Who is Mephibosheth?

“So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem, for he ate continually at the king’s table. And he was lame in both his feet” (2 Samuel 9:13 NKJV).

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NKJV).

Who is Mephibosheth?

Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, the son of King Saul, who was five years old when the news came about their deaths in battle. His nurse was fleeing with him to hide when “he fell and became disabled” (2 Samuel 4:4). Then, perhaps 16 years later, King David called for the disabled Mephibosheth .

Surely he was terrified as he limped into the king’s throne room and fell prostrate on his face before the king. Middle Eastern custom would have suggested that David would slay all remaining descendants of Saul in order to secure his own throne. Yet, while the crippled Mephibosheth lay face down, trembling with anxiety, he heard King David say, “Fear not. For I will surely show you kindness for your father’s sake, and you shall eat bread at my table continually” (2 Samuel 9:7).

Who is Mephibosheth? First, we must answer the question, “Who is David?” For David was a type of Christ, and his behavior towards Mephibosheth foreshadowed the kindness of Christ towards us. Mephibosheth had fallen and was crippled all his days. He was from the House of Saul, who had made David his enemy, trying to kill him. It was a scandalous thing that King David would seek to find Mephibosheth in order to invite this crippled, former enemy to eat at the same table as one of his own sons. Yet, this is exactly what David did.

Who is Mephibosheth?

We are. If David represents Christ, then Mephibosheth represents us. We are fallen and crippled by sin. We have made ourselves enemies of God. Yet Jesus Christ, the Son of David, has sought us out. He has invited us to eat continually at the King’s table as one of the Father’s own sons. Yet, we must respond to His invitation. Admitting our weakness, that we are crippled by sin, we must fall on our faces in repentance and receive the kindness of Christ. For Christ took on our weakness, that we might receive His strength.

Therefore, because of Christ, we have become more than Mephibosheth, for we are glad to exchange our weakness for Christ’s strength. We answer the King’s invitation in weakness, but will one day take a seat at His table according to His strength.

Yet, in the meantime, while we await our new bodies, unmarred by the crippling effects of sin, we “take pleasure” in being like Mephibosheth, so that in our weakness, the strength of Christ may be revealed in us.

Listening speaks louder

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19 ESV).

“Lend me your ears” (Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give another is the gift of listening. It sounds paradoxical, but listening can actually speak louder than words.

In a world where everyone is busy expressing their opinion on social media and tweeting about their status, do you ever wonder if anyone is really listening? We greet one another with “How are you?” but really don’t want to know. It’s just a pleasantry. We don’t have time to hear. Listening is a luxury we feel we can’t afford.

Yet many are starving for understanding, yearning for someone to really listen to their voice. Who will give the gift of listening to them?

There have been many through the years who have given me the gift of listening. And that’s really important to a “talker” like me. Certainly the one, other than Jesus, that has been my most ardent listener has been my wife, Robin. As long as I don’t start the conversation too late at night (she’s an early to bed, early to rise type), she will listen attentively as long as I talk. She’s my biggest fan. Always encouraging me when I express self-doubt. Believing in me when I describe my dreams. Her listening speaks louder of her love for me than words ever could.

That’s because listening is sacrificial. We have to humble ourselves and be silent to truly hear another. This self-imposed silence is not only to our speaking voice, but also to our inner one as well, not thinking of what we’re going to say next, but truly focusing on the other. Listening is a gift of love.

When was the last time you gave the gift of listening to someone that everyone else tends to shun? When did you last bend down to a child’s level and truly hear their little voice?

I’m glad that I have a wife that listens to me. Even more than that, I’m glad that we have a God that listens. As the psalmist said, “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19 ESV).

If we really seek to communicate with God and with others, we must learn to be “quick to listen.” The paradoxical biblical principle of listening in order to speak is counter to the world’s wisdom. Yet, when practiced it brings about the harmony of understanding.

 

 

(This article was adapted from a previous entry entitled, “Generous Ears,” February 2016.)

Two ways you can help us prepare for a full house this Easter

“And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23 ESV).

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you” (Luke 14:8-10 ESV).

We’re praying and preparing for a full house on Easter weekend.

We’re preparing great music and a gospel-centered message. We’ve designed and printed invite cards, door hangars, and signs to help promote our services. We’re planning to utilize social media and Facebook ads to send out invites. We’re offering four services instead of our usual two to make room for everyone.

