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The local church is the front line of ministry. In the battle against the spiritual forces of evil, the church is the trench. Christ’s bride is dug in, charged up, and ready to die for the freedom of souls. I relish the trench. It’s messy, at times gruesome, and the noise makes it difficult to sleep.

But I love it.

While there is no beauty in warfare (spiritual or otherwise), the battling bride is a gorgeous organism. Despite the muck, despite the damage, and despite the fight, she remains pure, white, and righteous. She belongs to Christ. She combats for Christ. She never stops engaging in the mission of reclaiming captives of darkness. The fighting white bride shines in the gray of spiritual war.

As a pastor, I realize the gravity of decisions I make. Vision isn’t just a compelling statement of future growth. Programs aren’t just tools for assimilating more people. Church events are far more than ways to make the community come to the campus.

When you invite someone to church, you’re calling them down into the trench. When you talk to someone about joining the mission, you’re asking them to suit up and grab a gospel grenade. The church is currently fighting a battle which will lead to ultimate victory. We win. Satan loses. And Jesus reigns. But we still must fight. The beautiful bride is a battling warrior.

Let’s stop pretending our churches are polished platforms of sanitized morality, speaking sentimentality apart from Truth. Let’s burn the preferences of wooden traditionalism. Let’s quit the silly game of worship experience one-upmanship. Let’s elevate spiritual grit above smooth and seamless operations. We’re in the middle of a serious war. Let’s get real about what we believe and who we’re really following.

When King Jesus returns, will he find the faithful in the trenches or in comfortable country clubs?

So we dig in. War is not won when soldiers retreat. Victory does not come to indifferent combatants. I’ve been guilty of placing myself on a pedestal. I’ve tried to climb into the ivory tower. I’ve ridden a few high horses. And I’ve found I’m at my best when I’m covered in mud in the trench of the local church. I’m fighting most fiercely when I’m not worried about my personal brand. I’m fighting well when I’m more concerned about the local pregnancy clinic than who retweets one of my pithy—but ultimately useless—140-character oddments.

So I fight.

I fight for people in the womb.

I fight for diversity in the local church.

I fight to help the poor.

I fight against injustice, and I fight for the widow.

I fight for every tongue, tribe, and nation.

I fight so sinners can clearly hear the deafening and all-consuming gospel.

The trench is the front line. I never want to leave until the battle is done. I want to die here: old, leathered, scarred, and exhausted. I can’t imagine approaching the throne of God unless I’m ready to collapse into the arms of Jesus.

I won’t stop until King Jesus returns, offering the victory promised. God, please don’t ever take me out of the trench. I want to die fighting.

Sam Rainer

43.7-million people worldwide were forcibly displaced by conflict by the end of 2010, the highest number in the past 15 years. It does not include those displaced by this year’s conflicts in Libya or Syria.

More than 7 million refugees have been living in exile for more than five years, some for more than 30 years.

Pakistan has the world’s largest refugee population at 1.9 million. Iran is second, Syria third, with 1.1 million and 1 million, respectively.

Memphis is the home to thousands and thousands of refugees.

Nearly 1500 Somalis live in the city of Memphis.

Close to 2,000 Fulanis from West Africa live here.

10,000-15,000 Muslims living in Memphis.

Memphis is home to people from Cambodia, Burundi, Sudan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Vietnam, Iraq, Ethiopia, Cuba, Honduras, India, China, Jordan, and more.

Memphis is the home to at least 4 mosques, 1 Hindu temple, 2 Buddhist temples, and multiple churches in various languages: Arabic, Swahili, Vietnamese, Spanish, Nepali, Laotian, and many more.

Memphis receives 200+ new refugees/year.

Needless to say, THE NATIONS ARE AMONG US IN MEMPHIS!

SO WHAT CAN YOU AND I DO?

1. Get to know your neighbors. Talk to people that may not look or act like you. Engage in conversation.

2. Teach English by volunteering with the Refugee Empowerment Program.

3. Pray for the 43.7 million people around the world who are displaced and pray for the ones who have resettled in Memphis.

4. Eat at a local international restaurant such as Abyssinia, India Palace, Pho Saigon, Bhan Thai, Casablanca, or Kabob International.

5. Google “religious holidays” or “world religions” to learn more about your neighbors.

6. Walk along side a refugee family and help them resettle in Memphis by volunteering with Christ Community Ministries. You can email my friend, Steve Moses.

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Acts 17:26-27

1st, a Christ-follower thinks, “God made summer.” (Ps 74:17)

2nd a Christ-follower asks, “Why did God make summer?

Everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory! Rom 11:36 (NLT)

Everything was created through Jesus and for Him. Col 1:17 (NLT)

3rd, a Christ-follower asks, “OK, if God is giving me this summer to glorify Him, how can my family and I best do that in the way we spend our summer?

Here’s one answer.

This summer, we’re going to find ways to see, savor and show Christ.

We’re going to see Him.

We’re going to enjoy His world, so lots of time outside. We’re going to look for him in sports and cookouts, music and books, the lake and the city, home and wherever we travel, family time and solitude. I intend to end every day by answering one question – “where did I see God today?”

We’re going to savor Him

We’re going to make much of Jesus by gathering with His people to worship whenever possible. We intend to try to thank Him instead of griping. I want to talk to him first thing and last thing every day. I want to sing to Him and about Him to myself (no one wants to hear me serenade them – even about God!) I want to memorize a verse each week. I want to read a different Bible version this summer. I’ll try to trust his sovereignty in everything. This summer, I’m going to end each day by reminding myself, “God is for me, not against me.”

We’re going to show Him

Since God is love, we’re going to find some way to show love to someone new every day. At the end of each day, I want to know who saw Jesus in me.

What is summer for?

Summer is for seeing, savoring and showing Christ.


I have the privilege of being friends with Jim and Cynthia Siegfried. I personally watched Jim and Cyndi walk through the dark valley of cancer, and prayed with them on the roller coaster ride of exams and reports. One word describes both through the journey: HOPE

Cynthia’s book, Cancer Journey, is the story of their lives – and the basis of their hope. It is honest, inspirational and full of encouragement.

You’ll learn…

1. God is still in the miracle business.
2. How to manage fear
3. Where to find help
4. How to take care of yourself
5. What “not” to say
6. How to help a friend in crisis
7. Where to find hope

If you order right now, not only will you be encouraged and inspired, but you will help Cynthia go to the top of Amazon.

To order, click here.

Every year, I get my flu shot and afterwards, I feel blah.  Not really sick, but definitely a “man sick” (which means I whine to my wife). My body responds to the vaccine exactly as it was supposed to do.  I received a broken down, weak, ineffective version of the virus that made me a little sick, so in turn I could be immune to the real thing. 

As happy as I am for inoculations against influenza, measles, and smallpox, I am concerned about an ongoing trend that I’ve seen in America, what I like to refer to as “being immunized against the gospel.” In other words, many people get enough of the false form of the gospel that they grow resistant to the real thing.  They think they have seen it and maybe even had a bout with it, but it just did not take or was not life changing.

When asked, 8 in 10 Americans will identify themselves as Christians.  I think it’s pretty obvious, however, that by taking a brief look around our nation, 80 percent of people are not living like followers of Christ. 

It’s like “the god of the Grammys” who pops up every year during award season. Some singer or actor whose daily ungodliness is chronicled in every tabloid and entertainment website wins the statue and immediately, upon taking the microphone, begins to “thank God for this.” God gets a hat tip at the Grammys but not a holy life day by day.

There is little similarity between the Americanized version of Christianity and what most of us know the real deal is supposed to look like.

I think that many people have received this “Christianity vaccine,” casually or regularly attending churches each week that are presenting a weakened, broken down faith.  It’s the kind of religion that Mark Twain explained when he said, “Church is where good people stand in front of good people and tell them how to be good people.”

The danger is obvious.  When you are exposed to the weakened and false thing, you can build up immunity to the real thing. The vibrancy of the resurrection life of Christ is kept safely away in lieu of the comfort of the religious self.
In the upcoming years, our country will probably continue its path in philosophy, religion, and life.  It will be like today—just more of it.  What is common in media will become commonplace in neighborhoods—media influences culture.
If trends continue, we will be an increasingly diverse religious society with a stronger bent toward pluralism.  And, in the midst of all of this, there will be robust, evangelical churches reaching lost people and doing powerful work for the Kingdom. 

I am not despairing; I’ve read the end of the Book and know how it works out.  I see an increasing need, however, to be working even harder to eradicate the weak, ineffective strains of Christianity that have plagued our churches and denominations.  These can be seen, for example, when we mistakenly begin confusing moralism with the Gospel.  It is the mindset that one “does” certain things to please God and “does not do” other things that displease Him. The “does” and “does not do’s” may change, depending on to whom you are talking, but the legalistic, moralistic spirit remains the same. It is, essentially, the religion from which Jesus died to save us.

