Thursday, April 20, 2017

Keeping the Momentum

Did you know 85% of churches are plateaued or declining? Churches that were once flourishing aren’t now. The question is why? How does a church lose its momentum? How can we keep this from happening at First Free?

Here are 5 things that cause the church to lose momentum. Would you take the time to evaluate these things relative to First Free? If you’re willing to share, I would enjoy hearing your findings.
1.        The vision is unclear. Slowly and quietly, a church forgets why it is doing what it is doing. Can you state First Free’s vision and mission? Do you know why we do what we do? Do you know why we do it the way we do it? If not, ask someone who knows.
2.       Gravitational pull takes over. The gravitational pull in churches is always inward. A church will tend to design its services, ministries, and programs for those who currently attend rather than for those that aren’t yet convinced. Does First Free struggle with gravitational pull? Do we think more of the insiders or more of the people we are trying to reach?
3.       Energy and enthusiasm decrease. When we forget why we do what we do, we eventually lose our passion. Do we spur each other on to love and good deeds? How would you measure First Free's passion for the lost people?
4.       Two front doors are neglected. Today, people check out a church on the website before attending the service. Is our web presence desirable for someone searching? Does it convey a positive, hopeful, first impression? The second front door is the service itself. To maximize the hopes that more people might give Jesus and the church one more shot, is our service conducive to the people we want to reach?
5.        The leader stops growing. A congregation never grows beyond the growth of its leader. The number one mistake pastors make is isolation. Praise God the church allows me a coach to help me continue growing.

Blessings,
Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott
P.S. Don’t forget it’s Invite a Friend Day at First Free this Sunday! Any friend you bring will identify with and appreciate our new series: Adventure: Making Life Thrilling Again. See you at 9:15 and 11:00 for the start of an adventure!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Letting Go of Lonliness

Last week I spoke with several people who had one thing in common: loneliness. Each person had their own reason for the loneliness. Loneliness can result from the death of a spouse, feeling like you have no friends, or comparing yourself to other people who don’t appear to be lonely.

Sometimes loneliness has to do with the season of the year. Holidays, while enjoyable for so many, are a time of painful memories, depression, and loneliness to others. At times we choose to isolate ourselves from others, or we may face loneliness through no fault of our own. Whatever the reason, at some time or another we all will experience some level of loneliness.

So, how do you deal with it or better yet- how do you let go of it? Here are some suggestions:
1.        Utilize your time well. Make the most of what you’ve got. Think of creative ways to take advantage of the situation. Be a good steward of the time you spend alone. ‘When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.’ We tend to become discouraged and bored if we don’t use time in a purposeful way.
2.       Minimize the hurt. Don’t ignore it, but don’t rehearse it either. Deal with your hurt in bold and honest ways and shift your focus to helping and serving others.
3.       Recognize God’s presence. There is no place that you are that God is not. (Read Psalm 139.) Jesus said, ‘I am with you always. I will never leave you or forsake you.’ God’s presence is with you in the loneliness.
4.       Emphasize the needs of others. Focus outwardly. Get your eyes off yourself. Love is the antidote to loneliness. Serving and helping others has a way of putting everything in perspective. Consider joining First Free’s Day of Service on April 29th; for more information and to sign-up visit: http://firstfreelincoln.org/day-of-service/  
Blessings,
Mark "The Bru" Brunott


P.S. Do you feel like you’ve done something that can’t be forgiven? Does your past have a hold on you? Have you thought, ‘How can I forgive myself?’ If you have ever struggled with these questions, you won’t want to miss this week’s sermon “Finished!” Join me and bring a friend at 9:15 or 11:00 am on Sunday to experience God’s unconditional love and forgiveness.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Take a Personal Inventory

Every once in a while, I like to take an inventory of my life. I started doing this years ago when I was in youth ministry. I often quoted to the students Luke 2:52 ‘Jesus grew in wisdom (mental) and in stature (physical) and in favor with God (spiritual) and all the people (social).’ This is called the balanced life. Alongside of these four parts- mental, physical, spiritual, and social- I add the emotional part of life as well.

I would then challenge myself, as well as the students, to take a personal checkup of these things by asking 5 questions:
1.        Mental: Am I mentally sharper than I was a year ago? If not, what am I going to do about the regression?
2.       Physical: Do I frequently complain of a lack of energy?  Why (maybe poor diet, lack of sleep, exercise, or activity)?
3.       Spiritual: Am I regularly spending time talking to God and reading His Word?
4.       Social: Who can I count on as a genuine friend? Who can count on me?
5.        Emotional: Do I worry a lot, am I moody or easily depressed? If so, what am I going to do about it?
The second thing I do in the personal evaluation is write down a plan of action in the areas where I believe I’m not measuring up. A life of balance is marked by good habits. The plan should reflect successful habits in all areas of one’s life. For example, if I have a lack of energy, I put it in my plan to exercise regularly, eat healthy, and make sure I’m out of bed at an early hour.

