Vision Sunday Recap

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” – Proverbs 29:18 KJV

Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.” – Habakkuk 2:2 ESV

This past Sunday we talked about the importance of being in alignment with God’s Word and with one another visionally. With this in mind we shared the following statements in order to show how they are in alignment with God’s Word and also to rally our church family to be unified in pursuing these statements together with the help of the Holy Spirit. The three key statements that we have written together are our Purpose Statement, our Vision Statement and our Mission Statement. Our statements are based on two key Scriptures, The Great Commission and the Great Commandment:

The Great CommissionMatthew 28:18-20 (ESV) 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Great Commandment: Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV) 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

PURPOSE STATEMENT (Explains “why we exist” as a church):

Our church exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ who have a growing heart for God expressed in passionate worship and generous giving, heart for each other expressed in authentic fellowship and devoted discipleship, and heart for our world expressed in intentional evangelism and sacrificial service.


VISION STATEMENT (Helps us “see” what we can be with God’s help):

“Saturating Eastern NC with churches of Christ-followers who have a heart for God, heart for each other, and heart for our world.”


MISSION STATEMENT (A definition of our key target, what we offer and what makes us unique): We invite people to . . .

“Come as you are and be forever changed by the love of Jesus!”

These statements are only words until we put prayerful action behind them. Yet, I am convinced that the Lord will empower us to accomplish that which He has called us to do, if only we will depend on Him as we move forward together.

May the Lord bless us with strength and unity to do the gospel work He has called us to do!


Five keys to sustainable ministry

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” – Romans 12:11-12 (ESV)

I’m writing this blog on my annual study retreat. I usually try to find a place at the beach or in the mountains the last week of the year, where I can eliminate distractions and focus on hearing from God. I’m thankful for an understanding wife and an understanding church that allows me this time to rest, reflect and recharge. I’ve found such times to be one of the keys to a sustainable ministry, so that I don’t become “slothful in zeal,” especially as I get older. I don’t want to burnout, nor become lukewarm. I want to stay red hot for Jesus until He calls me home!

I think there are at least five keys to sustainable ministry:

1. Take time to refuel spiritually. The apostle Paul wrote, “Be fervent in spirit.” The word “fervent”means “to burn, to be hot, to be zealous.” He wrote to Timothy, who was apparently struggling with a season of timidity in his ministry, that he should, “Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6). We must take responsibility for our own spiritual zeal. Retreat to advance. Take time to refuel your spirit.

2. Remember that you’re not their savior. There’s only one Savior. That’s Jesus. He’s God and you’re not. Stop trying to save everyone. Only Jesus saves. As Paul said, “Serve the Lord.” You’re a servant, not the savior. The real motive underneath our desire to “save” everyone is probably suspect anyway. Isn’t it that we are people-pleasers? We want people to like us. So, we rush around answering every email, text message and phone call, not wanting to disappoint anyone. Be the Lord’s servant. Let Him be the Savior.

3. Anchor your joy in gospel hope. Hope is like a rope. It is not some flimsy wish that prompts us to say things like, “I hope it doesn’t rain.” No, gospel hope is substantial. It is like a rope anchored on one end to the resurrection of Christ and passing through the veil of heaven where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father until His soon return. If we set our hopes on temporal things, we will nearly always be disappointed.  Even when we focus on ministry success (whatever that means), then our joy is attached to whether we achieve that success. This leads to a driven, joyless, roller coaster life of ups and downs. As Paul said, “Rejoice in hope.” Anchor your joy in gospel hope, not temporal things!

4. Persevere through times of pain. There will be times of tribulation. They come without warning. We are tempted to feel that such times will never end. Yet, every season has a beginning, middle and end. Don’t give up! Paul wrote, “Be patient in tribulation.” The other temptation when faced with pain is avoidance. How can we avoid the pain? What if we quit or turn back? Will that stop the pain?

