Get The Word Out

Today was the 5th Sunday of our new initiative, The Well. By most accounts, week 5 was as good, as meaningful, as edifying, etc. as any of the previous weeks. Cliff Cline and the musicians were, once again, fantastic. The children are returning from [Quench] energized and joyful. People are lingering afterwards for coffee and fellowship. I’m grateful also for the hugely positive feedback I received regarding my message (will upload shortly for this post).

And yet, in spite of our best efforts, the numbers were down considerably today. Launch Sunday met attendance expectations at 100+. Subsequent Sundays were down from that, but not by much. Today we might have had less than half the attendance of our launch. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m not all about ‘the numbers.’ I’m looking for new faces, I’m looking for faces I haven’t seen in a while, and I’m looking for those new faces to have repeat visits. I’m looking for feedback that would indicate that we’re making a difference in people’s lives—some indication that people are moving more closely toward Jesus because of their experience with us. By those measurements, I think The Well is off to a good start. But, that’s just my opinion…if you have attended The Well, I’d love to have your impressions recorded in the comments section of this post.

Why am I fussing about attendance numbers? The reason is simple: If we are meaningfully impacting lives with this initiative, I think it would be God-glorifying to multiply that effect. One transformed life is enough to charge me up, but what if we can help transform two lives? Or ten lives? Or fifty lives? Or a hundred lives?

At the end of the day, I recognize that transformation is ultimately up to the Lord (1Cor. 3:5-7), but I want to be sure that we’ve done all we can do, that is, all that God requires of us. There is one area which I think we can improve upon at The Well; it’s in the area of promotion. Very few people outside of St. Giles Kingsway have heard of The Well. That’s partly a function of being a 5 week-old ministry, but I think it’s also partly a function of us (those who attend The Well) not being as persistent as we could be with inviting friends, family, neighbours, etc.

This morning I learned an 11 year-old girl had brought a friend with her to The Well for the first time…I love that! For kids, it is so natural to want to share positive experiences with friends. I’m inspired by that 11 year-old.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to be rolling out a more comprehensive plan for promoting The Well. In addition to advertising in the local paper, we’ll be thinking about an effective door-to-door flyer drop-off strategy. Cliff and I are looking to put together a promotional video to upload to our respective blogs, to YouTube, to our website, and to our facebook group. We’re also looking to implement an invitation incentive program. Yes, we’re pretty serious about getting the word out!

But, after saying all of that, I still maintain that the best approach to promoting The Well is to prayerfully approach people close to you and to invite them to join you one Sunday. That is indisputably the best strategy.

What’s our motivation? Jesus has transformed our life. His grace has satisfied our soul. We want that for our friends, our classmates, our colleagues, and our family members. We think The Well is a great place to introduce Jesus to those we regularly connect with. So, if you’ve attended The Well, can I encourage you to prayerfully consider inviting someone to be your guest? Are you willing to help us get the word out? 

Good Grief

When I signed up to be a pastor (ok, so you don’t actually sign up), I knew that funerals would be a part of what I did. I also knew that doing funerals would be hard….really hard. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the number of funerals I would be officiating.

In a recent ten day period, five members of the congregation I serve passed away. I’m looking at officiating three funerals this week. Sixteen members have passed away since March. Exactly seventy have died since I began here in June 2002. I realize there are many pastors who deal with far more death than I do. A friend, and colleague, who served in Malawi for three years conducted many more funerals during that brief time than I have in eleven years of ministry.

What I’m confessing here is that death takes an emotional toll on a person…yes, even pastors (especially pastors?). And while my theology pushes me to move on and to talk about Resurrection, I also feel the call to pause in the face of death and grieve. I’m reminded that Jesus, knowing full well that He would soon raise Lazarus from the dead, still paused at the tomb to weep (John 11:35). 

Christianity is not a spiritual form of escapism. It is entirely appropriate, might I say even necessary, for followers of Jesus to experience grief. But I would also suggest that there is a healthy way to grieve and an unhealthy way to grieve. ‘Good grief’ (as I’ve termed this post) is grounded in hope. The apostle Paul says that followers of Jesus grieve differently than the rest (1Thess. 4:13, 14). We grieve, we’re not immune to the pain of loss, but we grieve within the perspective of what lies beyond. 