The third thing I do is make sure my relationship with God is central to my life. Why? Because I don’t, nor do you, have the power to create a balanced life on my own. We need God’s help. When we put Christ at the center of our lives, the power that comes through Him flows to every part of our lives. This gives us balance. That’s why the Bible says, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…’ (Matthew 6:33.)

If it has been a while since you’ve done an inventory about your life, do one today. I try to do this at least 4 times a year. Try it- you’ll like it.

Blessings,


Mark "The Bru" Brunott


P.S. What comes to mind when you read the word “substitute”? Maybe the first word you think of is “fake” or “Second-string”. But what if God’s gift of a substitute is the better than the original thing? Join us Sunday at 9:15 or 11:00 AM to find out more.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Willing Heart

Will you join me in becoming more effective at reaching the lost in your neighborhood, work place, school, or sphere of influence? Honestly, it doesn’t involve much more than a willing heart. Let me share with you three practices that will help you and me reach the lost.

First, consideration. You cannot connect with people you are not considering. Reaching your lost friends, co-workers, and neighbors begins with passion. Passion drives practices. Are you passionate about those around you who are far from God? Your heart must break for what breaks the heart of God- and God’s heart breaks for people far from Him. I have started to pray daily for my lost neighbors. I ask God to break my heart for those who are far from Him.

Second, accommodation. I think of ways that they can feel comfortable with me to build trust: watch their home when they are away and pick up mail, loan tools for one of their projects, help them with the projects, or take interest in their hobbies. (One of my neighbors loves to look through his telescope. Late at night, I go out when he’s looking and ask if I can take a peek.) Everything I do at home makes me ask: How can I do this to involve a contact with a neighbor (March Madness games, yard work ideas, and other common interests)?

Third, invitation. 70% of people invited to church by a friend will attend. The question we need to ask ourselves is ‘Why aren’t I inviting people?’ Sadly, many would answer that question this way, ‘I don’t feel my church would be a great experience for my lost friends.’

I want to assure you that at First Free, we are committed to making our services encouraging, relevant, and worshipful. Hopefully you are so proud of First Free that you want to invite friends and neighbors to give them an opportunity to experience God.

The thing that helps accepting invitations to church are your invitations to other things in your life like BBQ’s at your house or going to other activities together.

We can all use these three practices: consideration, accommodation, and invitation. Join me so we can have a powerful recipe to reach the unchurched in our city.

Blessings,
Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott


P.S. Do you feel the need to be forgiven? Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘God could never forgive me for that?’ Do you feel like you need to forgive someone who wronged you? This Sunday, we will begin preparing ourselves for Easter, beginning with the greatest price paid in order that I might experience forgiveness. See you at 9:15 or 11:00- invite a friend to join you.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Tip of the Iceberg

Did you know that 7/8ths of an iceberg is below the water line? In other words, the part that you see is the smallest amount of the total mass. We have the expression, ‘the tip of the iceberg’ used to refer to a situation in which you or someone else is seeing only a small part of what is really a much bigger condition. The phrase usually has a negative meaning to it- referring to a difficult situation. I’m using it positively in order to remind you of 20 things that are true about you and me as believers in Christ. These 20 things are just the tip of the iceberg. Read them and look up each scripture.
1.        All my sins are forgiven; past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14).
2.       I am a child of God (John 1:12; Romans 8:15).
3.       I have eternal life (John 5:24).
4.       I am delivered from darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13)
5.        Christ dwells in me (Colossians 1:27; Revelation 3:20).
6.       I am a new person (2 Corinthians 5:21).
7.        I was declared righteous (justified) by God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
8.       I have a relationship with God, and love is the foundation (1 John 4:9-11).
9.       I am accepted by God (Colossians 1:19-22).
10.     I am holy in God’s eyes (Colossians 3:12).
11.      I have a mission from God to do good works (Ephesians 2:10).
12.     I am a light in a dark world. (Matthew 5:14).
13.     I am part of an overwhelming victory (Romans 8:37).
14.     God makes me complete (Colossians 2:10).
15.     I am an heir to God’s glory (Romans 8:17).
16.     I am permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
17.     I am part of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).
18.     I have a special gift to employ in serving the Body of Christ (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4).
19.     I have an inheritance that cannot fade away (1 Peter 1:3-5).
20.    I am free, no longer a slave to sin (Galatians 5:1).
The most encouraging part about this list is that it goes on and on. When it comes to how God has completely transformed lives, this is only the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ The next time you are discouraged or overwhelmed, embrace who you are in Christ. Go back to the basics, the beginning of what happened to you when you came to trust in Christ. Understanding your true identity will bring you the encouragement you need.