I’m reading a book during this study break entitled, Leadership Pain, by Samuel Chand. His thesis is that effective leaders produce growth, which causes change, which causes loss, which causes pain. Therefore, growth = pain. Or as others have said, “No pain, no gain.” So, don’t become impatient in pain, nor try to avoid it. Instead, as Chand quotes Kenji Miyazawa saying, “We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.”

5. Pray more, strive less. Ministry seems to attract “Type A” people, those who are driven to succeed in everything. Yet, ministry also seems custom designed to break those same people. As one older pastor counseled a younger church planter who was just starting out, “You will suffer.” But this suffering shouldn’t drive us to quit, it should drive us to our knees. Praying is especially hard for those same Type A people. Sure, they pray, but then they feel that it’s up to them to accomplish the results through hard work. But what if the most effective way to work is by being “constant in prayer?” This is the hard lesson that those who would have a sustainable ministry must learn. Pray more and strive less.

Sustainable ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. May those that follow the above five keys continue to burn with zeal until the end of life’s race.

Three gift ideas for Jesus’ birthday

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:10-11 (NKJV)

The wise men traveled a great distance to worship the newborn King. When they finally found Him, they worshiped Him and gave Him three gifts: “gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

What gifts will you give to Jesus this Christmas? After all, it is His birthday. You might not know what to give Him. I mean, what do you give to the One who has everything? Well, almost everything. Because perhaps He doesn’t have you. Have you given Jesus you? Have you given Him everything you are and everything you have?

Let’s consider the three gifts the wise men gave Jesus to inspire our own giving this Christmas:

1. Gold – A gift fit for a King. Have you surrendered control of your life to King Jesus? Have you confessed Him as Lord? That’s the first and most important gift you can give HIm. Will you give Him your life? And having given Him your life, will you give Jesus first place in your Christmas celebrations this year?

2. Frankincense – A gift fit for a Priest. Frankincense was a main ingredient in the incense the Jewish priests burned in the Temple. It represented the prayers of the people to God.  A priest is a mediator, one who stands between God and man, acting as a go-between. Yet, Jesus is the only perfect priest. He is the Great High Priest, the only One who can reconcile us to God. As Paul wrote Timothy, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

Who are you praying for this Christmas? To give Jesus the gift of frankincense is to  give Him your prayers. Who is far from God that you would pray the Lord would bring them near? Will you pray for family members, for neighbors, and friends to come to Jesus? Will you pray for the unreached peoples in the world to come to Jesus? (Follow this link for an up-to-date list of unreached people groups:

3. Myrrh – A gift fit for a Savior. Myrrh was mixed in the wine offered to Jesus on the cross. It was one of the spices used on His body when they laid Him in the tomb. When you give Jesus the gift of myrrh, you remember His sacrifice. You remember that He died to save you from your sins. To give Jesus the gift of myrrh is to give Him your sacrificial offering. What would Jesus have you sacrifice for? Wouldn’t He want you to sacrifice in order to reach the nations? His Great Commission was that we “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

One way you can “go” to the nations this Christmas is to give a sacrificial offering to help support those who are already going to the nations. You can partner with us by giving your most sacrificial offering to the “Christmas Missions Offering” this Sunday. The entire offering will be used in international missions work, a large portion of which will be sent to the International Missions Board. Simply make your check out to the church and put  “Christmas Missions Offering” on your giving envelope. And we’ll make sure it all goes to our international partners.

Now you have three gift ideas for Jesus’ birthday: 1) Make Jesus your king, 2) pray for people far from God, 3) give your most generous offering for international missions.

After all, Christmas is supposed to be about Christ. It is His birthday we celebrate.



Eight things to remember when attending church

“Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3 (NLT)

During this Christmas season when we are seeing even more guests attending our services, it seems good to remind our own church members of a few important items. All of these reminders have the idea of “thinking of others” as you go to church.

1. Be on time. Our guests come early. As members, we should already be there to greet them.

2. Save the best parking for our guests. Many of our committed members choose to park in the side parking lot to leave the better spots for others. Besides, the exercise is good for you!

