The Power of an Hour

According to Christianity Today, 85% of churches are dying. That statistic was given before COVID. Imagine after COVID! We won’t know the full impact of this season for some time but we can see it unfolding before our eyes.

I’ve said it before, “I LOVE THE LOCAL CHURCH.” Yes, all of them (that preach the Word of God). It takes many kinds of churches to reach many kinds of people!

Unfortunately, many churches continue to remain closed or hold services outside or not at all. And frankly, according to national surveys many churches will simply not reopen whenever they may be “allowed” to.

I was talking to a pastor friend of mine (whom I had encouraged to open when we did in June) who, 14 years ago, started his church. He shut down his church as Covid hit and has not reopened. During these past 9 months of closure, he’d been calling some members to see how they were doing and found out most of them have been going to churches that are OPEN! He has just made the difficult decision to close down his church permanently. This is a very common story across the spectrum of churches in the United States.

One thing we know God hasn’t said is, “Church, sit back, relax, wait for this Covid thing to pass, don’t worry about my mandate to meet together, (Hebrews 10:25) just wait until your Governor says it’s OK to meet again. People can go to Hell while you wait for permission to obey my instructions.”  So how can the church actually grow during this season? We have to remember the power of an hour together on Sunday! 

During these unprecedented times, we need to be MORE loving! We need to be MORE courageous as Churches. Learning to love and accept people where they are is how we will grow Christ’s church. People need hope. And, let me tell you, people are looking for churches who will follow God over Government. We cannot forget the power of an hour together on Sunday!

During this Covid season, 199 people have taken the step of outward obedience to Christ and have been baptized at Skyline Church. 

While I continue to receive hate mail, phone calls, and text messages from pastors and their staff whose churches are closed or meeting minimally, I can tell you, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s sad, but when lives are being changed during a season like this, keep the hate mail and calls and texts coming. It’s only affirmation that they may be feeling a sense of conviction from the Lord and perhaps they’ve forgotten the power of an hour together on Sunday.

They’re not going to get me to do what they’re doing, which is, in my opinion essentially hiding. I want them to open fully and do what we’re doing because, as I’ve said before , we all benefit when all churches are open. The kingdom grows when we’re all in it together. 

One pastor told me, “We’re watching you guys, letting you take the hits from the county, you’re the tip of the spear we want to see what happens to you.” Well, bro, we’ve been fully open for six months and I can tell you that what is happening is lives are being changed. 

People need their church to be fully open! Suicides and mental health issues continue to rise. We need to help people. An open church helps people. An online or even outdoor service has minimal to NO effect. I’m not saying if you’re having outdoor services that it’s useless, it’s just not helping as much as some churches may think. It’s a constant reminder to people that things are crazy. People need a sense of calm and even an hour to escape. When they sit outdoors week after week, it’s a reminder of how depressing things are. And this weekend there’s a 90% chance of rain in San Diego. What are you going to do, shut down the church because of rain?  Don’t underestimate the power of an hour together on Sunday. Go ALL IN.

People need some sense of normalcy even if it’s just an hour on Sunday INSIDE their church building.  The church should be leading, especially in these moments. 

While some churches sit back and wait for their marching orders from “NebuchaNewsome,” we will continue to storm the gates of Hell! THAT gets me fired up! Think about it. Every single one of those 199 people who were baptized experienced Jesus and made a decision not only follow Him, but to announce it when they weren’t supposed to according to the Governor!

Along with that, we’ve had 1,337 decisions for Christ and Commitments to join the church! All during a time when we should be shut down due to a supposed virus that has a survival rate of 99.998%! Are you picking up what I’m putting down? The flu kills more people year in and year out. You’re more likely to die from a lightening strike than Covid. I could go on and on.

Every one of those people who made a decision for Christ has a story that matters to God. We say it all the time, “Every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story matters to God.”

