Thursday, September 18, 2014



Two themes have tremendous implications for the church today. God’s absolute sovereignty is once again uppermost, especially in 10:1-7.  The description of the mighty angel is cause of awesome worship, as every detail fits the description of God in the OT and of Christ in chapter 1. The seven thunders bring back the image of Sinai and God’s oath of judgment in Ps. 29.
John clearly intends this as a warning to those who are resisting God. How can they think they can stand against the Lord of the universe? Through the interaction with Dan 12:4-9 in Rev 10:5-7, the  reader is made aware of the progressive revelation by which God has made known his plan for the end of the age.  Neither Ezekiel nor Daniel understood the implications see also ( 1 Pet 1:10-11), but now through John God has made it known that the eschaton (end of the world or end time) is near.
The events that will bring human history to a close are now clear to those with ears to hear (2:7, 11, 17 etc) and the saints must be aware of the seriousness of the issues. God is indeed sovereign over his created world, and the “mighty angel” demonstrates this dominion by planting his feet on land and sea in the name of God and of Christ. When he swears “the delay is over” the reader is startled by the suddenness and the power of the assertion.  That moment the whole Bible has been preparing for, the event the people of God have awaited for millennia, has arrived.
The second theme is the prophetic witness of the church. God commands John to reenact the commissioning of Ezekiel (Ezek 2:8-3:3) and the result is to be the same as Ezekiel’s- the sweetness of obedience but the bitterness of rejection and suffering. Through John the church is called to the same ministry of preaching repentance and judgment to a generation that has turned their backs on God. It will involve persecution and even martyrdom (the sour stomach), but God has given his people the privilege of proclaiming his word (the sweet mouth), and that is enough.
(Taken from Revelation, Commentary by Grant R. Osborne)

What should be our response to this chapter? We surrender our lives completely to the sovereignty of God, resting in the fact that we are well protected (may not be physical protection but definitely spiritual protection), then boldly proclaiming God’s word to our generation as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


      This spring season we learned a few things in growing a flower garden around our Church. We had certain thorny bushes removed, trimmed the over growth of the trees, removed stones, added more soil and manure and then my wife sowed a variety of flower seeds. Every day we would water the area, walk around in the morning to see if there was any growth taking place. At times we wondered; is there anything happening at all or all the seeds dead or eaten up by birds?  We persisted in watering and all of a sudden we began to see growth all around us, everything began to turn green and now at the end of summer we have lots of flowers.
What we learned was to be patient and keep watering the ground even when we didn’t see any growth initially. We also learned that not all seeds will grow and come into fruition, there will also be some unwanted, power sucking weeds that grow next to the good plants though they were not planted. We also realized that the outcome of the fruit/flowers in this case largely depended on the SEED.

     A farmer knows if he wants to have a good harvest he needs to sow the right kind of seed in the right kind of soil under the right circumstances so he can reap a bumper crop. Last week I talked about understanding church growth. As we know churches are not just buildings or structures but made up of individuals and their families. The health of the church depends on the overall health of its people. When we talk about church growth, in reality we are talking about the growth of the people in the local church. All kinds of people attend church for all kinds of reasons. However as a Pastor my concern is to see all these people grow, and bear fruit for Christ. Let’s look today at what makes a church grow?

    During his ministry on earth Jesus told stories to communicate powerful truths.  He often used natural laws to explain spiritual laws, natural principles of growth in order to show the principles of growth of His Kingdom on earth. One of such stories is about how the Kingdom of God grows in the life of an individual. The parable of the Sower and the SEED (Luke 8:4-15)

     Let me set the story for you: On a gorgeous spring morning in Palestine Jesus took His congregation out into the fields to observe a farmer sowing seeds (barley or wheat) in his field. The congregation comprised of twelve disciples, some women who were cured of evil spirits and diseases, these women were the wives of high ranking officers in King Herod’s palace, and several others. Looking at this group large crowds were attracted.

   Jesus addressed this crowd perhaps pointing to a farmer who was sowing his seeds.  Jesus said, “A farmer went to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed some of it fell on the road; it was trampled down and the birds ate it. Other seed fell in the gravel; it sprouted, but withered because it didn't have good roots. Other seed fell in the weeds; the weeds grew with it and strangled it. Other seed fell in rich earth and produced a bumper crop.” Are you listening to this? “Really listening? (Message Bible) I want us to pay close attention this morning what the Spirit of God may be saying to you through this parable.

     What do we see in this parable? We see a farmer, a bag full of seeds and four types of ground. The farmer is God, the seed is the word of God and the fields were the people who came to listen to Jesus.  In our church when the word of God is being preached it falls on people. It is the same word, but the outcome is different, from person to person why? It is because where people are at in their walk of life at the point of receiving the message. As you listen to this message check where you might be at today. Some seed fell on the path way. The path way people, I call them unbelievers who never come to know the way, because of their unbelief.

