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While We Slept

A wake-up call to the church on the anniversary of Sept. 11.

The memo was stamped July 10, 2001, and sent to FBI headquarters from Kenneth Williams, a well-respected agent who was part of the bureau's antiterrorism task force. The classified document warned of a pattern the agent had noticed of Middle Eastern men signing up for lessons at U.S. flight schools. Williams recommended an investigation, speculating that al Qaeda could be using these men in some sort of twisted terrorist plot.

The agent had no idea how soon his dark premonition would be realized. Two months later--almost to the day--his intuition proved right, as Americans recoiled in horror at one of the worst nightmares ever to take place on U.S. soil. It was Sept. 11, 2001--one year ago this month.

But as alert as Williams had been to the clues leading up to the attacks, the FBI, it seemed, had been fast asleep. The memo was ignored. America basked in her dreamland, enjoying the illusory lull of false security. And while we were sleeping, the enemy caught us off guard. We dozed; terrorists formulated a scheme. We snored; they sent coded messages; we hit snooze; they boarded planes.

We were finally forced out of our slumber when American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 a.m. It was a jolting call back to the reality of the times in which we live. We were only just beginning to realize the scope of what had been going on right under our noses all along, while we were sleeping.

In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we read of the sons of Issachar in David's army, "who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" (NKJV). Like Agent Williams, they could read the signs and follow the clues. They could propose an effective strategy. They weren't oblivious to what was going on around them. And they wouldn't be caught dead sleeping while they were supposed to be on watch.

But sometimes I wonder about the church. It seems some things escape our attention as we slumber in a cocoon of self-centered unreality. We somehow miss the fact that our message has become too much about us and not enough about Him and His power. Meanwhile the enemy concocts his schemes, millions go to hell, even believers fall into heresy and don't walk in victory, and a postmodern society marches on without the bearers of truth understanding what it is really going to take to reach this generation.

Memo to the church: We can keep ignoring the signs, or we can wake up from our slumber before it is too late.

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Why We Must Grow

Are evangelism efforts keeping pace with the worldwide population explosion?

With a sarcastic and somewhat jealous tone, my pastoral colleague grumbled, "This city doesn't need another church!" Often in the last 30 years I've heard a resident pastor complain about a new church plant in his or her area. The fear and concern behind such complaints arise from the fact that too much of modern church growth comes from membership transfer, not unbeliever conversion.

But the truth is that we need more intense evangelism from current churches, and more church plants in the United States and worldwide to keep pace with population growth. Consider these facts from the 2000 U.S. Census:

The U.S. population has grown 13.2 percent since 1990, reaching 281,421,906.

Nevada led the growth by 66.3 percent. Four other states (Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Georgia) more than doubled the U.S. growth rate.

According to the U.N. Population Fund, by Oct. 12, 1999, world population passed 6 billion. Other facts:

70 million people will be added annually to the world population in the next 15 years.

Of the world's 6 billion people, 1.04 billion are between the ages of 15 and 24.

Today's generation of young people making choices on family size will decide how fast the world grows. Experts project we could reach more than 10 billion by 2050.

Need more church plants? You bet. Need faster growing existing churches? Of course. The standard "rule of thumb" still holds: If a church doesn't grow annually by more than a tithe, it is slowly dying.

So what do we do with booming population growth? Pray, covert, disciple, equip and send them to reach others for Christ. We need healthy churches growing numerically and spiritually.

Recently I found myself privileged to teach and worship in Singapore. Church plants and growth are exploding there. In one Singapore congregation, more than 300 people are converted each week and 50 to 60 cells start monthly. In Nepal, one woman missionary has planted more than 40 churches in just 25 years.

Jesus' words are still true: "'The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest'" (Matt. 9:37, NKJV). Pray, evangelize, convert, disciple, equip and grow! We must continue this cycle until Jesus returns. No other option exists.

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The Great Giveaway

We must discern between market manipulation and ministry.

Quite frankly, I was bothered and self-righteously angered when I first saw it! A car sat in front of a local church with a banner underneath reading, "The Great New Year's Eve Giveaway." At their 1999 New Year's Eve service, the church would give away that new car.

"Hasn't the great giveaway already happened--the gift of God's Son Jesus?" I wondered.

Indignant, I spoke to fellow pastors about this sacrilege. We just knew that enticing people to come to church with such materialistic bait surely violated the ethics of God's kingdom. Or so it seemed to us.

Then the Holy Spirit reminded me that I had used "gospel dollars" to reward children in Sunday school for bringing their Bibles, memorizing verses and inviting a lost friend to church.

I began to ponder some of the more crass commercials for getting folks to come to church. Then I mused over the "Christian" product pitches and infomercials I encounter regularly on both secular and Christian television and radio.

Have you as a pastor ever had to draw the line in your congregation? Have you ever vetoed a fund-raiser or forbidden a rummage sale? What's an appropriate fund-raiser for ministry or "hook" for reaching the lost? Does Paul's "being all things to all men" extend to some of our contemporary schemes?

We rationalize that ultimately all we do to raise money is to reach the lost for Christ, but is it?

Where do we draw the line? Just a few simple questions might help us discern between evangelism or ministry-and-market manipulation of the gospel.

Is the outreach tool lifting up Jesus? (see John 12:32)

Does the fund-raiser serve God or money? (see Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13)

Will others glorify God or man when they see what we are doing, broadcasting or marketing? (see Matt. 5:16)

Could our church's or ministry's technique(s) be a stumbling block for others? (see 1 Cor. 8:9)

We must be careful not to judge others. However, we must also discern the line between righteousness and wrongfulness. If the church doesn't act with impeccable ethics in the world, then the world will be quick to see the hypocrisy in our ways. More important, Christ does judge our words and actions (see 2 Cor. 5:10). Hence, this must be our motivation in all our outreach and fund-raising: "Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him" (2 Cor. 5:9, NKJV, emphasis added).

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