Pastor’s Al Blog

May 3, 2022                                         The Two Generals

I am reading a bit ahead in the book of Luke. Today, in Luke 11, I was captured by the story of Jesus healing the man with a mute demon. Some people praised God, others said Jesus cast the demon out in the power of Satan.

But Jesus responded, “A house divided against itself with fall.” If Satan is turning on his own, he will fail in his mission. In verse 23, it is recorded that Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me.”

It reminds me of the time Peter told Jesus that He would not need to suffer and die. Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23) Jesus said that to Peter!

I don’t think Jesus was telling Peter that he had backslidden and was going to hell. Six days later Jesus took him up the mountain with James and John to witness Him (Jesus) being transfigured. I think He was saying that there are only two generals in the war for the souls of people – Jehovah God and Satan. Every word we say, every attitude we have, and every action we take supports, and possibly emanates from, God or Satan even if we are one of Jesus’ closest disciples.

I don’t think we take that truth seriously enough most of the time. I know I don’t! I am quick to justify or excuse being unlike Jesus in my actions, attitudes, or words when all Jesus asks is that I agree with Him about my failure, let Him forgive me, and ask the Holy Spirit to take control of my life again. (1 John 1:9)

So next time someone tells you that Satan is at work in our church, rejoice that they can recognize the difference between the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of Satan (Galatians 5:19-23). And ask them to pray that in this, too, God will work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28-29). Then, go home and ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything in your life about which they may have been referring (Psalm 139:23-24).

Maybe next week Jesus will invite you to join Him on a mountain top, too.
 
 

April 19, 2022                    Sermon Series on the Book of Acts

We at Zoar are well on our way to reading through the New Testament in ’22. Today we begin the Gospel of Luke. This is a lengthy book; we will not finish reading it until June 5. In the introduction to the book, the author, Luke, indicates that he investigated everything regarding what had happened among those following Jesus thoroughly and decided to write an orderly account for Theophilus though others had already written about these things. So Luke writes less thematically and more chronologically than Matthew and Mark whom we have already read.

The Gospel of Luke is actually the first of two books which Luke wrote to Theophilus. The second book is entitled The Acts of the Apostles. It is the only orderly account we have of the expansion of the movement known as the Church from Jerusalem to the uttermost part of the “then known” world.

Luke’s first book was “about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven.” (Acts 1:1-2) His second book is about the continuance of what Jesus began by those He chose, trained, and commissioned. However, Jesus told them not to do anything until they received “the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about … the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5) For this reason, some biblical scholars refer to Luke’s second book as The Acts of the Holy Spirit.

The book of Acts is the final historical book of the Bible. It is the account of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, coming to indwell and empower the followers of Jesus. It is our only record of the establishment and expansion of the Church of Jesus Christ. As a historical book, Acts tells us what happened; we will supplement that record with the teachings of Jesus and the epistles which are instructional writings.

Join me in praying that the Holy Spirit will minister powerfully among us as we explore the dynamics of the Apostolic Church beginning this Sunday.
 
 

April 13, 2022                              Training People NOT to Lead

I served a church a few years ago that was unable to find children’s workers for Sunday School and children’s ministries, members to serve on committees and boards, and leaders willing to make decisions. This story about a real situation involving a real church is a little long but it is worthy of your time. I am going to change the names to protect those involved.

Hope Church had not always been short of leaders. They had the strongest AWANA ministry in the area. They had a facility that was good for worship and adequate for the children’s ministries. Hope Church had a parsonage that was comfortable, well maintained, and attractive to any young family. And they were the evangelical church of choice for a rural area with 3-4,000 residents.

So, what happened? All evidence points to two things.