       As the farmer sowed some seed fell along the path, it was trampled on and the birds ate it up” The path way people are mainly skeptics and unbelievers, they hear the gospel preached over and over again but they never respond to it because the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts so that they won’t believe and be saved.

       Have you wondered why in spite of many wonderful Christian TV channels preaching the gospel, churches doing evangelistic outreaches so many still remain un-touched by the Gospel? Even some of you who regularly attend church, and listen to inspiring messages every Sunday could remain unchanged, why?  Paul writing to the Corinthians exposes the strategy of the Devil 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

       Like never before in history today we are up against a strong enemy who is confusing and deceiving millions, many are believing his lies. Some of these lies are: there is no God, life on earth is all there is, here and now, there is no heaven nor hell it is all your imagination, be happy, and enjoy life, do whatever feels good to you, you are your own boss, you are not accountable to anyone and so on. We are being inundated by such messages through the different media. No wonder, why we have a hard time discerning the truth. Beware, when the truth is presented to you in the church it can be taken away by the devil from your heart so that you may not believe and be saved. That is where prayer comes in. Our prayer should be Oh Lord please open the blind eyes and deaf ears and save people. Some seeds fell on rock, which represents what I call the Eager Beaver.”

“Some seed fell on rock, and when it came up the plants withered because they had no moisture.” Jesus compared the seed that fell on rock to what I would call, the “Eager Beavers.”  The Eager Beaver is a person who is very enthusiastic about doing something, a hardworking and eager person. You might wonder why that is a negative quality? According to Jesus’ words, the Eager Beavers receive the word very enthusiastically at the very first instance they hear it, but they have no root, they believe for a while, but in the time of testing they quickly fall away.

      In our gardening experience we have learned a few lessons. If we want plants to survive and bear fruit, their roots must go deep into the ground. If they are shallow the plant will be scorched, wither and die quickly. In order for their roots to go deep we must soak them with lots of water. How does this apply to people especially to new believers? New believers are excited about God, life, doing things for God. They sign up for every meeting, conference and in general eager about life, that is OK but what they need to realize is that they cannot ride on that initial excitement forever. I have seen this play out over and over again.  “Eager Beaver Christians who responded to the gospel with great excitement but I don’t see them following God any more. What is the reason? It is because they were not deeply rooted in God.

       As water deepens the roots of the plant, the word of God deepens our faith in God. The more we hear, read and meditate on God’s word the deeper we grow in the Lord. When our faith is strong and vibrant no matter what troubles or tough times we may encounter we will not quickly “throw in the towel” and quit walking with God. If you are one of those Eager Beavers, do not remain shallow, dig deeper, let your faith be challenged and strengthened. Some seed fell among the thorns, these are the group of people, I call them the worldly.

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and chocked the plants. In some translations it is written among the “weeds” I think in this part of the world we are familiar with weeds than thorns. This spring before we planted the seeds we removed weeds and tilled the ground. After a while we noticed along with good plants there were also weeds. From time to time we had to remove them otherwise the plants wouldn't have survived.  The seed that fell in the weeds represent those whom I call the worldly.

The dictionary meaning of the worldly is a person who is devoted to, directed toward, or connected with the affairs, interests, or pleasures of this world. In one word we can say he or she is materialistic. The scriptures talk a lot against worldliness. A couple of scriptures: “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods.  The love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.” I John 15-17(The Message)

Are you one of those who are always wanting more and are never feel satisfied? Watch out these earthly passions can choke your faith and squeeze the life out of you. Paul gives a warning to all those who are looking for Jesus’ second coming, Titus 2:12-13, “The grace of God teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” According to Jesus three things will choke our faith and render us fruit less, they are, life’s worries, riches and pleasures. Still other seed fell on the good soil, I call this category of people the obedient.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown. It was bumper crop. Few springs ago we have planted Tomato plants. We watered them every day and when the time came we enjoyed the tangible fruits of the earth. There is nothing more satisfying to pick and enjoy the fruit from your own garden. The seed fell on the good soil represent the obedient. The scripture calls them, “noble and good hearted” They hear the truth, receive it, retain it and implement it under severe trials and testing’s hence they produce a hundred fold fruit. In the Bible the word “hear” is often associated with obedience, and action. There are many scriptures that point to us not to stop just at only listening but to obey.

