How to Bring Joy to Your City

The City of Vancouver
photo credit: ecstaticist

I love that part of the story of the early church in which God allows persecution to scatter the Christians from Jerusalem like ants. The Bible says that everywhere they went, they preached the gospel (see Acts chapter 8). Phillip, in particular, headed to a city in Samaria and became the earliest cross-cultural missionary. When he preached there, the citizens listened and embraced Jesus. The Bible sums it up by saying, “So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:8 NLT)

I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading Acts and other sources of early church history. I’ve found this theme to be recurring. The apostles enter a city and preach Jesus against the backdrop of creation and the story of God. People embrace Jesus and the city takes on new life.

The other reaction that happens is riots break out and people get upset, but it’s usually the established religious leadership, feeling threatened by the dethroning power of this new gospel, that stir up the crowds. As I’ve looked over the stories, from Samaria to Athens all the way to Rome, I see some recurring themes.

  • The apostles establish trust and common ground, often hearing local leaders in the synagogue before engaging.
  • They start with the story of creation (with Gentiles) and with Abraham (with Jews).
  • As they present the gospel, their message is accompanied by signs and wonders, especially with the Jews.
  • Some respond by embracing Jesus. Others reject the gospel. Everyone is free to decide without coercion.
  • Churches are formed as disciple-making, disciple-maturing, and disciple-multiplying centers.
  • Cities and cultures are transformed as people are influenced with the gospel.
  • The gospel travels beyond that city into the surrounding territories and to new fields.

As I try to learn from the early church and make application to where my church and your church exist today, I think we often bring about reactions other than joy in our cities. Sometimes we ignore the city by taking up the best land, paying no taxes, and keeping to ourselves as though we’re better than everything around us. Sometimes we imitate the city and lose any distinction as a community of Christian believers with a new, biblical code. And often, we irritate the city by shouting at all the nonbelievers who, to our dismay, don’t act like believers.

I think there’s still a way to capture the essence of apostolic mission, which infiltrates cities with the gospel as new believers develop a sense of mission in every realm in which they live. From within political structures, schools and education boards, workplaces, social services, and other realms of city life, the gospel earns a hearing and makes a difference. And in the end, great joy comes to the city.

As we work through these issues in the context of a new church plant that gathers in a movie theater and scatters all week long, we’ve developed a bit of a philosophy about how we want to transform northwest Arkansas in a positive way. Specifically, we want to…

  • Plant a church that makes the good news both visible and audible to our community.
  • Scatter throughout the community as small groups that grow spiritually and serve practically.
  • Live the gospel, love people, and share Jesus as individuals.
  • Bring down the cultural barriers that keep ethnicities separated on Sunday mornings.
  • Partner with the city’s governmental leaders to address real issues that affect local residents.
  • Partner with local charitable organizations, Christian or not, that address problems like hunger and homelessness.
  • Partner with local schools to improve education, minister to teachers, and help hurting families.
  • Partner with other local churches in kingdom-focused projects.
  • Multiply as individuals, as small groups, and as a church through new worship services, venues, locations, and autonomous daughter church plants.
  • Minister to the hurting, the broken, the mentally ill and emotionally unhealthy through counseling and recovery ministries.
  • Support families, not by replacing parents as disciplers, but by supplementing and aiding parents in the discipleship process.

Is there more? Sure. This is not some to-do list or official statement we’ve adopted. And it’s not comprehensive. It’s just a list of priorities that I, as Lead Pastor, am thinking through continually.

I love northwest Arkansas with my whole heart. I loved living in Kentucky, and I definitely loved the humidity-free beach culture of southern California. But the Bentonville-Rogers area is my city. It’s my home. and I want to bring great joy to every neighbor I possibly can.

Today, after the morning service was over, a single Mom came to let me know that after struggling to feel at home in any church setting, she and her daughter agreed they had found a home at Grace Hills. I love that! That’s the joy of just one person who finds life in the gospel and in a church family. May that joy spread and not stop spreading until Jesus comes again!

The True Source of Real Joy

BubblesIt is very possible to discover happiness in your current circumstances, assuming your circumstances are happy ones. It’s also possible to find happiness in material things… for now, career success… whatever that looks like, and when all of your relationships are sailing along smoothly.

But happiness isn’t the goal. Joy is. Joy is possible in bad health, a bad marriage, a bad job, and on a really bad day. Joy is deep. It’s profound. It’s mysterious. It’s rooted in both the security and the significance found in a personal relationship with our Creator.