Yet, there are key two areas where our church members are best suited to help us prepare for a full house this Easter (Hint: It’s about who you invite and where you sit):

1. Invite people to attend our services.

In Luke 14, Jesus told two banquet parables. One was about a wedding banquet and the other was about a “great banquet.” The great banquet parable illustrates our call as servants of God to be busy inviting people that the Master’s “house might be filled.”

In this parable, Jesus described a master who sent his servant out to invite people to his banquet. But everyone the servant invited gave an excuse for not being able to attend. So, the master told the servant to go out and “bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame,” that his house might be filled. The servant reported that he had done as commanded, yet there was still room at the table. So, the master sent the servant back out to “compel” people to come.

The truth is, most people who visit our church have come because of a personal invitation from a family member or friend. Look at these statistics explaining what prompted someone to visit and attend church (From evangelismcoach.org)

  • 2% by Advertisement
  • 6% by the Pastoral Invitation
  • 6% by organized evangelism campaign
  • 86% by friends or relatives

So, most church visits are prompted by a personal invitation. Yet, a troubling statistic is that “only 2% of church people have invited an unchurched person” (Thom S. Rainer).

Preparing for a full house requires church members who are willing to be servants who “compel” (“to urge with urgency”) people to come, with a special emphasis to focus on those who are “poor, crippled, blind and lame.” In other words, we should focus on inviting those who have the greatest physical and spiritual need because they are usually most receptive to the gospel.

2. Make it easy for our guests to find a seat.

In the wedding banquet parable, Jesus taught that we shouldn’t choose to, “sit down in a place of honor.” He described those who would choose a seat based on their own preference, rather than the preference of the host. He said that they might be embarrassed when the host asks them to move.

We can apply this parable’s teaching to how we treat our invited guests who arrive and search for a seat in our worship space. Consider the following questions about where you choose to sit:

  • Should you choose the back seats and aisle seats, so that those entering feel there is no room for them?
  • Should you climb over the ropes reserving seats for our late arrivals, placed there by the ushers?
  • Should you ignore the instruction of our ushers who try to help you get a seat?
  • Which seats being filled best “honor” and encourage the pastor and worship team?
  • Is it best to choose your seat on what “honors” you or based on what “honors” others?

The answers to these questions seem clear when we base the answer on what is best for our guests, rather than our own preferences.

Our worship space has 214 seats. Most services we average around 100 to 160 people in those seats. We often have attenders thinking we are full when there are actually 40 to 100 seats still available. The problem is to find those seats, you have to go down towards the front and step over other people to find them. We’re expecting over 600 in attendance on Easter weekend, so you can see how important it is to make room for everyone.

We recognize that we are fast approaching the need to expand our facilities, both for our adult space and our children’s worship space. But in the meantime, we want to be good stewards of what we have. Let’s fill up the house God has given us! Then, we’ll expand when it’s really needed.

As we prepare for a full house not only this coming Easter weekend, but every weekend, would you consider helping us in these two key areas? Will you invite people far from God to come near? Will you take the seat that best honors both our guests and our Host?

Studying the seven last words

“And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.” – Mark 15:37 (ESV)

“It was most fitting that every word of our Lord upon the cross should be gathered up and preserved. As not a bone of him shall be broken, so not a word shall be lost. The Holy Spirit took special care that each of the sacred utterances should be fittingly recorded. There were, as you know, seven of those last words, and seven is the number of perfection and fulness; the number which blends the three of the infinite God with the four of complete creation. Our Lord in his death-cries, as in all else, was perfection itself. There is a fulness of meaning in each utterance which no man shall be able fully to bring forth, and when combined they make up a vast deep of thought, which no human line can fathom.” – C. H. Spurgeon

We’ve been studying the seven last words of Jesus from the cross these past four weeks. We have three more to go. This has been a rich time of study and meditation as we prepare for Easter Sunday. And we thought we would share a couple of the charts we have written to help prepare these messages.

The first chart we made was in preparation of the whole study. We wanted to verify the last sayings of Christ, discover which gospels reported them, and place them in the best chronological order. Here is a link to a PDF of the chart that we made: A STUDY OF THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS FROM THE CROSS

The second chart came out of a desire to know the identity of the four women who stood near the cross of Jesus as reported in John’s gospel. “Just how many “Marys” were there?” We wondered.  So, we charted what all four gospels said concerning the women at the cross and compared each to try and identify the four women reported in John. Here is a link to a PDF of the chart that we made: WHO WERE THE WOMEN AT THE CROSS?

