Well, I’m Mike Jackson. I’m Director of the Office of Leader Care and Church Health. We’re glad that you’ve joined us. Welcome to this webinar. It’s an exciting journey that we’re on with this new strategy that we’ve been working on, giving out leadership predominantly by Ken Allen but others who make up our church revitalization task force have been a vital part. But as we share today, we’re gonna be talking about the first component of connect which is connecting with the creator. And we’re gonna be talking about that spiritual connection that we all need to have with our creator. And we’re honored to have panelists with us today.
Of course, Ken Allen is here and Ken will be directing this. We also are honored to have George Yates with us. George is our contract worker who helps us in the area of church revitalization church health. And our guests today is Claude King. Claude is a dear friend. I’ve known Claude for a number of years. I think we were at New Orleans seminary at the same time back in the dark ages Claude. But Claude has served faithfully until his retirement at LifeWay. And he has brought to bear many of the resources that have helped us work closer with the Lord. If you’re familiar with “Experiencing God” he and Henry Blackaby worked together to produce that resource and Claude has done several other things in the area of prayer.
And we’re fortunate today to have Claude with us and look forward to hearing from him. I thank you again each of you have joined us. I pray God’s blessings on you today as we share. And I wanna ask God to bless our time together. May we pray. Father thank you for loving us. Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to join with brothers and sisters in Christ via a webinar to encourage them in connecting with the creator. Father I pray that you would help us to be more effective in our walk with you and our role as great commission Christians that we might continue to be on mission for you.
Father thank you for these men. And I pray that today as we share that we will encourage one another and not only our professional ministries but also our personal ministry, our walk with you. Lord bless us. Give us a heart for the Lord Jesus. We pray this in His name, amen. Ken thank you for putting together much of this. And so Ken I’m gonna turn over the leadership to you. Again folks, if we can do anything from the Office of Leader Care and Church Health to help you, please let us know. And we’re excited that you’ve joined us today.
Yes, good morning. It is good to have you with us today. And again, this is a part of the overall connect strategy and focus. I’m so grateful that we’ve been able to collaborate across our offices through our revitalization task force. And so this is pathways that lead to connection. That’s the tagline for connect. And again, just very quickly the four aspects are connect with the creator, that’s renewal in worship. Connect with the community, that’s Sunday school, small groups. Connect with the core, that’s disciple-making in smaller groups or smaller huddles along with leadership development, mentoring and serving. And then the last one is connect with the commission, and that’s both individual, personal soul-winning as well as connecting to the culture and the community and reaching out as well. So today again, as Mike has mentioned we have Claude King with us to share that first aspect of connecting to the creator.
Again, there are two points. There’s the renewal aspect as a part of church health and worship. And Claude is gonna be sharing the renewal aspect, both the kind of personal and corporate and the resource that we’re highlighting is his newest resource that’s “Return to Me.” After so many years at LifeWay, I just wanna say the beat goes on. He is continuing ministry. We might mentioned “Experiencing God.” There are numerous others, “Come to the Lord’s Table” is again a great resource. I’ve personally used as an interim here recently, “Return to Me” and all the way through it completely. I’m looking at “Come to the Lord’s Table” as a resource to use next of his. And so we’re grateful. This is a 2020 fresh, hot off the press resource that’s there and so we’re gonna offer to you by the way in a follow-up email, if you want a copy of “Return to Me” we’ll sending an email out to you. And if you want a copy you just request that and send us back your address. And again, it’s so grateful to have you with us today.
And if you would now begin us in this introduction to “Return to Me” and as a part of overall renewal of personal and corporate aspect and the renewal process. Thank you, Claude.
