Here's a little information that we have put together about the new Church that we'll be starting! We'd love for you to partner with us and pray for us.
More information? Andy@MyVenueChurch.org
Recently, I have been considering what it means to find and follow Jesus into the great and glorious mission that He has called us to. As I prepare to launch a new, exciting and dynamic Church in Casselberry, I have been studying the first words that Jesus uttered about the Church when He began this movement that continues to change the world, 2000 years after its beginning.
This scripture is found in Matthew 16 and I believe it tells us four things that we need to know if we want to be a vital and vibrant part of the church’s continual advancement.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, H asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”[c]14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”15 Then He asked them, “But who do you say I am?”16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[d] the Son of the living God.”17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John,[e] because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’),[f] and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell[g] will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid[h] on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit[i] on earth will be permitted in heaven.” – Matthew 16:13-19
Know God (vs16)
Jesus initiates the conversation by asking who people are saying He is, but I am not sure that Jesus was primarily concerned about what others thought of Him. He wanted to know who His disciples thought He was. In fact, if Jesus were physically in a room with us today, I think he’d want to ask us the same question. Who do we say He is? It’s THE most important question. Get it right and we will ultimately gain everything. Get it wrong and we will ultimately lose everything.
Bold, brash Peter – perhaps by luck rather than logic – gets it right. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord, the anointed one. And at this moment He comes to know Jesus in a whole new level. The penny drops and things change. While Peter had been with Jesus for a while, it was this realization that solidified the commitment between Jesus and Peter. And Peter’s life forever changed because of who he knew Jesus to be.
All mission starts with us knowing God. Do you know Him? Unless you know Him, you can’t follow Him, and if you don’t follow Him whatever mission you are on will be less than it could be. The apostle Paul, the pioneer of what it meant to mission said that he considered every other great achievement in his life a loss compared to knowing Jesus. We should as well.
Know God’s Voice (vs17)
As Jesus acknowledges that Peter has got the question right, He goes on to reveal the source of from where Peter got the right answer. It wasn’t that he’d heard it through the grapevine, or that he had intellectually put the pieces together. He got it right because God Himself had revealed it to him. In other words, God had spoken and Peter had listened.
The next crucial step in knowing our mission is to know God’s voice. We spend too much of our time trying to figure out what we want when our energies should be spent in following what God wants. His plan is always better for us. I have wasted way too much of my life trying to make things happen in my strength and will. But things never really take off in mission until we are following God’s voice.
Jesus said it this way, “My sheep know my voice, and they follow me” (John 10:27). He’s the shepherd, the man with the plan, and our job is to follow.
Know the power of His Church! (vs18)
If we really want to make a difference, it’s crucial we understand the power of the local Church. All missions must tie back into the Church, because it is only the Church that can bring the sustainable, holistic change necessary and the Church is God’s primary plan to change the world.
Jesus looks Peter squarely in the eyes – fully knowing all Peter’s failings and failures – and said to Him. “Peter – you are a rock. And on this rock I will build my Church.” Despite all the well-publicized failures through the ages, the Church still remains as the bastion of trust, the dispenser of love, and the vessel of hope for our world.
And Jesus says about this Church, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. By this the instruction is not that the Church should hunker down and protect itself against the darkness of the world, but that the church should assertively move into areas of darkness and shine Jesus’ blazing light. The gates of hell do not prevail because the church stands strong against them, they do not prevail because the church assertively and loving dispels the darkness. We cannot separate our ecclesiology (the church) from our missiology (our purpose).
Know what to do with what’s been entrusted to you! (Vs. 18/19)
Note that once Peter has known Jesus, known his voice, invited to know the power of the Church, he then is entrusted with a great responsibility. Jesus says, “Whatever you bind of earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you allow on earth will be allowed in heaven”.
As Jesus ushers these words he is giving us as believers an incredible responsibility. It’s a responsibility that we have to take very seriously. We have to steward it well and give our best energy and effort to making sure that we are as faithful and responsible as we can with what God has given to us.
So often we carry lightly the responsibility of our faith and its call to make a difference. We fail to realize that there is much resting on what we do. In order to steward well our responsibility we have to know what to do with what God has entrusted to us.
God has an incredible plan for your life. It’s bigger and better and bolder and brighter than you could imagine. But in order to fulfill that mission you have to know God, his voice, the power of His church and how you are going to handle what He has entrusted to you. Know your mission!
