Gathered then Scattered - Observations about the church of Antioch

Acts 8:4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

Being gathered by God for strengthening, equipping and encouragement feels great. We gain a strong sense of unity from it, but it's not always designed to be a place where we remain.

In order for the name of God to be heard by every person on earth, scattering is required. We can do it voluntarily, knowing God will go with us and create community where we go as led by the Spirit. Or, we are scattered with persecution! Our Lord allows this so we can become salt and light to millions of people who have never heard the amazing news of our Savior.

So resist the devil when you're scattered and feel as if you've been torn away from your community for no good reason. What the evil one crafts to divide us, God will use to increase his reach in our world!

When your small group grows and you're challenged to form a new group by planting or multiplication, rejoice in the fact that community is created by God for a purpose, and the next group will experience a strong sense of belonging and mission as well.

Fruits of the Spirit. Want a particular one? Sorry, it may not work that way.

Galatians 5:22-26 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I know a couple of things from just buying fruit from the grocery store:

  • Some fruits ripen very quickly and others take much longer on or off the vine or tree.
  • When you put a piece of ripe fruit in a bag with unripe fruit it accelerates the ripening process.

I just had a couple of revelations surrounding this verse to share:

Revelation #1: These are the fruits of the Spirit of God, not the spirit of man or the flesh. You can bite your tongue, shield your eyes, raise your hands in praise, and serve others selflessly in the flesh and appear to have the fruits of the Spirit to others and maybe even yourself, but it’s a farce. The fruits are present when we walk in God’s Spirit and allow the Spirit to guide our hearts and minds with consistency.

Revelation #2: While a Greek scholar might argue with me, I think I’ve stumbled upon something important. Look at the fruits. Look at the order of the fruits. And then start looking at the fruits as foundational for the next fruits in the sentence. For example:

We know God is Love. So the first fruit of the Spirit is naturally Love.

When we truly experience God’s love, it produces the next fruit, Joy!

When we are experiencing God’s love and joy, it produces peace.

When we are experiencing God’s love, joy, and peace, we gain patience.

See where I’m going with this? We will see the next fruit in our lives when we are currently enjoying all the fruits stated prior to it as a firm foundation.

The fruits aren’t a la carte like the grocery store. We can’t pick and choose which one we want the most in our character at the moment. The good thing is that the fruits of the Spirit are always in God’s grocery store if we’re using our Spirit card with which to purchase them, and they’re given to us as a fruit basket of sorts.

So today, ask for God’s Spirit to permeate you to a depth where you experience his incredible love for you. When you stop crying, you’ll realize those are tears of joy and you’ll begin to feel at peace inside about all the stuff you cannot control…. And in short order you’ll be revealing all nine of the Spirit’s fruits in your life, mind, and heart.

"I am the potter, You are the clay" Devotional thoughts on Jeremiah 18:1-6

There's a classic worship song that uses the phrase, "I am the potter, you are the clay. Mold me and make me, this is what I pray." I often sing this worship song in private and dedicate my life to God's use, no matter what he desires for me or allows me to experience in this brief time on earth.

I have a close friend who has endured nearly two decades of debilitating and painful physical issues. Kidney transplants, brittle bones breaking, a heart attack, and now pain management that keeps him in a fog most of the time. He is follower of Christ, and rightfully wonders why he was put on earth and what his purpose might be. For much of his life, it's been seemingly unproductive to him. But I disagree.

It's not much consolation for my friend, but when we truly believe that God is the Potter and we are the clay, we give him permission to do with us what he likes (or allows us to endure what no one enjoys on earth) for his glory, not our current level of comfort.

What if God has allowed my friend to go through hell on earth so that dozens of people around him would become men and women of great faith and become prayer warriors? The Lord knows I have been stirred from my sleep in the middle of the night with the need to intercede on his behalf for healing and restoration. His afflictions have made me a far more faithful follower of Christ and his ability to heal and restore.

