Jesus.  The Bible promises He will never leave us nor forsake us.  Jesus, Himself,said “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Think on these things this time of year when you hear the great Christmas hymn again:Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel. The last verse goes:

O come, O King of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace.

What a wonderful expectation to contemplate this Advent season.


Equipped on the Inside

We shared last Sunday about how Reach Out is set up to restore individuals and families to bring the love and reality of Christ into our homes, communities and beyond.  This coming Sunday we’ll continue our series on church vision by talking about how we equip people “on the inside.” By this we’re referring to the transformation ministries available at Reach Out, including worship, personal prayer, pastoral counseling, Sozo, deliverance and Biblical life coaching.  Representatives from each of these ministries will share a little about what these ministries have to offer.

How many know that Jesus accepts us just as we are when we first encounter Him but He loves us too much to leave us that way.  Before we can influence others for Jesus, we ourselves have to allow Him to change us.  Indeed, He invites us to be born again—made entirely new—through the power of His sacrifice on the Cross.  Remember, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in all those who follow Him as Lord and Savior.

Romans 12:2 says we are transformed by the renewing of our minds so we are no longer enslaved to conform to the ordinary ways of the world.  Rather, Jesus sends His Spirit to enable us to discern and live from the inside out God’s perfect will for our lives. 

The goal of our inner equipping ministries is to help each person regardless of age or background find and rely on their own connection with God through Christ Jesus.  We believe each person is fundamentally capable of experiencing God for themselves because God made us all in His image and likeness.  The Word of God is our instruction manual and we rely on the Spirit of God to connect you with what God wants you to know, change and become.  We can  help you recognize and perceive God directly for yourself, as He is the only One who really knows what’s best for you at any moment in time.

Worship is the foundation of inner equipping at Reach Out because through worship we regularly encounter and learn to directly experience God’s presence.  Often God speaks through His Spirit during worship and so we also learn to recognize His living voice.  When we hear, taste and see that God is good during times of worship, we learn to hear, taste and recognize God’s presence at other times in our lives, and so we become equipped more and more to be led by His Spirit.

In this way we discover the Kingdom of God within us, and we know for certain we are children of the Living God who empowers us to live and move and have our being in Him.  Acts 17:28   We look forward to seeing you this Sunday.


Vision – Seeing What We Are Becoming

We are engaged in a four-Sunday series laying out both the vision of what Reach Out is becoming and the leadership structure being put in place here to help us become what God is calling us to be.  We are called to be a hothouse where the Kingdom of God can grow year round.  Just as greenhouses sprout flowers out of season, even in the dead of winter, so God has positioned our church to nurture new life from the seed of His Word and living water of His Spirit—even in the midst of the world’s darkness today.  

Scripture says we labor in vain unless God builds our house.  Since our church was formed 25 years ago, God has been speaking through visitors and our own leaders about what He is building at Reach Out.  Through Elizabeth Austin and Scott Ross, He declared Ezekiel 34:15-16.  We are to be a place where God, Himself, “will search for the lost and bring back the strays…bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.”  Doug Stanton, Steve Smith and others saw and released rivers of living waters flowing from heaven, bringing imperishable seeds of God’s Word to life, person by person, children included!

Reach Out Logo

Our prayer warriors have received multiple visions of an enormous Tree of Life growing in our midst.  It has deep and broad roots and an enormous crown of leaves bearing fruit in season and out of season.  This is who we are and also who we are becoming, precept upon precept, soul after soul.  It is a vision of abundant life made possible only by Jesus.

This past summer, Ryan Bastress spoke to the heart of our vision.  He said: “God’s vision in life is always relational. ”  We are to be a relational church.   “Take initiative to build connection,” said Ryan. “It doesn’t run on good intentions.  It begins 1 on 1—and not just the pastor doing it!”
To build relationships the way God desires we need to enter more deeply into relationship with Him.  This happens by coming to Him humbly again and again.  Loving  our neighbor hangs first on experiencing the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Beyond that, Ryan exhorted us to “be available, be intentional, take initiative, and learn how to communicate.”  This process begins in earnest when we realize we aren’t as good at communicating as we might imagine.  It takes effort and there are communications skills to learn.  We have tools to teach this through pastoral counseling, Sozo, and life coaching ministries.
Now I urge you to fall in love with the vision we are sharing here at Reach Out.  God is establishing places like ours all over the planet with deep and wide roots, to bring forth His Way of Life in the midst of the craziness that plagues humanity in this hour.  We needn’t be shaken to our core by the madness of the world.  To the contrary, God is strengthening us to thrive as a place of healing, restoring and equipping. Fall in love with your assignment and become a harvester for the Lord. 
Take the next step and God is sure to give us increase!


God’s Ancient Treasure: The Crown of Family!

The Bible tells us God invented “family.”   Moreover, He made it in His own image.  Here are the verses:

Then God said, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number.  Genesis 1:27-28
Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  Genesis 2:23-24
About that “rib” thing, the word “rib” in Hebrew means “side” and signifies there are two sides to the one Man called Adam (i.e. “humanity”), which Genesis 1:27 says God made as both male and female.  (*See footnote.)  Men and women were designed to be different and to be united as husband and wife to become one flesh for the purpose of multiplying the generations on earth.  Family was part of God’s original design, a valuable treasure in His ancient treasure chest laid up for our inheritance as children of God.

Not one of us is born without the union of male and female components no matter what someone’s “gender identity” may be their mind. (*See footnote.) Given the brokenness of modern families, it’s not surprising that a lot of modern research has been devoted to trying to prove or disprove whether raising kids in intact families with fathers and mothers is actually superior to raising them as single parents.  The overall conclusion is children of intact families are generally more likely to succeed than other children but there’s a lot of variance in the data and certainly there are children of single parents who do well.  Factors such as family background, education, moral behavior, finances, etc. all can affect the success profile of a single parent child.

This means that “Family” can neither be taken for granted nor idolized.  Still, according to the Bible, it’s God’s original design and much evidence underscores that nurturing, protection and affirmation of identity work best when there are both a father and mother present living in the Biblical covenant relationship of marriage.  Even so we understand that God is a father to the fatherless, a restorer and nurturer to the unloved, and affirms all who come to Him crying “Abba Father.”  His love is boundless and Christ’s blood covers every fault and shortcoming.

What I believe is that the crucial element that makes family the true crown of creation and a most valuable item in God’s ancient treasure chest (apart from the Living Word of God, itself) is when families learn to keep Jesus at the center of their life.  Saying prayers together, reading Bible stories out loud, talking about God and faith, modeling love, honor and forgiveness as Jesus taught us—these are the real keys to raising children successfully.  Where God’s love is combined with wisdom and put into action, children will not depart from it.  Proverbs 22:6
Keeping Jesus at the center of family life brings the promise of God’s abundance and blessing in a way no other upbringing provides. 
* For an interesting article by an MIT professor on the extent of the differences between the genders, click here.