The attached link takes you to a copy of the message I shared with our congregation recently about why Tracie and I are leaving Aloma.
To my Dear Friend at Aloma UMC,
After 15 years of service at Aloma UMC, I am humbled to follow in the long list of people who have been sent forth from our Church to further the Kingdom of Jesus!
It has been a long time since a culture-shocked 23 year old began to serve with you here in Winter Park. As I reflect back on this time my heart is full of gratitude. Over the years, God has used Aloma to invest so much in me that has developed my gifts as a leader, as a servant, as a Christian minister and as a follower of Jesus. My life and my heart have been profoundly shaped by this church. It has been an honor to serve and love so many wonderful people, to be part of Christ’s body with you, and to see God do some incredible things. I remember with great joy the people I have seen come to know Jesus and discover more of His love for them. I remember with tenderness presiding over weddings and funerals for you and your loved ones and with great fondness the love that has been shared between us. I am also thankful for the difficult times that we have been through together. These cruciform moments have truly been times that have made me a more faithful servant. Aloma has been a family for my family and it is a wonderful testament to this church that now, 15 years later, I can say with all honesty that I love Jesus, His Church and His people more than I ever have before.
It is because of this increasing love that Tracie and I feel called and compelled to begin a The Venue Church in Casselberry. Casselberry has been the epicenter of the favor that God has shown me over the past two years as the Lord has expanded my ministry and influence way beyond what I ever expected. I am excited and unnerved by all that lies ahead for Tracie, Bethany, Jonathan and me. We have no doubt that God is calling us to this. I am absolutely convinced that Jesus has called me to partner with Him in changing this world and beginning a Venue Church in Casselberry is what I must do to remain faithful to this calling. I would not be able to even consider such a task if it were not for all that Aloma has built into me.
I leave with some sadness about things that we were not able to accomplish together, but with knowing that I have served you and served God with great commitment and passion over the years. You will often be in my prayers as I long and pray that Aloma would reach her full redemptive potential in the midst of a hurting world. I would especially like to put on record my profound gratitude to Pastor Jim for the leadership, vision and blessing he has given me to serve and advance the Kingdom. Aloma is incredibly blessed to have such a thoughtful and honest Christ-following servant as your Pastor.
My employment at Aloma will conclude on December 31st of this year and I will be working closely with Pastor Jim to do all I can to finish well and bless the church in my departure. Part of leaving well means that I will give whatever time is needed to listening, loving and encouraging you forward.
As I type, my heart is full of gratitude. Aloma has forever shaped who I am and whatever success comes my way in future ministry ventures, much of this will be because of your incredible investment in me.
With gratitude and grace,
When it comes to issues of pace, forward motion and getting things done in a timely manner, generally the Church finds itself on the slow end of the spectrum. So many good ideas never take off because “we’ll get to that tomorrow”. So many kingdom actions are never actualized because we need to wait for a large number of factors to perfectly align. We justify our slowness with the defense of “it must not be God’s time to do this” or with cries of “Jesus calls us to rest/Sabbath/slowness”. But the reality is that scripture paints a different picture of the expediency with which we must usher in His kingdom. The beginnings of Jesus’ ministry are marked with the immediacy of the task at hand – boldly saying that now is the time to get things done.
As I was reading through the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as told by Mark, I was struck by how many times the word “immediately” is used. It is the most common word in the first chapter of Mark, used eight times, while the next couple of chapters are full of examples of how Jesus continued to live immediately. The gospel didn’t begin slowly. It begun with speed, passion and intensity – it had a fast paced immediacy about it. Consider the following –
1) There was immediacy in God’s desire to launch Jesus’ Ministry (Mark 1:10)
Jesus’ ministry begins with His baptism. As Jesus comes out of the water of the River Jordan, a public declaration of the start of His ministry, God immediately affirms that Jesus is His man. In a split second He sees the heaven’s open, the Spirit fall on Him to equip Him for the task and then immediately He hears life defining words of affirmation and empowerment coming straight from heaven – “This is my beloved son, with you I am well pleased”.
As God was immediate in His desire to affirm and encourage His own son, so He is with us. Often we think that we need to “be ready” or “manage our sin better” to hear God’s words of affirmation and calling to us. But we don’t. God’s call and affirmation to us comes immediately. If you want it… right now!