In wrestling with my own sorrow over friends who have recently died, I pulled out my sermon notes from a message I delivered in 2002. I hope you won’t find it unduly strange that my own words, from six years ago, brought me comfort. Below is a sampling of those notes:

Holy Scripture tells us that when we die, our soul rises immediately to heaven. Paul tells the Philippians that “to die is gain”(Phil. 1:21) because it means “depart(ing) and be(ing) with Christ, which is very much better”(Phil. 1:23).When Stephen was being stoned, he cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”(Acts 8:59). Stephen, who was experiencing a vision of the risen Christ at the time of his execution, anticipated entering immediately into the conscious presence of Jesus Christ.

And Jesus, speaking to the thief on the cross, promised, “today you shall be with Me in paradise”(Lk. 23:43). Jesus doesn’t say ‘soon you will be with Me’; He doesn’t say ‘someday you will be with Me in paradise’; He says “TODAY you shall be with Me in paradise.

For the Christian, sudden death means sudden glory. The soul of the Christian is to be found at once before the throne of God. It is the body that is said to sleep. Paul explains this to the Thessalonians, and to us, “that you may not grieve, as do those who have no hope”(4:13).

Notice that Paul does not forbid us from mourning. Sadness, even prolonged sorrow, is to be expected when we lose someone we love. Yet, our grief must be of a different nature because of what we know about the destiny of those who treasure Jesus. Paul is saying that Christians should not have dead-end grief, the kind of grief that comes to people who have no hope for a reunion. Our grief for those who have died in the Lord should be tempered by our knowledge that this is not a final good-bye……

I recently read an account where a little girl, a five-year-old girl, was watching her brother die of a very painful disease. He was much older, and the little girl loved her brother a lot. After the brother died, and after the funeral was over, the little girl said to her mother, “Mommy, wherewhere did brother go?” To which her mother replied, “Well, he went to heaven to be with Jesus.” She said, “Oh.” And that answer satisfied her.

Not long after that she heard her mother having a conversation with a friend, and her mother was weeping, and saying, “I’ve lost my son…I’ve lost my son…I’ve lost my son.” Later in the day the little five-year-old went to her mother and said, “Mommy, is somebody lost when we know where they are?”

Well, the answer to that question is, “No.” A person is not lost if we know where they are. We should not grieve as those who have no hope. The souls of those who have died in Christ are now in His presence. Remember the promise, “TODAY you shall be with Me in Paradise.

And, when Christ returns, our sleeping bodies will be clothed with heavenly glory. This is what Paul promises, “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus . . . For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first”(4:14, 16)…….

Bodies clothed in heavenly glory; a reunion with loved ones—and there is more; verse 17: “and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” It is no wonder Paul ends this section by saying, “Therefore comfort one another with these words”(4:18). 

Friends, this passage of Scripture was written to bring you comfort—real comfort. Forever with the Lord! Forever in communion with Christians of every age! Forever-clothed in heavenly glory! It is no wonder that Paul would write, “To live is Christ, but to die is GAIN.”  [ the complete message can be read here ]

I enjoyed reading those words again. I needed to be reminded of the hope I have in Christ. It is likely that, from time to time, we all need that reminder. I share this with you in the spirit of Paul who instructed me, “comfort one another with these words.”

Drink Life.

We all possess a natural inclination to seek satisfaction.  At least the Rolling Stones were honest enough to admit their lack of success in this pursuit (‘I can’t get no satisfaction’). Most of us, I suspect, have found things that will satisfy us to a degree. But few speak of an abiding satisfaction;  few speak of experiencing satisfaction in the deepest parts of their soul. And yet, this is precisely what Jesus was offering. Jesus promises “whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst” (John 4:14).  

How do we get that? And how do we know if we’re drinking the real thing? 

This past Sunday at St. Giles Kingsway, and at The Well, we looked at John 4 in search of that which truly satisfies and nourishes the soul. The outline of the message, based on the text, was as follows:

  1. The kind of people Jesus resists (the answer may surprise you!)
  2. The kind of people Jesus pursues (another answer which will surprise)
  3. The kind of life Jesus offers (Hint: It’s the kind we’ve been searching for)
  4. The kind of things which will mark our life (the evidence that we’ve tasted the real thing)

Have a listen, and let me know what you think.

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This Sunday’s message entitled, ‘Lasting Satisfaction’, will build on this same theme as we survey John 6:27-35.