Five Observations on the Changing Wind.

Featured Photo called “Northern Exposure” by Mark Henspeter, under Creative Commons license

As a leader who mentors youth in their twenties, I have been feeling incredibly optimistic in recent years. For many young people in today’s church, the experience is changing from a decade ago. I have seen a number of waves of change over my years of ministry. I saw the rise and fall of bus ministry, the frenzy of building Christian schools, and the driving wind of the church growth movement. All of them had one thing in common – they started with the same premise: How can we get people into the church. Today, I am beginning to feel a cool breeze of freshness in ministry to people. I am hearing the right question more often:  How can we meet the needs of our community? The emphasis is shifting. The problem isn’t getting them in, its getting us out. A couple of observations about the this new wind that I am excited about. They aren’t new and maybe aren’t profound, but they are important, so they bear repeating:

Observation #1: People go where there needs are met. If we minister to them to get them to join us, they can smell self interest. If we honestly give ourselves to real ministry – offering (along with truth from God’s Word) helpful tools and caring services that make a significant and sustainable change in our community, we will effect our town, our nation our world. Growth of our work will care for itself. Jesus said He’d build the church. Our focus is to be on reaching out and carefully sharing the Good News.

Observation #2: Not everything we have been doing is working. It is funny to me what we defend. I have heard people stand up for all kinds of things that when stripped away are nothing more than personal comfort issues of preference made to sound spiritual. We must not be afraid to change our programs, our approaches or anything else that will not compromise our message. There is a sustained onslaught against many of our Biblical values. Family life is disintegrating to the point that legislation is now being crafted to make all the abnormalities acceptable and normal. We live in a society that colors outside the lines and then moves the lines. Yet, we have a great future. We need to be open to change, since it is unavoidable anyway. We need to face the fact that our youth works have not yielded high retention, and try some other approaches. Believers must be attuned to the old saying: “If you want to change what you are reaping, change what you are sowing!” We must cling to the message – that is timeless and Word-bound. Yet the methods cannot be enshrined. If we keep acting like what we are doing is going to save families, we are in for a terrible surprise, coming soon to a community near you!

Observation #3: To reach people nobody else is reaching, we have to do things nobody else is doing. As a leader in my Christian community, I must take the responsibility to examine what my real contribution is to the life blood of my town. Am I building bridges to those who feel alone and torn apart by life? Is the message I bear coming to them in deeds or only in words? People will respond if I love and care about them because they are there, with no string to whether they will side with me on any issue whatsoever. To reach them, I don’t need a program as much as I need a heart transplant.  If we are willing to love, we will be used to transform a community – because we are willing to do what many are not willing to do.

Observation #4: Many people die of boredom in church. I am not talking about the sermon, (though that may be true as well). The truth is, the church is the most under utilized army in the world. People want to make a difference. They really do want to serve, but they want it to matter. The old “serve us” world has left many people feeling empty. What is replacing it is a “service mindset”. Just last night, at a conference attended by teens they raised $92,600 for orphanages in Asia. The organizers were asking for $15,000. They saw first hand that when teens believe they can make a difference, they will give everything they can. That was today’s teen – the much maligned as a “self-absorbed” generation. I don’t believe it. I believe people are waiting for their leadership to help them figure out how to make a mark in this world before they exit for the next. It is our job to be ahead of them on how they can do it. What ministry opportunities are there in
our church?

Observation #5: Though there are truly some that have been pushing us in this culture, most people didn’t drop out of interest with God. In fact, the problem may not be them as much as it is us! Many of us have hidden our candle under a bushel basket to
keep the wind from affecting the flame. In the process, they lost the guiding of the light. What do I mean? Churches and believers that want to be effective must reverse the idea that “if we build the programs they should come”. We are here to reach lovingly into the needs of a community. When a church decides to turn its ministries into community benefiting projects, it places itself in the world in an unmistakable way. We need Bible education, so I am not burning down the Sunday School. Yet, if it is true that most people in our churches when surveyed say their interaction with the “ministry” is in a Sunday service listening, we lose our mission. We are ever equipping them for a job we never put in their path. We can change! We can take on the blood drive, have an adult Bible fellowship create a circle of hospital volunteers, we can create life skills classes and staff them with our own people. We can take our values, our service, and our love out to the
community. We can “serve Jesus by serving them!”

