What is the Greatest Thing You Have Ever Done?

August 24, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

In the series we started at The Grove Church yesterday, we are looking at the Great Commandments and the Great Commission.  These are two foundational passages that should define what  a church is and what it means to be a follow of Jesus.

In Matthew 22:36, Jesus is asked this question:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

As I was preparing this message, before I could even get to the answer, I found myself dwelling a lot on the question.  What is the GREATEST command?  Said another way, “What is the greatest thing that you can do?”  This led me to the more personal question, “What would I say is the greatest thing that I have ever done?”

There are so many ways to answer that question. My mind always goes to the time I hit a half-court shot in overtime to send our high school basketball team to the playoffs in the last game of the year.  (If only the internet had existed in 1990, I would so be linking to that article right now) Why is that great?  It’s incredibly difficult for one and incredibly rare.  It had significant consequences for the team.  However we all know how this falls short.  It was great but it’s impact was short-lived and small comparable to other great things someone can do.

Maybe the greatest thing that I have ever done is to adopt a daughter from foster care. It is definitely near the top of things that have made me the happiest.  It also has had significant impact in all of the lives of our family. It reflects God’s deep heart and love for the orphan which is reflected all throughout Scripture.

Maybe that’s too narrow though, maybe if I were to broaden it out.  Perhaps the greatest thing that I have ever done is to be a great husband and dad, or to be a pastor, or helping lead people to Christ.  All of those things have and will have great and deep impact in the lives of people and definitely feel great to me.

What all of these candidates for “greatest” have in common are they are things that I did or do to serve other people (half-court shot included, I suppose).  Jesus, on the other hand, had a completely different answer.  He didn’t give a do/don’t do command.  The command didn’t involve serving other people.  His answer was this:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

When asked what the greatest thing that we could do, he gave a relational command.  We need to love God with everything that we are.  The greatest thing that we can do is love God.  That is so counter-intuitive to what we believe makes someone or something great.  However, God is the greatest, so connecting to him is great.  Also, it was what we created to do.  We were created for him and by him.

Even last night, after preaching on this 3 times, I was still thinking about this and this illustration came to me.   What is the greatest part of your house? Some might say the kitchen/dining room.  Wherever it is that you and connect with each other for dinner is the greatest place.  Perhaps it is the living room where the best family memories or made.  If you have small children, it might be the private solace that comes from the bathroom.  (Just me? Ok. Never mind)  It may be the bedroom (Uh.  Again, never mind)

The greatest part of the house is the foundation.  Without it, nothing else in the house can function properly.  It is the piece of the home, by which all other pieces are made possible and better and functional.  We take the foundation of our house for granted, and that’s ok.  Your foundation doesn’t care.  However, we cannot take for granted the foundational relationship by which every other part of our lives rests.  That is our greatest relationship and loving him is the greatest thing that we can do.

Why do you believe that loving God is the greatest commandment?

What’s Next Recap

September 17, 2012 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

It was a great day at the Grove Church on Sunday.  I was pretty tired when I got home Sunday night, but it was totally worth it. For the first time in our history there were over 700 people at church. As we continue to solidify the vision that God has given us as a church, it is very exciting to see more and more people come and want to be a part.  God is moving at our church as we see more people finding Christ, getting connected and being sent all over the world.

We believe that God has even greater things ahead for us, and this last Sunday we spent some time talking about what was next for us as we pursue the vision that he has given us:

Reaching people to become fully-devoted, world-changing followers of Christ.

Here are the three things that are next for us. (You can watch sermon online here)

1) We need to learn to talk to and hear from God–This is more than just prayer. Too often prayer can become an exercise that we do without heart and passion. We need to be people that pour our hearts out to a loving father. We then also need to listen to what God has to say back to us in return. The Bible makes it clear that the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us and gives us power. Are we aware of that power? Are we walking in that power?  Are we experiencing God in our daily lives or do we just believe true things about him and do good things for him?

2) We need to be in community with small groups of people–We need to have friends and relationship where we feel connected, where we are protecting each other (from sin, from difficult times, etc.) and where we are growing.  Too many people have buddies to hang out with and do stuff with, but how many of us have friends that will be there with us and for us no matter what?  We need friends who take initiative with us and friends that because of our relationships with them, we become better, more like Christ.  This is not a new church program, but it is a goal that each one of us needs to have.

3) We need to move–We now have four services with 3 of them being full this weekend.  We have kids classrooms that are full. We have no space to connect with each other. We have people parking 2 blocks away and visitors coming and deciding to leave because it is too crowded.  Now is the time for us to make a move.  This is going to be a financial challenge for us.  It is going to take all of us working together and believing that God is calling us to do this together.

Much more could be said about all three of these and much more will be over the next few months.  The first two will be covered throughout the fall as we start our series in the book of Acts.  The need to raise money and the challenge of moving will be talked about more as we progress in our search for a new space.