Obedience is better than sacrifice. Only in obeying God and His written word we find blessings. Jesus said whoever loves me will obey my teaching and he who does not love me will not obey my teachings. “Although Jesus was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Hebrew 5:8. If Jesus being the Son of God needed to learn obedience, how much more should you and I learn about obedience? God sends trails and suffering on our way to test us to see whether we will obey Him. As much as blessings come upon the obedient, equally the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Are you a son who obeys God or are you a disobedient son?

You may be wondering what all this has to do with church growth?  In the beginning I said church growth depends on the people who attend that local church. If we want to see our church grow we need to see the individuals in our church growing in their love for God, for one another and for the lost without Christ. In this parable we saw the same word of God was sown in all the four categories of people, all four of them heard the same message but responded to that message differently. Similarly today, the same message is presented to all of us, how are we responding to it? Are you like the unbelieving who foolishly let the devil come and rob the word from your heart? Or are you like the Eager Beaver who responds to God’s word enthusiastically but never go deeper with God? Or are you the worldly who is blindly pursuing the pleasures of this world but never paying any attention to do the will of God? Or are you the obedient who is also called, “the noble and good hearted” who receives the word, retains it and acts according to it resulting in producing a bumper crop for God? I let you decide. Amen

Sunday, September 7, 2014



            For the first time parents raising a child can be fun as well as challenging. Wilma and I used to make numerous visits to our pediatrician. Every time we took our girls he would take their height and weight and track them on a growth chart. Then he would nod his head in a way to let us know that they were growing at the expected rate. Why would the pediatrician track the growth of the child? The centerpiece of the child's health record is his growth chart. Children who are growing at the expected rate and whose height or length and weight are pretty well matched are generally healthy.
           Similarly, whether a church is healthy or not depends on whether it is growing in its length (scope of influence) and weight (weekly attendance) at the expected rate. Let’s compare these statistics. In 1900, only 1% of the country’s population was Christian, but largely through the efforts of missionaries and churches, Christianity has grown rapidly in South Korea over the past century. In 2010, roughly three-in-ten South Koreans were Christian, including members of the world’s largest Pentecostal church, Yoido Full Gospel Church, in Seoul”[1]

Whereas Churches in the west in general are declining. According to the North American Mission Board (NAMB), in 1900 there were 28 churches for every 10,000 Americans. Just fifty years later, that number plummeted to 17 for every 10,000. Since 2004, the trend is expected to continue at an 8% decrease every 4 years. This is despite the fact that our population is increasing.[2] Numbers can be overwhelming at times, but these two statistics can give us an idea in regards to the state of the Church and Christians in the USA.

I am well aware that in this country we equate numbers with success. Though I am not a great fan of mega churches, but I do believe that numbers communicate the health of any given Church. Does God care about the Church growth? Why do we have such a hard time understanding Church growth? What does the Bible say about growth? Our Church leadership has been wrestling with these questions for quite some time. In the month of June a group of 30 of us took a survey developed by “Natural Church Development” Organization. The results are staggering. One of the observations of that survey is that our Church growth has been stagnated for a while and beginning to decline.  

Let me explain the following graphs: Graph 1 when I first became pastor six years ago, the average attendance was about 40. It grew up to 82 in the next few years. Then it began to decline and now it stands at an average of 50 on a good Sunday. Graph II: Shows the age groups and gender of the Survey participants (Most of them are members). About  13% (70+) 30% (61-70), 25%( 51-60) 12%(41-50), 7%(31-40) 10%(21-30) 4%(-20) age group. Female to male ratio is about balanced with a slight edge towards females.

Graph III. Indicates that if we do not improve the quality of life in the next ten years we will continue to decline and maybe at some point this church will no longer exists. Graph IV. If we improve the quality of life in the next 10 years we may reach 150 to 200 people in regular attendance.

These graphs give us a fair assessment of where we are today and where we would like to go. When we hear these challenging figures we can have either one or three responses. The Lord is coming back soon; why bother about growing the Church. Or we just can’t let this church die and we must do something right away! Or I don’t care whether it grows or dies as long as I get what I want.  I wonder why such varied responses? The answer partly depends on how we understand growth.

We live in a wonderful, colorfully diverse world. We interact with people of various cultures. Let’s look at how people live and process information, it depends on where they were born, raised and continue to live. Based on the NCD network, they distinguished three cultural poles: The West, (North America, Europe) the East (most of Asia) and the South (Latin America, Africa). People living in these cultural poles, think and act differently. That provides rich cultural diversity. God wants us to harness this cultural diversity for the greater good of humanity and even more so for the extension of His Kingdom.

Let me share some distinctions of each cultural zone: The westerners value the freedom of the individual, self-realization, diversity and personal initiation. Their thought pattern is linear: (cause and effect, input-output, A to B to C.  There are many things that can be wonderfully explained by applying linear thinking, but the Western tendency is to apply this thought pattern even when it doesn't fit.