More observations later…feel free to post a comment below!

Revelation 2 and 3: Bible Chart

Teaching the subject of the letters to the seven churches is always rewarding. There are some teachers who believe they are a progressive list of stages the church has passed through over time. I think it is clear that we have always had some of the things included in the list at every stage of the church’s history. What is clear is that the letters were written with a specific pattern in mind:

1) The “addressee”: Titles of the collaborating author with John (Jesus).
2) The encouragement based on Jesus’ personal knowledge of them.
3) The indictment or instruction based on Jesus’ knowledge of them.
4) The promise to them.

The attached chart is a favorite of my students, and is used when I take groups to Turkey to study the Bible lands in “The Life and Journeys of the Apostles”. Feel free to copy it if that will be helpful.




Ephesus: “relax, permit, let go”


Smyrna: “crushed myrrh”


Pergamum: “height, towering”


Thyatira: “sacrifice, affliction”


Left first love



Sexual Sin


1)       Epistle to the Ephesians

2)       Rev. 1:11, 2:11.

3)       Acts 19:31 “Asiarchus”

4)       Acts 19:41 Demetrius and the Silversmiths



1)       Rev. 1:11; 2:8

2)       Rev. 2:9 “suffering”

3)       “synagogue of Satan”


1)       Rev. 1:11; 2:13 “throne of Satan”

2)       1 Tim. 4:8 “bodily exercise”


1)       Rev. 1:11; 2:18-29

2)       Acts 16:14 “Lydia”

3)       Acts 19:10 Paul known here while preaching at Ephesus; Apollos at Corinth.

He who holds 7 stars and walks in midst of 7 lampstands (2:1)

First and Last: was dead, now living (2:8)

He that has the sharp two- edged sword (Rev. 2:12; cp. Heb. 4:12)

Son of God with eyes of flame and feet of fine brass

I know product is practice of patience and purity; against Nicolaitines (2:3,6)

I know your persecution and poverty (poor rich church – 2:9)

I know those who have held fast my name, not recanted. Antipas faithful martyr (2:13)

I know your love, faith, service – increasing more and more (2:19)

Left first love: a “high place” from which you have fallen (2:4-5)

Don’t fear suffering, prison or martyrdom (Rev. 2:10)

Have some in error of Balaam and Balac; others in error of Nicolaitines (2:14-15)

Allowing Jezebel to commit spiritual adultery; refusing correction (2:10,23)


Give “tree of life” to overcomer

(cp. 1 Jn. 5:5)


Give “crown of life” to martyrs (2:10); they will live in second death

I will come with sword to those in error (2:16); to overcomers I will give hidden manna (2:17) – <white acquittal stone>


I will come and judge Jezebel and her children; to overcomer I give authority over nations (2:24-28)


“Nicolaitines” may refer to followers of Nicolaus (Acts 6:5) who advicated sexual immorality or from “NIKAO”-one who lords or conquers, advocating a high clergy system.


“crown of life” the city had a ring of upper temples that looked like a crown from the harbor; “poverty”: the port city was known a lavishly wealthy place!


Asklepion (hospital, cp. Dr. Luke);

“Balaam and Balak” prophet themes


Jezebel: cp. 1 Kings 16, 2 Kings 9; Trade guilds with wool and dying industry (cp. Acts 16:14)

Stoic Religion

Fear vs. Faith

Compromise to Grow

Spiritual Adultery





Sardis: “those escaping or red ones”


Philadelphia: “Brotherly love”


Laodicea: “Justice of the People”

(Denizli, Ekhisar)




Rev. 3:1-6

Rev. 3:7-13

  1. Rev. 3:14-22
  2. Epistle from Laodicea (probably Ephesians, Col. 4:16)
  3. Col. 2:1, 4:13-16

He that has the seven spirits of God (Isa. 11) and seven stars (3:1)

He that is holy and true, holds key of David; opens and no man shuts (3:7)

The Amen, the faithful and true witness; the beginning of creation (3:14)

A few not defiled (3:4)

Though few, yet you have kept word, and not denied My name (3:8)


Many are DEAD! Strengthen what lives still (3:2)

Hold on that no one will take away your crown (3:11; cp. 1 Cor. 9:24-27)