Paul once wrote to a poor and persecuted church,

…you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering, with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

– 1 Thessalonians 1:6 (NIV)

Real joy is supernatural. It flows from its Giver – the Holy Spirit – who quietly but assuredly takes up permanent residence in the life of every believer, intertwining Himself with our spirits to gently remind us of the assurance that no matter what happens, we are loved.

photo credit: marfis75

4 Attitudes You Can Choose Today

JoySometimes God takes me back to kindergarten, spiritually speaking. I spend time reading theological treatises, but I sometimes forget the most basic and simple of truths. Here’s one of those basic truths I sometimes struggle with: We choose our attitudes.

We don’t choose our circumstances. We don’t choose the weather, the direction of the economy, what people around us will do, or the direction of world events. If we could choose our circumstances, we would avoid discomfort every time, and in doing so, we would miss out on some amazing opportunities for growth. So we don’t get to choose our situation, but we do get to choose our attitudes.

Here are at least four attitudes we get to choose:

I Can Choose Confidence In Spite of My Circumstances

My situation might stink, but God always alive, awake, actively working, and attentive to my situation. He saw it coming. He’s fully prepared. He wants to grow me through it and He’s on my side. Those are little truths to throw in the face of the enemy when he plants seeds of doubt. If God is for us (and we know He is) then who or what can possibly be against us?

I Can Choose to Be Positive In Spite of Criticism

Anyone who has ever had any influence on their surrounding culture has endured criticism. And often that criticism comes from the circles of people from whom we would least expect it. But criticism doesn’t have to defeat us. We should draw out of criticism anything that might be true and use it to our advantage. Everything else, we should throw at the feet of Jesus and turn our desire to be defensive over to Him (this is one of my biggest struggles). And we should be tenacious and stubborn enough to keep pressing toward God’s goal for us regardless of what others might say.


I Can Be Hopeful When Nothing Seems Certain

Some of the toughest times we go through aren’t necessarily times of deep loss, but rather are times of waiting, times of uncertainty and unrest. When our presumed reality seems to be threatened and the positive things we were counting on seem to fall through, we can still be hopeful. God’s goal for us doesn’t change. He still intends to shape us into the image of Christ. He’s still going to return in absolute victory someday. He’s still causing us to be more than conquerors through Christ.

I Can Choose to Be Content with Christ Alone

Of the four choices I’m mentioning, this one is by far the toughest. In fact, it really takes a lifetime for us to get this one down. Being content with Christ alone is a difficult attitude to gauge in our western culture because we have so much more than Jesus. I have a family, a home, two cars, food on the table, cable television, air conditioning, and gadgets galore. Will I ever know if I would truly be content with Christ alone? I’m not sure, but what I can do is walk in this attitude on a daily basis when deals fall through, when people let me down, when losses come. I can practice the discipline of saying “Jesus, You are enough. If all I have is You, I’m okay.” Contentment boils down to accepting with gratitude whatever God has in mind for us, surrendering our own idea of what is necessary in exchange for His idea of it.

These are tough. Adopting healthy attitudes is a daily discipline that requires our enjoying time with God in prayer, yielding to others, and cultivating thoughts of gratitude for God’s grace. Regardless of the size of the challenge, I know that all of these attitudes are possible because they are all commanded and exemplified in Scripture. In fact, I found all four of these attitudes in [youversion]Philippians 1:12-21[/youversion]. And that passage is part of an entire book of the Bible devoted to this one radical idea – you can choose joy today!

Photo by Stacey Lewis

10 Lessons from Coca-Cola’s Happiness Machine

If you haven’t already, you MUST watch this video…

Now… are you smiling? Exactly! You can read a pretty great article about how Coke created its “happiness machine” and read some of the great observations that came out of the interview, but I’d like to throw some observations out there that I made while watching, even before studying how Coke pulled this off.

  1. Making people happy is easy. It just is.
  2. While happiness is not God’s biggest goal for people (holiness is), Jesus still made a whole lot of people happy.
  3. Smiles spread. I was so glad the girl got the pizza even though I couldn’t share the pizza through the screen.
  4. Little things can make a big impact.
  5. Little things that make a big impact require thought and intentionality.
  6. Happiness goes viral. So does unhappiness.
  7. Personal works. Getting a coke from the machine is expected – seeing hands serve it to you (while creepy) is pretty astounding.
  8. To generate sales, advertise. To recruit brand evangelists, create conversations and sales will be the byproduct.
  9. Sometimes you apparently have to destroy some walls to connect with people.
  10. Coke beats Pepsi. No, the video doesn’t really say that, but it’s my opinion… especially now!

Here’s another thought that hit me while watching this… when churches do similar things in the name of evangelism, people criticize. That tells me that within the church are some of the grumpiest people in the world. I know, that’s off subject, but that thought did hit me while smiling.

