Heaven’s Lessons: New Book Now Available

What happens when you knock on death’s door not once, but twice?

As Steve Sjogren opened his eyes during surgery, the people around his bed didn’t look familiar. They didn’t look like any people he had ever seen before—they were transparent. No words were spoken, but he knew in an instant they were present to support him, to urge him not give up his desperate fight for life.

Steve had gone into the hospital for a planned forty-five-minute “simple surgery” to remove his gallbladder. But things went haywire that day as the surgeon accidentally cut his aorta and caused his heart to stop for several minutes. He did not go home that night as was scheduled. In fact, he feels like he has been in the recovery room for more than twelve years since that procedure.

In Heaven’s Lessons, Steve Sjogren talks about his encounters with the other side and the priceless lessons God taught him during his journey. Find out what Steve learned about things such as:

  • Suffering
  • God’s voice
  • Conflict
  • Desperation

Come along on the journey as Steve reveals what it’s like to bottom out at all levels—physically, emotionally, and even spiritually—and slowly make a recovery back to normalcy.

5 Ways To Enhance Outreach Momentum by Steve Sjogren

Momentum is a holy thing. It can be blessed to increase or it can be messed with and diminish if we take it for granted. When it’s happening we all smile, we celebrate and look pretty smart. If we are wise we will learn to walk in tune with God’s Spirit regardless of ever-changing external factors.
It is the will of God that his church be continually marked with the presence of his Spirit, which is the force of outreach momentum. Here are some barriers to our momentum.
Momentum is impaired when we allow scaredy cats to speak up.
You can avoid this by going out after an outreach and spending time doing a downloading time.
Momentum is impaired when there is too much talk about money.
A spirit of fear will kill enthusiasm for outreach. Church leadership can begin to think they can’t afford to reach out.
Momentum is impaired when we talk or plan incessantly.
Momentum is impaired when we model outreach with only people who are highly gifted.
Put forward people who are highly gifted and you will intimidate the majority of your congregation.
Momentum is impaired when we do outreach that is too costly.
If what we do is out of the reach of our people we are going to perpetuate a model that only pushes people away from usefulness.
Let’s switch gears a bit. How can we move toward the positive and launch out into what will stir up momentum?
1. Let’s show what’s happening through outreach.
  • Video
  • Website
  • Pictures
2. Let’s gossip what’s happening through outreach.
  • Convey stories throughout the church.
3. Let’s convey the doable-ness of kindness outreach as creatively as you can.
4. Let’s play with words.
  • The “E” word intimidates many. Consider using the term “Kindness Outreach.”
5. Let’s give testimony about former fearful who risked by reaching out and found outreach surprisingly fun.
  • Stories are powerful, especially when conveyed by people others have known to be timid.
For the full version of this article check out ServeCoach.com.

Why I Use Outreach Connect Cards… And Think You Should Too!

We hope that each time you connect with those in your city with acts of kindness, generosity, and practical love you are giving out a “Connect Card.”  Many well meaning folks ask, “Why use any sort of card at all?  Isn’t that a ‘string’ when you say ‘no strings attached’?”  The reality is that people may have questions or want to connect with you after being served by an act of kindness. This is a longer discussion than we have the space for here, but in short think of this:

  • If all churches in your city were filled with the sense of God’s presence,
  • That newcomers would be able to consistently experience the love and welcoming, accepting embrace of the members of that place;
  • And those newcomers would consistently walk away from their weekend experience with the idea that they have been in God’s renewing presence, then indeed there would be no need for cards with any specific churches on them.

But alas, this is not the case in any city, or even small town that we know of.  Thus there is a need to connect with people we are touching in a tactful way as we serve, love, nudge forward toward the kingdom of Jesus.  The key word here is “tactful.”

When we first began using cards they read, “If we can be of more help, give us a call.”  Now, over 20 years later and literally millions of cards, in several languages, those exact words are far from ideal.  As of today, let’s move forward with a slight, but vital edit on that sentence.

Inaccurate Expressions of the Heart

The word that is way off in that sentence is “if.”  We really don’t mean “if,” were we to sit down and chat for a bit.  “If” implies, “You probably have a great life with very few problems, maybe no problems whatsoever…”  And on it goes.  The truth is, none of us / none of them are having a great time in life for the most part.  We are all fellow strugglers.  In Christ we have a deep, abiding peace.  But life is difficult for all of us.

The following is a much better phrase for our cards:

“Call us when we can serve you next.”

OR

“Give us a call when your next need arises.”

OR

“Please call us when you have another need.  Our aim is to show love, not simply talk love.” 

OR

“We look forward to connecting with you again soon!” 

These differences may seem like slight variations to you, but they are huge to those who read closely.  By removing the word “if” we are saying with each card, “You really do have pain in life like all of us.  When that pain occurs again, we’ll be around.  We are here for the long haul.  Give us a call, we’ll be here!”

There are ways to charge up your connect cards and make them more effective. Getting rid of the “IF” word helps open the door for people who need help.  Take the following tips to heart and put a caffeinated surge of momentum into your connect cards!

Avoid Super Cutesy

Not-yet believers roll their eyes at a ten meter distance when in the presence of anything “church cute” though, most believers are used to it and thus don’t notice.  Often it is at a ridiculous level.  Think of the $50 fake tip tract, “Do I have a tip for you!…”  then with real money, they leave a 1% tip.  Disgusting!

Some general rules:

  • If it rhymes, don’t use it!
  • No acrostics!
  • Never, ever use a picture of the Bible with text saying, “Fight truth decay…”

This is a bit tongue-in-cheek but you get the message.

Do Convey Passion

People are hungry beyond words for passion.  Not raving, nutty, holding a bullhorn stuff.  That’s not passion.  That’s often someone in need of a Thorazine drip.

Here is the mental picture you are shooting for… An invitation to a great party that is happening in town.  The “Jesus party” that is happening at your weekend celebration, where all who come are being accepted, loved and celebrated regardless of their background and baggage.  Acceptance is step one toward change.  You were accepted into change whether you realized it or not.  While we were “yet sinners,” Jesus was literally dying to obtain God’s acceptance of us.  We love, we hug.  Most importantly, we serve and invite!  No questions asked.  God’s Sprit does the changing.  People either change or they grow weary of the presence of God’s Spirit and leave until later.

Give Away Your Number

The phone number printed on your connect cards is a very precious gateway into a connection with Jesus.  People bold enough and ready enough to actually dial the number on the card that a was given to them by a follower of Jesus do not want to listen to your church’s automated phone menu or talk to the volunteer church receptionist.  They want to talk to a pastor, the pastor.  For over 25 years, I has been putting his personal cell number on connect cards.  There are two things to realize:

  1. People do not call.  Really, they don’t.  The volume of calls coming from connect cards has been very low.  Besides, it is not as though you have to answer your phone at all hours of the day and night.
  2. The people who do call are in real need.  The people who take the risk of calling the number on your connect card have done so because they are desperate for help.  They are the people you got into the ministry to reach in the first place!

Ready, Fire! Aim

There are numerous opportunities in your community right now where you can begin to show God’s love in practical ways.  God’s Spirit is already at work and He is inviting you to join Him right now.  So let’s get out there and show some love!  And while you are at it, give the people you serve the opportunity to connect with you by putting a connect card in their hand when you serve them.  If you don’t have a supplier yet for your connect cards, my team over at Kindness Resources has put together some great designs that get the message across well.

Prayer as a Smokescreen

Prayer is absolutely essential for any ministry longevity.I used to use the word “success” flippantly to describe what I one day realized was really longevity. What most of us are really aiming for is long-term fruitfulness — something that will endure for the long haul. All too often in modern Church history it is common for a flash in the pan of ministry momentum to appear. A decade later that “ministry” or “minister” is no where to be found. The unique idea the person was proclaiming is no longer spoken of.Indeed, what we are seeking after is longevity.Question 1: How do we gain longevity in life and ministry?Prayer is the beginning and the end of that which will last. It is in a life that trusts in our hearts at all times, relies upon and clings to God that is ultimately blessed. I am known by my friends as being an “idea person” or a “brainstormer” but I am quick to confess that my well of creativity, thoughts, the flow of originality would dry up in a New York minute without the stirring up of the Holy Spirit within and upon me. I lean into the Holy Spirit constantly to get ideas for outreach.