What should we do now as we wait to pursue the next building?

1) Make the move to e-Give.  This is our online giving resource.  This helps you with the discipline of regular planned giving.  You can find that here.  Sometimes what we lack is the discipline.  If we plan ahead to give on a regular basis and set it up, it happens.

2) Make your giving connected to your income not attendance.  Don’t just give something when you come, give a portion of what you make.

3) Go to the next level.  Non-givers become givers. Givers become planned givers. Planned givers give percentages of income. Then become a tither.

4) Save now for the big ask.  You may not have $1000, $5000 or more to give to the new building. But if you planned, could you in 6 months?

5) Invite a friend to come be a part of the Grove. The more people involved, the better.

6) Pray. Pray for wisdom for the leadership. Pray for finances. Ask God for what he wants you to do. Dream big with God. Then pray for God to help you do what he’s calling you to do. We are believing there are going to be some great stories over the next year in how God provides. Be a part of one of those stories.

We are excited about what’s next and hope you are to.  Any questions? Feel free to shoot me a note at charlie@thegrovechurch.org

Vision 2012-Reach

August 27, 2012 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

For the last 9+ months we have had an amazing, precious, beautiful baby in our home.  Our world turned upside-down but in the best possible way.  In another month and a half or so, we will have the awesome privilege of being able to adopt her and make legal what has always been true in our hearts.  She will become a part of our family.

During this time, we have had what I will call a “baby-focused” home.  The focus for the other four of us has been the baby. She has far and away gotten the most attention, the most praise and the most care.  We have all adapted our schedule and priorities to fit hers.

A couple of further insights:

1) Do we do this because we love her more? I do not believe that any of the four of the rest of us would say that we love her more or even that we feel that other family members love her more than they love us.  It is not a question of love, but of priority.  She gets the most attention, because she is the most vulnerable. Part of me wants to explain that further. Another part of me doesn’t want to insult you. She is more vulnerable because she is a baby. She can’t do for herself.

2) At no point during our time of baby-focus did Heidi or I ever forget our other daughters’ names.  They never missed a meal and they knew that they were loved and cared for. That may sound ridiculous, but it’s important to the point (Yes, a point is coming). While we were giving focus to the baby, we made sure that our older girls were loved and well taken care of.  Certainly they didn’t get as much attention as they used to get or could possibly get, but they never once were neglected, but instead were deeply loved and cared for.

3) In addition, they never complained that their parents had diverted much of their attention to the baby.  Why is that? Because we were united in our baby-focus. We believed together that this is what God had called us to. We were too busy loving on the baby to be self-focused.  We were too busy following God’s new plan for our family to really notice or complain about the changes.  Also, the trade-off was worth it, because the baby is amazing.

We at The Grove Church strive to have an outward-focus. We want to focus our attention on people who are far from God.

Why?  (See point 1 above) They are the most vulnerable. What is at stake for them is much more serious than those who are walking closely with God.

Does this mean we do not want the believers in our church to be loved and cared for and to grow? No (Point 2), we still must and will care for each other. We will just do so with much of our focus on those outside.

Hopefully, we will then be a church (Point 3) that is so united in our desire to see people locally and around the world find faith in God, it would never cross our minds to wonder if something could be “better for us.”  Too often churches get into a battle over whether or not church is “for believers” or “for lost people.”  As I seem to say a lot about issues Christians fight about, that’s a false choice.  The church is a group of believers commissioned (Matt. 28:18-20) by God to reach the lost.

Of course, God is calling us to help each other grow (see next week). There are many great reasons why we need to and why the church must make sure that happens. As with many things, it is a question of balance. Ask yourself this question, “Am I balanced in the attention I give toward meeting my own needs versus others’ needs? My needs versus people who are from God?” I would imagine that most of us would admit that we give plenty of attention to ourselves.  The same is true for churches. I believe that we have to talk even more about reaching people because our natural tendency is toward an inward focus.

Our mission is described by 4 words–worship, reach, grow and send.  All are important, but we need to be absolutely clear on the commission that God has given us to reach people who are far from him.

Vision 2012–Worship

August 20, 2012 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

You hear the word “worship” and you automatically think about music.  “What’s worship like in your church?” is the same question as “What is the music like in your church?”

Now, I don’t want to be “that guy.” You know the guy that lambasts you for using one definition of a word instead of his preferred definition of the word.  Example, “Only God is awesome.  Because only he is totally worthy of our awe and extreme admiration.” Well, awesome also can mean something that’s cool.  “Cool means low in temperature.”  Enough already.

Worship can mean music, but it also has other definitions.  When we get to “Grow” in our vision series, we will see the same thing.  “We want the church to grow,” has multiple meanings.  It can mean you want more people or you want the people to be more.