So be creative. Use your hands. Make somebody smile. The end goal for our audience is still a deepening relationship with Christ, but maybe making someone smile is somehow a part of that process? Or at least Jesus thought so.

Rejoice In the Lord… Always, Again I say Rejoice

One of my favorite daily news feeds comes from The Daily Spurgeon. Today’s thought addressed something that Christians struggle with often. But usually, when someone comes to me with this question, they’re already on the right track. It is “Can I enjoy the world around me, though it is perishing?”

The Bible tells us to love not the world, neither the things that are in the world (1 John 2:16-17), but the “world” in view here is not the planet which God made to be good (according to Genesis). Rather it’s the demonically-managed system of false philosophies that dominates a sin-ridden society. So can we enjoy the world? Arts? Nature? Music? Things which God inspired? Yes. Spurgeon writes…

The Christian has joy as other men have in the common mercies of life. For him there are charms in music, excellence in painting, and beauty in sculpture; for him the hills have sermons of majesty, the rocks hymns of sublimity, and the valleys lessons of love. He can look upon all things with an eye as clear and joyous as another man’s; he can be glad both in God’s gifts and God’s works. He is not dead to the happiness of the household: around his hearth he finds
happy associations, without which life were drear indeed. His children fill his home with glee, his wife is his solace and delight, his friends are his comfort and refreshment. He accepts the comforts which soul and body can yield him according as God seeth it wise to afford them unto him; but he will tell you that in all these separately, yea, and in all of them added together, he doth not find such substantial delight as he doth in the person of his Lord Jesus. Brethren, there is a wine which no vineyard on earth ever yielded; there is a bread which even the corn-fields of Egypt could never bring forth. You and I have said, when we have beheld others finding their god in earthly comforts, “You may boast in gold, and silver, and raiment, but I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”

Yes, we can rejoice “in the Lord.” Always. Even on vacation! But our rejoicing is ultimately rooted in a secure knowledge of Jesus Christ. So it’s a joy that those outside the faith can never fully understand. If joy is rooted in appreciation, then God’s children find joy in everything for which they can appreciate the Creator’s touch. So rejoice today! Again I say, rejoice!

Kumbaya, My Lord!

What does that mean, anyway? Actually, it means “come by here.” We didn’t sing Kumbaya at camp this week, but God definitely showed up! This was my first experience with church camp… ever! I’d been to Conservation Camp in elementary school and hated every minute of it. This week was vastly different. For one thing, thirty-six people got saved!

As I reflect on camp, let me just share the highlights… The quiet mornings by the lake while the kids slept were great. Waking up by singing the song “Climb, climb up breakfast mountain” was quite nice too. Teaching the college-agers brought about some good discussion. I enjoyed watching activities such as human foosball and playing softball. I was encouraged by fellowshipping with members of other churches. Most of all, I loved the worship time. It was awesome to watch kids “own” the service and take their needs to the altar, many of them inviting Christ in as Savior or rededicating themselves to a thoroughly Christian walk.

What did I not enjoy? Only the noises and odors that are the natural result of sharing quarters with a bunch of boys!! Nonetheless, the cabin was comfortable enough and we really weren’t in it much anyway. I’m definitely going back next year, the Lord willing, and I hope to take twice as many campers with me!

Graduation Day

DSC01030Today was kind of tough… for Momma anyway. We saw our little girl “walk the line” to graduate from Preschool. The theme was What A Wonderful World, which all nineteen graduates sang together. They actually played Pomp and Circumstance as they marched in. She got a diploma and an award for Developing the Most in Confidence throughout the year. We’re so proud!

Angie handles moments like these with a mothering sadness. Her little girl will never graduate from Preschool again. I, on the other hand, handle things a bit differently. While Mamma shed a few tears, I was frustrated that the camera wasn’t working quite right. For me, it’s just one more step toward adulthood, which is the goal. I know that the time will fly and I’ll be crying at her wedding far too soon. Nevertheless, I tend to look forward to each next occasion while Angie wants to hang on to her little girl.

One thing I know, I’m going to enjoy another graduation someday. I’m not referring to Ella’s High School graduation, though I know I’ll enjoy that too, but the day I “walk the line” at the judgment seat of Christ. On the one hand, I view that day with trepidation – there is so much more to be done here in this life. On the other hand, I can’t wait for the eternal reward God has promised to all who place their faith squarely in Him alone.

Our little baby is all grown up… or at least about to head for kindergarten, but I feel that we have so much work to do. If she’s out of the house by eighteen, then we only have fourteen more years to prepare her heart to be forever sensitive to the Savior’s voice. We want to pray her into the family of God, model a genuine love for Jesus, and watch as she surrenders herself to His will daily. May God so prepare us for our graduation day!