2) There was immediacy in Jesus’ obedience (Mark 1:12,21,29)
When the Father said “Go”, Jesus immediately went (John 5:19). He immediately went into the wilderness for a time of testing and training (12), once back He immediately entered the synagogue and began teaching and immediately after He was done there He went to His next assignment to heal Simon’s mother in law.
Jesus modeled for us that obedience to God must happen immediately. I am trying to help my children understand that obedience must happen immediately to be obedient. For example, as I ask them to tidy their rooms I don’t count it as obedience if it takes them two weeks to do it. We must learn to follow Jesus so faithfully that when He says “go” we move and when He says “do” we get it done.
3) There was immediacy in the disciples response (Mark 1:18, 20)
When Jesus cried out to His disciples, “Follow Me” we read that their response was immediate. They didn’t think twice, they didn’t spend a lot of time weighing up the pros and cons of a decision… they made it and left straight away. There are so many invitations that Jesus offers to us – ones that will give us incredible hope and a fantastic future (Jeremiah 29:11) that we miss simply because we are too slow in our response. We paralyze our decisions by over analysis, we choose obedience according to our comfort level, priority list or security and often by the time we are ready, the opportunity has passed.
My sense is that if the disciples had waited too long to say yes to Jesus, they would never have followed Him. Other factors would have influenced them and “common sense” would have talked them out of making such a radical decision. Their future and their legacy was shaped because these guys responded to Jesus immediately. The question for us becomes: How immediate is your response to Jesus?
4) There was immediacy in needs being revealed and met (Mark 1:23, 30)
As Jesus was in the synagogue, immediately a man with a huge need – an unclean spirit – was revealed. This guy was inhabited with a demon. As soon as Jesus walked into the temple, the need revealed itself. I think that the closer we walk to Jesus and the more we walk in His power the more immediately we see the needs around us.
Quickly though, Jesus wants to meet these needs. He did it with the gentleman with the unclean spirit and immediately after that He immediately healed Simon’s mother-in-law. This is a huge part of what it means to fully engage in the kingdom. As we serve Jesus we are immediately met with needs and often Jesus wants to immediately use us to bring His healing.
Following Jesus is more often than not about “immediately” than it is “wait”. Our ability to respond immediately determines our level of faithfulness, our commitment to the things of heaven, and the amount of needs that will be revealed and met. We can no longer live in a season of procrastination. It is time for the Church – beginning with you and me - to rediscover the immediacy of the gospel.
About 18 months ago our Church accountant was let go, because of some of our concerns about the standards and quality of her work. Upon hiring a new accountant, we quickly discovered that our previous accountant had been embezzling some money from the Church to the tune of around $13,000. In a Church where the real economic stimulator is trust this discovery was heart breaking. More on the story can be found here: http://www.wftv.com/news/news/local/former-church-worker-accused-stealing-church-money/nTNwL/
If we were honest, there was a lot of pain. It was hard on the staff that had worked with her and not seen this side; it was devastating to the congregation, many of whom had trusted their “widow’s mite” to the work of the Church and it was devastating to the reputation of the Church around Central Florida. These circumstances provided many with another reason not to trust the Church and the message that we offer. Much of our sadness revolved around the fact that this was such an unnecessary thing to do as if we’d have known that there was need we would have done everything we could have to have helped this young, single mother. But in a manner not unlike the tax collector in the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) she took what didn’t belong to her and made a decision to profit off things which didn’t belong to her.
As I reflect on this painful event there are many parallels between the story of our accountant and the short in stature tax collector called Zacchaeus. Both of them had stolen and manipulated money that did not belong to them, both had profited from someone else’s gain and, because of this, both were viewed poorly within their culture. Also, like Zacchaeus – as he climbed a tree, making himself vulnerable before all those who despised him – Veronica’s sin put her in a vulnerable place. After her arrested her indiscretion became public knowledge. She was vulnerable before us as a Church, she was vulnerable before the media, she was vulnerable before her young daughter, but most of all she was vulnerable before God. Being vulnerable, with our sin exposed is a very difficult and awkward place to be – one that we, perhaps rightly, try to avoid at all cost. The pain and shame of vulnerability is a crippling load to bear.
Last week, something changed. We requested that Veronica come back and meet with us (To continue the Zacchaeus metaphor, we invited her back to “our house” - this conference room). As she walked into the room it was possible to see the tension and the pain and shame resting upon her. This was not an easy thing to do. This nervous young lady was carrying a heavy load.