Let's Be Engaging!

Would you be willing to be 100% honest with yourself and your answers to the following questions?
  • Do I love lost people and want them to enter a life-giving relationship with Jesus?
  • What evidence do I see that affirms or refutes my answer to the first question?
Did you answer honestly? Are you okay with your answers? Why or why not? A recent report from Pew Research Center concluded that Evangelical Christians do not seem to be in relationship with lost people. If our mission is to introduce people to Jesus, transform them through the truth of the Bible, the one thing that should not be taken for granted is engaging with them. Yet, that seems to be precisely what we are doing. Most of us are cloistered away in a ‘Holy Huddle’ or ‘Christian Clique’ that there is very little engagement with the lost.

I am praying and hoping that you and I, as Christians, will be heartbroken over people’s lost-ness. That we would have the courage to speak favorably about Jesus in public. That we would NOT be like those in John 7:13, ‘No one had the courage to speak favorable about Jesus in public.’ Rather, have the resolve of the Apostle Paul ‘one night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid, keep on speaking, do not be silent” (Acts 18:9).

There is a singular truth that must be championed again and again and again: lost people matter to God, therefore they should matter to us. The Bible makes it clear that the way someone far from God draws close to God is if someone close to God goes far to reach them (see Romans 10:14-15).

Let’s get engaged with the people who are lost. Let’s love them, engage them, and share Christ with them. The rewards of engagement, standing courageously for the truth, speaking boldly of your faith will last forever. Hebrews 10:35 says, ‘Do not lose your courage, then, because it brings with it great reward.’

Monday, March 6, 2017

Their Eyes, Not Our Eyes

As I think of First Free and reaching those who are exploring the claims of Christianity, I realize the one we need to reach have no church background or even any church memory. They don’t think about church in any form or fashion. Which means we need to change how we think about church and ministry.

Imagine a scale where one end is what we prefer and what we are used to and someone’s eternal destiny lies on the other end. With that perspective, “what we prefer” is really irrelevant. What price should you and I, as Christ followers, be willing to pay so those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus can have one?

The correct answer ought to be, ‘whatever price is required.’ In practical terms, what lost people need is more important than what you and I need. For us, what we do on a Sunday is just a matter of personal preference. For them, their eternal destiny hangs in the balance. So when I have to weigh the importance of issues like service times, musical styles, d├ęcor, how we greet, or sermon titles against someone’s eternal destiny on any given Sunday, it’s really not much of a debate. Love forces us to put others’ needs above our own personal preferences.

James Emery White’s Church & Culture blog this week said:
“not every guest who ventures to visit your church is created equal. On the broadest level, there are churched guests and unchurched guests. By churched, I mean they have a church background, are relatively comfortable and familiar with the church world, and are there as a consumer. The unchurched do not have a church background, are not comfortable or familiar with church world, and are there (at best) as an explorer.”

What I get from this is that we want anyone to feel welcomed, but we want to work harder at reaching explorers. What difference does this make? Quite a bit.

Consider one of the most commonly suggested steps to making a first time guest feel welcomed: designated parking. This can be done in a variety of ways. Using signage marked ‘guests’ or ‘VIPs’ or turning on lights that simply direct first-time guests toward a designated parking area where they find volunteers who greet them, offer first-time guest materials, and even escort them into the church and through any children ministry registration needs they might have.

It sounds impressive. It looks impressive. But who wants this kind of treatment? Only “churched” people love that kind of welcome, recognition, guest parking. The typical first-time unchurched guest wants anything but recognition. They don’t want to be singled-out, targeted, or asked to do anything. They don’t even want to take advantage of putting their child in our children’s ministry. At least, not at first.

What we are trying to do is design our guest experience through the lens of an explorer. We want to put ourselves in their shoes, or at least try to. This is hard to do because we are conditioned to see church through our eyes, not their eyes. Let’s strive to do what we can to reach those whose eternity hangs in the balance.
Mark "the Bru" Brunott