We want them to know that their story matters to us too. And as a church we want to love people BEFORE they make a decision for Christ. Just like you and I, newcomers are NOT perfect. They have fears and concerns and hang ups and habits and need the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.  When churches are open, they are more likely to receive this love and power. Don’t underestimate the power of an hour together on Sunday!

I can’t imagine missing out on these life-change stories had we listened to the Governmental mandates to not hold services. If you’re a church leader who happens to be reading this, don’t you see how this is the devil’s perfect plan? To have you not hold services, not impact people, not have salvations and baptisms, not give the Word of God in the House of God? 

Remember, Scripture tells us that we are not unaware of the devil’s schemes. He’s always operated with the same game plan. Page one of his playbook has always been to divide and conquer, isolate people, give them a sense of hopelessness, make them feel lonely and depressed, then he can really go to work.  Think about it, if he can get the church to stay closed, his job is so much easier. And, just look at the statistics, he is really going to work on people. 

When we get to Heaven, I’m convinced God is not going to say, “Did you obey your Governor during the 9+ month lockdown while people committed suicide and fell into relapse of drug and alcohol abuse?” Or might He say, “Did you have the courage to continue to follow me and focus on reaching the lost, helping the hurting, and giving people hope during a hopeless time?”  

It has always taken courage to be a pastor, but perhaps never more than in these days and times. Don’t underestimate the power of an hour together on Sunday. 

As we hear about churches shutting down, remaining closed, and struggling to survive during this time of COVID, we grieve the continued lack of understanding of the importance of being FULLY open as a church, regardless of what the Governor might say. 

There are a couple of things that are certain. Churches will not grow if they remain closed during Covid. But, churches may indeed experience growth if they decide to walk in obedience and courage and be fully open. Don’t underestimate the power of an hour together on Sunday!

MODEL

What does it look like to have a model faith? I’m not talking about a perfect faith. The faith journey is never one of perfection, but it should be one of progress. I’m talking about a way to practically model faith. Can you envision it?

My vision of a model faith is like a North Star. It doesn’t mean you’re there already, but it means there’s something that guides us and it’s something to look towards. I’ve told you this before, I’m a goal setter. I have about 10 categories for all the goals I’m setting out to accomplish … to be a better husband, dad, pastor, golfer (sometimes it’s more wishful thinking) but … it’s a very long list. Will I achieve them all? I certainly hope so!
By definition, a vision is: The future state of what you want to accomplish over time.

As a church we have a very clear vision. We’ve talked about it regularly all year long. Our vision is to become a model church in serving, caring, loving, and reaching our community in producing Champions for Christ. At the beginning of 2020, I asked God for a word of the year for our church. I wish I could say it was … COVID, Slam Diego, or something prophetic … but no, I didn’t know what 2020 would bring. The word God gave me was “model.” I want us to be a model church. A church that others come to with questions on how to bring the Gospel to more people!  We often ask, “What would the model church do in this situation?” It guides us like a North Star. 

Throughout the pandemic, we haven’t lost sight of our North Star. In fact, we have studied the COVID virus to ensure the safety of our community, we’ve connected with our people in a daily devotional called Today Matters, worshipped in person and online, served and blessed our first responders, held prayer meetings to pray for our governmental leaders, cleaned up various areas in our community, seen over 600 people make decisions to follow Christ, and even sent out a new church plant. All of this during a season where churches chose to close and remain closed for 8 months now. God doesn’t stop the kingdom advancing when the world decides to stop. 

We reopened in person services in June and found a way to continue sharing the gospel with those looking for hope! We are very thankful to the Lord that Skyline Church has thrived and set an example of what it looks like to both love and serve our community during extremely trying times. This group of Skyline pastors and staff is truly amazing. I am so grateful to be a part of this team. 

Now, let’s bring this home. How do we individually live out a model faith day in and day out in front of those 8-15 people we commonly connect with (even during this time) the New Testament calls our Oikos? The place we’ve got to turn to is, Hebrews 11. Here, God walks through examples of what a model faith looks like. Let’s look at three.

