Volunteers Provide Nearly 70% Of All Personnel Hours!

This past weekend was an amazing example of why I love being involved with and leading this church!  Easter Sunday is always crazy, but this weekend we had over twice our average attendance and our volunteers were once again the rock stars of the show!  Let me show you just how by sharing with you some of the life change and showing how many hours were put into volunteerism just in one day (hopefully I don’t miss any):

First, the stories that came out of this weekend were amazing.

I instantly felt at home when I walked in the doors because people smiled and welcomed me and helped me!”  – First-time guest

That was a comment that I heard from a first-time guest this weekend.  Oh, and did I mention that 15 people told us that they were trusting Christ that day or were considering trusting Christ.  That doesn’t happen without a movement of God and an amazing volunteer team creating a great environment.  There are dozens of others stories that I’ve heard since Easter that I will share along the way.

Now, what about the hours volunteered?

  • Power-up – 14 volunteers at 2 hours each (28)
  • Small Wonders – 7 volunteers at 2 hours each (14)
  • Toddlers and Infants – 11 volunteers at 2 hours each (22)
  • First Impressions Teams – 16 volunteers at 2 hours each (32)
  • Worship and Tech – 11 volunteers at 5 hours each (55)
  • Coffee and hospitality -4 volunteers at 2 hours each (8)
  • Middle School – 4 volunteers at 2 hours each (8)
  • Ushers – 12 volunteers (2)
  • Financial team – 3 volunteers (2)

Totaling 171 volunteer hours just on Sunday morning for the two services.  That is amazing.  Think about it like this: if we had to have paid staff in order to accomplish all of that ministry each week, it would cost a boat load!  In fact, here’s an idea of what it would cost us simply using the median income in Wyandotte County, KS.  The median income is $39,000!

  • 171 hours would require 4 full-time employees
  • 4 employees at $39,000 = $156,000 per year!

So, let me put it like this: the volunteers here at Oak Grove are rock stars for two amazing reasons

  1. They are using their unique gifts and abilities to bring about changed lives every week.
  2. They are enabling the reach of the ministry of this church to far exceed what we could ever pay for by essentially volunteering at least $156,000 worth of time and talent!  That is awesome!

Thank you for using your unique gifts and abilities to make more and better followers of Christ!

Oh yeah, I thought I’d show you some of the stuff that our amazing volunteers do: this is from awhile ago, but just look at Mike in that apron!

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Volunteers Provide Nearly 70% Of All Personnel Hours!

Homophobia Has No Place in the Church

This morning I read a recent article posted on the Desiring God website titled: Homophobia Has No Place In The Church.  You can see the entire article here.  Nick Roen is a worship pastor in Minnesota and has written extensively on sexuality and Christianity.  I would strongly encourage a read of this article, but let me share with you the post and a few thoughts.  I’ve highlighted a few portions that stood out to me.

Homophobia Has No Place in the Church

“Young man, I appreciate your message, but you need to realize that most gay people are dangerous predators.”

I had just finished sharing about my experience with same-sex attraction (SSA) at a church in the heart of Wisconsin, and an elderly man tracked me down after the service. These were the first words out of his mouth.

I was taken aback and asked him to clarify. It turns out that a gay man made a pass at him many years ago when he was in the military — and it had caused him to view all gay people as sexually aggressive and dangerous. His view of the homosexual community was defined almost exclusively by a single experience — and fear.

I have a fear as well, but my fear is that homophobia is all too common, not just in society, but even within the church. Some may object to my use of the word homophobia. It can sometimes be used as a politically loaded term wielded to silence any and all opposition to same-sex sexual activity. However, this is not the root definition of the term.

Simply put, homophobia means a fear of homosexuality and, more specifically, homosexual people. And while it is not the same as loving, biblical opposition to certain behaviors or beliefs, this fear-based attitude often leads to unhelpful stereotypes, prejudice, and even cruel mistreatment.