Thanks Ken. It’s a privilege for me to get to be with you all. And I wanna invite you to if have your Bible handy or your phone turn with me to Malachi chapter 3. The title for “Return to Me” comes from Malachi 3:7, but I wanna begin at the first part of that chapter to just share what I sense the Lord’s up to. I tell you what, before I read let me just share with you briefly. Had a contact with one of our Southern Baptist leaders related to church revitalization, and he said, Claude a group of us or we sense that there’s a need for a tool that we can put into the hands of pastors where they can guide their people through a spiritual process that can result in church revitalization. There are a lot of things we can do related to church revitalization but they’re things that spiritually if we don’t do those, all of the rest of the things are just almost decorations. And so I began to pray about what I might do. And I sensed the Lord leading me to develop this tool to put in the hands of a pastor so he can guide his church in returning to the Lord. And I’m grateful for the thing you all have about connecting to the creator. He’s the source of all life and vitality and godliness.
And so let me invite you though to look at Malachi 3. Perhaps you are a yearning for a revival in your own church, revival in our nation. Our nation is desperately in need of revival and ultimately a spiritual awakening that will transform our culture. But listen to Malachi’s words. “See I will send my messenger.” This is God speaking. “I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me “then suddenly the Lord you are seeking “will come to His temple. “The messenger of the covenant “whom you desire will come says the Lord Almighty.” In that encouraging we’re yearning for the Lord to come visit us to bring revival. And He says, I’m gonna send my messenger in the days coming, I’m gonna come. The Lord’s gonna come, “But who can endure the day of His coming? “Who can stand when He appears? “where He will be like a refiner’s fire “or a launderer’s soap. “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. “He will purify the Levites “and refine them like gold and silver. “Then the Lord will have men “who will bring offerings in righteousness. “And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable “to the Lord in the days gone by as in the days gone by “as in former years.” What we see here is that God when He comes, He comes as a refiner’s fire. And a lot of us want the blessings of the Lord and not realize that when He comes to a people who are not the people He’s created them to be, He’s going to come as a refiner’s fire to purify.
And in this passage we see that he started with the leadership. I’m guessing that each one of you either as a pastor or church leader you recognize the role that God has entrusted to you to lead the people in returning to the Lord. And he starts with the leadership. And then in verse seven, we read these words. “Ever since the time of your forefathers “you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. “Return to me and I will return to you “says the Lord Almighty.” I used this as the title for the book “Return to Me” because in it God is making a heartfelt plea. God is grieved when we as His people are living at a low level of spiritual vitality. We’re missing out on the abundant life Jesus came to give us and God grieves over our condition. And He yearns for us to return to Him so that we can experience life as God intended it, so that we can be useful in His kingdom. And if we will return to Him He says, I’ll return to you. Andrew Murray in writing about this chapter in his book called titled “Revival” he said, the revived church or revived church is the only hope for a lost world, a dying world. And we need to experience revival and Murray in commenting about this passage in chapter three he said, God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise waits own our faithfulness in meeting His conditions. In other words, God’s made us a wonderful promise, I will return. But He’s waiting on our meeting His conditions and His conditions are return to me.
So I wanna introduce you to this message return to me. And as a spiritual leader I wanna encourage you to let God begin the work with you. I was meeting for a time of prayer by Zoom the other day with a group of leaders in our convention. And some of them are sensing a need for maybe a fresh call to prayer and solemn assembly like took place in 1989 when our Southern Baptist prayer leaders issued that call September the 17th. But as we talked and prayed about it we began praying and we realized you know, we don’t need just another meeting where we get together and say the right words, we need to return to the Lord. And as we prayed, we really sensed a part of what the Lord was saying to us is that we need to prepare the way. You’ll see in this passage that God says, I will send my messenger to prepare. You remember John the Baptist. He came as a messenger and he claimed quoting from Isaiah 40. He said, “I’m the one voice crying out in the wilderness “to prepare the way of the Lord.” And in that passage in Isaiah 40 God says that the valleys need to be filled up. There’re deficiencies in our lives that need to be filled up. And there they’re mountains or barriers that need to come down or be brought low. The crooked ways need to be made straight. And that word crooked reminds me of the meaning of iniquity.