  1. Neither hot nor cold (3:15)
  2. Say you are rich, but you are poor (3:17)
  3. Buy gold raiment and eye salve (18)

  1. Few will walk in white (3:4)
  2. Few not blotted from book of life (3:5; cp. Jn. 10)
  3. Few I will confess before Father (3:5)

  1. I will make synagogue of Satan bow before you (3:9)
  2. I will deliver you from hour of tribulation (3:10)
  3. Overcomer will become pillar in Temple of God, write name on him (3:11; cp. Rev. 22:4)

  1. I will spit you out (3:16)
  2. I am knocking, will come in (3:20)
  3. Overcomers will sit on My throne with Me (3:21)

Capture of Lydia from Croessus by Cyrus

Chief god Dionysius (wine)

“poor, blind and naked”: industries were wool, salves and banking; wealthy under Roman rule (Col. 4:13-16)

Dead Faith



Matthew 5-7: Sermon on the Mount Notes

Advertisers seek diligently for the slogan or jingle that will “buy some real estate in our minds”. They want to motivate us to buy their product by getting in our heads. Jesus wants a true disciple to understand that he bought the real estate of their heart, and wants that reflected in three areas: character, commitments (practices) and choices. For a look at the whole outline study used to teach the passage:

The sermon of Jesus was early in His earth ministry, and had three major parts:

  1. Character Traits of a True Disciple (5).
  2. Practices of a True Disciple (6:1-7:12).
  3. Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-29).

Advertisers seek diligently for the slogan or jingle that will “buy some real estate in our minds”. They want to motivate us to buy their product by getting in our heads. Jesus wants a true disciple to understand that he bought the real estate of their heart, and wants that reflected in three areas: character, commitments (practices) and choices.

Four Character Traits of My Disciples (5):

  1. You cannot be about YOU and ME (5:1-12) at the same time. I am seeking one who is not self dependent (3), not self secure (4), not self reliant (5), not self satisfied (6), not self focused (7), not divided (8), not agenda’d (9), not self defensive (10), not impatient (11-12). In short “other person centered (as in Phil. 2).
  1. You cannot be ALONE (5:13). This emphasized the loyalty of the believers together in their “salt”.
  1. You cannot remain anonymous (5:14-16). You will not be hidden, and you are not called to be hidden!
  1. You needn’t be unsure about the standards of discipleship (5:17-48). The law as given is my standard (5:17) when understood with my intent (5:18-48).

Eight Commitments (Practices) of My Disciples (6:1-7:12):

  1. Giving for One (6:1-4), we are to avoid sacrifice for God that is noted among men. There must be no intentional show (6:2), and must even be a concerted attempt to cloak the giving for the “Father’s eyes only” (6:3-4).
  1. Praying intimately (6:5-15), we are to avoid hypocrisy (5:5) in favor of privacy (5:6). We are to avoid meaningless expressions (6:7) and taking our cues from those who don’t know God (6:8). When we pray we are to acknowledge: the Person of God, the Place of God, the Perfection of God, the Plan and Purposes of God, the Petitions of need, the Pardon from God, the Protection of God, the Power o God and the Praise to God!
  1. Fasting for One (6:16-18), avoiding outward shows (6:16) and deliberately trying to hide the private work of God in us, that it is not cheapened and we are not tempted to be showy (6:17).

Nicholas Herman worked in the food service industry. He was a short-order cook and bottle-washer. But he became deeply dissatisfied with his life; he worried chronically about himself, even whether or not he was saved. One day Nick was looking at a tree, and the same truth struck him that struck the psalmist so long ago: the secret of the life of a tree is that it remains rooted in something other and deeper than itself. He decided to make his life an experiment in what he called a “habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God.” He is known today by the new name given to him by his friends: Brother Lawrence. He remained obscure throughout his life. He never got voted pope. He never got close to becoming the CEO of his organization. He stayed in the kitchen. But the people around him found that rivers of living water flowed out of him that made them want to know God the way he did. “The good brother found God everywhere,” one of them wrote, “as much while he was repairing shoes as while he was praying with the community.” After Lawrence died, his friends put together a book of his letters and conversations. It is called Practicing the Presence of God and is thought, apart from the Bible, to be the most widely read book of the last four centuries. This monastic short-order cook has probably out-sold novelist John Grisham and Tom Clancey and J.K. Rowling put together. (sermon central illustrations)