We concluded that the two pairs of women (one pair unnamed and one named) at the cross in John’s gospel were:

  • Mary, mother of Jesus
  • Mary Magdalene
  • Mary, wife of Clopas, and mother of James the younger and Joseph (or Joses)
  • Salome, wife of Zebedee, mother to James and John, and sister to Mary, mother of Jesus

We offer these two charts to enhance your own Bible study during this series. We hope you find it helpful and that it offers additional insight and blessing to your consideration of the seven last words of Jesus.

The great British expositor, C. H. Spurgeon has said on this subject, “There is a fulness of meaning in each utterance which no man shall be able fully to bring forth, and when combined they make up a vast deep of thought, which no human line can fathom.”

Yet, we would invite you to join us as we endeavor to try and fathom them, diving deep into these seven sayings of Jesus to meditate on their meaning.

The emphasis must be on relationship

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26-27 ESV).

There are seven last sayings of Christ recorded in the four gospels. This year, we are studying these last words of Jesus from the cross on the Sundays leading up to Easter. This coming Sunday, we will be looking at the third saying where Jesus entrusted the welfare of his mother to his disciple, John.

In our study of this third saying, the personal relationship and loving care of our Lord Jesus for us has become even more evident. But you’ll have to wait for our sermon this coming Sunday to hear the insights the Lord has given us from our fruitful meditation and study on this saying. The reason I’m writing about it now, is not to tease you, but to encourage you to consider the importance of our relationships— with God and with one another— as it applies to discipleship.

As we continue to see God’s faithfulness in how our church has embraced Life On Life Discipleship, we want to emphasize even more the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus that calls us to a personal investment of our lives in others. Discipleship is not an optional church program to be taken like a class. It is a personal command of Jesus to follow him, in order to be with him, and to make disciples like him ( see Mark 3:14).  We are called to help them grow more like Jesus by calling them to be with us, and to imitate us as we imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).

Our Life On Life Discipleship workbook is not a program. It is a discipleship plan designed to give order and purpose for a one-to-one, life-on-life, discipleship relationship to form and take over, so that disciple-making, the Jesus way, can happen.

When Jesus was dying on the cross, he was not only acting to make provision for his mother’s soul. He was also mindful of his personal responsibility to care for her situation in this world. In the same way, we are to share our very lives with people, so that we can disciple them not only in spiritual things, but in the practical things of life too.

To disciple in the Jesus way, the emphasis must be on relationship.

We’ve written a plan for disciple making!

“And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.” – Mark 3:14

“Amazing as it may seem, all Jesus did to teach these men His way was to draw them close to Himself. He was His own school and curriculum.” – Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism

We’ve written a new workbook entitled, Life On Life Discipleship. This is not just another discipleship program or curriculum, it is a 21-session plan for making disciples in the Jesus’ way. After a year in testing, we are excited to release this plan to the whole church this coming Sunday!

The idea for this new emphasis on “life on life” disciple-making came to me during my study break at the end of 2015. As I considered Christ’s command to “make disciples,” I prayerfully evaluated how our church was doing in this regard. Looking back on 25 years of ministry, I realized that the ones that had demonstrated the most spiritual growth and maturity in our church, were the ones that had received the most one-on-one discipleship. This had happened in more of an accidental way, but I wondered how we could become more intentional about it.

When I came back from my study break, I shared this desire for a more intentional “life on life” discipleship emphasis with our staff. They were enthusiastically supportive, so we began to look at various discipleship plans that we could purchase to get started. However, none of them seemed to fit with what we had in our hearts for our church. After one particularly passionate explanation of what I thought we needed, the staff encouraged me to write our own discipleship plan. I agreed, but only if they would agree to help me with edits and testing.

We decided that I would write one lesson at a time, present it to the staff, then they would offer feedback from which I would write an edited version, and then we would each “test” it by teaching the lesson to someone else. We called this gradual rollout an “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product). We didn’t worry about how polished it looked, we just wanted to get it out there and start testing it, to see how it worked. After a year of writing, editing, and testing; we’re ready to release it to the whole church!