Right away in the first verse of Hebrews 11, it tells us exactly what faith is. “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead” (Hebrews 11:1). People often say things like, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” But the first thing we have to do in order to have a model faith, is to believe it when we don’t see it.

The second thing we have to do in order to have a model faith, is to obey when it doesn’t make sense. In Hebrews 11:7, we read about Noah building an ark to save his family from a worldwide flood. The funny thing about Noah building the ark and preparing for a downpour was that it had never rained before. Or what about Abraham in Hebrews 11:8? He was called to move, leave his country, and go to a foreign land. Some of you may be thinking, that’s not so bad. But let’s remember, at the time, Abraham was 75 years old! 

So often, we want a guarantee before we move. But God wants to stretch our faith in order to grow us. Are you going to listen to God, or listen to your gut? Are you going to wait for security, or are you going to step out in faith even when you don’t understand it?

The third habit we need to exercise in order to build a model faith is to give when we don’t have it. If you’ve been a Christian very long, you know I’m not just trying to get you to empty your pockets because YOU have seen first hand how God has blessed you abundantly for giving in faith. The first example that Hebrews 11 gives is of Abel who offered a gift to God. It wasn’t how much Abel gave, it was HOW he gave. It’s never the amount, it’s always the attitude. It’s why one of our core values is You can’t out give God!

I’ll never forget one of my mentors who spoke into my life when he said, “Pastors are always afraid of talking about money because it turns people off. But you need to tell people, you need to tell business owners, the best time to give is when they are in the dumps. Tell them to give because that is when they need God the most!” 

Now, those who are well off and want to give, bless you. But, no matter who you are, you need to know that it’s not about the amount. It’s always about your heart. 

Many of you gave to Skyline Church at the end of the year last year when we talked about finishing strong in 2019. Little did we know that we’d be walking into an unprecedented season like the 2020 pandemic. Each of you that stepped out in faith and gave to the Lord through the church, have helped us keep the main thing the main thing … we’ve been able to live out our purpose of helping people find and follow Jesus seven days a week. Hundreds of people have made a decision to follow Christ and several more have found a church home when there were no churches to go to. Thank you for your faith! 

I realize this is a crazy time for so many people. But, I want to encourage you to keep going even when you don’t feel like it. Make it a goal to grow your faith in these unprecedented times. I want to encourage you to keep moving toward the North Star of a model faith by  believing when you don’t see it, obeying when it doesn’t make sense, giving when you don’t have it, and just KEEP going.

We don’t know what the elections will bring, what the holidays will bring, or even what 2021 will bring, but let’s be certain of what we hope for, with a confident assurance, that it WILL happen. 

Biblical Understanding = Lives Changed

It’s a special time in SO many ways. On one hand, there are so many churches closed and will not reopen all over the world. While this happens in a typical year it is especially true in 2020. At Skyline Church, we decided to open (after clearly understanding the virus and it’s risks) and stay open. That decision has given us the opportunity to see SO many people taking incredibly important steps of faith.

In the past few weeks, we’ve baptized 99 people and even more have made first time decisions and/or recommitted their lives to Jesus. That’s one of the main reasons we can see the importance of ministering to our community by having an open church during this time. People need hope to cope! 
Thank you for continuing to invite people! As we near the the holidays, and even the 2020 Elections, we know that more than ever people are going to be looking for hope. I want to encourage you to remember that an invite can change a life. Extend an invitation to someone to church.

 If they are more comfortable watching the service in the comfort of their own home, send a link to our service (we have been incredibly encouraged by the number of decisions from people literally all over the world who tune in online). Let them know, they are not alone. They matter to God and they matter to us!