First, there were two “blessed people” in the congregation whom I will call Mia and George. A challenging need arose in Hope Church that no one felt capable of handling. Finally, George said, “I think I can do that.” And He did; and God blessed his courage to step out so that it went far better than expected. Some time passed and the church treasurer moved away. No one wanted that task, but, finally, Mia said, “I think I can do that.” And God blessed Mia in her management of the church’s finances; though they went through some economically trying times, she always paid the bills. When another challenge faced the church, George said, “Mia and I have been talking and I think we can do this.” Hope Church was grateful for their wisdom and willingness and rejoiced in God’s provision.

But as time passed, the church began to depend on George and Mia instead of looking for others to share the load. It wasn’t that George and Mia wanted to run the church; it was just that they understood the operation so well, and did things so well, that it was safest and easiest to let them do it. And talented young people who came to Hope Church were not going to volunteer to do what George and Mia had done so well for so long.

That leads to the second factor creating Hope Church’s leadership vacuum. A promising young leader whom I will call Kim accepted the leadership of AWANA. The people loved him, and the program was going well. Then he thought of an all-day venture for the children. Because the budget had not included this significant expenditure, he was asked to present it to the church. George was hesitant; he wanted to know if anyone else had done this. And Mia asked if Kim had talked with a ranger she knew with Game and Parks. Of course, he hadn’t, and the church decided to postpone approval until he had done so. After similar experiences a couple more times, Kim and his family began attending a church “that was closer.”

What can we learn from Hope Church? First, when we become overly dependent on the “blessed people” among us, we exclude the young leaders God is raising up among us or bringing to us. Second, when we do not follow the leaders God provides, they will either become afraid to make decisions or they will go elsewhere to lead.

Hope Church is in recovery! The church as well as numerous individuals within the church apologized to George and Mia for depending on them excessively. They have installed term limits on all positions except paid staff to help them avoid doing the same to someone else. Many have apologized to Kim for not allowing him to lead. And as a church they are learning how to follow the leaders God provides.
 
 

April 7, 2022                                                Are You Ready

It is only ten days until Easter. Do you know what that means from a church planning perspective? Now it’s Easter, next camp, then VBS, then fall programs start.

The promotional cycle for church planning consists of four short quarters: prepare and promote for fall programs, prepare and promote Christmas ministry, prepare and promote Easter celebrations, and prepare and promote summer ministries. Then we add a few activities: a missions trip or two, Trunk or Treat; Missions Impact Sunday, a Valentine’s Day banquet, graduations, and weddings. If church life is simply a series of activities, it is really a meaningless merry-go-round spinning faster each rotation.

That is why I keep coming back to the purpose Jesus stated for the church. It is the purpose of the church that ties the activities together meaningfully. So … what is the purpose of the Church? Right! MAKE DISCIPLES!

It is the responsibility of leadership to see that each ministry knows how it contributes to the process of fulfilling that purpose, each activity is planned to accomplish a specific facet of that process, and each participant knows their contribution is part of Zoar’s plan to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Thank you to each of you for being a disciple maker.
 
 

March 31, 2022                                         Zoar Core Values

About 70 people worked through a series of exercises on Sunday afternoon to identify the actual values of Zoar MB Church. This is an important part of letting potential candidates know who we are as they pray about the match of their gifts and skills with our needs.

The five core values identified are:

    • Provide outstanding ministries for children/youth
    • Bible knowledge – being familiar with Scripture truth
    • Supporting the ministry with a portion of one’s finances
    • Tradition — doing things in the customary or “tried and true” ways
    • World missions – spreading the Gospel around the globe

This, together with the aspirational values of Zoar, will be included in the church profile provided to prospective candidates.

Thank you to each of you who helped the PST with this portion of the process.
 
 

February 10, 2022                                    Moving Forward

Some weeks ago a leader in a different denomination told a church about which I am familiar that they have a 50-50 chance of getting a pastor who fits well. I feel sorry for churches under his leadership. The God I serve can do better than that and IPM would no longer exist with a performance record like that.

That is why IPM tells churches, when they inquire about contracting for the services of an interim pastor, that the transition process takes an average of 12-18 months. Some churches have more to address in preparation for a new pastor, so it takes longer, and some need a longer transition because of their previous pastor’s tenure. A few, not utilizing the full process, get a new pastor in as little as 9 months. But the average is 12-18 months.