The 21-sessions are divided into an introductory challenge, followed by four sections of five sessions each: “BELONG (First steps for the new Christian), BEHAVE (Learning the practices of spiritual behaviors, disciplines and conduct), BELIEVE (Growing in the knowledge of Christian doctrines and creeds), and BECOME (Growing in maturity to be more like Jesus in character).” These sessions are to be taught by an individual “discipler” to a “disciple.” Each session is only three pages long and is designed to take around 60-90 minutes to complete. Perfect in length for a meeting over breakfast or lunch, so that it fits neatly into today’s busy schedules.

Ideally, meeting every other week with your discipler, and every other week with the one you’re discipling, this plan will take around a year to complete. Yet, it never really ends because there is always someone new to disciple and there will always be a special relational connection with the one who discipled you.

Although my name is on the front of the workbook, I am merely the researcher, organizer and editor of this material. I have depended heavily on our staff for input. I have borrowed freely from the discipleship materials that I was discipled in, especially materials from Campus Crusade for Christ and Navigators, but also from many other sources. I have tried to give sources where direct quotations were used, but again, this is a “MVP,” and even now we’re still fine tuning it.

Of course, everything is borrowed from God’s Word and the example of Jesus and His disciples. As I wrote on the cover of our workbook: “Jesus called his disciples that they might “be with him” and that he might “send them out” (Mark 3:15). In the same way, we are called to be with others in a life on life, relational way, in order to make disciples that also make disciples. This plan is designed to help in this process.”

This workbook will not be for sale. Nor will you be able to just get a copy. The only way to receive this workbook is to have it given to you, one lesson at a time, from your own personal discipler. This means that you will have to express interest and say “Yes” to the challenge of being a disciple who makes disciples, in order to get started.

Don’t miss this Sunday and the opportunity to get on board with “Life On Life Discipleship!”

As you go, make disciples

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Jesus, Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

“Many people believe that mission and ministry are carried out by a select few professional clergy or an elite number of mission agencies… But here’s the reality: God’s mission was given to every member of His church. We are called to be everyday missionaries.” – Dustin Willis & Aaron Coe, Life On Mission: Joining the Everyday Mission of God

Christ’s command in Matthew 28:18-20 is called the Great Commission. This commission contains a single imperative verb with three subordinate participles. The imperative verb is “make disciples.” The three participles that explain how to make disciples are “going, baptizing and teaching.” It is this first participle, “going,” that I want us to consider.

In the Greek, the word that the ESV translates as “go,” might literally be translated, “being already on the go,” or “as you are going.” The idea seems to be that since we are already going somewhere, we should start making disciples as we go.

Yet, it must also include the emphasis that Jesus added, namely, “making disciples of all nations.” The Greek word translated “nations,” is ethnos. It is where we get the word, “ethnic.” So, our going and making disciples must include an emphasis on every “ethnic,” which includes every race, color, language and culture in the world.

So, we are commanded by Jesus to make disciples as we go, with an emphasis on going to all nations.

As you go

What does it look like to make disciples as you go? It means that we are to become disciple makers as a way of life. Whether we are going to work, to school, to shop or to play, we are to be making disciples. This changes the way we look at our lives. We become aware that every relationship is a potential opportunity to talk to them about Jesus and invite them to respond to Him by becoming one of His disciples.

We have been authorized by Christ’s “authority” to represent Him to the world. We are His “ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:20), making disciples for Him everywhere we go. The calling to make disciples as we go, is a calling to be “everyday missionaries.”

This is consistent with Christ’s command to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Our going to make disciples begins right where we are, right in our own “Jerusalem.” But it doesn’t stop there..

Going to all nations

… Our going must include the emphasis of making disciples of all nations. We start at home, but we move out from there to all the world. What does this look like?

For some of us, we will feel the call to go and live in another part of the world in order to make disciples there. Be careful not to think that this call will only affect someone else. Put your “Yes” on the table. Tell the Lord that you are willing to go wherever He sends you. Be like the prophet Isaiah and say, “Here I am Lord, send me!” (Isa. 6:8).

For others, the Lord might call you to go on a short term mission trip. Our church is currently working  with ministry partners in Guatemala, Indonesia and Uganda. Many of you can answer the call to join us on one of these trips. Getting out of the USA and seeing what God is doing in the rest of the world is life-changing.