Some of the people you may be hesitating to invite, maybe people who’ve expressed doubt and uncertainty about the Gospel in the past. Understandably so, some people get hung up on certain aspects of the Bible before understanding its full context. Whether people think the Bible is confusing, a list of religious rules, contradicting, condemning, or whatever … the truth is, God IS Love and the Bible is His gift to us. In order to truly understand God’s Word, sometimes we need to do some deeper digging. That might mean …

  1. Reading the chapters before and after the chapter you’re reading to get the bigger picture
  2. Learning some basics about the original languages of the Bible; Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic
  3. Maybe God wants us to wrestle with a concept or idea with Him so that He can give us true wisdom and understanding

Every week we do ALL of that! We love to look at the Bible as a whole and give the bird’s eye view. But we also like to dive deep and help you have a clearer understanding of God’s will which helps you understand God’s purpose for YOUR life. 

We believe that God has big plans for each and every one of us. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” Philippians 1:6. 

We also recognize that the Bible wasn’t originally written in English. We value learning the Greek going to learn some Geek and Hebrew words like “Oikos.” Aside from being a great yogurt brand, Oikos is a Greek word used in the Bible meaning “household.” When reading verses like Luke 8:39, someone was told to  return to his household and described the great things done for him.” But, someone who understands the original language would understand that “Oikos” actually means MORE than your household. In Greek, Oikos means your relational network! 

That means, tell your family, neighbors, coworkers, local barista, mechanic, carpool buddies, dentist, etc. … Some of you are imagining the last awkward conversation you had with your dentist while they poked around your mouth. Understanding the original text is incredibly important. It makes understanding God much easier. 


Maybe at some point in time, you’ve put down your Bible and walked away feeling like you didn’t understand what you just read. You may have felt offended, discouraged, or even like it was pointless. I want to encourage you to not give up, but look up, in other words pray about it! 

God wants to help you understand and will work through it with you! James 1:5 reminds us that, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” 

More than ever, people need hope to cope! I want to encourage you to invite someone in your “Oikos” to church this Sunday. Tell them about the wonderful things God has done for you! Many people have lost their jobs. Others haven’t seen family in months. And for the first time, many will experience the holidays alone. But as we continue to fix our eyes on Jesus, we can look forward with eager anticipation for what is to come! We can rest in the fact that God gave us His book to prepare us, not scare us.

Who Are The 144,000?

There’s a lot of confusion, symbolism, and even chronology in the book of Revelation. If you’ve been in church very long, you probably haven’t heard a message on this book of the Bible. It’s a difficult subject that if not approached systematically can lead to more confusion than understanding.
Over the past couple months, I’ve been going through a series on the “End Times” called, Time Out! at Skyline Church. We’ve talked about the Signs of the end of the world which can be described as “birth pains” across the earth, contracting more frequently over time with wars, disease, and natural disasters. We’ve tackled the conversation of the Rapture, the instantaneous act of God when Christians will be “caught up” to heaven without dying. Following the Rapture is the a hellish time on earth known as the Tribulation

We’ve done some deep diving on the Tribulation and looked at a man that will rise to power during the 7-year period of Hell on Earth, the Bible calls the Antichrist. We also talked about the mark he will force everyone to take in order to be able to buy and sell. It will be a universal mark to show you “care.” It will be a mark on either the right hand or the forehead that shows you “check out” ok. 

We talked about Armageddon, what it means, and where and when it will be. Then, last week we talked about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Today, I want to focus in on a mysterious group of people who are also present after the Rapture, and make a tremendous impact for Christ during the Tribulation. 

Let’s focus on this VERY important group of people. When you read the book of Revelation, you’ll come across this group (starting in Revelation 7). They will be “Billy Graham” types on evangelistic steroids! This group is called … The 144,000. God is going to use them during the Tribulation to lead (as Revelation says) COUNTLESS people to Jesus Christ! 
If you’ve heard about this group before, it was probably at your front door with a Jehovah’s Witness. They talk about The 144,000 ALL the time. However, they misuse the term. Their Bible actually looks like ours, but they have taken A LOT of scripture out of it; especially descriptions of this mysterious group! 