The word iniquity is a moral twistedness or crookedness. And we need to get our paths straight. We need to deal with that and make the rough ways smooth or plain for the coming of the Lord. Henry Blackaby quoting again from Isaiah talks about the need for a highway of holiness over which the Lord will come to His people. And we as spiritual leaders I believe and as we were praying we sensed a part of what we need to do is we need to prepare ourselves by returning to the Lord so that we can be His instrument to help His people return to the Lord. In Genesis there’s a passage of scripture that troubles me in light of the conditions in our world in Genesis chapter 6. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness “on the earth had become. “And that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart “was only evil all the time. “The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth “and that His heart was filled with pain.”
Can you imagine God being grieved that He even created mankind, that He had pain in His heart because of the wickedness of the people in that day. And you remember in that time, He brought a great judgment through a flood, but He spared Noah because Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. And I can imagine what God must grieve over today with the wickedness in the world, the magnitude of the sin and the evil in our world today and even in our own nation. And God is broken hearted over that. He’s grieved, He’s pained in His heart and He’s crying out to us, come back to me, return to me. And then He makes this wonderful promise. I’ll return to you. I wanna introduce you to this message. And I’m gonna attempt to share my screen with you and see if I can get this to work right. But I wanna share with you God’s pattern for revival and spiritual awakening. This comes from a fresh encounter. And I just wanna walk through this real quickly but God is the one who’s on mission to redeem a lost world. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. And He has called out a people who were not a people. And He’s made us His people. And His plan is to work through us to carry out the redemptive work of Christ. Jesus has already done the work on the cross. He’s ascended into heaven, and He is entrusted to us the ministry and the message of reconciliation. When we are the people God intended for us to be, we ought to see a spiritual harvest, or when that happens in large numbers in high percentages we call it a spiritual awakening.
A spiritual awakening is a time when a lost people come to faith in Christ in such large numbers or high percentages that it transforms the culture. It changes things. And that’s what we need desperately in the United States today. But the second phase that we see in this pattern is that God’s people have a tendency to depart from the Lord. We drift away from Him. Usually it’s not a rapid decline or fall, but we begin to drift and we get further and further away from the Lord. It starts with a shift of our heart where we don’t love Him like we’re supposed to love Him. And then it begins to show up in our behaviors where we’re not the people God created us to be. When we depart from the Lord, God disciplines His children out of love. God disciplines those who’ve departed from Him and He does it because He loves us. I think two reasons. One, God knows up here in the middle of His activity is where we experience life at its best. But a second reason in He’s got work for us to do. And if we’ve departed and we’re not carrying out His redemptive work and carrying the gospel to a lost world, people are dying and going to hell because of our lack of faithfulness and keeping His work. He’s given us an assignment. Go and make disciples of all people. So He disciplines us and calls us back to the relationship.
But also back to the work He has for us to do. When God disciplines His people, we can come to the place where we cry out to Him for help. We can cry out either because the discipline becomes so severe and it hurts so badly that we cry out for God to rescue us from this mess that we’re in. I’m guessing that even in the United States today there are people crying out for help because of the suffering they’re experiencing. And when we cry out to the Lord, He’s attentive to that. But there’s another reason we might cry out. It may be that God convicts us by spirit. He convicts us of our sin and we realize because of our sin, our heavenly Father, our creator, our Lord and Savior Jesus are grieved in their heart over the condition of their people. And when we grieve like that, God can call us to cry out to Him and say Lord, bring me back. Bring me home, restore me to life and vitality.
Once again, it may be that part of the reason you’re watching this webinars is because you recognize that your church desperately needs to return to the Lord. When we cry out to God, He gives us an invitation to repent and return to Him or perish. And that word perish we’re not talking about eternal destiny. We’re talking about usefulness to the kingdom. And you remember the church at Ephesus Jesus said, you’ve left your first love. That’s where a departure from the Lord starts. And if we’ve left our first love Jesus said to that church, remember the height from which you’ve fallen. Repent, do your first works. If you do not repent I will remove your candlestick from its place. Well the candlestick doesn’t sound too serious unless you’ve read chapter 1. And you realize that’s the church. Jesus said to the church at Ephesus, you’ve left your first love, the first and greatest commandment. If you don’t repent on that one, I’ll remove your church. Southern Baptist are losing an average of 835 churches every year.