And thinking about myself, I'm often frustrated that I have not seen my current set of unsaved friends come to Christ no matter how much I pray for them and talk to them about a relationship with Jesus. But what if my purpose on this earth was to share Christ with that girl on the bus when I was ten years old? Who knows what she went on to accomplish for God in future years. I don't think I ever saw her again after our family moved away.

So here's the challenge for all of us today. If God created you as The Potter and you agree to be submissive and be His clay, are you willing to suffer like my friend if that's what God has set out for you to accomplish for the kingdom? Are you willing to do something menial and possibly never acknowledged on earth by other men or women?

It's easy to sing, "You are the Potter, I am the clay..." but when it comes down to actually allowing God to shape you into a vessel that may only be used once; or used for something unattractive; or not used at all but just looked at for its uniqueness; or not yet used because it's not time to use the clay vessel; will you be content?

Who pastors the largest organized church in the world?

Dr. Yaye Dion Robert, EPBOMI Senior Pastor

For many years, it has been thought that the largest church in the world is found in Seoul, South Korea. Yoido Full Gospel Church claims to have 800,000 members, but only 25% of this number shows up on weekends for their services. Now don't get me wrong, 200,000 involved members in a church is no small thing ... but it doesn't make this church the largest in the world. They have a new senior pastor due to a scandal, and my prayer is that he can support this church with continued growth through the challenges they face and the fact that there are 17--count them seventeen!-- gigachurches in South Korea whose average size dwarfs megachurches in the US like Lakewood here in Houston, Texas at a "scant" 40,000 attendees on weekends (Lakewood doesn't have formal membership).

So who's the biggest?
Currently, the largest church in the world is Eglise Protestante Baptiste Oeuvres Et Mission Internationale (EPBOMI), pastored by Dr. Yaye Dion Robert. This gigachurch is located in Ivory Coast in West Africa. Their attendance at weekend services and their cell groups is cresting 250,000 members from a report I just received, shared by Pastor Robert.

Unlike big churches found in first world countries, there's very little transfer growth. The gates of hell have been stormed, captives have been set free, and the numeric growth of churches like EPBOMI is genuine conversion and Lordship growth. Praise God!

How did they grow so large?
EPBOMI is a cell-based church. There's no comfortable place to sit and soak in this church. They set the bar quite high for membership, and even higher for cell group leadership. The growth of this church didn't happen by pandering to consumers and watering down the Gospel or what is required of a follower of Jesus Christ.

Does church size matter?
Yes. When you become this large, the church has already shifted the culture around it toward the things of God. And if it can remain godly and not fall into scandal from sinfulness and castle-building, it can bring about a lot of other changes around the world.

Oh how the megachurches pastors are falling like flies these days...

Satan remains very busy, whispering in the ears of mega and gigachurch pastors, telling them it's ok to treat others poorly and cover it up or use money the way the world uses money. If you're reading this, please stop and pray for pastors of very large congregations. They've got a big bullseye on their backs and Satan is pointing everything he's got at them to get them to compromise their morals. I often stop and thank the Lord for men of God like Pastor Robert, who lives simply and doesn't draw much of a salary. May God keep him as a humble servant for the task at hand and continue to be an example for us all.

Is life really better together?

Today I visited a nearby church and saw this sign on the wall where all the small group brochures are found and a point-person usually stands. Seems a little odd to put "Life is better together" and then purposely not have groups for people to belong to and join all year long.

This church's small group program is just that. A program. It's in place to give people a sense of belonging not easily found in the large congregation's two big weekend services. Each quarter, groups are launched for 8-12 weeks and each group is doing something different, such as a book study or a topic of interest for the congregation. I asked how many groups are focused on relational evangelism and discipleship--you know, the great commission--and there haven't been any groups formed for that purpose in many, many years.

This used to be a thriving church that saw radical transformation in the lives of members and their unsaved friends. And their groups were self-sustaining and the lifeblood of the church.

What can be done for a church like this? Can it be turned around? Maybe. We'll see. A new pastor will take the helm in about a year as the existing pastor slowly moves out and into retirement. One thing is for sure: If the small groups continue to be a program to satisfy the needs of the members instead of give them an environment to become world-changers, they're not going to succeed.