All of us, should be aware of the nations that are living here with us. People from around the world have come to our country. Look for them as you go. Remember the Lord’s command to go towards them in your disciple-making. As you go towards those who are from “Samaria” and the “ends of the earth,” you will find that the Lord will give you a special love for them and a great desire to see them become disciples of Jesus. And all of us should be praying and giving sacrificially, so that the nations are reached with the gospel.

Are you making disciples of Jesus as you go?

Life on life discipleship

“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” – Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:1

“Only a disciple can make a disciple.” – A. W. Tozer

When I was a freshman in college, a staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ named Tom, challenged me to start meeting  with him for discipleship. He said he wanted to work with me personally to help me grow as a Christ follower. At first I felt special that this 25 year old, married guy, that I really looked up to,  would want to spend time investing in an 18 year old single guy. But I soon felt otherwise. He was a constant challenge to me, to be more disciplined and to move out of my comfort zone. He didn’t let up.

He asked if I had signed up to go on the Campus Crusade Fall Retreat. I told him I didn’t plan on it. He pressed, insisting that if I really wanted to grow, I would be there. So, I went.  The first night at the retreat they taught us how to do a “quiet time” with God, finding a quiet place to read the Bible, pray and journal. Tom asked if we could do ours together the next morning before breakfast. I hadn’t even planned on getting up that early. I usually didn’t even eat breakfast, preferring to sleep in. But I reluctantly agreed.

The next morning as the sun came up, Tom and I went for a walk in the woods, carrying Bibles and notebooks in hand. We sat down under a tree and opened the Scriptures. He shared with me how he was reading through the book of Acts and perhaps we could do that together. We read together, prayed together and journaled. It was life changing. I really sensed the Lord speaking to me through His Word in a fresh new way. Tom encouraged me to make having a daily quiet time a part of my morning routine.

After the retreat, I started meeting with Tom weekly. He came to our campus on Wednesdays. He would spend an hour with myself and two other freshmen guys going through discipleship lessons, like “How to be sure you’re a Christian,” and “How to experience God’s love and forgiveness.” Then, he would have individual appointments with each of us, showing us how to study the Bible, how to pray, how to share the gospel and other Christian disciplines. He insisted that these individual times were done in a public place, like the campus sandwich shop, or next to the fountain at center campus, where other students would hang out on pretty days.

“Look and listen to those around us, Gary.” He would say. “Ask the Lord to show you who He wants us to talk to about Him.”

I didn’t like this advice. I enjoyed being with Tom studying the Bible, but I really didn’t want to start talking to people around us that I didn’t know. That just wasn’t cool.

But he would insist. “Let’s talk to that guy sitting over on the bench by himself. I’ll do the talking and you do the praying.”

So, there we’d go. I would die a little inside the first few times we did this. It was so out of my comfort zone. But Tom was really good at striking up a conversation with others. He was a self-acknowledged introvert, but he had decided that Christ’s command to be a witness overruled his own hesitancy.

“Hey, my name is Tom and this is my friend Gary. We’ve been talking about spiritual things and we noticed you sitting over here alone and wondered if you’d be interested in joining our discussion.”

“Hmm… sure I guess so.” The guy would usually say.

And that’s how it would go, week after week. At first, Tom did the talking and I did the watching and praying. But then after a few weeks, he changed his approach.

“You know Gary, you’ve been watching me share the gospel with people for several weeks now. I think you’re ready to do the sharing and let me do the praying. What do you think?”

“Ah… I don’t know. I don’t feel as confident as you. I’m not sure I’m ready.” I mumbled in response.

I had been a Christian for over 10 years, but I had never learned to share the gospel. I knew the gospel, but I didn’t know how to talk about it with others. I think this long period of silence had created a real fear and barrier in my heart. It took a lot of courage to finally say, “Yes,” to Tom’s challenge.

Over the next two years, Tom and I continued to meet weekly, studying the Bible, sharing the gospel, and praying together. He was my Paul and I was his Timothy. He challenged me to start my own Bible study of three guys and to start discipling them, just as he had discipled me. I did. He challenged me to start leading worship at the weekly Crusade worship gathering. I did. He challenged me to start having breakfast at his house every Saturday morning to study the Bible and memorize Scripture. I did. He challenged me to go on a Summer Project with Campus Crusade, spending my Summer break sharing the gospel. I did.