We tenderly shared with her some of our struggle and disappointments regarding what she had done, not to shame her further but so that she was fully aware of the weight of responsibility her actions had caused. This was awkward for us, but it was OK because we knew what we had to do next - We were ready to forgive her. With quivering in her lips and brokenness in her heart she courageously confessed her sin and asked for our forgiveness. One by one the few leaders around the table forgave her; one by one we shared words of hope and love for her. Collectively we laid hands on her and prayed, asking God to close the pain of the incident, and then – again one by one – we hugged her and released her to the rest of her life.
And you know what… something beautiful happened to her. Forgiven was given, grace was extended and redemption could begin for Veronica. She left crying. And I cried, because there is nothing as beautiful as seeing redemption in action. Grace wins, it defeats everything and renders the ugliest sin powerless.
Our former accountant is working hard to repay what was stole from us. There is still restitution that she is legally obligated to fulfill and that we are morally obligated to see through… but grace won.
When we become part of God’s family everything changes in us because redemption comes. Redemption is my favorite word in the world, and I believe it’s God’s. It is a word that breaths hope, forgiveness and change. It’s word that provides a way where there was no way. It should be a favorite terms to anyone who is aware of the depth of sin in their life. Redemption changes our heart, it changes our hope, it changes our future and it changes our demeanor. Redemption is what happens when grace wins.
Let grace win.
One of our primary and most important tasks in any kind of decision or dilemma is to define reality (Haggai 1:5-6). While this is hard enough to do in life, many of us find it even harder to apply in our prayer life. In the midst of a confusing time, Daniel – of Lion’s Den fame – teaches us some spiritual realities around us as we pray.
Here’s the context. The city is in captivity and on its way to ruin. The future in the balance, the people have been struggling for many years and Daniel, the one who listens to and speaks for God, is a little worried. One of his predecessors, Jeremiah, had shared that the captivity that the people of Israel would be in would last for only seventy year (Jeremiah 25:9-13). This is a long time for those living it, but through the lens of history it is not as long! Daniel had sensed that God was indicating to him that the sanctuary and the people would in fact be trampled for 2300 years (Daniel 8:14). This discrepancy not only perplexed Daniel, but deeply concerned him. 2300 years is a long time!
In the midst of his concern and because of his fear that this oppression could continue much longer than anyone anticipated, with potentially devastating consequences for everyone, Daniel faces a reality check. The starkness of the reality he is facing causes him to passionately go to God in prayer. In the midst of confusion his prayer brings clarity. From his prayer we can learn much about how we should pray.
Reality Number 1: Ultimately, we have no choice but to seek God in prayer. (Daniel 9:3)
“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.”
What else was he going to do? Daniel had no other place to turn with the size of the dilemma he was facing other than to go to God in prayer. Note not just his plea, but also his posture. He turns his face to the Lord – physically looking only to God. He begins fasting – submitting his physical state to God. He puts on the sackcloth and ashes – letting his physical appearance mirror the deep grief and turmoil of his soul. He is serious about going to God in prayer because it’s his only real option.
Reality Number 2: He acknowledges God’s goodness despite what is happening and could happen (Dan 9:4)
“I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
God is great. He is awesome. He is faithful. And… His love is steadfast. Her Daniel is affirming not only God’s greatness and His incredible ability to keep His promise despite rebellious violation. Why’s this important? Because we need to let the real character of God – which is pure and unadulterated – provide a foundation, and thus a hope, in our prayers. If God is really who He says He is then we are able to pray with much more passion and confidence.
Reality Number 3: Righteousness belongs to God. (Dan 9:7)
“To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness”
What God chooses and what God does is always right. God only knows how to do the right things and is incapable of doing wrong things. Whether you can find a way out or not, God’s way is always the right way. It must be forever etched in our minds that God equals good. It’s almost like God is drawing a line in the sand in any conflict. He stands on one side – with righteousness always belong to Hm, and then on the other side…
Reality Number 4: Shame belongs to us. (Dan 9:8)
“To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.”
…. we stand – with shame belonging to us. We’re the ones who are so often wrong. We are the ones who know full well what unrighteousness looks like. We know of a wrong personally that God only knows from looking at us. Because God is righteous he can be completely vulnerable. Because we are sinful we replace vulnerability with shame. To pray into reality means that we must understand our shame to the same level that we understand God’s righteousness. The reality is that our station as we enter prayer is as shameful people.