  1. Saving in the Right Place (6:19-24), we are to center our focus of the future on eternal goals, not earthly – to help us keep our hearts on target (6:19-21). We must keep a clear agenda and open heart (6:22-23) determined to serve God above any other agenda or goal (6:24).
  1. Learning to Place our Trust Appropriately (6:25-34). We must not worry about the ability of God to provide for our basic needs, because God is powerful (6:25-26). We have no power over many things (6:27). God is able to meet our needs in elegant ways beyond our comprehension (6:28-30). Our confidence must be a testimony that marks us as different than the lost (6:31-32). If we focus on following God, He will take care of the rest for us (6:33-34).

Once time filming a movie in the desert and an old Indian walked up and said, “Tomorrow Rain.” The next day it rained. Week later the old Indian walked up again and said “Tomorrow storm.” Three days later walked up and said “Hail storm.” The director was amazed with the Indian, and he told his secretary to hire the Indian so He could predict the weather for the remaining of the shoot. However, after several accurate predictions the old Indian did not show up for 2 weeks. Finally the director sent for him. They found him and told him the director was counting on him for his weather predictions because there was a big shoot coming the next day if the weather permitted it. “What is the weather going to be like?’ The old Indian shrugged his shoulder and said, “Don’t know… radio is broken.” (sermon central illustrations)

  1. Examining properly our Companions (7:1-5). We are not to judge another with a standard different than we judge ourselves (7:1-2). We must not overlook our issues to spot theirs (7:3-4) but deal with our issues first (7:5).

A Buzzard and a Humming bird fly over the same desert. One is looking for something dead and rotting. The other is looking for pretty, colorful flowers. BOTH find what they’re looking for!

  1. Guarding Carefully God’s Truths (7:6). We are to understand the value of what God has given us, and be careful not to treat it as common. Guarding includes where and among whom we share God’s truth.
  1. Seeking Confidently God’s Provision (7:7-12). We are to ask for what we need (7:7-8) and understand that our Father is good, and is FOR us (7:9-12). He is not stingy, nor does He delight in withholding good things!

Four Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-27).

There are four couplets that emphasize the fact that a true follower must come to a place of choices concerning Jesus’ teachings:

  1. The Two Gates (7:13-14): A true disciple must choose the path less traveled, opting to forego the way “every one else” seems to be going! You have a choice!
  1. The Two Fruit Trees (7:15-20): A true disciple will be careful to watch the fruit of a teacher before following their message (7:15-17). He will recognize the fruit exposes the type and usefulness of the tree (7:18-20). You must evaluate my teaching as true!

Dr. Haddon Robinson writes: “Some people are attracted to Christianity because they have a leaky faucet that they want God to fix. Perhaps they struggle with a destructive habit and they would like to tap into God’s power to help them break it. Or maybe they have broken relationships that they want God to mend. But they learn from this Sermon on the Mount that God is not a plumber. Leaky faucets are minor league stuff to Him. God wants to tear the plumbing out entirely and deal with the well from which the water flows. He wants to change what comes out of the faucet, not merely stop its leak.” – The Solid Rock Construction Company, pg.122

  1. The Two Confessions (7:21-23). A true disciple won’t just speak as though they know me, but will live according to My teaching (7:21). Some will even be self-deceived into thinking they experienced My power in places where My presence was not even found (7:22-23). You must submit to obeying My words!
  1. The Two Foundations (7:24-29). If you hear and then follow My word you are building well (7:24-25). If you hear my teaching but don’t allow it to transform you – you are setting yourself up for a future collapse (7:26-27). My teaching must be transforming you!

The Apostle Paul worked tirelessly for 35-40 years to establish the church of Jesus Christ. He endured storms of rejection, of deprivation, of all kinds of difficulty. In the end, he found himself chained to a wall in a dark dungeon in Rome. Awaiting his death sentence to be carried out, he dictated these words: [2 Tim. 4:18] “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” He had entered the narrow gate and set aside selfish rights. He had built a foundation of trust in God during his day to day obedience to the Lord over the years. (sermon central illustrations).