Then, one day, Tom told me that he was leaving. He had been accepted at a seminary in Dallas. He would be leaving to prepare for the next phase in the calling God had on his life. He had always loved studying the Greek language of the New Testament on his own and he really wanted to learn it from the experts. He had inspired a similar love for the original languages of the Bible in me.  So, I understood. But I also was greatly grieved. I loved this man. And I would miss him dearly.

The last time he met with me and his other guys, we stood on the roof of my 13-story dorm together. We goofed off and laughed (Tom did a great Bob Dylan impression) and told each other how much those two years together had meant. I had grown more in two years being discipled “life on life” by Tom, than I had in the previous 10 years of my Christian life attending church.

“I think you’re going to be a very influential pastor or evangelist some day.” Tom told me with a serious tone to his voice.

“But you know I just changed my major to music. I’m spending the Summer playing in a Christian band with Crusade. I don’t see myself as a preacher.” I responded with a smile and a shake of my head.

“You’re a good musician, Gary. But you’re a better communicator. We’ll see what God does in the future with you, but I see a preacher in you.” He  said while putting his hand on my shoulder.

I’ve never seen Tom again since that day in 1978. Yet, 13 years later, in 1991, I quit my corporate job and started seminary. Before that year was out, the Lord had called me to plant a church in Wilson, North Carolina.

And so, another 25 years later, I’ve been preaching the gospel every Sunday at Wilson Community Church. It’s amazing what can happen when one disciple of Jesus takes seriously Christ’s command to make disciples.

Life on life discipleship changed my life. I wonder, will you let someone disciple you to disciple others, and let it change yours?

 

Thankful to God for 25 years!

Happy 25th Anniversary WCC!

Over 25 years ago, on Sunday, November 17, 1991, we held an organizational meeting in our home to discuss the idea of planting a church. We invited around 40 people to attend. Fifteen people came. At the end of the meeting, I handed out index cards asking those present to express their commitment to be a part of a church plant. Ten people committed to help. We agreed to name the church, Wilson Community Church.

On Sunday, December 8, 1991, we held the first small group meeting in our home. We invited the fifteen from the first meeting to attend, plus all those we had invited before. Five people came. Counting Robin and I, that made seven people.  But we weren’t discouraged. We kept meeting weekly and the Lord kept adding to our number.

By mid January 1992, our first small group had grown to three groups. We averaged around 26 adults in weekly attendance between the three groups. So, we decided to launch a Sunday morning worship service. We thought renting a school would make for a good location. After visiting several schools around Wilson, we felt that Forest Hills Middle School had the best visibility and the most functional auditorium for our needs.

I still remember going to FHMS to ask the principal about renting the auditorium. My friend, Larry Etheridge, who is now with the Lord, went with me. We had all three of our small groups praying that week for a successful meeting. But the principal was not encouraging. He first told us that school policy wouldn’t allow him to rent to a church. So, I asked if he could show us the policy. He pulled the policy manual down off of his shelf and turned to the page about renting to outside groups. I noticed him raise an eyebrow as he started to read aloud. It turned out that the school actually had a policy on how to rent the auditorium, cafeteria, and other parts of the school to outside groups, including churches!

“Well…” He said. “It really doesn’t matter what the policy is. You still have to have a member of the school staff open and close the building every Sunday. And I don’t think any of our staff will want to do that.”

“What about the custodians?” I asked.

“Hah! I have a hard enough time getting them to open the building on nights and weekends for school events. I’m sure they won’t help.”

“May I ask them personally?” I questioned.

“Not today. They’re busy today. If you’ll come back tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM, we actually have a meeting with all the custodians, so they’ll all be here.”

“OK. I’ll be back tomorrow morning.” I said.

That evening, we had all of our people praying for the meeting with the custodians. I couldn’t sleep.

At 7:30 AM the next morning, I went into the office at FHMS to meet with the custodians. The principal started leading me to the room where all the custodians were gathered.

“May I meet with them alone?” I asked the principal.

“Sure, if you want.” He replied, with a shrug of his shoulders.

When I entered the room with the custodians there were three of them present. As they looked up, I closed the door behind me and sat in a circle with them. I told them about our church and about our desire to meet at FHMS on Sundays. I also told them that the principal had told me that they wouldn’t help me, but that we had a whole church of people praying and I knew that they would help.