3. Take a seat near the front. It encourages the worship team. It makes it easier for late arrivals to find a seat.

4. Take crying infants to the nursery. We love babies, but we also love to hear the Word of God. Don’t let your child be a distraction. That’s why we offer childcare.

5. Take notes during the sermon. It encourages the pastor and the visitor. Plus, it will increase your own learning.

6. Write on and turn in your Connection Card. When others see you completing it, they will feel more comfortable doing it too. Use it for prayer requests and other needs. Use it to encourage the worship team.

7. Don’t leave the worship service early. We’ve noticed several members leaving during the time of response. Please stay until the end of the worship service unless you serve on the greeter team. Leaving early is a distraction.

8. Talk to someone you don’t know. Get outside you comfort zone. Follow the “3-minute rule.” Take the first three minutes after the service to meet someone you don’t know before you get with your usual group of friends. We have guests every Sunday that are looking for connection.

As church members, we want to follow Christ who considered the needs of others before their own. You’ll be amazed how living for Christ and others will actually help meet your own needs too.

The only thing that counts is…

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” – Galatians 5:6 (ESV).

“Neither moral exertion nor moral failure counts. Period.” – Tim Keller, Galatians For You

The apostle Paul wrote that the only thing that counts is “faith working through love.” Neither circumcision [representing legalism, which is a reliance on good works for salvation], nor uncircumcision [representing licentiousness, which is unrestrained immorality] count. Both legalism and license are equally bankrupt approaches to life. They are like two ditches that humanity falls into, rather than walking by faith in Christ on the road called LOVE.

Why is this the only “road” that counts? There are at least three reasons that faith in Christ, which energizes perfect love in us, is the only thing that truly counts.

Three reasons only faith in Christ counts:

First, only faith in Christ brings us into a right relationship with God. Neither legalism nor license count toward making us right with the Father. Neither our best performance, nor our worst performance counts for anything.  Why? Because it isn’t about our performance at all. It’s about Christ’s. Our best work will bring us no closer to God, nor will our worst drive us any further from Him. We are already so separated from God that the only way to be made right with Him is through faith in Christ’s perfect work. Receiving Christ through faith, we need no longer struggle in our own self-effort. God accepts us as His own children because we have believed in Christ. We can rest in this new relationship with the Father.

Second, only faith in Christ gives us a new identity in God. Neither legalism nor license make for worthy identities. As Paul wrote earlier in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Old identities are superseded by the new identity “in Christ Jesus.” This does not remove our former distinctiveness of culture, class and gender, but it does give a new and unifying identity of being “one” in Christ.

The believer who struggles with legalism must beware that it is not their identity of being a good Baptist or Catholic, Presbyterian or Pentecostal that counts. It is only being “in Christ” that counts.

And those who would misuse the liberty they have in Christ as a license for the flesh, must also beware (see Gal. 5:13). For identifying according to fleshly desires will lead to a selfishness that consumes both them and those around them. They must put off old identities and put on Christ.

Third, only faith in Christ energizes a new character in us from God. Neither legalism nor license are able to change our inner character. In fact, they both work to bring out the worst in us. For they are both based on self-effort and they are energized by the flesh, which is the old sinful nature.

The legalist cannot walk on the road of perfect love because legalism reveals a character of pride, judging others, and guilt at their own continual failure at law-keeping. Trying to follow the law only energizes their flesh to rebel further. Try telling a toddler “No.” You will quickly discover how the law triggers the rebellion of the flesh.

The licentious have given up on trying to follow the law. They may even deceive themselves into celebrating this as freedom. But what they are really doing is giving themselves over fully to their lusts, which enslaves them to the very sin they practice. If they continue in their sin, they will experience a hardening of the heart that is no longer receptive to the Spirit of God.