This group will not be Jehovah’s Witnesses. Did you know, in 1935, Judge Rutherford (then president of The Watchtower Society, aka The Jehovah’s Witness organization), announced that the full number of Jehovah’s Witnesses had reached 144,000 and that everyone else moving forward will NOT go to Heaven, BUT will have to live on earth for eternity? THIS is biblical interpretation AT ITS WORST!

So, who are these people? It’s also important to note that The 144,000 are not “the church.” Remember that the Rapture has already happened and Christians are already in Heaven. The 144,000 will be made up of 12,000 people from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. God still has a plan for Israel. He promised it in the Old Testament and reaffirmed it in the New Testament. It was predicted in the Bible that God would scatter the Jews, but then He would regather them. Since 1948, more and more Jews have been returning home to Jerusalem. Israel’s population is increasing exponentially!  It’s another “sign” that the End of the World is approaching.   
These 144,000 people will be Jewish Christian Evangelists that will come to Jesus Christ DURING the Tribulation. They’ll come to believe in the sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. You may be wondering, how will this group come to know Jesus if all the Christians have been raptured? I have a couple of theories on this that I believe may be pretty accurate …

1. There will be a lot of Bibles left behind! 
2. There’s going to be a lot of videos, sermons, Christian books, and Christian music left behind. 
3. Here’s the BIG one! There’s going to be a lot of unsaved pastors and church members that will be left behind who hadn’t fully given their lives to Christ. And God is going to say. “I never knew you.”

UH-OH!

Imagine Pastors who have been preaching all this time and finally realize they’ve been living a lukewarm non-existent Christian life. Yet, many of their colleagues,  friends, congregation, and family were raptured in a blink of an eye. Because of THAT realization, they will then truly believe in the sacrifice, death, burial, AND resurrection of Jesus Christ and they will be on fire for Him! 

Back to our mysterious group …

The 144,000 will be like 144,000 Apostle Paul’s. CAN YOU IMAGINE? It’s hard to fathom how terrible the Tribulation will be but these guys will be persistent and powerful preachers of the Gospel. The amount of saved lives due to this group will be too many to count! Revelation 7: 9 tells us,

“… there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”

These 144,000 sealed servants will fullfill Matthew 24:14. 

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Their main goal is “… to seek and to save the lost.”
Luke 19:10. 

COVID is not the end of the world, but it is a sign of the end of the world. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 
2 Peter 3:9

Why does The 144,000 matter to us today? 
This group, is you now! As a follower of Christ Jesus, you have the same characteristics as this group. Christians are to tell their Oikos (relational network) about the Good News. Once you’re found, you are to find others! That’s why one of our core values is “Found People Find People!”

In the coming weeks we will be talking about the Millennium, Eternity, The Judgments, Hell, and Heaven. For more on this series, teaching and clarity on the book of Revelation, join me in our Time Out series in San Diego at Skyline Church or join our digital church community by watching the series online.

Pastor, OPEN YOUR CHURCH

I want to say with a loving heart … there are a lot of pastors right now that are not opening their churches due to COVID. I want to encourage you to open your church! Almost eight months is long enough to be closed. It’s the responsibility of shepherds to take care of the flock. In California, statistically, experts are predicting 65% of California businesses will not reopen due to the Covid restrictions. These lockdowns have crushed businesses. Listen, it may very well be the same with the Church. Many churches will NOT be able to reopen. And, the longer they stay closed, the more likely their people will not return or are going elsewhere. I hate to hear when churches close. I love the local church. It is why I pastor. I have seen more life change in the local church than anywhere in the world. 

At Skyline Church, on both our local campuses in San Diego, we are seeing many people from other churches come to Skyline because their church has been closed or their church is only doing outside services (it’s been 100 degrees or more in East County San Diego over the last few weeks, come on…). We have people driving from three and four hours away just so they can get in church. While our target has never been other people from other churches, we have welcomed them with open arms and we will shepherd them if you won’t. 

