A House of Prayer

Jesus said that My House shall be called a House of Prayer (Matthew 21:13).  Every morning at The River (6:30a), we pray for revival and the outpouring of His Spirit.  God meets with us each morning and anoints us with Fresh Oil from Heaven.  Everyone is invited, even if you can only stay for 10-15 minutes.  It makes a difference!

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How Big Is Your Faith?

Mark 9:23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

The Word of God tells us that if we believe that all things are possible.  God’s people get easily conditioned to unbelief and low expectations.  God sent me to Safford, Arizona to build a church for His glory.  I’m not concerned about who has tried and failed in the past.  I appreciate the well meaning folks who feel led to give me advice on not expecting too much.  Thank you for letting me know that you have no faith.  That information will come in handy if I need a miracle from God.  No sense wasting my time with those who can’t believe God for the impossible.  Others tell me that we have a church on almost every corner.  They usually say it in an apologetic tone.  Would you rather have a tavern on every corner?  Praise God for what He is doing in those churches.  Let’s pray for them that the Spirit of God will be poured out!  And, of course, I often get pulled aside and told that so-and-so (who is coming to The River) is a “church hopper” and they will be gone soon so don’t rely on them.  Instead, I choose to believe the best about people and if they drop out it won’t be because they didn’t have the opportunity to grow.  Some of those people will live up (or down) to their reputation, but others will get a hold of the Word and change.  But change is not possible if we hang our head in unbelief and keep our expectations low.  When we do that, we become a self-fulfilling prophesy of defeat.

Now let’s turn the subject to me.  Some may say that I’m just green and have zeal without experience… soon reality will set in for me.  Actually, I have about 17 years experience as a pastor and my faith and expectations are higher than they have ever been in my entire ministry.  Others may conclude that I simply have not been in the Safford area long enough… soon I’ll see how it really is.  You think?  Well, maybe you have been here too long!  You have allowed the unbelief of those around you to bring you down and you now expect next to nothing from God.  The things that I see here in Safford, I have seen everywhere I have pastored.  Some things are a little better and some are a little worse.  God’s Word tells us to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

The River is going to be a multi-cultural and multi-generational church that is on fire for God.  We are going to experience an outpouring of God’s Spirit that will cause people to drive from all over the region and beyond to be part of our meetings.  The River is going to take back some of the ground that has been stolen by the enemy with the demonic stronghold of Mormonism.  The River is going to be a full-time Training Center for those who are called into ministry, whether full-time or the ministry of helps.  Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers will operate in their gifting at The River.  We will plant other churches in our region and beyond.  The River is going to grow by reaching the non-believers and the unchurched.  There are almost 50,000 people living in the metropolitan area of Safford and we will have at least 1% of those people at The River.  Our influence will not just be local, but world-wide through world missions, books, internet, television, etc.  Already, people from over 60 nations have read material from this website.

Am I foolish enough to believe what I just typed?  Absolutely!  In fact, God is going to exceed my expectations according to Ephesians 3:20:

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us

The question is, are you going to continue to be conditioned with negativity and unbelief or are you going to get on board with God and believe that nothing is impossible?

From The Pastor’s Heart

Every few weeks, I like to share my heart about the ministry of The River.  Often, in this consumer-oriented world that we live in, we start treating the church the same way that we do a restaurant or business.  If something isn’t to our liking we just don’t go back.  For those believers who are interested in the will of God, it doesn’t work that way!  If God sent you to a church and He planted you there, it wasn’t because He made sure ahead of time that they would only sing your favorite songs.  Do you remember the church in the wilderness?  They had God’s direct guidance – a cloud by day and a fire by night.  They had bread from heaven every day.  But do you know where their focus was?  On what they didn’t like!

Numbers 11: Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp. 2 Then the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the Lord, the fire was quenched. 3 So he called the name of the place Taberah, because the fire of the Lord had burned among them.

4 Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!”

Their focus should have been on the great deliverance that God gave them and the promises of a land that flowed with milk and honey.  But that generation died in the wilderness because of their unthankful, complaining attitude.  I Corinthians 10:10 tells us to not be complainers like the children of Israel.

As The River grows, all different types of ministries are emerging.  Praise & Worship ministry and Children’s ministry are growing.  Unfortunately, along with that comes growing pains.  You simply cannot please everyone.  Using the Praise and Worship as an example, we recently were blessed to have live music in the services.  God sent us a young man who loves the Lord and wants to use his talents to glorify God.  He is very talented, but more importantly, he has a humble spirit.  I have been busy being thankful to God for blessing us with this music ministry and I haven’t paid as much attention to the technical aspects with the sound system.  It was brought to my attention that it is a little loud.  I was receptive of that feedback and am trying to get the sound adjusted, which is a challenge with the acoustics of our building.  But if I ask five people about it, I get five different answers.  So I have ordered a decibel meter and will approach the problem a little more scientifically to get it corrected.