But the one who has placed their faith in Christ will receive the Holy Spirit, who will empower and direct the believer to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16) and bear the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22), which is primarily LOVE, along with the other eight godly character traits as well.

Faith in Christ, which works itself out in love, is the only thing that counts. It is the only thing that makes us right with the Father, gives us a new identity as children of God, and conforms us to the character of Christ. Legalism and license count for nothing. Christ’s love is the only thing that counts.



Bible studies in the breakfast nook

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” – 3 John 4 (ESV)

This past Wednesday as I was studying the Bible with both my sons in our breakfast nook, I experienced a very thankful moment as I considered the work that had been done at that table through the years. For a moment, I saw them as they once were, when we first started studying in the breakfast nook together.

The breakfast nook in our home has really been the place where we have eaten family meals and done Bible study since we first moved to Wilson in 1987. Our children were ages five (Stephen), two (Jonathan) and one (Erin) when we first arrived. We wanted to establish a regular time to teach them the Bible, so we decided to make it part of our dinners together every evening.

Yet, because our children were so young and at various stages of development, we came up with a game we called the “Bible Quiz” to keep their interest. The game went like this. I would tell a short Bible story in my own words, then I would ask questions from the story to each child. I was careful to match the difficulty of the questions to the child’s age. If they got the question correct, I gave them a penny. The first child to receive five pennies won that evening’s Bible Quiz. We even made Bible Quiz Jars for each child to store their pennies and kept them prominently on the kitchen counter as a daily reminder.

If I told the story of creation, I would ask little Erin, “Baby girl, who created us?” “God?” She would answer with an uncertain face. She was always a little shy in her answers at that age. Plus, I’d have to “shush” her older brothers who always wanted to answer for her. Then, I’d give her a penny, noting that she was now in first place. To which both boys would shout about how easy her question was and how it wasn’t fair because she had gotten to go first.

Then, I’d get more specific, “Fini (Jonathan), what was the name of the man and woman that God created?” He’d answer confidently in his little scratchy voice (he sounded like an old man at that age), “Adam and Eve!” “Right!” I’d say. “Here’s your penny. Now, you’re tied with Erin.”

Finally, I’d get to five year old Stephen. “Phanos, yours is a three-parter. Are you ready for it?” “Yessir.” He’d respond (If he didn’t, I wouldn’t ask the question until he did). “OK. Who was the first son of Adam and Eve, who was his younger brother, and what did he do to his younger brother?” Looking up thoughtfully at the ceiling for a moment, he would then look at me and answer, “Cain was the older brother. Abel was the younger one. And Cain murdered Abel.” “Right!” I would exclaim, tossing a penny his way for him to catch. “Hey, I only get one penny? That doesn’t seem fair” (He was always concerned about fairness). I’d respond, “Yeah, life isn’t always fair son. Get used to it.”

We played the Bible Quiz game after supper every evening for years. If we forgot, one of the kids would complain. They loved it. But it got more complex…

Because we had taught them so many stories, certain questions became standard  features of our nightly repertoire. As Erin got older, she started getting more questions like, “Who were the three Hebrew children who got thrown into the fiery furnace?” Or “Name the four gospels.”

By the time Jonathan was eight years old, he and Stephen were starting to get questions on the same level. For instance, I’d ask, “Once their was a Babylonian king who trembled in fear when a disembodied finger wrote on his palace wall… What was the king’s name, what was written on the wall, who interpreted the writing, and what did the writing mean?” Both boys would start jumping up from their chairs, waving their hands, saying “I know! I know!” before I even started asking the question part. “OK, Fini, what’s the answer?” He was starting to outgrow the old man voice now, he’d  confidently respond, “The king was Belshazzar. The writing on the wall was ‘Mene, mene, tekel, parsin.’ Daniel said what it meant. And it meant that you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting and your kingdom will be divided between the Medes and the Persians.”

“Come on, Dad.” Stephen would complain. “You know that we already know that one.” As I tossed a penny Jonathan’s way. “Give us something harder next time.”