So where is Zoar in this process? Sunday will be the first meeting of the Pastor Search Team (PST). As you noticed on page 2 of the Annual Report booklet (and I addressed orally in the meeting), this team has been directed by the Stewardship Council to work through stages 4 and 5 of the IPM transition process.

During stage 4, we will revisit the purpose for which Zoar exists and the values of our church. Zoar has issues with organizational structure and communication that foster disunity and competition among leaders. These must be corrected before calling another pastor. The PST will also recommend some policies to the Elder Board regarding staff care that have been worked on for at least 4 years.

When the recommended solutions to these challenges have been approved by the Elder Board and/or the congregation, the PST will proceed with stage 5 enthusiastically.

Pray daily for Zoar’s Pastor Search Team members, for the preparedness of Zoar to embrace a new lead pastor, and for the family whom God is preparing to lead Zoar into more intimate relationship with God and more effective ministry through the Holy Spirit.

 
 

January 13, 2022                        Testimony about Reading God’s Word

I sent out an invitation by email to join me (and our church) in reading the New Testament in a year beginning February 1, 2022. I got this response from one of our young mothers. With her permission, I am sharing it with you.

“This is AWESOME! I read the Bible through for the first time in 2020 and it changed my life. I have since re-dedicated my life to Him after getting to know the Lord on a whole new level.

“God had put it on my heart to do it for a long time and I finally told myself that was my new year’s resolution for 2020. I was so eager to begin that I bought a new bible (one that I could easily read and take notes in) and began in October of 2019. Needless to say, God’s timing is perfect because he was preparing my heart for what was to come that year….and everything that has followed since then. I encourage everyone I know to get into the scriptures if they have never done so before.”

You can get the app with this link: https://bible.com/p/47075074/c93600cdc0d987518a513cc811f53b41
The link opens to an invitation to read this plan with Al Magnuson. It’s safe … click on “Accept Invitation” and you are ready to go. 57 people are using the app to read the New Testament through in ’22 with us.

For those who prefer to place a printed reading schedule in their Bible as a bookmark, printed copies are available in the south foyer.

Please join us. Read It Thru in 22!
 
 

October 20, 2021                        What is the Greatest Commandment

Mark 12:28 is the record of a teacher asking Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Zoar’s Transition Team has been asking a similar question, “Of the eight characteristics of a healthy church measured by the Natural Church Development Survey, which is the most important for us to focus on at this time?” And the answer to both questions is the same: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

But how do you encourage a person who accepted Jesus as his/her Savior 50 years ago to be as passionate about loving God, trusting God, obeying God through the aches and pains as he/she was as a carefree child? How can we rekindle our first love for God when we have become encumbered with the responsibilities of a business, a family, and/or a job?

I asked the members of the Transition Team what had been most influential in their growing passionately in love with Jesus Christ. It was delightful to hear them share prayer emphases at certain times of the year, church-wide Bible reading promotions and Bible memory programs, and times of rolling up their sleeves and working side by side in service projects and on mission trips.

It dawned on me as they shared, that this is exactly what motivated and energized the apostolic church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) We don’t read about their children’s programs, their stewardship campaigns, or their seasonal festivals. What is recorded is that they devoted themselves to four things: 1] they read and studied the Bible together (apostles’ teaching), 2] they bore the burden of service and care together (fellowship), 3] they ate together (the breaking of bread), and 4] they prayed together [prayer].

In Acts 2:46-47, we are told that they met every day in the temple and that they broke bread in their homes. It seems to allow for both mass gatherings and home meetings, but all with glad and sincere hearts, praising God. Are we simply being nostalgic to long for such a movement of the Holy Spirit at Zoar or are we longing for the Church to be restored to its first love?

Pray for Zoar’s Transition Team as we meet weekly to discern ways that we might encourage one another to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength.