God Loves and Forgives the Exotic Dancer

That’s an unusual title for a blog, isn’t it? But it’s true! God will love and forgive everyone who comes to Him with a humble and repentant heart. The letter below is one written to me by a woman who found Jesus at Horizon Community Church.  She wrote it anonymously, so to this day I do not know who she is. The letter vividly illustrates the amazing grace of God.

 Dear Pastor Stan:

            I have felt the pull to write you a letter for quite some time. Many times I’ve been unable to put the pen down on the paper. I have a tendency to want to appear perfect. Haha! What a joke that is!

            Nevertheless, here I am on Easter Eve with actual ink on a blank page! Tonight is the perfect time to share with you how amazing my walk with Christ has been; and how instrumental every aspect of the Horizon experience has been in my choice to receive the forgiveness Jesus gave me by dying to forgive my sins.

My adult life has been nothing short of disaster after disaster. I dropped out of Oregon State during my sophomore year and worked full-time since I was 19 years old. I worked in retail and hospitality until I was 22 when I decided to audition to be an exotic dancer. I was hired and quit my full time job as a reservations manager at a Red Lion Hotel when I was making twice the money in one hour that I would make in an 8 hour day. I spent 15 years dancing. Luckily I never did drugs but I drank, prostituted and was suicidal 90% of the time. This is a story that is too long to tell here and now, but it’s important for you to know that I am one of the people you are talking about when you say, “It’s life or death!” I don’t think a lot of people believe that. I am saying it’s true, more often than anyone would ever imagine.

            I came to Horizon in January 2009. My friend’s parents attend and my desire to attend church surfaced in a conversation. She agreed to go with me, so I met her and her family there. I was so nervous. I used to joke that I didn’t go to church because I didn’t want others to get hurt when the building fell as I walked in. (You have mentioned people like this and I crack up now!)

            By this time in my life I was married with a 1 year old daughter. I continued to come…it was an easygoing atmosphere. I could easily get up, get my daughter dressed and throw on some clothes, BAM! out the door to church. Nobody bothered me… I learned a lot from your sermons… and I cried a thousand tears. You let me know that God loved me no matter what. You gave me proof through scripture. You shared knowledge in a way that I understood and felt comfortable about. I felt very convicted every Sunday, but I would learn so much that I would keep coming back. Plus you are hilarious!!! I didn’t know a man or woman of God could be so “normal”! (Meaning (for me) down-to-earth.) I wouldn’t raise my hand to come to Jesus, though, because I went back to working in the adult industry after I got married. (My soon-to-be-ex-husband required me to bring in an income that I was unable to with an hourly job.) I worked until I was 6 months pregnant with our 2nd child. In January 2010, I finally raised my hand… oh what a feeling!!

            When my 2nd daughter was 1 month old, I returned to church. We (me and my girls) had begun living at my parents – my husband had abandoned us in most ways, and my mom and dad came to church with me the first time back. You had an altar call. I had never come up, I was too shy before. But with my parent’s strength to help me I came up, holding my tiny daughter on my shoulder. You looked right at us and I knew you felt my/our pain. (I am sure that gift is hard to bear sometimes.) You talked about how we are not alone with our pain, that God is with us. I was baptized 3 months later, in July, with my 2 daughters watching right there on the lawn.

            Pastor Stan, I know you get quite a few letters, probably hundreds. I have heard you read some. The common thread is how you have relayed God’s truth in a way that expresses the depth and breadth of God’s love and grace. You, the pastoral team, the elders, staff, volunteers, and church members have each contributed to my life “being saved” both physically and spiritually. Awkward Sunday showed me how important the light is, lowered, so one can feel a sense of privacy. The woman who opened the door for me many, many, many times with a smile when I was feeling harried. Having the card to scan to check in my children quickly is wonderful. The coffee, the clean restrooms, the sermon notes in the flyer…are things I love about Horizon. I love that it’s fun! I love that the truth is told! I love that, even being a large church, it really does feel like family.

            The words thank you are not sufficient for all of the people and all of the things that have been done to lead me in the direction of Christ. I simply want you to know how deep my gratitude runs towards Horizon. The touch on my life has touched my daughters, my parents, and (I am sure) others who I don’t even know. I just hope that the parts I play in Horizon will give someone else the environment they need to hear the truth, feel the grace and love of God, and see the amazing body of Christ that I did and still do see.