Over the last 10 years that’s been our average. And churches may die. Or the sad thing is that they can keep the machinery working and be of no use to God. But God’s not interested in the perish side of this phase. He’s interested in the repentant side. And if we will repent, change our mind and agree with God that His ways are right, change our heart and return to our first love for Him so that we love Him and we want to obey Him, we change our will, where we make a determination, I’m gonna live my life differently. We’re gonna be a different church than we have been. And then we change our ways of when God when we have thoroughly repented of that and returned to the Lord, verse 6 God revives His repentant people. He restores us to life and vitality. Now in this pattern for revival and spiritual awakening one of the topics we deal with we talk about Amos’s passage in Amos 7 where we see the imagery of a plumb line. God says, the scriptures says God was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb with a plumb line in His hand. And He sets the plumb line alongside His people who’ve departed from Him, the leaning tower of pieces of visual illustration of that. And we need to return to the Lord when we see how far we’ve departed God calls us to return. And the place to start is at the foundation at B.
We’ve got the behavior problems at A where we see that we’ve departed and we’re long way from Him but we need to return to our first love. And God’s word becomes a plumb line from scripture to show us what God wants us to be. Let me share with you kind of the outline for return to me this tool. As I began to pray about this tool I tried to think through what are the big issues that I see churches need to get right with the Lord if we’re to be what God wants us to be and I’ve come up with an eight session, eight group session plan where you have an introductory session. The first week of content material is return to me. And that’s kind of introductory. I’ll show you more about that in just a moment. But then the six topics that I see as major issues. And I see as you all are talking about the connect and some of these fit in those categories we first return to our first love for God, love God. We need to get that right. And I’ve given a lot more detail in these first two weeks because if we don’t get to love God right, nothing else we do will be right. So we need to return to our first love. Once we’ve done that, then we need to love one another. And for churches that are needing revitalization, often one of the reasons they need that revitalization is because we don’t love each other anymore, or not like we ought to. So we need to love one another. That’s the way we demonstrate to a watching world that we are the disciples and followers of Christ. But then we have the opportunity to love a lost world and allow God to work through us as we love other people. The next big category is surrender all. And there we need to help people understand that I need to let Jesus be Lord of my life. I need to choose to obey Him and I need to allow Him to guide and direct my life.
So I need to surrender to Christ as Lord. But then in our church we need to understand that Jesus is head of His church. And if we compete with Him for His headship the church can’t be healthy like God intended. So we need to restore Christ as head of His church. Then the focus shifts to being transformed. We need to be transformed into the image of Christ. We need to be clean and pure and Holy. We need to walk with Him and we need to talk like Him, we need to love other people like Him. And so we need to be transformed into the image of Christ so that when people meet me and you they meet Jesus Christ in us without any human distortion or pollution. After transformation then we join God’s mission. And we need to be working in all of these areas all the time but we need to be a prepared people. Jesus said to His disciples wait in the city until you’ve been endued with power from on high. And so 10 days between ascension and Pentecost, the disciples prayed and sought the Lord. And then on the day of Pentecost God filled them with His Holy Spirit and they received the power of the Holy Spirit in them. Jesus had told them, you’re going to receive power when you’re my witnesses. And you’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. But that comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
We joined God’s mission, begin to carry out His mission and then ultimately we need to glorify God. Not only in our lips, by declaring the marvelous and wonderful works of the Lord that He’s done in our midst, to telling the next generation but we also need to glorify God in the way we live our lives so that when people see our good works they will glorify the Father who’s in heaven. Let me just do one other thing quickly with you and by way of introduction. Let me share with you the topics that I deal with in “Return to Me” in just a moment. I’ll see if you’ve got questions. There are so many things I’d love to share with you but a lot of them are in the book. If you’ll start reading it. But let me share with you the outline of the days. These are topics, the introductory material talk about preparing the bride for the wedding supper with the lamb. Tell you a story from TW Hunt where God caused Him to grieve over the sickness of his own wife or bride. And TW had written the message for the mind of Christ. And the Lord said, TW you’ve grieved over your bride but I too have a bride and she’s really sick. And I new you couldn’t possibly comprehend how grieved I am without my taking you through this experience and TW sensed God’s calling him and his life and ministry to prepare the bride. We need to help prepare the bride not just for because the wedding supper is going to occur and we need to be ready for that. But we as the bride of Christ need to be living in a state of readiness so that we can fulfill the mission God has for us. We need to return to the Lord. And that’s the dealing with the return message in Malachi 3. We need to return to God’s design.