So let’s call a spade a spade. Homophobia exists, and it has no place in the church.

Search Your Heart

No doubt some who feel convicted will push back. “Well, I don’t think that all gay people are dangerous predators, so I’m not homophobic.” However, homophobia can often take subtler, equally sinister forms. For example, homophobia can subtly infiltrate not only our beliefs, but also our reasons for these beliefs. These principles might themselves be correct and godly, but they can be believed for all the wrong reasons.

Honestly consider your own heart in the following examples:

  • Is your belief that same-sex sexual activity is sin based finally on solid biblical exegesis? Or is it really based on the fact that you don’t understand how someone could be attracted to the same sex, and this unknown seems to you just plain creepy?
  • Is your opposition to same-sex marriage based on a principled biblical definition of marriage? Or is it more influenced by a fear that same-sex couples might signal the unraveling of comfortable cultural norms and usher in the end of a once-pristine “Judeo-Christian society”? Or maybe your fear is more that one such couple might move in next door, and you might actually be pressured to befriend them?
  • Does your opposition to homosexual practice include the ability to lovingly welcome LGBT people into a Sunday service or other gathering with other Christians? Or does opposition for you mean that you wish they would just stay away so you aren’t made uncomfortable by their very presence?
  • In standing for Christian sexual ethics, do you encourage and support those SSA believers within the church who are striving to remain faithful to biblical teaching by welcoming them into full participation in church life? Or does standing for biblical sexuality mean that they can come to church, but they can’t grow in influence or serve the body through teaching, and they should probably stay away from the youth group?

Biblical exegesis is a wonderful underpinning for belief, and love is a worthy motive for action. Fear is a horrible reason for both.

It would do us well to humbly examine our hearts to reveal the motives and fears behind our attitudes toward people who identify as “gay.” Happily upholding Christian sexual ethics is not the same as harboring animosity toward an entire group of people simply because you find them yucky.

Love, Not Fear

Instead, Christians — of all people on the planet — must operate not out of fear, but love. We recognize that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and are therefore sacred and worthy of love.

Furthermore, we are called to love with the very love of our Father (Matthew 5:48), which calls us to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44–48). Such love casts out fear because it no longer fears God’s judgment and therefore is freed to love with lavishness (1 John 4:18).

Therefore, our comfort, our convenience, our safety, or our perception of our country’s values are no longer valid reasons to operate in any way that is opposed to genuine biblical love. And we love this way because this is exactly how Jesus first loved us (1 John 4:19). He wasn’t threatened or repelled by us; he wasn’t afraid to enter a relationship with us, sinners that we were (and still are), and to even graciously speak the truth about our sin. Instead, he loved us so lavishly that he died for us to present us clean and whole before his Father (Romans 5:6–8).

When we love in this manner, we expose homophobia for what it really is: pride. It is an attitude that puts beneath us others whose sins and temptations we deem “more depraved” than our own, as we wickedly proclaim with the Pharisee, “Well, at least I don’t struggle with that” (Luke 18:11).

The truth is that sin is sin, temptation is temptation, and “men who have sex with men” is listed right alongside greed, drunkenness, deception, and slander as worthy of exclusion from the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). All equally damnable. Who among us is innocent?

So let us examine our hearts, identify attitudes of fear and the roots of pride, wherever they exist, and put to death ungodly prejudices that ultimately hinder the truth. In our quest for biblical fidelity, we must not only uphold the truth, but do so in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Biblical love requires that we speak the truth. And when we speak out of homophobia, rather than in love, it is we who are in the wrong.


 

So, in conclusion I want to share 3 thoughts:

  1. We, myself included, need to regularly check our hearts for a pride and arrogance that communicates that we have in some way earned God’s favor and those who struggle in ways different than us are still dirty.  Of all the things God clearly names as hating – pride and arrogance are #1 on the list.
  2. I think the church needs to actively communicate love and care for those who identify with same sex attractions.  We should do this not because they are so in need of help, but because they are people, and people matter!  Every story matters.
  3. I hope that you have friends who identify with same sex attraction.  If you don’t, you probably do but they just haven’t felt comfortable being honest around you because of fear of your response.  Maybe that should change.