Reality Number 5: God bridges the gap between His righteousness and our shame (Dan 9:18)
“O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.”
But by God’s grace, as we exit our times of prayer we leave forgiven. Daniel prays “Incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolation and the city called by your name. We do not present our pleas to you because of our righteousness, but because of your mercy”. The incredible news for us in prayer is that as God’s character allows Him only to be righteous; it also only allows Him to be merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment every time (James 2:13). This reality of living in the kingdom is that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). It is a reality in any and every situation that God has bucket loads of mercy to pour onto every situation.
As you pray, let these prayers of Daniel be the foundation, the hope and the crystal clear reality of your prayer life.
Small Groups, Sunday Schools classes and home groups have a tendency to drift. Many of us have been ingroups that were once vibrant, nurturing and transformation and then – often unbeknownst to us – something happens. Before we know it they have become routine and something that helps us check off a religious task rather than being the dynamic community that God wants for them to be.
Listed below are nine evaluation questions that I’d encourage all spiritual growth groups to ask of themselves. Honest evaluation helps keep our groups, and their members thereof, on the road to becoming more like Jesus.
1. What makes your group safe for people?
Creating a safe environment paves the way to community. Safety is essential for building connection. If people don't feel safe in your group ,people will close down, shutting themselves off from what the Spirit could do in their lives through the group. The best way to develop safety is to communicate expectations. A great way to do that is by forming a group covenant together.
2. What’s the ratio of questions asked to statements made?
In the gospels, Jesus asked 173 questions. He made some profound statements, but he knew that for people to really change they had to discover the answers for themselves. A great example of this is in Matthew 16:13-20 where Jesus ultimately builds his Church on the self-discover statements that the disciples had made about Hm. Asking the right questions unlocks people’s hearts for them to discover and own God’s truth.
3. Is the Messiness of Life Exposed?
“Spirituality is a mixed-up, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter godliness that turns our lives into an upside-down toboggan ride of unexpected turns, surprise bumps and bone shattering crashes ... a life ruined by a Jesus who loves us right into His arms.” – Mike Yaconelli. Our groups need to contain people who are being real about life and all the messiness that comes with it. What tensions are present in your group? There need to be some. Are there things that are being shared in your group that couldn’t appropriately be shared somewhere else?
4. Is Spiritual Growth really happening?
Leaders take people from here to there but this is impossible to do unless we know where “here” (where we are) is and where “there” (where we are going) is. Often in our groups if growth happens it happens by accident where perhaps a truth will “stick” to us. What does intentional growth look like? A vital sub-question is “How do you know that someone is going to be living differently at the end of the small group than they were at the beginning?”
5. How central is scripture?
This question does not necessarily revolve around whether or not we use scripture, but how we use it. Do we use it as an add on to prove our point or are its stories, principals, promises and interpretation central to what we are learning? Any verse in the Bible can be understood with basic “eye level” observation, interpretation and application.
6. What are you praying for?
I once heard Andy Stanley say something like this: “The prayers that a church prays tell us so much about a Church’s values”. So often our times of prayer are reduced to the safest, least common denominator – praying for the sick. This is indeed part of our responsibility, but praying for Aunt Nellie’s ingrown toenail is just a small part of all that we are invited into in conversational prayer. Is our prayer looking outward? Is it full of repentance? Are we begging God for strength? Are we crying out for God to do the things that only He can do?
7. How are you looking to the interests of others?
Groups implode when they start to serve themselves. As clicks are formed and insiders become overly comfortable, outsides tend to become neglected. Jesus heart and passion is always focused towards others, and thus should our small groups. We need to be asking questions about who we are serving, what we are giving to, how we are investing in others. The apostle Paul understood this dynamic and begs us to “not look to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:4
8. How are you multiplying?
Groups are created for the purposes of God and to experience His grace and growth. One of the non-negotiable fundamentals that H built into such groups was that they must multiply. Imagine what would have happened if the first small group of 12 had never multiplied? You wouldn’t be reading this today. A group quickly becomes stale spiritually, emotionally and physically when it isn’t intentionally multiplying. What are you doing to expand the kingdom through your group?
Take some time to evaluate any spiritual growth groups that you are a part of by using these questions. Celebrate what you are doing well and make changes to the places where you are struggling!