Sincerely,

(name withheld)

2 Corinthians 5:17-18

17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.  (NLT)

 

Influence in Mainstream and the Marketplace

I was thrilled to see that there are currently three movies that have a bible emphasis that are in the top ten for mainstream Hollywood movies this week. I can’t ever remember this happening before. Heaven is for Real is at #3, Noah at #9 and God’s not Dead at #10. Not to mention that the movie Son of God was also in the top ten just weeks ago. (See the results online here: http://www.boxofficemojo com/weekend/chart/.)

I know you can find fault in some way with each of these movies. Noah: not true enough to the text (I agree), Heaven is for Real: could have gone further to bring it home about how to get to heaven, God’s not Dead: close in quality but missed the mark by a bit, Son of God: too small a budget and looked like the TV series.  But come on people, see it!!! This is good! These movies are in the top ten of mainstream! The point is, we are making progress and we are going to continue to bring Jesus and the bible to mainstream America. I am thrilled about it and praying for the future movie makers, actors and actresses, business people, singers, entertainers, politicians and athletes. It is a new day. We are not going backward, we are going forward. God is calling us to shift the conversation, to change the perception, to show His grace and truth to mainstream America and to do this not just within the confines of church walls.

1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (NLT)

Romans 10:14-15 tells us, “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, ‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!’” (NLT)

I love it when believers penetrate the marketplace. I have this conviction that we made a mistake a generation or two ago when we decided to hold up in the church and keep ourselves pure. We are called by God to shine our light in this world and when we left the mainstream with our music, our art and even decided movies were evil and that we should stay away, we left these things to the darkness. We can use the arts, entertainment and technology in a godly way to change the tide, to bring our nation back to God. The same is true with business. We are all ministers and business can and should be one of our main focuses for ministry. I believe God is calling His people to re-enter the marketplace. To be loving and caring, but bold to share who Jesus really is.

Please pray for and ask God how to support His servants who are missionaries in the entertainment industry. All too often we have made them feel they have left the faith, when in reality they are on the front lines, fulfilling a call that Jesus has given them.

There is a movement afoot to encourage and equip people to do just this. It is called the 7 Mountains of Influence. Here is a brief synopsis of how this got started:

There are 7 Mountains of Influence in Culture…

In 1975, Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade, and Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth with a Mission, had lunch together in Colorado. God simultaneously gave each of these change agents a message to give to the other. During that same timeframe Francis Schaeffer was given a similar message. That message was that if we are to impact any nation for Jesus Christ, then we would have to affect the seven spheres, or mountains of society that are the pillars of any society.

These seven mountains are business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion. There are many subgroups under these main categories. About a month later, the Lord showed Francis Schaeffer the same thing. In essence, God was telling these three change agents where the battlefield was. It was here where culture would be won or lost. Their assignment was to raise up change agents to scale the mountains and to help a new generation of change agents understand the larger story.

Follow this link if you are interested in more information about the 7 Mountains of Influence: http://www.7culturalmountains.org.

Grace and Truth,

Pastor Stan

Change or Die!

Continuous change is necessary to be effective.

Change is really hard for some people. They don’t want to see the old methods go away. Familiarity brings them comfort. But the old always goes away and the new always comes. You can bury your head in the sand, but it just causes problems down the line. If a business goes with the same methods forever it will eventually dry up and die out. Technology, culture shifts, trends and more affect the bottom line and productivity.  Change or die!  It sounds so harsh, but there is truth there. I am talking about methods. Principles never change. You need to be honest, you need to have integrity and you must be fair. But methods need to be changed and more frequently than most want to admit.