 

Homophobia Has No Place in the Church

Questions From James 5:13-16

This past week we walked through James 5:13-16 which talks about prayer in the life of a Christ-follower throughout different circumstances.  James main idea is that prayer is the key to power and effectiveness in our lives.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. – James 5:16

There are several very difficult questions that arise from this text and I’ve interacted with a few of you on at least three of them, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on these questions.  I’ve done so on the following video…you know if you’re more of a “watch a video” kind of person than a “read a blog” kind of person.

3 difficult questions from the text:

  1. Is sickness caused by sin?
    1. There was a common belief in the 1st Century that sickness was the product of sin. John 9:1-2 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
    2. However, Jesus’ reaction shows that from God’s reaction this is not always an accurate belief.  See John 9 to catch the rest of the story.
    3. Some illnesses may be divine corrective chastisement for a failure to deal with known sin in our lives (1 Corinthians 11:30-32) and others may simple be for God’s glory and our spiritual productivity. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10God is more concerned with our fruitfulness than our bodily comfort. 
    4. So, when we become sick with a debilitating illness – we should first examine our hearts. Otherwise we should commit our way to the Lord and recognize that much of sickness is an opportunity to suffer well and trust God.
  2. Can we heal people today?
    1. First, James goes a great distance to make sure that we realize that it is God who accomplishes any healing.
    2. Second, God does not always heal the sick – Paul did not receive healing in answer to his prayers (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). At times God uses the sickness for greater purposes than we immediately see.
    3. Therefore an imbalanced focus on healing may prevent a believer from involvement in the purpose that God intended.
    4. But we can seemingly pray for and trust God to heal if He see’s fit – however the ability to heal resides with God.
  3. What is James saying about confession?

James talks about confessing our sins – “Therefore confess yours sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)  While many different faith traditions utilize some form of confession, James seems to be talking about simply confessing to those closest to us.  Is that correct?  Should we confess our sins to those closest to us or should we confess now to a “priest” or someone who can mediate between us and God?  I will only leave you two thoughts on this.

First, James seems to calling us to confess our sins to those who we have either sinned against or to those who know us best.  This truly seems to help provide the best accountability and life change.  That is exactly what we are looking for.

Second, we no longer have the need for priests to mediate the way between God and man because Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice provided open access for all to approach God through the blood of Christ.  This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us that we can boldly approach God’s throne – in prayer.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16

These three questions that arise from a difficult text are very important questions.  But remember, the Bible is not just for our information but for our transformation, so let me leave you with 2 questions:

  1. How can you use this information to improve your interaction with God through prayer?
  2. Is there anything that you need to confess in order to grow in your walk with God?

 

Questions From James 5:13-16

Our God Is Great – We Should Risk! (An open letter to my staff)

Just a year ago I was speaking at our leadership retreat and one of the common thoughts that had been on my heart was the words of Jesus in John:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12

Over the past year we have seen God do some pretty amazing and great things.  Two adult baptisms in the past two weeks.  Two more possibly in the next 4 weeks!  The start of 2 new ministries that we had been dreaming about for years: Small Wonders and the Middle School Ministry (which needs a cool name by the way :-))  All of that and so much more has been accomplished in a year!

Yet still, I find fear creeping into my heart!  Fear about the future, fear about myself and my abilities, fear about finances, fear about those who leave!  All of these creep in and rob me of the POWER and JOY found in resting in God.  Today I was reminded by one of our staff members and by a very simple song that our future and our ability to see changed lives – more and better – is held in the strong hand of our mighty God!  So, I share this with you in a very transparent way because I know that I am at times gripped by fear and I don’t want to be anymore.  I truly believe that God is and will use us to do even greater things, regardless of what we do or don’t have and regardless of what others think or say.