Bringing it to my attention is the right approach.  Complaining about it within the body is the wrong approach.  When someone does that, they become part of the problem and not part of the solution.  If we are going to be a New Testament church at The River, we are going to have to do things the right way and not be consumer-minded Christians.  I want feedback on these types of things.  On our guest cards, we ask what can The River do better because we want to always be improving and to have a ministry of excellence.

As we grow, we will continue to have growing pains, but let’s not let these challenges get us into discord.  That is the enemies’ tactic to prevent a great move of God.  As the shepherd over this flock, I refuse to allow that type of behavior doom us to the wilderness.  No one is being defensive and drawing lines in the sand about these types of things.  Let’s work together and make things the best that they can be.  If you have ideas or suggestions, let’s sit down and talk about them.  You may be right and I may have missed it.  None of us are as smart as all of us.  But let’s get the mind of God in how we approach these situations and seek the Lord together.

Five Things to Guard Your Heart From While Online

The Word of God tells us to “guard your heart with all diligence.”  In real life there are very different signals to watch for when it comes to protecting our hearts.  We all have what we call our “personal space.”  We immediately get uncomfortable upon invasion.  However, when online there is a greater tendency to let our guards down.  After all, we can just click the X button if we think it’s gone too far, right?  If it were that easy.  Just one picture… just one flirtatious text… Below are 5 areas to guard your heart from while online.  You may think that none of them apply to you, but my inclination is that each and every one of us are subject to these forces every time we go online.  The time to guard your heart is prior to entry of one of them.  After one or more has gained entrance, a different teaching is needed – one of deliverance.

1. Pornography: What else could come at the top of this list?  Pornography is prevalent within the church, and unfortunately, many of its leaders have also fallen prey.  Proverbs 7:26 says, “For she has cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her.”  Pornography will destroy your spiritual life and your marriage.  My mentor, Lester Sumrall, used to say that “sin will take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you were willing to pay.  These words of admonishment are no truer than as it relates to pornography.  Pornography is very addictive.  The addictive aspect of pornography has a biological substrate, with dopamine hormone release acting as one of the mechanisms for forming the transmission pathway to pleasure centers of the brain.

In the Family Research Counsel’s report on pornography it is noted that men are six times more likely to view pornography than women.  However, the study also identified that women were more inclined to engage in chat of a sexual nature.  Jesus said that if your right eye causes you to sin then pluck it out! (Matthew 5:29).  In other words, get rid of whatever is causing you to sin.  If you can’t get on the internet without being tempted to view pornography then stop going on the internet.

2. Emotional Affairs: This is where the enemy is subtle in his attack.  A married person starts finding emotional fulfillment through online relationships with the opposite sex.  It may seem harmless at first; after all, it’s just talk or chat, right?  That may be where it starts, but it too often ends with wrecked lives.  Consider these remarks from the Relationship Institute:

Is your marriage actually in danger the moment you start investing time in a relationship with any man who isn’t your husband.  Yes, according to the Relationship Institute, which says that an emotional connection is much more dangerous than a physical one.

‘Some argue that an emotional affair is harmless,’ says a spokesman, ‘because it is more of a casual relationship than traditional cheating.  ‘However, the intimate nature of the communication, in addition to the emotional investment made by the people involved, places an emotional affair on the same level — or worse — as traditional cheating.’

There are a million ways to justify it, but if it was pure there would be no need to rationalize the need.  There’s nothing wrong with interacting with the opposite sex online, in a wholesome manner.  But when it starts extending to frequent emails and text messages, sharing innermost thoughts and feelings, it is sin.  You are taking something away from your spouse, intimacy, and giving it to another man or woman.  You may say, it’s just friendship, and that may be the case for you, but not so for the other person you are leading along.  If you find yourself going down this trail, put a stop to it.  Jesus clearly told us in Matthew 5:28 that adultery was a matter of the heart, not just the body.  Intimacy with the opposite sex, physical and/or emotional, is to be limited to the marriage relationship.

3. Foolish Talking: It is easy to create a different persona online than you are in real life.  After all, you can be a tough guy, even if you do weigh 132 pounds, or a Casanova, even if you don’t have any front teeth.  A little role play may not be terrible.  However, when a Christian begins to carry on like the world with filthy talking, hiding behind an anonymous user name, it is sin and it is displeasing to the Lord.  Ephesians 5:3-4 says, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints;neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

Guard your heart against departmentalizing your life.  In other words, having one personality at work, another at home, another online, another at church, etc.  The Word of God tells us that we are ambassadors of Christ (II Corinthians 5:20).  That means we are called to represent Him at all times.