We need to get past these shallow, comfortable interpretations of the biblical text and get to a place where we’re preaching a Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered, cross-focused approach to life and ministry.  Even if this makes our churches and denominations numerically smaller for a while, I believe they’ll be better.  They’ll be less proud and more focused, and that will be a good thing.

The Christianity that I see today in most churches is not the Christianity that I want my children to inherit, and, quite frankly, you should not want it for yours either.  In order to see the change happen, however, it will involve how we live and what we proclaim. 

We need to preach to people who may love Jesus, but don’t really know how to live for Him because they think the Gospel is something that they get over, not something they live in.  We need to preach to people who think they’re saved, but are simply immunized against the real Gospel. People are sick but they don’t need to be immunized against Christianity.  Jesus is the cure and we must live, preach, and minister in such a contagious way that it spreads and maximizes His message in this world. By Ed Stetzer

At the end of each year, I spend a few days alone in a personal retreat. It allows me to reevaluate the past year, repent of my sins, read a lot of Scripture, pray long and rambling prayers and plan for the next year.

One need in my life I’ll be addressing this year will be margin – a constant battle for me. Margin is open space, reserve, free time, money in the bank, enough to spare, space.

The opposite of margin is “out-of… ” “maxed-out,” “on-the-edge,” “can’t do it,” “overload.”

Richard Swenson writes…

Overload is not having time to finish the book you are reading on stress. Margin is having time to read it twice.

Overload is fatigue. Margin is energy.

Overload is red ink. Margin is black ink.

Overload is hurry. Margin is calm.

Overload is anxiety. Margin is security.

Overload is the disease of our time. Margin is the cure.

Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations.

A friend recently sent me Mark Batterson’s devotional. It points out the need for and the way to margin.

One of the hardest things for me to do right now is to maintain a margin. It’s hard to keep up with email. I can’t meet with everybody I’d like to meet with. It’s tough to juggle pastoring and writing. And my kids need their dad more than ever. But for all of those reasons, maintaining margin is the key to maintaining everything else. Starting with sanity!

When you lose margin, you lose perspective.
When you lose margin, you lose creativity.
When you lose margin, you lose gratitude.
When you lose margin, you lose peace of mind.
When you lose margin, you lose sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
When you lose margin, you lose emotional reserves.

So how do you maintain margin? I think it comes down to time management. If you don’t control your calendar, your calendar will control you. You’ve got to schedule time with God. And it probably needs to be a consistent time slot. You’ve got to schedule time for yourself. That includes days off, days without meetings, off site meetings, etc. If you need to, schedule reading time! Or just put a book in the bathroom!

Tomorrow at the Orchard Fellowship –

Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, war, our own pain and problems – what is God doing?

And..

How can anyone possibly understand the book of Revelation?

Join us as we explore the book of Revelation and discover that, at any time, God is doing three incredible things.

We meet at St. George’s Independent School, on Poplar, in Germantown, 10:45am. See you there!

In 2009, my heart began to be stirred and my mind gripped with a vision – to plant a church in the suburbs of Memphis.

My questions were many…

Is 58 too old to plant a church?

Would I be received or opposed?

Is this God’s leading or my mid-life restlessness?

Would anyone follow me? Would anyone stay after the first visit?

What if it fails? What then?

How will Ruthe and I survive financially?

Can we sell our house in this market?

On April 15, we left Hope Church in Tupelo to launch the Orchard Fellowship in the Germantown/Collierville/Cordova/Olive Branch area. What a ride it has been so far!!

One of the major hurtles was the sale of our house in Tupelo. We prayed daily – sometimes many times a day. Others prayed. The Core of the church prayed. We worked – spending significant dollars to upgrade and repair every little thing we could find. Our agent, Brenda Spencer, worked tirelessly to market the house.

We had 2 failed contracts, and one possible failure.

By the grace of God, on Oct 22, we walked away from an attorney’s desk, leaving keys and holding a check. Did we get out of the house what we hoped? Of course not – but we did get more than we deserve.

Ruthe and I want to thank everyone who prayed for the sale of our house.

PS. Our “stuff is in storage in Tupelo, waiting the location and purchase of a home in the area of the church. Thanks for praying for the house where we can make a home and neighborhood where we can be a blessing. Mil Gracias!

One of the questions we’ve fielded over the last several months is the decision to plant a church in the suburbs. After all, the hip (and needed) place to plant a church these days is the heart of the city – downtown and midtown.

We did talk and pray long and hard about location. Several factors came into play as we decided to plant in the eastern ‘burbs of Shelby County: relationships, potential impact and influence in the city, and the sense of God’s leadership.