Pastors, my suggestion is you stop listening and stop getting your cues from the Government and from Andy Stanley. Andy Stanley has long been seen by many church leaders as the de facto voice of the Contemporary Christian Church in America. His Catalyst leadership conferences have encouraged thousands of pastors including myself over the years. Northpoint Church in Alpharetta Georgia (Pre-Covid) was running somewhere north of 20,000 people, maybe even 30,000. 

However, his approach to Covid is off the mark. He stated early on that his church would not open until, at earliest, sometime in 2021. His church has been closed for almost 8 months. And, he stated that “an hour on Sunday shouldn’t make a difference in your Christian walk.”  His comments cut to the heart of the biblical mandate to gather together (Hebrews 10:25). Not just for gathering sake, but for encouragement, fellowship, teaching, growth, mutual edification, the list goes on. 

An hour on Sunday has made ALL the difference in my Christian walk over the years and millions of other people can testify to the same. For so many people they equate the House of God with their relationship with God.  It is a foundational piece of their faith experience every week, it makes a difference in their lives, it energizes them for the week, bottom line, IT MATTERS! It may not matter to Pastor Andy Stanley, but it matters to millions of Christians all over the world.

This is the same pastor that said in one of his messages you can “Throw away the Old Testament“… His comments and his actions reveal a path he is taking that has nothing to do with accurate biblical exegesis or biblical practice. He has lost his right, his ability, and his responsibility to care for the flock of God. And, way too many pastors are waiting for him to say it’s OK to open their church.  

Now, understand, I love pastors, I understand the struggle of leading a church. I’m not interested in dividing pastors and churches, but I do want to challenge pastors, especially in San Diego to open their churches. We will all be better for it. While I’m glad to keep receiving people from other churches, I am well aware that this is not Kingdom growth. At the end of the day, when we’re in Heaven facing our Lord, we don’t get credit for Skyline growth, but we do get credit for Kingdom growth. If more churches are open there is more opportunity for the Kingdom to grow. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. 

I have been especially disappointed in the lack of leadership from some of the long time larger churches and pastors in the San Diego area that have national ministries. They are cowering behind the facade of a virus that has a 99.9% survival rate. I suppose since their books are selling and their TV audience is solid, their local church responsibilities are being ignored. Pastor, SHEPHERD YOUR FLOCK! 

Many pastors have said, “Well, we’ve got online church.” And I’m so glad we have our online church community, but if you’ve been watching online for almost eight months now, YOU KNOW it’s just not the same. Nothing compares to gathering in person to worship the Lord! We’ve got to get in church to worship in the house of God.

National researchers are predicting that less than half of congregations will come back when things open up again. Why? A new normal has been created, one of the reasons is because people are out of habit and have begun to believe they don’t need church. This is only exacerbated by Pastors who continue to refuse to open…they are telling their people, “You don’t need church.” Now, half the attendance might work for Andy Stanley and his church of 30,000, he’ll still have 15,000 people to come back to. But, it does not work for the vast majority of churches in America that are less than 100 people.

When we have many thriving churches in the area, everybody wins. A rising tide lifts all boats. Pastors, open your boat. If you’re concerned about the reaction of some people and you need statistics and proof in your pocket, go to my other blogs titled “Face the Facts” and “I’m Done.” Face the Facts was written a couple of months ago and the statistics are even more in favor of opening your church than they were back then. “I’m Done” was written on May 3 and is proving even more accurate with each passing month. 

We can protect the most vulnerable in our churches and open. You don’t have to open without caring for those who have underlying health conditions. You can open and care for those people. It is Both/And not Either/Or. We have a whole re-opening safely protocol list that I’d be glad to give you. If you need anything, please call our offices and we would be glad to walk you through our conversations with the County Health Department, our Do’s and Don’ts, our protocols, and our trainings. Being a pastor has always taken courage, perhaps, in this day and age, the depth of our courage is being tested.