What do we mean by worship? Well, let’s go to the dictionary. Worship–to be devoted to and full of admiration for.  When we talk about worship, this is what we mean.  We need to be express our devotion and admiration for God.  We can and should do this through singing praise songs to God.  However, it is only worship if we mean what we say.  Otherwise it is just singing.

However, worship is much deeper than singing. Singing is but one expression of worship.  Worship is demonstrating with our lives our full devotion to God.  Paul uses worship in this way in Romans 12:1-2

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Offering your bodies (lives) to God is your true and proper worship.  So as we evaluate how we are doing individually and as a church in worship, it is important to ask if we are properly pouring out our hearts with sincerity when we sing.  However, it is even more important for us to ask if our lives are fully devoted to him.

There are 3 particular areas in which God has laid on my heart for us to grow in our worship.

1. Finances–It is far and away the hardest area for many if not all people. It also causes us the most anxiety when we don’t surrender it to God. We start in our hearts by making a commitment that we will do with our money whatever God asks and a recognition that everything we have is His in the first place.

There are a couple of ways that we need to practice good stewardship of our finances (obviously there are more, but 2 that I believe are good starting points for us).  First is to be generous givers.  God calls us to take the first and best of what we have and give it to him. How much? Ask God.  The historical standard has been 10%, which is what tithe means.  That case can be made from Scripture.  A case can be made for more. It would be hard to make one for less.  Again, ask God and see what he says. That’s a great place to start if the point of this is to surrender this to him in worship.

Second, spend less than what you bring in.  No need to elaborate on that much, so how about an algebra equation?  If you bring in X, spend at most X-1.

2.Character–Too often we justify our sin.  We also minimize the effects that our sin has on us and on other people.  What is one area of sin where you most need to change?  You probably know immediately when asked.  If not, ask God. If not, ask a friend or spouse.  I assure you, they know.  Then begin to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to change your heart and give you victory.  What you will discover is more consistent victory and this area and freedom.

3. Direction–Finally, would you consider asking the question, “God what do you want me to do?” I don’t mean this in a “should I have chicken or steak for dinner” kind of way, but in a “is my life going in the right direction” kind of way.  Are you open to God leading you in a different direction, to get involved in a new ministry, to reach out to people around you?  What if God asked you move to the other side of the world? What if he asked you give sacrificially so someone else could? What if he told you to add to your family through adoption? What if…? What if…? Would you listen? Will you take the risk and ask and wait?

What would happen if we all made a decision this year to increase our giving, allow God to change our character and all followed God wherever he led?  It gets me excited just to think about it.  God would use us in ways that we can hardly imagine.  He would change the world through us.  People in NWA and all around the world would find life in Christ.  We would be living life the way God intends for us to live, with freedom, peace and hope.  We would be the church God is calling us to be.

This is MY Church–Give

The longer I am a pastor, the more and more I get comfortable with talking about giving. Most pastors have nervousness about talking about money, mostly because people don’t like hearing about it. Also, we want to avoid being perceived as “one of those people” who seem to only talk about money.

However, I am becoming more convinced of how important talking about giving. It’s important because people are struggling with their finances.  People spend more than they make, and they rack up incredible debt.  It’s important because people struggle with honoring God with their money.  People want to do what is right, but they feel they can’t.  We spend our lives pursuing the American Dream and we don’t realize that God has a dream for our lives and our finances greater than any dream we have.

This dream begins with us being givers, generous givers.  Here are three reasons why that is important.

We GIVE because it is right–We cannot and should not ignore this. From the time of Cain and Abel (the second generation on Earth), it is clear that God wants us to take the first and best portion of what he has given us and give it back to Him. It predates the Old Testament law and extends beyond it to the teachings of Jesus and Paul. God requires this of us. We should treat this as a regular command. However, we have made a collective decision to put the command to tithe (10%) as a super command. We believe that do not lie is for everyone, but tithing is only for super spiritual people. Both of these should be considered standard, entry-level discipleship.

Many people get hung up on “what counts” as your tithe.  Does giving to any cause “count”? Does it have to be an overtly Christian cause? Does it have to be a local church?  I have friends that are pastors that make the case that the tithe goes to your church. I have friends that work for missions groups that would make the opposite claim. I honestly am less concerned about that. My conviction has been to tithe to our church and give above and beyond that to other groups.  We consider the tithe the floor not the ceiling and believe that it is important to support the church you are a part of.  That is just what we do. “Well, what should we do?”  The simple answer is ask God, “God what do you want me to give? Where do you want me to give?”

We GIVE because God blesses generosity–Things can tend to get squirrelly (The number of attempts that it took me to spell squirrelly correctly was alarming. I almost switched it to fishy.) when you talk about God blessing generosity. We all know the people who make the promises about if you give, God will give you more in return. Cue guy sitting on odd golden throne: “If you will send us $500, we will send you this prayer blanket and God will give you at least 10 times that in return.” False.