And what I’m gonna do throughout this message is confront God’s people with the plumb line from scripture and ask the question of what would we have to do to be restored or to return to being the people God wants us to be. What would I have to do? What would we have to do as a church? We need to bow the knee in full surrender to the Lord. And then we need to demonstrate our change to life. You remember that John the Baptist said that to the people coming to be baptized by him you breed of vipers, why are you fleeing from God’s wrath? You first go and bear the fruits of repentance and then come to be baptized. God’s looking for fruits of repentance. And so we need to understand throughout each of these topics that God’s wanting our return to Him and we need to demonstrate that with our actions not just with our lips. Let me just run real quickly over the rest of these. Love God, we deal with pursue a wholehearted love, return to your first love. Make sure you’re in the faith. There are some in our church that may not be in the faith and they need to return to the Lord. Remove idols from your heart, and then obey Him because you love Him. The next a big topic love others. We need to love one another in tangible ways. Then we need to love the lost world and demonstrate the love of Christ to them. We need to spur one another on to love and good deeds. We need to maintain the unity of the spirit.
We need to forgive one another and reconcile relationships. And surrender all, we need to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. You need to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Christ. You need to humble yourself and put away pride. We need to follow Christ’s example of service, and we need to restore Jesus Christ as head of His church. Under to be transformed, we need to be transformed into the image of Christ. We need to be holy as God is holy. We need to purify ourselves and put away sexual immorality. We need to seek God’s help to control our words. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit of Christ. And then we need to get busy about the mission, join God’s mission. We need to repent and obey Christ final command. We need to become a house of prayer for the nations to function as the body of Christ, to let down our nets for a catch and manage well the resources that God has entrusted to us. And then finally, we need to live a life that’s worthy. That brings glory to God. We need to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, we need to so abide in Christ that He will bear much lasting fruit through us that will bring glory to His father. We need to declare His glory to the nations and we need to present our own bodies as a living sacrifice to the Lord. Well, that’s kind of the big picture of where I present this.
Ken you had asked me to allow for some time for Q and A and maybe I sparked a few thoughts but I’d be happy to answer questions. And I do want to mention though that I’ve given you the link for a sample that has first few days of lessons and all of this introductory comment, that introductory session as well as a pastors guide that a pastor might be able to read through and begin thinking about how he might be able to use “Return to Me.” But I wonder if you’ve got questions for me.
Yeah, and just to frame this some for our church leaders that are out there as I use this and again, I co-interim with Rick Barnhart church in Montgomery. We use this for the eight weeks roughly and doing both our Wednesday, our Sunday school and our worship time around the theme of “Return to Me.” And it’s an excellent resource. Our people were drawn to it and wanted more copies to give out to their friends and family. Also, just to share with you again if you’ll send us an email, we’ll send you an email if you send us your address back we’ll provide you a copy of “Return to Me.” One of the good things about this is if you do it as a church or in a small group it’s only $5 a copy even to order it. So I wanted to make that clear as well. So, question from Michael Brooks, do participants commit to daily study between group sessions?