The Eastern world (Most of Asia) functions differently. These cultures are built on consensus rather than competition. Their livelihood depends to a high degree on the Co-operation of the whole village. They encourage dialogue that leads to consensus. They have high regard for harmony that explains the plentiful forms of politeness that are so typical of Asian cultures. They follow models whereas the westerners follow principles.

In the southern cultural zone, in spite of all their differences these continents have one experience in common: suffering. Much of the way Africans and Latin Americans think has originated as a response to suffering. Christians living in this zone have a high view of the Old Testament, creation, and the exodus as categories many people can identify with.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has placed the word Ubuntu at the center of his theology. The concept is to a certain extent to the Kenyan word harambee. It is Kenyan’s national symbol, you can find it on their currency. It was initially used by the Indian indentured laborers.  It is hard to translate these words, the closet English translation would be “Solidarity” In reality these words have far greater meaning in their native language: The zest of these words mean: “A person depends on other people to be a person. This definitely expresses a form of group feeling, and group loyalty, pulling together that is virtually unknown to the individualistic Western World.

Ubuntu has a strong impact on Christianity. While in the Western world many believe that the individualistic approach to evangelism, God on the one hand and your soul on the other hand is typically biblical, dealing with African or Latin American cultures helps us recognize that this focus on the individual is not typically biblical but typically Western. That explains why the church in the non-western world is growing rapidly and declining in the West.

In the Southern hemisphere, we can detect cyclical way of thinking that is in the contrast to the linear structure of the West.[3] The cyclical way of thinking is very important when it comes to church growth. There is no one single method or approach can bring about the desired Church growth, but living by certain proven principles and a combination of variables can contribute to growth I know this is a lot of information to process, but it is important to know why people think the way they think.

Especially a church as diverse as ours must make efforts to understand other people’s cultures before drawing our own conclusions about the differences we encounter. Understanding how other cultures think not only help us appreciate our own culture but also spare us from misunderstandings and heartaches.  So when it comes to growth in general and church growth in particular, Eastern and Southern cultures tend to grasp the principles of growth more easily than the westerners. Westerners are excellent in understanding the technical realities but when it comes to understanding how growth happens, they are limited partly due to their linear thinking.

Growth in general is a natural phenomenon. Where there is life and health there will be growth. Growth is also a biblical concept, we see running through scriptures over and over again. When God created Adam and Eve He blessed them and said be fruitful, and multiply and fill the earth.” After the flood when men tried to build a tower so that they won’t be scattered throughout the earth, God confused their language and scattered them throughout the earth. When God called Abraham and blessed Him what did he say? In you all the nations will be blessed.

When Jesus spoke about the dynamics of the kingdom of God, He continually referred to nature. The lilies of the field, the seed that grows by itself, the growth of the mustard seed, the four soils, the tree and its fruit, the laws of sowing and reaping. Let’s look at Matthew 6:28, “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.” The word “see” however does not fully cover the implications of the Greek word, “katamathete” Which means (diligently learn observe, study, or research).

What then are we to study? Not the lilies’ beauty, but rather their growth mechanisms or principles. We are to study them, meditate on them, and take our direction from them, all these aspects are included in that Greek word. We are told that we need to do these things in order to understand the principles of the kingdom of God. What works in the nature works in the church.

You may be overwhelmed and wondering where I am going with this teaching. Be patient. After taking the NCD survey, the church leadership is convinced that we have to do something in order to see this declining trend change and the quality of life in our church increase. The NCD has developed several tools to help churches grow. We will be implementing some of those processes in the days to come. All I am trying to share with us today is that God is interested in growth, the right kind of it. God wants our Church to grow and not decline. However there are certain factors that either will contribute to growth or hinder growth.

I hope hearing about various cultures has widened your understanding of how creative and wise our God is. It is His world and no one group or culture has monopoly over it. No one culture is superior to the other, neither has all the wisdom and resources to make this world a better place. Only in seeking to understand, respect, give and receive at the same time from one another, may we become better people and continue to survive and prosper as a civilization.

Over the next eight weeks I will be sharing with us eight Quality Characteristics of all healthy and growing Churches developed by the NCD.  Can we all be on board with this ambitious yet necessary process for the betterment of our Church? No one can do it on his or her own strength, it takes all of us. As a community of people who are committed to one another, support one another and learn from one another, we can make this Church a safe haven for people from all nations. Great things happen when we come together in Christ in love and in Unity. My prayer is Lord please bring us together to build your kingdom. Amen

[3] Christian A. Schwarz, Color your world with Natural Church Development, page 29