Not changing methods along the way will lead to a business or church plateauing and eventually declining. Take the church for instance. If we keep the same old songs and music, the same décor and the same service schedule, we end up accidentally conveying that this is the place that will never change and you can count on it. It’s like we are saying, “This is a great history museum and if you want to see what things were like thirty years ago come here.” If you want a church that is full of only grandmas and grandpas, this is a strategy that is really going to work well, but be ready to close it down and sell the place when the last one dies. No change is the reason why we have more diapers in the pews than in the nurseries these days. Ok, that was a little harsh, but I just couldn’t resist. I love grandmas and grandpas. I know they are a vital part of the church and I want them to share the wealth of their wisdom and experiences with a new generation. But if you want their kids and their grandkids to come to church, you’d better be changing along the way. As a leader it would be best if you teach the grandmas and grandpas to embrace change. It is the only way you are going to reach their families that they so desperately want to follow Jesus. Yes, keep it about Jesus. Yes, keep it focused on the grace and truth of the bible. Yes, keep it biblically principled. But change your methods to reach every age and every generation.

When is the last time you asked yourself, “What is the music the average person listens to these days? What is the best way to communicate the message to them? What kind of atmosphere would make them comfortable to walk into?”

In Isaiah 43:18-19a, God says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”  God’s not afraid of the new. In 1 Chronicles 12:32, the bible says, “…the men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” It is not a sin to understand the times and adjust. It is possible to be current without compromise. I like the saying: “The methods are many, the principles are few. The methods can change, but the principles never do.”

So if you are a pastor you can feel free to ask yourself, “What does our church website look like compared to the websites the average person visits today? What does the sanctuary media technology we use look like compared to what the average person is used to seeing? What are the social media tools that people are currently using? Which ones are the young people on the most?”  These are not unspiritual questions. I suggest that you go on a search to find the methods that will work the best today.

Okay, you are somewhat convinced. If so, try a few of these ideas to make sure you are ministering to all the age groups in the 21st century.

  1. Visit a great church that is effectively reaching all the generations.
  2. Go to a church seminar that teaches pastors to reach this culture effectively.
  3. Sit down with a group of college students and ask them, “What could the church do to reach your generation more effectively?”
  4. Visit church websites that are awesome and find out who created that website.
  5. Check out your local coffee shops to see the atmospheres that unbelievers are comfortable walking into today.
  6. Read a good book about the importance of change in the church. (One you can read is, Who Stole My Church? by Gordon McDonald.)
  7. Be prayed up, studied and ready to deliver a powerful and relevant sermon every time you have a service at your church.

Grace and Truth,

Stan Russell

Comparison is the Enemy of Contentment

We all need to be careful when it comes to comparing. It is one of the things that can make us slip into discouragement. Comparing ourselves to someone who is either close to us and having great success or someone who is at the top of our field is a great temptation for all of us and the bible tells us that it is not a good thing to do.

Galatians 6:4: Let everyone be sure that he is doing his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work well done and won’t need to compare himself with someone else. (TLB)

There will always be someone who has more success or more beauty, more wealth or more talent. The key to contentment is to thank God for what you have and who He made you to be. As the verse above says, do your “very best.” Whether you are a preacher, business person, musician or athlete, do your best and keep improving, but don’t look at others who have had more success and start to become self critical. This just leads to an unhappy heart, which, if continually dwelled on, can lead to an unhappy life.

The Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (NIV) So do your best to grow in God and be content with who you are, where you are and who God made you to be. Contented people have joy and it is contagious. As a matter of a fact, you can help yourself even more by rejoicing with others who are doing well. “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” Romans 12:15 (NIV).

If you do these things, it will make your heart lighter, it will cause people to enjoy being around you and, ironically, being content with where you are and rejoicing with others will make it easier for you to succeed in your field and in life.

Grace and Truth,

Pastor Stan

Wait on God, He Will Come Through!

Do you have a problem that you need God’s help with? Call out to Him. Keep calling and wait on Him and He will answer you.

Psalm 38:15 says, “I wait for you, O Lord; you will answer, O Lord my God.” (NIV)

My wife Karen has a hummingbird feeder in our back yard. For about two years she couldn’t get any hummingbirds interested in drinking the pure sweet nectar concoction that she was making for them. Can you believe that? No takers and all that goodness for free!  Then one day it happened. One came, then another and another. Within a few weeks it became known throughout the hummingbird community that there was a place where they could get their fowl thirst satisfied. It was the Russell residence. Now we have become the most preferred restaurant around, kind of like Red Robin you might say! So much so that they clamor, they fight, and there are often multiples on the feeder. Why? Because Karen always keeps their food fresh and available. Winter sets in and the birds are still here non-stop.