My friend and fellow Orchard Fellowshipper, Nolan Bobbit, sent me the following….

Joel Kotkin, an internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends… analyzed the total population growth in metro areas of more than one million people. Between 2000 and 2006, 92% of that population growth was in the suburbs while 8% of the growth was in the core city.

It was a great reminder to me that as the population continues to grow in the suburbs, the demand for vibrant, suburban churches also increases. That doesn’t mean we need to forget our city centers when it comes to planting and growing healthy churches. It’s just a reminder that we need to be intentional about reaching people moving into new and existing suburban communities.

The interesting thing is that in “church world”, there seems to be a number of new voices talking about how churches need to engage our city centers. That’s a good thing, because it’s a topic that seemed to be completely absent from the conversation in the past. I have a strong suspicion, though, that what leads to vibrant churches in the city core may not necessarily be effective in engaging our suburban communities.

It’s a whole different world when you live and do ministry 36 miles from the closest metro stop. What works in New York City or Seattle may not reach my neighbors in Paulding County, Georgia. It’s a different context. It’s a different mindset. And, it’s going to take different churches to reach different people.

It took 6 months, fervent daily prayer, a committed real estate agent, a major business moving to the area (Toyota), 3 failed contracts, and the gracious move of God.

We are free – now – to purchase a home in the Memphis area. We really look forward to that.

Ruthe and I had planned to travel to Cabot, AR (just north of Little Rock) to watch Sam and Abe (our two grandsons) play football on Saturday morning.

Friday morning, Ruthe said, “how about riding the motorcycle (Honda VTX 1800)?” We suited up, took off in the afternoon, and fought a terrific wind the entire trip.

Friday night, we watched the Cabot Panthers play – ah, high school football! The joy was watching our daughter, the Cabot High Foundation President, recognize several fine students for their achievements in the pre-game ceremonies.

Saturday morning, we baked in the sun and watched four (4) games! What a joy!

Abe

Sam

Abe

Sam

After lunch, back to Memphis – fighting a terrific wind once again, on one of the most heavily -traveled highways in the nation – I40, between Little Rock and Memphis. The temperature began to fall and we began to chill in the wind. Thanks be to God for a cold but safe trip.

Sunday morning, the Orchard Fellowship overflowed with passionate worshippers – a great day of worship. By His grace, we are not far from moving to two services – 4 weeks into the launch of the church.

A short nap on Sunday afternoon – just like the Bible teaches – a long run and the evening with my sweetheart.

A good weekend – Thanks be to the Giver of Joy!

If you are part of the Core, or the Launch Team, if you have been attending, and are willing to serve, join us at the Parish Hall at St. George’s School, on Poplar in Germantown – Wed night, Sept 29, 7:00pm.

I’d love to see you.

Pastor Sam

This is a very popular prophecy chart of the book of Revelation from a few years ago.

Honestly, does it help you know more about Revelation, the coming of Christ and the end of the world?

Well, what does Revelation teach?

Why study it, when it has spawned so much controversy?

It seems like science fiction. Is it?

Does the Bible mention Islam? The World Trade Center bombing? The recession? Are these events and movements signs of the end?

Who can make heads or tails of this stuff?

This Sunday, we’ll begin the book of Revelation at the Orchard Fellowship. I’ve never taught through the book, so it’s all fresh.

And – I’m so encouraged by it.

I hope to see you Sunday, 10:45am, St. George’s Independent School, on Poplar, in Germantown.

This morning, the Orchard Fellowship was launched. St. George’s was filled and chairs were brought in. The preschool overflowed, the Core Team worked like crazy, we had only a few parking spaces vacant (with many of us parking on the street), dozens of donuts were consumed.

Here are some unsolicited comments:

Mike – “there was a really sweet spirit this morning.”

Jonathan – “I began to weep with the sense of God’s presence before I even sat down.”

Steve – “When I saw where you were going in the message, I could not contain the tears.”

Heather – “This is my friend. She’s from the Sudan.”

Judy – “This is what we’ve prayed for – for years.”

John – “We have found a church home!”

Randy – “Sam, we had 9 people indicate they had prayed to receive Christ.”

Nolan – “So when do we begin two services?”

Timmy – “Can I have another donut?”

It was exciting – but more important, Jesus was worshipped, honored and enjoyed.

Next week at the Orchard Fellowship – We begin the book of Revelation!

The Orchard Fellowship launches tomorrow, Sunday morning, 10:45AM, at St George’s Independent School, on Poplar, in Germantown.

Man, will I sleep tonight? I doubt it!