And the questions have gotten harder. . .

Fast-forward to this past Wednesday, I was sitting at the breakfast nook with my sons again. I study with my teaching team here every Wednesday to prepare sermons for our church’s two locations. This coming Sunday, Jonathan, who is our Rocky Mount pastor and a chaplain in the NC National Guard, has his monthly weekend of service. So, we needed to cover his pulpit this weekend and Stephen, our pastor of worship and youth, volunteered.

There we all sat, studying the same Bible in the same breakfast nook. Jonathan was busily looking up the verbs in the Greek. “Dad, take a look at this word “adoption” in Galatians 4:5. It has the same root as the Greek word for “son.” Did you know that?”

“Hmm…” I started to respond.

Then Stephen interrupted before I could answer with, “Dad, I’m not sure you saw how the phrase ‘put on’ Christ in Galatians 3:27 implies clothing. It’s like Paul is saying we are ‘clothed in Christ.’ I think we really need to work this out in our application. Don’t you?”

“Hmm…” I began.

Then, it happened. In my mind’s eye, these two grown men sitting in my breakfast nook studying the Bible with me, appeared as two little boys, just as they had looked so long ago.

“Well Dad, are you still with us?” Both their faces seemed to say, as they looked my way, wondering why I was taking so long to respond to their questions.

“Yeah. I’m here. What was your question again?” I finally replied.

Now today, I’m sitting here at the same breakfast nook thinking about all the great meals and Bible studies we’ve had here together. I can imagine no greater joy than to live to see my children “walking in the truth” of God’s Word!

How would it look to be part of a church-planting movement?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” — Jesus Christ, Acts 1:8 (ESV)

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else.” — The Apostle Paul, Romans 15:20 (NLT)

“The continual planting of new congregations is the most crucial strategy for the growth of the body of Christ.” — Tim Keller

“It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” — Rick Warren


What is a “church planting movement,” or as missiologists abbreviate it, a “CPM?” According to David Garrison, it is “a rapid and multiplicative increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment” (David Garrison, Church Planting Movements). I would add to Garrison’s definition that a CPM is motivated by an Acts 1:8 vision and marked by a growing obedience to follow the outward movement of the Holy Spirit. A church planting movement is first of all a Holy Spirit movement.

When I first heard the acronym, “CPM,” it was in context to international churches where missionaries were working. From that time, I started praying that God would let us be part of a church planting movement.

At first, God began to open doors for us to join other church planters in North Carolina in mutual encouragement and fellowship in a group that we helped start called the Innovative Church Community. I became a church planter coach with this group and experienced the joy of helping new church planters across the state. My wife and I had planted our church, so I already had the church-planter “bug.” But now, I was personally “infected” with the CPM bug! I wanted to see and be part of a church planting movement!

Then, around five years ago, God opened doors for us to work with church planters in Guatemala and Uganda. Now, not only was I going to help church planters, but we were sending our own church members on these short term trips. These members came home from these mission trips with the same CPM bug that had bitten me. I began to notice a stirring in our congregation at large as we sent more teams out each year.

Adam and Mandi, members in our church, became so moved by being part of our short term trips to Uganda, that they felt called to go for a longer stay. So, they raised support and we commissioned them to go and help with the churches in Kisoro, Uganda. They lived there with their young daughter for nearly a year working alongside Pastor George Mbonye, who has helped plant 18 churches there.

In the Summer of 2013, my son, Jonathan Combs, having finished seminary and working on staff at another church plant, came wanting us to help him plant a church in Eastern NC. I told him that learning to be a church planter with us would be more readily “caught,” than taught, so he agreed to be an unpaid church planter intern with us for a year. On October 1, 2014, we “hired” Jonathan to plant a church in Rocky Mount, NC. I say “hired” in parentheses because he had to raise his own  financial support during his internship.

Jonathan, his wife Nicole, their three kids (number three arrived while there), and a number of members from our Wilson location started working together to plant a new church in Rocky Mount. They started meeting in homes, forming new small groups that we call, “Community Groups.” They had three “preview” services in the Summer months of 2015 to help them build momentum and fine tune. Then, on Sunday, September 27, 2015, Eastgate Community Church was launched, meeting in Rocky Mount Academy with 78 people in attendance. A new church was born!

Since then, we’ve seen a steady, but gradually increasing, movement of people wanting to be involved in church planting. For instance, a nurse named Mary, after coming home from a mission trip with us to Indonesia, had a conversation with the Lord where she sensed Him asking her,  “So, you’ll go to Indonesia for Me, but not Rocky Mount?” Ultimately, she said, “Yes. I’ll go.” Packing her stuff, members of our church helped her move to a rental house in Rocky Mount. This past week, she quit her job at the Wilson hospital, having accepted a nursing position in Rocky Mount.

Another couple in our Wilson church, named Joseph and Amber, have recently caught the CPM bug too. Amber had gone on a recent mission trip with us to London to share Christ with the Muslim population there. She came home on fire. Joseph had ramped up his service at our Wilson campus, joining our lay staff, where he ultimately felt called to go and help with our Rocky Mount campus. Now they are considering selling their house and moving with their two children to Rocky Mount.

Recently, another couple in our church asked to talk with me. They are feeling called to move their family to work with one of our international church planter partners. I can’t name them now, but I’m sure you’ll hear about them someday soon.

Now, this coming Sunday, September 24, 2017, exactly 2 years from our Eastgate launch, we are having a Grand Opening service at our new location at 1113 S. Wesleyan Boulevard, Rocky Mount in a small store front that we are renting. Our members at both locations have been working hard over the last few weeks getting the place ready for worship. And it looks awesome! We just got the new sign installed today. so people driving by on highway 301 will know that we are there!

How would it look to be part of a church planting movement? Look around. We may be seeing the beginnings of one now.

Moving from selfie to healthy

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3 (NLT)

Welcome to the “Selfie” Generation! We live in a culture that encourages us to focus on self-worth, self-improvement, and self-esteem. Our self-image seems to be more important to us than a true sense of health and happiness. We don’t even need someone else to take our photo. We’ve invented the selfie stick!

Some would point back to the 60s and 70s to identify the beginnings of this generational shift towards self. The generation that came of age during that time has been called the Baby Boomers. In 1973, author Thomas Wolfe gave the Boomers another name due to their focus on self. He called them the “Me Generation.” I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the focus on self has only increased, so that a recent cover story in Time Magazine called the current generation of Millennials, the “Me, Me, Me Generation.”

However, I’m not sure that this generation is any more selfish than the previous ones. The truth is that all of humanity has been born with a selfish gene ever since the Fall. We all are born with a desire to do things our way, rather than God’s way. The Bible calls this attitude, sin. And it’s this sin, this selfish attitude that separates us from God and from one another.

What can we do? How can we change from “me” thinking to “we” thinking. How can we move from a “selfie” attitude to a “healthy” one?

First, we can recognize that God made us to be in fellowship with Him and with one another. After God made Adam, He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). As author and pastor, Randy Frazee, has written, “God  has built us with a connection requirement!” (Randy Frazee, Making Room for Life).

Recognizing the link between social ties and health, Dr. Shelley Taylor, research professor at UCLA, says, “Friendships play a far more important role in maintaining good health and having a long life than most people realize.  Social ties are the cheapest medicine we’ve got.”

Dr. Taylor  goes on to document that people with strong social networks are shown to:

  • Boost their chances of surviving life-threatening illnesses.
  • Have stronger, more resilient immune systems.
  • Improve their mental health.
  • Live longer than people without social support.

In other words, selfie living does not result in healthy living. We need one another. Not only do we need one another for physical and psychological health. We also need one another for spiritual health.