Yes, and the first two weeks in this content material are similar to the way I’ve done a lot of discipleship tools. They’re only two pages. So it doesn’t take a lot of time to look through those. But the first two weeks I give content and commentary to help people return to the Lord. First is introduction to the whole message. And then in the second week helping people return to their first love. And I felt like that was foundational. But then the more I got to praying about it I got to thinking, you know if I can just take people to God’s word as a plumb line and say this is what God says we’re supposed to be. You listened to all those topics. Those are things God’s commanded of us. And so I used the scripture so people look at the scripture and then ask the question, what does God want us to be as His people? What does God want me to be as a follower of His? And then I ask them what would have to change for us to look like that? So they began to talk with one another in the group what would need to change in my life, in our church for us to return to being the people God wants us to be. And then I asked them to take one more step and come up with an I will or a we will statement where we share with one another here here’s what I’m gonna do to repent. But I remind you it’s not enough to say with your mouth, you got to do it. So the small group time really is a time for people to share. Here’s what God’s saying to me, here’s what I think He’s saying to us as a church. And then to talk with one another. In fact, let me just I’ll try not to spend a whole lot of time answering questions link the lead but in Malachi 3 it says, then those who feared the Lord talked with each other and the Lord listened and heard and a scroll of remembrance was written in His presence. And then it says in verse 18, you will again see a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. My prayer is that as we return to God’s plumb line is standard in scripture. And we begin to obey that. And we’re talking with one another that God will begin to transform us. And there will again be a distinction between those who love and serve the Lord, a church that represents Jesus Christ well and those who do not.
Here’s another question. If the pastor teaches return to me, he also preaches these themes on Sunday? That’s the question mark with that statement there.
Ken you might share your own experience with that. Why don’t you come in about what you’ve done with your church? You work in through this with.
Yeah again, we are very much in a revitalization church health situation there at the church in Montgomery. And so Rick and I chose to every church Bible study that we were doing was gonna be geared around return to me. So both our Wednesday and our Sunday school time and our preaching time we would select one of the themes that week. And we would preach through that as the message for Sunday morning. And again, the synergy of it all being together all. And we’re all kind of a little bit separated right now with COVID and so we also said to our congregation, this is a way for us all to be sharing in together in this time. So we’re all studying through, praying through, reading, doing the work during the week. We’re all doing this together. And so there’s a sense of fellowship in that as well. So we wanted it to all blend together. By the way at the end of it, there was a, it was kind of unsaid, but then once I said it others said it that we really felt like, hey it’s time just to go back to the beginning of return to me, go back through it again because this is not check the box I’ve done the five days. This is return to the Lord, it’s serious business. So again, if a pastor so chooses and I would recommend that he would use Sunday morning preaching time to preach through return to me.
Just another comment on that. I know it’s easy sometimes for a pastor to think you know rather than asking people to get engaged in the process of the book, I’ll just preach on each of these topics. You could do that. And I think there’s enough content in all 35 of those topics. This could be an annual sermon series for you. However, my experience is and I quote from a David Bryant. But I think there’s value in this. David Bryant is the one that started Concerts of Prayer internet. And he made this statement one in the group I was in, he said, the way I see it my job is to take people to God and He can take them from there. And what I’ve done with this whole message is to daily take people to God’s word and ask them to talk to God about what He’s saying in the scripture. And when God’s people talk to the Lord about it and God speaks to them and tells them what He wants they will respond in a very different way. And so I really would encourage you to preach supplementary messages. And there’s plenty of content you can preach on each one of these topics. But don’t neglect asking your people to get into God’s word to listen to what God’s saying to them and then to obey Him. And I think it’ll make a significant difference in the response of His people. Let me mention too one of the, in the back of the book I don’t know that you can see this, but there’s a bookmark. And that bookmark has eight questions on it. And those eight questions basically become the guide for the small group experience. And a part of what I’m praying will happen in this is that people will experience a restoration of vitality. One of the questions I begin with is ask people what’s God done this week or provided for which you’re thankful. And I get people to talk in about what they’re thankful for because in a church that needs revitalization frequently the focus is all on the problems. And we get so discouraged that we don’t stop to realize God’s doing things in our lives and in our church and our community. And when we begin to pay attention that can get our focus back on the Lord what He’s doing rather than dwelling on the problems. And then we talk to each other about the struggles we’re facing challenges and watch to see other ways that we can meet each other’s needs in tangible ways and demonstrate love to one another. And I’ve been in churches where because of conflict and division there’s not much love. And if we begin to see God restore the love for one another that can begin to bring healing and vitality to a church. And then we look at God’s word, what would have to change for us to look like that? We talk about the I will statements or we will statements. And my prayer is that as God’s people start returning to the Lord in any one of these topics, it’ll be like the prodigal son who’s on his way home and the father sees him a long way down the road and recognizes him. And the father comes running and grasps his son and restores him to sonship. And my prayer is that as a church begins to return to the Lord takes just a few steps that direction, God’s gonna meet him there and people gonna say, wow, if God’s gonna return to us in that way let’s go after in full bore, let’s really return to the Lord. And my prayer is that’ll start happening.
Yeah, a lot of our churches today needs… They’ve lost hope. They’re in situations where they’re wondering how they’re gonna be able to get out of where they are. And it’s just a good way to it’s lovingly confrontational the word as you look at it and you see it, it is lovingly confrontational. That was the love of God through Jesus when He restored Peter and it’s on the pages each day, you’re confronted with this is God’s design for you and for the church, well with you.
Let me share another thought about hope. You mentioned that. And I share it in the material. I think it may be as in the sample, but regarding return. You remember in Jeremiah 2 where God says my people have committed two evils. They have forsaken me the wellspring of living water and they have dug for themselves systems, broken systems they won’t hold water. And you stop and think about that and how ludicrous it is that God’s people would forsake Him, the wellspring of living water, a constant supply of fresh, clean, clear, pure water. We reject that and we don’t dig a hole in the ground and plaster it and try to collect rainwater to quench our thirst. And it’s broken and cracked. And we’re dry and thirsty, essentially though a cistern is a substitute we have created for God and His presence. And many of our churches are dry and thirsty because we’re trapped and prisoners in the waterless cisterns we have created. But in Zachariah, we read these words. As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you. Now, let me ask you what kind of blood of the covenant did Zachariah know about? Well, he only knew about animal blood. You and I have better blood of the covenant because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ himself. So listen to these words in light of the blood of the covenant that we have. Because of the blood of my covenant with you God says I will rescue your prisoners from their waterless system. God wants to rescue us from this waterless cistern we’re in and restore us and replenish us with the abundant supply of living water He can give to us. But the next verse says, so return to your fortress of prisoners of hope. Even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. God wants us to return, but this is a return to a building. Return to your fortress. He’s talking about himself. I’m your fortress, return to me. This is the message, return to me and I will make you a prisoner of hope. I’ll fill you up with hope. I will restore hope to you and I’ll restore double what you’ve lost. And so to me, and one of the things I do in this book by the way every week I’ll share with you what I call faith builders. I tell you stories of what God has done in history or biblically or in my own experience. And I would confess to you, I am a prisoner of hope. I have experienced what God can do. And I know that God can restore life and vitality to sick and broken churches if they will return to Him. So let’s return to our fortress and He can make you a prisoner of hope as well.
Thank you Claude. Amen, amen and amen. And these last few minutes, we talked about this just before we came on this morning. One of the critical needs is a return to prayer, and certainly that’s part of return to me. Would you have some suggestions in these last few minutes concerning an emphasis on prayer, a prolonged emphasis there in the church as people are returning to prayer as they’re returning to the Lord.