Team Hack #8: Decrapify Your Team

OK, I know I will get some static on this one. Pastors aren’t supposed to use any language that cannot be found on an old rerun of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”. If you give me a chance, I will explain my choice of title. It started back in April, when I became aware of a piece of software called “PC Decrapifier” (a free download, suggested donation at ). The idea of the developer was to help the purchaser of a new computer to rid themselves of all the trial version software and nonsense that comes on the drive when the PC manufacturer ships it. Instead of simply using the Windows XP or Vista utility, this company came up with a way to allow you to eliminate all of the undesired software by choosing from a list and allowing the whole thing to clean up at one time (Windows makes you select each one individually).

In every growing team there is the addition of new people to the mix. If we try to take them out of the box and start them on their way with a series of tasks without some “untraining time”, we will no doubt find ourselves wishing we had explained more. I am not talking simply about going through the employee handbook with them, as effective as that may be. I am suggesting that we would be wise to plan time with the members of the team individually to explain the other facets of the overall shop, and how each part functions on the team to produce a singular positive result. In the process, we should be careful to ask probing questions like, “How did you accomplish this at ___?” (the place they worked before). We may get some great ideas from them, but in any case we get to hear both the good and the bad of their last employment experience. In other words, we help them purge and “decrapify” so that the bloated bad memories are made into just that — memories. When the team member is able to relieve the past (forgive the pun), they can hear the present. They have open space on the drive of their mind to learn new tasks and see how they fit the common goal of our team. Who knew? What works on drives works in team builders…decrapifying.

Team Hack #7: How to Make a Team Password System

It seems like my life has a thousand passwords. Between bank pins and software passwords, how in the world can I keep them straight? What is worse, is that I work with people that put passwords on various accounts and computer software. How can we get both security and sanity from this process? Two authors I have read this past week have written on this subject: (Gina Trapani of and Mark Frauenfelder at Gina’s suggestions on passwords, in particular, take the sting out of the process of security. She has the right idea for how a team can know what those beyond the team will not know.

Her idea was to take a random set of letters like “a-s-d-f” and add to them the extension of three letters that are the first letters of the service. For instance, if the service provider is “Earthlink” the password can be “asdfear”. If the service provider is Google, the password is “asdfgoo”. The team can all easily recall the access code, but it will be meaningless to anyone else. I have found a variation of this system can be good for your marriage as well. It helps to have good communication before you get to the bank and have to use a pin that hasn’t been used in a while. Since in many countries I travel to the pins need to be all numerical, I have a simple system that uses the same principle.

Gospel of John: Jesus On Jesus (2 Parts on DVD) available!

The Gospel of John dealt with both the needs of the early Messianic followers of Jesus and the growing number of believers in Jesus that were joining from the pagan Gentile world. In this two part series, Dr. Smith explains the seven “I AM” sayings of Jesus, and the seven “I DO” works of Jesus. For a look at a sample of the DVDs, click on the link:

Team Hack #6: Free Software (2) Organizing Pictures

I have a gazillion digital pictures. Each trip i ask my students to send me their pictures, so I get a trip times thirteen or fourteen = photo memory overload. Whether it is for a team project (producing a newsletter, webpage) or just a photo album of a mission’s trip, etc. I have found that a great piece of software to have is photo software. This simple download can order all the pictures on my drives with the ability to add captions, notes and titles to each picture. The discipline of purging from “My Pictures” became much easier when I started using this one software package. Yes, it is FREE!

Psalm 23: Shepherd and Sheep DVD Available Now!

The most popular DVD we have ever made was shot in the hills overlooking Bethlehem among the sheep. This study of Psalm 23 is an exposition and explanation of this important and popular passage. If you are interested in getting a copy (US), email me. If you would like a copy but live outside the US, contact Kerugma Productions: for delivery instructions. To view a few minutes of the DVD, click the link below:

Team Hack #5: Free Software on the Web! (1)

There is an abundance of free software (shareware) out on the web. Some of it teams need to operate smoothly. In these hacks, I will try to survey some of it that I have found helpful. There are many blogs that do this well, but I know that there are Pastors and business owners in my circle of friends that may not read them. Nothing in these hacks will be included unless I have tried the software, and deemed it personally useful (a rating that virtually no one acknowledged!). Here it goes!