Thank you for giving your lives for more and better followers of Jesus.  Let’s keep risking together!  Risking our time, money, and whatever else God would allow us to risk for His glory and more and better followers of Christ.

Aaron

P.S.  The song that was impacting me is called: Every Giant Will Fall by rend collective.  Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXLMw13adQ8

 

Our God Is Great – We Should Risk! (An open letter to my staff)

Israel – Day 6 (Part 1)

This is the continuation of a series that I wrote while in Israel.

This morning I had the privilege of waking for the first time in the city that God chose.  My hotel was about a 20 minute walk away from the sites of the most important historical events of all time.  Abraham on Mount Moriah – where God commanded him to offer up his one and only promised son.  Solomon building the Temple as a place of sacrifice for sins and worship of God.  Finally, the fulfillment of it all: Jesus Christ being offered up as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the whole world.”  Let me show you just a little of what we were able to see.  I will be dividing our days in Jerusalem into parts because there was so much to take in and I could write for days on this city.

Church of the Holy Sepulcre – We started the day by visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcre.  This location is the sight of an amazing church controlled by six different groups, but primarily the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox.  The very interesting thing is that two Muslim families are the “keeper of the keys” and they open the church every morning at 4:30 am and close it at 7 pm.

Slide14

This church was built in the 4th Century when Constantine’s mother Helena traveled to Jerusalem after Constantine had declared Christianity a legal religion in the Roman empire.  When she arrived in Jerusalem she asked where Jesus was crucified and buried.  Many in Jerusalem apparently pointed her to this particular site where a temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite had been built in the 2nd Century by Hadrian, the Roman Emperor.  After destroying the temple, Helena supposedly found 3 crosses in a pile of trash, many feet down.  While I’m not sure that this particular piece of information proves this to be the location of the crucifixion of Christ, I do believe that the testimony of many pointing to this location serves us well.

Today, the Church of the Holy Sepulcre is two churches connected together housing what is believed to be the sight of crucifixion and the burial/resurrection of Christ.  For this reason the church is also called the Church of the Anastasis (resurrection).  Side note: this is why I’ve named my daughter Anastacia – in reference to my hope being in the resurrection!

Hezekiah’s Tunnel – Hezekiah was a great king and greatly used by God.  The writer of 2 Kings says this about him:

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. – 2 Kings 18:5

I want to encourage you to take the time to read in 2 Kings 18 and 19 about Hezekiah and his faith combined with wisdom.  These chapters account for us the attacks that Sennacherib, the King of Assyria carried out against Judah and specifically Jerusalem.  Sennacherib and his men directly attack God and his ability to defend His people and Hezekiah stood strong by trusting God and acting with wisdom.  Hezekiah did two amazing things: He built a wall 23 feet thick and it was used to finish enclosing the Old City in order to defend them from attack.  Hezekiah is also known for his wisdom in defending the city by enclosing their water supply and digging a tunnel nearly 1/4 of a mile through rock so that the city would not run out of water under siege.  This is the tunnel that we were able to walk through, and today it still runs with water all the way down to the pool of Siloam.  Hezekiah’s men used chisels and hammers and worked from both ends.  Tradition tells us that when they finally met in the middle two chisels hit each other!  This tunnel stretches 1720 feet long and even today it is an amazing feat of architecture.

By the way, in the end God completely delivered Hezekiah and Jerusalem.  In 2 Kings 19:35-36 we read this:

That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.

Hezekiah’s life is an incredible reminder that trusting God is imperative but wisdom is absolutely important in the midst of trusting God.  We trust and act with wisdom.

In the coming days I will share more of our 6th day in Jerusalem.  The following will contain information and pictures from Caiaphas’ house (the High Priest during Jesus’ trial), Gethsemane and even details from the Fortress Antonia – which is today know as the sight of Jesus’ trial before Pilate.  I can’t wait to share.

 

Israel – Day 6 (Part 1)