Let me just share a few thoughts with you. I do think that we need to pray more. And in my own prayer life I’m yearning for a more fervent prayer life in my own life. And for a spiritual leader we need to model that for our people as well not just in our own personal life but as we pray together. I do think that going through return to me, a part of of that study needs to be as a groups get together whether it’s a live in-person or on Zoom, we need to be praying together. Or getting on the phone and talking with one another and praying together. Jesus said, when two or three of you are present together in my name I’m there with you. There’s something about Christ’s presence when we pray together. And then especially when we pray in agreement with Him, our God answers our prayers. So I think just the basic thing of doing that, we need to do that. I’ve got a prayer guide on my blog and I’ve given you the blog address or the website address, growingdisciples.net. But if you go there under print downloads there’s a tab for awaken, a 21 day prayer guide. And I think there are two versions of it. One’s just the prayer guide, a daily one page devotional and prayer insights about that will get you praying along that direction. Or there’s another version that’s got a one page journal in it as well. You can download those. You have permission to print those, to email them to people, do what you want to. Many churches have used it as the first 21 days of a new year to begin praying for revival and spiritual harvest. And so awaken was designed as a tool for that. And one other thing I would recommend to you on that blog. There’s also, I started doing prayer boot camps with churches after the “War Room” movie came out and it’s based on the “Battle Plan for Prayer” by Stephen and Alex Kendrick. You can download all of my files and do your own prayer bootcamp. And the way it’s designed is you get people who wanna learn to pray more effectively together with seasoned intercessors and you pray. Different kinds of prayers. And as you pray, you find out the way you learn to pray is by praying. And you learn to pray more effectively when you’re around people who know how to pray. So a prayer bootcamp would be another option for you to begin to develop a prayer life. One third thing, Dwayne McCrary at LifeWay just wrote a book recently on prayer. Forgive me for not remembering the title but I think you can download it maybe we can get that to people. But it’s to help Sunday school classes pray more effectively. And I was talking to Dwayne he said, what would a, if a church wants to be a house of prayer, what if every Sunday morning every Sunday school class is praying together for one another, for the lost world, for their ones that they have selected. They’re praying for people who’re lost. What would happen if our Sunday school classes begin to pray fervently. There’s no telling what God would do. So those are some thoughts.
Amen. Amen. Thank you for that. Certainly you mentioned that being a house of prayer God has called us to be a personal house of prayer, corporate house of prayer and certainly return to the Lord one of the fruits of returning to the Lord is returning to being that temple of prayer, that house of prayer that it would be a fruit that would catapult us into the direction of being back in the design that God has for us personally corporately.
Yeah, let me share one other quick thought with you as pastors. One of the things that’s happening developing in the Northeast and in Ohio but pastors are gonna start cohorts to study return to me together as pastors. And about halfway into the process Then they’re going to begin guiding their churches through return to me and have a cohort of pastors where we can share with each other, pray for each other, counsel each other so that together we can guide our churches. So some associations or pastors may wanna do that. Some have done it by Zoom and they’re from different states and they’re going through this message together and sharing with each other. And that might be helpful for some of your pastors to do.
I am all for any way that can get pastors together. As a former DOM I saw that as a key part of overall renewal is for pastors to come together, talk together, pray together, encourage each other. So both if you so choose to do return to me as a cohort to connect together. We also Claude have as a part of our connect strategy. A key component of it is for a couple of coaches to come alongside three or four pastors and meet on Zoom. Or if they’re in a local area meet together over the course of about eight months with again, we certainly have return to me as a key component at the beginning of this process, but through the whole process of connect to come together, to talk together, to resource together and to bat things off of one another as well. Are there any other comments that we might have from anyone? Claude, George, Mike before we conclude our time together. Claude I’m certainly so grateful for your time, for this resource. We will again, get this resource out to those who request it. We’ll send them an email. If they return an address to us then we will forward a copy to them of “Return to Me.” And again, I’m so grateful for the price too. $5 is goodness gracious. It seems like it’s the cost to print it almost. It seems to me as a novice. So so grateful for that as well. Any other word before we close?
Ken I just say that whatever we can do to help folks on this connection, connecting to the creator especially in the area of spiritual renewal, please let us know. We have prayer resources. Take advantage of Claude’s website, growingdisciples.net. You’ll find tons of things there that will be help to you personally as well as to your church corporately and just know we’re partners with you on the journey.
Anything George you wanna share as we close?
I’ll just say that thank you Claude for your time today and for the resource. Ken, you and Mike know that we were privileged and blessed to be able to preview this prepublication last fall about a year almost a year ago I guess. And man, I just I couldn’t type back to Mike fast enough. This is great stuff as we expected. But it was so much glad you could just see you in it. You can just because of some of the prior stuff that you’ve done too from experiencing God on. So thank you so much. And folks download that free resource and send Ken your information so he can get a copy to you. I’m looking forward to taking groups through it myself so.
Yeah, shortly we’ll get an email out to you. And again, from that email you’ll just simply request a copy by sending us your address and we’ll get that on to you.