Last year a student came to Great Commission Bible Institute with no Microsoft Office suite. They went to the store and bought a student edition for about $150 before I realized what they did. Because of that, I will post this one first: The whole suite that works with Word, Excel and many other productivity pieces can be found absolutely free (from Sun Microsystems) at ! This is not a new announcement, and thousands use it everyday. It is easily downloaded from their site and works like anything I have ever purchased from Microsoft. You DON’T NEED to spend money updating to newer versions of MS products every time one office somewhere updates theirs. Your whole team can download this and keep it current at no charge.

We have already written in a previous hack about the use of online based document software available through Google docs. Another excellent piece of software (also free) is their Google Presentation software, that has worked for me seamlessly with my Microsoft Power Point files. There are options to work with a presentation that is located on the web, or that is kept on my own drive. If you are familiar with Power Point, this web based application will be very helpful, and did I mention, FREE. A simple but entertaining presentation of all of this software and the concept can be found at:

Another freebie for this hack is a personal favorite. Recently I have been a part of several conference calls and meetings where a group of individuals have needed to coordinate schedules and “poll” each other on a good time to get together or call. “Doodle” is a free website where I can create the poll, ask my questions, send the link to my list of those involved, and watch responses in near real time.

How can I use this? Let’s say five couples want to go out on Friday night. We need a time and a place, right? I can send them a simple link with time choices and restaurant choices and “poll” them. That’s a simple example, but think of how this can work on team based projects. What day of three is best for us to have the upcoming meeting? Is it better in the morning or afternoon? If you are spread out across the globe and you need a quick straw poll, this is your simplest answer. Go to and check this out! It is effective and fast. Yes, of course it is also FREE!

Team Hack#4: Working Together on Notes and Documents

Something remarkable is happening in the team working world. The software framework of our lives is shifting beneath our feet. Yes, Bill Gates is retiring from Microsoft operations, but something even more profound is shifting… More people are using “Team software” or collaboration software. What’s more, is most of this new software is FREE.

Instead of using Microsoft Word or Word Perfect x.0, try a collaboration of writing notes among team members using the Google Docs software, all free online. Set up an online free Google account for your office use and have all of your team members able to log on. When you create a document or update a document, every person who has web access can view the document in real time. In fact, every person on the team who has been given access to the document on the system can change it. If two work on it at the same time, Google will let you know when you go to save that there are two docs competing to become the revised version. You can rename one and compare them, making a choice.

The best part of working online with documents is that you can avoid emailing back and forth fifteen revisions, trying to keep which one is the most recent and best. In addition, no matter where in the world you are, you can access the team’s most recent collaborative document. Simple solutions have already been made for working offline on materials, so you needn’t stay online all the time to be working on them. You can set your laptop to automatically update files you have been working on at the time you next go online.

Someone is reading this and asking, “What about security?” Fair question. Yet, I don’t know many people that have that much secure information that they collaborate on and send via an email or web. Obviously there are ways to encrypt and do that, it just doesn’t happen in my world that much. Most of what we work on simply isn’t that sensitive. If yours is, I would suggest working another way.

All of my students are required to turn in all work digitally. In team projects, I want them to get used to the idea of using online software, because many of them will work on teams that are not geographically bound to the same area as them. Life is changing and even social networks are electronic for many around the world. What makes us think we need the team in the same office to work together.

In my travel office (one of the businesses that we set up years ago) I can get a photo from that day’s Jerusalem event, put into a document written in Florida with travel flight  of a recent teaching details from our booking agent’s office in Ohio and match it to a video clip from our producer in South Africa from a DVD we shot in Israel six months before, link them all and have them on the web by nightfall in Florida. The next morning (Jerusalem time) a brochure can be generated at the printer’s office in West Jerusalem and a pdf copy can be emailed to me for final approval before the press runs. We call that a Tuesday, it happens all time in businesses around the world. I choose color printing based on where I can get a good deal, in Asia or New Jersey. All of it will be shipped anyway.

Our place of business is increasingly becoming wherever I am sitting with a cell phone and laptop. As much business is being accomplished in my local Starbucks on a Wednesday morning, as in the local strip mall. Business is changing. Teams can keep up and work together with no monetary investment!