As the apostle Paul wrote, “I ask you not to think of yourselves more highly than you should. Instead, your thoughts should lead you to use good judgment based on what God has given each of you as believers. Our bodies have many parts, but these parts don’t all do the same thing. In the same way, even though we are many individuals, Christ makes us one body and individuals who are connected to each other” (Romans 12:3-5 GW).

When you make the decision to take “self” off the throne of your life and to give Christ control, it results in a new spiritual life. It is this new life in Christ that connects us to God and to other believers, so that we begin to stop thinking of ourselves “more highly” than we should.  We begin to love God with all of our being, and to love our neighbor, as ourselves. 

The selfie photo might be a fun innovation, but selfie living is contrary to healthy living. Selfishness is killing us and it’s killing our world. We were created to be in communion with God and with one another. Only by turning from self to Christ, can we experience the oneness with God and with one another that will bring us true wholeness.

Learning about racial healing and forgiveness from a Rwandan genocide survivor

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45 NLT).

We just returned from a two week mission trip to Uganda. One of the highlights was being able to meet and work with five pastors from one of the United Nations refugee camps located there. A little known fact is that Uganda has the most compassionate refugee policy in the world, welcoming refugees from surrounding African countries like Sudan, Rwanda, Congo, and Burundi. The five pastors that attended our pastor’s training conference have all planted churches in one of these refugee camps. Being refugees themselves, they have now become the ideal pastors to help other refugees in Uganda.

One of the refugee pastors was Byamungu Emmanuel. He was a refugee from the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. Nearly his entire family was murdered when the Hutu majority systematically killed over 800,000 Rwandans from the Tutsi and Pygmy Batwa people groups. Over a 100-day period in 1994, it is estimated that 70% of the Tutsi population and 30% of the Batwa were killed. Many of the survivors fled to Uganda. Emmanuel was among them.

When I heard Emmanuel explaining his reason for being a refugee, I asked him to give me his testimony. I asked, “How did you go from having your family murdered to becoming a Christian pastor?”

After hearing his amazing testimony, I asked him to please write it down for me in his own words. The following is what he wrote:

“I am called Pastor Byamungu Emmanuel and this is my testimony before I got saved. I was born on March 8, 1988 and I grew up in the family of non believers but I grew up in that situation knowing nothing about salvation and how a person can get eternal life.

This is what happened to me in 1994 during genocide that took place in Rwanda. My family was completely destroyed from my grandfather and many of my relatives and I remained with only my mother and my sister who is now staying in Kigali. My mother was shocked and  she remained with mental problem after the murders. I grew up with a spirit of revenging to those who had killed my family and relatives. I joined primary school and then after I joined  secondary school but my plan was to join the army so that I can revenge to those who had killed my relatives. I couldn’t study well because my heart was broken. My mission of joining the army failed because after I received the call from someone whom I didn’t know before, telling me to go to Kampala to look for a good school (University). I had sponsorship when I was in senior six but I didn’t think that I have to study even University because what was in mind was only revenging.

I obeyed the call and to went to Kampala to look for the good school. When I reached in Kampala, my plan was to study the law but I didn’t realize that I had joined Bible school. I found my self studying God’s word which was not even in my thoughts.

Day by day transformation took place in my life. No one preached to me the Gospel. What I know and what I believe is that the Holy Spirit touched me in the way I didn’t expect but I allowed Him to take control in my life. After reading Romans 3:23, I was convicted that not only those who killed my relatives are sinners but even me too am a terrible sinner and again the Bible tells us even to love our enemies. To understand this was very had to me but slowly by slowly, God changed me in His own way.

I spent there 3 years in the Bible school and before my graduation I went back to Rwanda. I called my mother and sister and I began to teach and tell them how God had transformed my life. They were amazed because they saw me with a heart of forgiving others. I preached to them and told them how Jesus took away our sins and put them on the cross so that we can get eternal life. They received the message and believed what the Bible says but when I told them to forgive those who killed our relatives, to understand what I was telling them became hard for them. So I kept on praying so that God can change their hearts.