So, I pulled out a calendar and passed it to the first custodian and said, “If you can help, please write your name on the Sundays that you’re willing to open and close for us.”

One of the custodians said that he couldn’t help, but the other two, and I still remember their names, Mr. Barnes and Mr. McGhee, took the calendar, and between the two of them, covered every Sunday for the next three months. I hugged them and thanked them. And then, went back to the principal and showed him the calendar.

“Hmm… well, I guess you’ll be wanting to rent then.”

“Yes sir. We will.” I replied.

We launched our first public worship service in the FHMS auditorium on January 26, 1992 . We had 66 people attend our first service. Little did we know that day that we would be renting FHMS for the next 15 years.

After 19 years of doing portable church, 15 at FHMS and 4 years at Community Christian School, we purchased the former Regal Cinema in September 2010. We remodeled much of the building, turned one of the six theaters into our worship space and started meeting for worship there on May 1, 2011.

Looking back on 25 years of ministry, there’s so much to remember and be thankful for. But I mostly remember the little things, the days of small beginnings, and how God has faithfully built His church as we were faithful to be His church.

4 Steps to Living Debt Free

“Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” 2 And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” 3 Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. 4 Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” 5 So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. 6 When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing. 7 She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.” (2 Kings 4:1-7 ESV).

According to the 2016 American Household Credit Card Debt Study, the average U.S. household owes…

– Credit cards: $16,061
– Mortgages: $172,806
– Auto loans: $28,535
– Student loans: $49,042

Americans are enslaved by debt. And the side effects are devastating. Clinical depression, anxiety, addictions, divorce, homelessness… these are among the terrible side effects of financial indebtedness. We’re like the widow who cried out to the prophet Elijah, worried that the creditors were going to come take away her children. We are in desperate condition when it comes to debt.

The truth is, our financial condition says a lot about our spiritual condition. I think that’s why the Bible has so much to say about money and about living debt free. We know that Christ came to set us free from our sin debt. So, why would we want to live with worldly debt? Yet, many of us are in bondage because of indebtedness.

How can we get free from this slavery to debt? How can we live in financial freedom? The four biblical principles found in the story of the widow and Elijah reveal how to live debt free. When we place our trust in God’s Word and in His provision, we can live in financial freedom.

4 Steps to Living Debt Free

  1. Recognize your debt problem. Debt is gambling with your future. The widow’s husband died and left her penniless and poor. He was a preacher’s kid, but he obviously wasn’t following godly wisdom with his money. But the widow recognized the problem. She knew that things had to change or her sons would be taken as slaves. The first step to getting debt free, is admitting that you have a problem. Facing the fact of your debt addiction is half the battle.
  2. Seek wise financial counsel. Most of us have trouble admitting when we have a problem, but we have even more trouble asking for help. Americans don’t like revealing their finances to someone else. We say it’s because we’re private about our finances. But I suspect it’s because we’re secretive. We don’t want anyone to know how foolish we’ve been and how far we are in the hole financially. The widow was both humble enough and wise enough to ask for help. Find a godly and mature believer who will counsel you with your finances. Ask for help.
  3. Follow their godly advice. When you go to the doctor they diagnose your problem and give you a prescription. But then, it’s up to you to take the medicine as prescribed in order to get better. You have to actually follow the doctor’s instructions. The widow did exactly what the prophet Elisha told her. She faithfully worked the plan that he gave her, depending on the Lord to bless her as she was obedient to His word. This is where the work takes place. And it’s also where the Lord begins to bless as you obey.
  4. Live beneath your means to stay debt free. Don’t make the mistake of going back into debt after getting out. Just as dieters are tempted to overeat after they’ve denied themselves and lost weight, so the one who has been keeping a tight budget to get out of debt will be tempted to splurge after they get free. Remember, it was the habit of living beyond your means that got you into trouble in the first place. Don’t go back into debt! Keep on living on less than you make. When the widow went back to the prophet to report her progress, he told her to sell the oil, pay off her debts and live off the rest. That’s good and godly advice. Now that you’re debt free…

– Pay God first (tithes and offerings).
– Pay yourself second (savings).
– Live off the rest.

God doesn’t want you to be a slave to the lender. He wants you to be free to serve Him. God wants you to live financially free, so that you can follow Him with all of your heart.