But today something a bit strange happened. They weren’t coming. That is all of them stopped coming but one. That little hummingbird just sat there on the wire next to the feeder for hour upon hour for what seemed like a couple of days. We had never seen that before. Where were the other birds and why was this one little bird just sitting there and waiting? As it turns out, the liquid in the feeder was frozen and the birds couldn’t get it out of the feeder. Karen eventually noticed this, thawed the feeder in the house,  repositioned it outside again, and the little guy who had been waiting around reappeared and started feeding right away.

As I thought about this, it dawned on me that the little bird waited it out. Unlike the others, he was confident that the food would be available again soon. It’s almost like he knew that his provider had been faithful in the past and he was going to hang in there until provision came again. He waited and sure enough, Karen eventually came through.

It made me think of our provider, almighty God. You can count on Him. When we pray and wait on Him for His answers and provision, He will come through. The bible says in Isaiah 30:18: “The Lord wants to show his mercy to you. He wants to rise and comfort you. The Lord is a fair God and everyone who waits for his help will be happy.” (NCV)

So pray and wait on Him and He will come through.

Isaiah 40:30: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (TLB)

Grace and Truth,

Pastor Stan

God’s Will in HD

God’s will sometimes seems elusive. Which way should I go? Where should I concentrate my efforts in ministry? What direction is the right direction?

The key to finding God’s will is prayer! The bible says if we lack wisdom we should pray and God will give it to us (James 1:5). So when we pray we go from SD (standard definition) to HD (high definition).

Recently I have been on a forty day prayer journey along with the church I pastor at Horizon. We are all reading Mark Batterson’s “Draw the Circle, The 40 Day Prayer Challenge.” The book has tremendous insight and inspiration to draw people into a deeper prayer life. We are 30 days in and already it is amazing to me how God is answering prayers for so many families and for me too. Miracles are happening, direction is becoming crystal clear and people are becoming more confident about what to do in the circumstances of their lives. It is all happening because of prayer, which brings High Definition clarity for our lives.

Once you have seen HD it is hard to go back to SD. So, if you need direction, commit your needs to prayer. If you do, I believe that God will show you the way that He wants you to go and the results of following His way will be tremendous blessings.

Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.”

Grace and Truth,

Pastor Stan

How to Make 2014 Your Best Year Yet

1.  Thank God:

Start by thanking God for all He has done for you in the past year. Write it all down. Remembering the good gives us a sense of God being right beside us all along the way. It puts us into a positive mindset, which is a great place to be, much better than the alternative.

Ephesians 5:20

Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NCV)

Philippians 4:6-7

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (MSG)

2.  Ask God:

Ask God what direction He wants you to go in this year, then listen.

James 1:5-6

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. (MSG)

3.  Follow God:

God will give you a sense of direction and when He does, just go there. It is called faith. Abraham, Noah, David and Paul all had to believe and follow to receive the blessing. We have to do the same.

Proverbs 3:5-6

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (NLT)

4.  Enjoy Life:

It might surprise a lot of people, even some believers, but God really does want you to enjoy this life He has given you. When you thank God, ask God, and follow God, you find the best life you could possibly live on this Earth.

Ecclesiastes 8:15

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun. (NIV)

Jesus said in John 10:10:

“…my purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

I hope and pray that you seek God with all your heart this year, because if you do, You will find His heart is toward you and He will give you the best year yet!

In Jeremiah 29:13-14 God says:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (NIV)

Happy New Year!

Pastor Stan

INVITE SOMEONE TO CHURCH THIS CHRISTMAS. YOU COULD CHANGE THEIR LIFE FOR ETERNITY!