Later, they came to believe what I told them, so I called those who had killed our family to our home so that we could forgive them. Even though it was not their request of forgiveness but I called them and cooked for them and we shared food and drinks with them and I opened Romans 3:23, we all started crying and we forgave them and we also asked them forgiveness because we were in the process of revenging to them and on their children.

We embraced each other and I prayed for them and after 2 weeks, I went to attend my graduation. From 2010 to date, my Mum has been sharing with the so-called enemies what ever they have and  I am going on preaching the Gospel to those who are suffering in sinful life.

I thank the  almighty God who sent Jesus Christ to save me. By now I am a child of God, a new creation, no judgement is on me and I believe that Jesus Christ will not leave me. Glory be to Jesus who saved me and He has given me a beautiful wife and one daughter.

My hope is that Jesus Christ who saved me while I was a terrible sinner will not fail to save others through his powerful blood.”

– Pastor Byamungu Emmanuel, August 2, 2017 at Rutare, Uganda


On our return trip home from Uganda we started catching up on the news from home. After two weeks of working together with Ugandan believers and refugee pastors like Emmanuel, I was broken hearted to hear the tragic news about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Oh how I pray that the people of our country would learn of the racial healing and forgiveness that Pastor Emmanuel has experienced. The kind of healing and forgiveness that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

5 reasons our church will look like the bat cave this week…

“Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.” – Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:22b-23 (NLT)

‘But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”‘ – Jesus, Luke 18:16 (ESV)

If you come to our church this week, or for that matter, you just drive by the building, you’ll see some pretty unusual features added to the architecture. It looks kind of like a superhero hideout. Even more, as you come inside, it looks like the bat cave.


Yep. We’ve made some temporary modifications to make our building look like Batman’s secret base. Not only that, but we’re dressing like superheroes, and we’ve even written songs and lessons and designed crafts and activities around the superhero theme.


Let me give you five reasons:

  1. Because kids everywhere today are into superheroes and we thought it might be a good way to get kids who don’t normally go to church, to come to ours. We’re calling our four-night event: “KidzFest 2017: SIDEKICKS.”  We know that our members will bring their kids to any kind of  VBS type event  just because we offer it. But we wanted to do something that would cause kids in the city, that don’t normally go to church, to beg their parents to bring them. As the apostle Paul taught, we are trying to find “common ground” with unreached families in our city in order to share the gospel with them.
  2. Because kids are the most open to the gospel. That’s why Jesus instructed His disciples not to do anything to “hinder” kids from coming to Him. We’re making our church kid-friendly because we want to give them the gospel in a way that they can understand.
  3. Because when we reach kids, we also reach their parents. One of the main reasons that people begin attending church is because one of their children starts asking “God-questions.” You know, stuff like: “Who made the world? What happens when you die? Who is Jesus?” Parents often need help with these kinds of questions. We want to be there to help.
  4. Because the “growth engine” of our church is our children and family ministries. God has trusted us with young families with lots of kids. We want to be good stewards of that trust. So, our annual KidzFest outreach is one way that we “lean in” to this trust that God has given us.
  5. Because we want to teach kids about the only true Superhero, namely, Jesus Christ! During our KidzFest, even Batman and Superman will have to admit that the only true hero is Jesus. And Jesus wants every kid to be His “sidekick!” In other words, Jesus wants kids to follow Him.

So, there’s five reasons that we’re looking and dressing like superheroes this week. It’s why over 100 adult volunteers are singing, teaching, playing and serving. It’s why we’ve planned and worked for months to prepare. We want kids to come to Jesus.

Every year this outreach has grown. For the last two years we have creatively thought of ways to expand in spite of severe space limitations. But in order to continue to grow, we will need to enlarge our facilities, and increase our efforts to reach kids and families in our city.

So, put your cape on and join us this coming week for KidzFest 2017! And be in prayer for how we can continue to grow in our ministry to kids in years to come!