4. Addiction: The internet can be a valuable tool as well as a source of entertainment, neither of which are wrong.  However, when a Christian spends inordinate amounts of time online, escaping from family, friends and real world activities then the internet has become an idol that needs to be torn down.  The same is true if one is consumed with watching television or reading romance novels endlessly.  Scripture teaches us that all things should be done in moderation.  At one time I was addicted to watching football.  It didn’t matter who was playing, or on what level.  I had to watch every NFL and College game being aired on television.  I would record the ones on at the same time and watch them later.  If my favorite team lost, I think it hurt me more than the actual players.  God dealt with me about this idol in my life and I no longer have that addiction.  Sure, I still enjoy watching the Steelers play, but I don’t feel crushed when they lose and I only watch about 10% of the games I used to watch.  I no longer feel like I’m missing something if I didn’t watch a game.  Do you feel like you are missing something if you can’t get online?

Romans chapter 6 tells us that whatever we yield ourselves to we become its slave to obey.  Instead, we should be slaves to God.  Is there anything in your life that you could not walk away from if the Lord put His finger on it?  If so, it is an idol, an addiction.  Ephesians 5:16 tells us to “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”  Ultimately, where we invest the majority of our free time is what is most important to us, by default.  If you don’t think so, just ask those around you.

5. Being a Stumbling Block: I Corinthians 8:9 tells us that it’s not all about ourselves.  Imagine that!  But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. God holds us accountable for our brothers and sisters.  Paul also wrote in Romans 14:13, “not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”

How can we be a stumbling block online?  There are several ways.  One way is to provoke another to anger intentionally.  After a while, we learn the hot buttons of those in our online communities and it is easy to set them off.  I have been guilty of this and I have asked God to help me in this area.  Another way is to engage in what some would consider “harmless” flirting, with sexual innuendo.  We talked about this in point number 3.  Of course, the most thought of way of being a stumbling block is with pictures.  And as noted in point number 1, men are six times more likely to stumble in this area than women.  Pictures should not be posted online that are of a sensual or seductive nature.  Fitness related pictures in good taste are one thing, but how can God be pleased with Christian women posting pictures wearing revealing lingerie in seductive poses?  I Timothy 2:9 says, “that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation.” Our need for attention should not be the cause of stumbling for someone else.  As Christians, before we take any action, we should ask ourselves, “How does this affect those around me?”  This is a central message of the gospel and to think that our liberty allows us to do as we choose is a deceptive lie.

In conclusion, I am thankful for the internet.  It allows me to communicate teachings from the Word of God, to get to know people from all over the world.  It also provides a relaxation for me when I just want to hang out in an online community for a while.  But I need to guard my heart because Satan walks about as a roaring lion seeking those whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8).

The Greatest Commandment

The Greatest Commandment

One day, the Pharisees decided to test Jesus by asking Him which was the greatest commandment in the law.

Matthew 22:

34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37 Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment.”

Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the true essence of worship.  The Pharisees understood religion, but Jesus was speaking to them about the language of the heart.  God wants His people to express this kind of love for Him… to love the Lord with our entire being.

People often question what is the greatest sin?  Is it murder?  The love of money?  Blasphemy?  In fact, it is none of these things.  If the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, then by consequence, the greatest sin would be the failure to do so.

The Greatest Sin = The Failure to Love the Lord with All Your Heart, Soul & Mind

Jesus went on to say, “And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is important to note that Jesus places this act of love for our fellow man second, after loving the Lord your God.  It is clear that if we get our vertical relationship right that our horizontal ones will fall into alignment.

First get the Vertical Relationship right and the Horizontal ones will come into alignment

But what does it really mean to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind?  How can we do this and in what way do we demonstrate this love for Him?  There are many man-made rules that religion has created over the centuries.  Religion would have you to believe that if you keep these traditions of men then your requirement is fulfilled.  However, Jesus was talking about the heart, that place that only God can touch, where true worship comes from.  Listen to what Jesus said to the religious leaders of His day:

Matthew 15

8 These people draw near to Me with their mouth,

And honor Me with their lips,

But their heart is far from Me.

9 And in vain they worship Me,

Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Jesus referred to this as vain worship.  There was an outward show, but their hearts were far from God.  When Jesus was having the conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, she wanted to focus the discussion on the external components of “worship,” such as where we should do it.  But Jesus brought her back to the meaning of true worship.

John 4

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus said that true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.  Religion always has a counterfeit to the things of God.  These counterfeits never require the consecration of the heart, but instead focus on outward things.  The counterfeit or substitute for spirit is emotion and the counterfeit for truth is tradition.

True Worship = Spirit & Truth

Counterfeit Worship = Emotion & Tradition

It is an easy trap to get caught up in, responding emotionally to the music and lifting hands because that is what we are “supposed to do.”  How many times do we come to God’s house and go through the motions of worship when our hearts are far from Him?  Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the Father is seeking true worshippers.  He is not seeking prayer warriors, witnesses, preachers or organists. All of these things are good and needed.  But in the New Testament, God is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and truth.

List of things God is seeking

1.  True worshippers