Christmas is a time of year when people are open to attending special events, becoming part of a celebration, and checking out the local productions. With that in mind, please don’t underestimate the possibility of people you ask attending a church event with you. Most local churches have a Christmas musical celebration, a production, or even a kid’s play to show what the real meaning of Christmas is. When you invite people to attend such an event at Christmas, the vast majority are not offended. Most of them think it is nice that you asked. After all, you are asking them to join you at a Christmas celebration and letting them know you would like to be with them. Don’t be afraid. There is a great likelihood they will join you! If they do, even the most hardened unbeliever will find that in a true celebration of the birth of Jesus, there will be a lot of love in the house, and when the Holy Spirit shows up to touch hearts, they are moved, perhaps to the point of giving their hearts to Christ. There really is no greater Christmas miracle, so invite a friend and give Jesus and the Holy Spirit a chance to reach them. Our Christmas celebration at Horizon is this Sunday at 9:15 am and 11:00 am. Our special guest, Jesus Christ, will be there to welcome all who attend. The music and the message will be attended by the Holy Spirit who draws all people including unbelievers to Christ. Let’s invite our family and friends who don’t know Him yet. Perhaps we will get to see an incredible Christmas miracle happen in a loved one’s heart.

Check out the link below, an article in The Huffington Post, to see just how such a miracle happened. I hope it inspires you to invite someone to your church’s Christmas celebration.

Matthew 2:10-11   10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. (NLT)

Grace And Truth,

Pastor Stan

A great article to reflect on from The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/angela-jamene/what-people-are-really-th_b_4306949.html

 

 

What a Great Partner!

2013-June Multnomah FallsMy wife, Karen, recently had a birthday. Funny, on that day my main thought was how blessed I was to have such a special lady as my wife. The bible says in Proverbs 18:22: He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord. (NIV)   

Boy have I received favor!  I wrote the following on my Facebook on her birthday:

Today is my wonderful wife Karen’s birthday! The greatest blessing that God has given me in this life is this amazing woman who loves Jesus, has beauty, intelligence, character, kindness and an amazing heart. She truly is the Proverbs 31 woman:

Proverbs 31:10-13, 26-31

10 Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
She is more precious than rubies.
11 Her husband can trust her,
and she will greatly enrich his life.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
26 When she speaks, her words are wise,
and she gives instructions with kindness.
27 She carefully watches everything in her household
and suffers nothing from laziness.
28 Her children stand and bless her.
Her husband praises her:
29 “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world,
but you surpass them all!”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.
31 Reward her for all she has done.
Let her deeds publicly declare her praise. (NLT)

Thank you Karen Russell for loving me and thank you Lord, for allowing me to have this phenomenal woman as my life partner!!!

Happy Birthday Sweetheart! XO

The Sweet Spot of Your Gifting and Anointing is Where You Need to Live

What are you gifted to do? What has God called you to do? You will need to understand the answers to this question if you are going to maximize your productivity for the Kingdom of God.

1 Peter 4:10: Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (NIV)

1 John 2:27: As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him. (NIV)

The Greek definition for the word anointing in this passage is: “anointing” the special endowment of the Holy Spirit.

So what are my gifts and anointing?

“It is when our gift functions easily, comes with ease, natural, no working it up is needed, it is either that or it isn’t. If one has to work it up, one has probably gone outside one’s anointing. If one goes outside one’s anointing, the result is often fatigue, it is weariness or spiritual lethargy that has been described as dying inside.” R.T. Kendall, from his book “Anointing Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”

Where do you move naturally in your life? What do you do that you don’t have to work at? Chances are, that is your gifting and anointing. God wants you to walk in the anointing He has given you for His glory! We discover what gifts and anointing God has given us by the fruit of our efforts and by affirmation of others. It is where our gift functions easily and naturally that we will most often find the will of God.

On the other hand, we can cause ourselves great frustration when we get outside of our gifts. Too many people find themselves lured into working outside their gifts and when a person goes outside of their anointing and gifting, they get fatigued and weary. They feel like they are dying on the inside.

2 Corinthians 10:13-14: We aren’t making outrageous claims here. We’re sticking to the limits of what God has set for us. But there can be no question that those limits reach to and include you. We’re not moving into someone else’s “territory.” We were already there with you, weren’t we? We were the first ones to get there with the Message of Christ, right? So how can there be any question of overstepping our bounds by writing or visiting you? (MSG)

The definition of the word limits in this passage is the word metre and it means: (limits) a measure (“metre”), literally or figuratively; by implication a limited portion (degree)

Identify your metre: the portion within the limits that God has intended for you. Find the sweet spot of your gifting and anointing and stay in your lane. You will enjoy life more, and even more importantly, you will maximize your productivity and fruit for the Kingdom of God!

Page 1 of 41234»