The problem with that is that it is just exchanging one form of greed for another. I heard this first from Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas. The spirit of greed that makes us want more and more is what Jesus preached against. Giving just to get is no better than living your life and working just to get more.  God wants us to have generous hearts. In II Corinthians 9 and Proverbs 3, God makes it clear that he blesses us when we give generously.  Sometimes that’s financially, sometimes it is not.  However, just because we cannot tangibly describe it, let us not discount the power of living a life that is blessed by God.

We GIVE because God uses it to change the world–People are always looking for good investments.  ROI (return on investment) is what people want.  If I invest this $1000, I want the most return on that investment.  I believe that the ROI in giving back to God is high.  When you give back, he does not simply bless you, he blesses the world through you.  The money that you give to The Grove Church allows the church to reach people in NWA who do not know Christ.  It allows us to love and minister to our kids.  Ultimately some of every dollar that is given goes all around the world. I’m staring at a map right now that has pins in 24 countries around the world where people from the Grove are or have been in the last year.  I just saw an email from a girl who is in Japan talking about how she is already had the opportunity to share her faith with multiple people and how God is using her.

This is only the beginning.  We are just getting started.  We started together in this journey 2 years ago, and in two years we have seen God move mightily.  What the next 2 years and the next 22 years have in store seems limitless.  It begins with us making a commitment to taking what God has given us, give it back to him and watch him multiply it around the world.

This is MY Church–Connect

We recently spent 6 weeks going through a sermon series entitled, “This is MY Church.”  During this series, we asked a couple of questions.  The first is what could happen, what would God do in and through our church if we united together?  We talked about reaching the lost, sending missionaries all over the world, meeting real physical and spiritual needs in our community, impacting our children, and more.

The second question was what would it mean for each one of us to be committed, united together at The Grove Church? What would be required and expected of me? We put this in the context of what would happen if we switched our mindset from The Grove Church is where I go to church to The Grove Church is MY church.  This is my place and I will do whatever it takes to help accomplish what God has for my church.

During this six week series, we looked at 6 actions that we each to which we needed to be committed to have this kind of attitude.  These 6 actions will ultimately form our new membership covenant and every new member will be taken through these 6 actions as they are making their decision to make The Grove Church their church.  The 6 actions are–Connect, Give, Serve, Pray, Protect and Invite.

I’m going to take some time this week to review these six on the ol’ blog to help us, whether we go to the Grove or any church, focus on the things that we need in order to join with our church in accomplishing the mission that God has given your church.

The first is connect.  We need to connect in 3 ways.

Connect with God–This is obviously our most important connection.  Before we even begin thinking about what God has called us to do, we need to make sure that we have a solid connection with God.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all that we are.  The Bible also makes it clear that the depth of our relationship God determines the kind of life that we will have.  We need to be people who are consistently connecting with God.  We need to pray each and every day and throughout the day.  We also need to take time to listen when we pray.  Is God speaking? If so, what is he saying. We also need to be reading the Bible every day.  There is a richness in God’s word that points to the character of God and helps us know who it is that God has called us to be.

Connect with your church during worship service–This may be the most simple of all requirements to be a church member–”Umm, you should like come to the weekend worship service.”  Nothing incredibly novel here, but we believe that it needs to be said and said boldly.  Being a part of the weekend service is key to being connected to your local church.  It is the time where the whole church comes together to celebrate what God is doing, worship together, serve together and hear from God’s Word.  Hopefully you experience more than just a talk about the Bible.  Our hope is that you will hear a fresh word from God that is for the church, both for the church as a whole and each individual person.  Make the service a priority.  Everyone goes out of town on occasion, but let’s have a mindset that says, if possible, I will be at our weekend service to worship with my people and hear how God might want to challenge me from His Word.

Connect with your people in a small group–Finally, we also all need to be connected in a small group.  There are limitations on what can happen in a weekend service.  While it is the best place for worshipping with other believers and hearing from God’s word, it is not designed to be a place where your personal questions can be answered.  If everyone had a couple of questions and we tried to answer all of them, worship services could turn into a 24/7 operation. It’s also not the most convenient place to share your struggles.  While there are a few exceptions, I’m sure, there are not many people who would enjoy sharing their sin struggles with the church as a whole.  For those two reasons and many more, we have small groups.  These are places where if you have questions, there are people to help you find answers.  There are also people who know you that can celebrate with you and mourn with you and pick you up when you fall.  Small groups are a place where you can know people deeply and you can be deeply known.

Life is too hard to be tried alone, and it is possible for us to be alone even in a crowd of people.  The first step that we need to take is to be connected–with God, with worship services and small groups.

Listen to the series at Grove Podcasts