Hold that thought. Let’s switch gears for a moment.

Jesus calls us to step out of our safety zones and become extenders of his kingdom. Prayer is more often than not used as a cop out for obedience or an alternative to taking the obvious risk involved in these steps.

You do know that is what you are don’t you? You are more than anything a Kingdom Extender.

Jesus made clear it as can be in Matthew 28 on the Mount of Ascenscion when he called the original Apostles to go to the ends of the earth exporting this message — this life that he had shown them — the life he had lived before them. It was a simple enough matter. It was a matter of obedience.

Question 2: What is the greatest barrier to God’s invitation to us to export his kingdom across the span of Planet Earth?

From where I have been and what I have experienced in the last three decades of Church history it seems obvious that the greatest obstacle is “Fear of the future” or perhaps, “Fear of change.” In any case it is some form of fear. Fear stated simply is “loss of control.”

As a new believer and in a great Bible Institute in the Los Angeles area, one of the hallowed ministries that budding “spiritual giants” got involved with was the “Street Witnessing Team.” Being the incredibly shy person that I am, I felt immediately called to this outreach (that’s a joke about being shy). Long story short, a dozen of us met every single Friday evening for an entire school year from 7:00 to 10:00 PM and prayed in preparation for going out to do ministry. We prayed for everything imaginable and then some things not even a highly creative person could conceive of.

By about our Spring break it dawned on me — we were never going to actually go out to do anything. At the end of the year I was correct AND I was asked to pray and fast as to whether God might be leading me to take over as leader of this group for the upcoming school year. I told the leader, “Pray and fast about that? You may have several years on me as a believer but, pardon my French — you are a spiritual flake and are stuck in a place of fear. I love you bro, but please drop this prayer and fasting smokescreen stuff. You are confusing new believers and making outreach seem mysterious, complex and ultimately miscommunicating what Jesus clearly had in mind. I will lead the group but not because I have gone off on a prayer and fasting jag – –it is obvious I am the one to lead it. Enough said.” Of course he shook his head and said something about me learning my lesson one day…blah, blah.

The last I heard that super spiritual guy has had a string of jobs over the past 30 years from selling vacuum cleaners to used cars. I wonder if he prayed and fasted for days on end for each of those moves… He was so spiritual he was like Brer Rabbit in the midst of thorns. The only question at hand was, “How many pokes am I going to receive, hundreds or thousands?” He set himself up for punishment by his super-small confining life.

Coaching Tips:

  • Call to Action! Of course we pray our way through life, but we don’t ever use something as intimate, as powerful, as heartfelt as prayer as a synonym for human fear. It works like this, it’s really not complicated: Pray, Listen, Obey, Move Out in Boldness. The time frame for all of this happening tends to be rather fast more often than not. In some cases in my life there are issues that take weeks, some are months, and some are years. IMPORTANT: If you are surrounded by people where everything is measured at least in months if not years, reconsider your commitment to the relationship with that group. The call to live “decently and in order” is just one verse amongst 11,499 that model an activistic relationship with God.
  • Plan On The Way to Doing! Where is the balance? This may sound overboard but this is pretty much how I have operated in my day to day application of the living out of Servant Evangelism: If we have a group activity going on we get in the car or truck with serving implements and pray and plan as we drive. It’s that simple. Obviously if you have a large group of people you need to do more than that, but you get the idea. The simpler the better.
  • As you model to your people be careful how complicated you make things. Human nature is to over-prepare and over-complicate all things around us. At CoastlandTampa we will give out ziplock bags of 12 items to each person as they leave to give away to people they run into as they go their way each week. M&Ms, chewing gum, chapstick, most things run about 20 cents. Also each item has a super duper high quality connect card (four paneled) to pass along with each “seed” planted, with each invitation offered. This is done every single week, 52 weeks a year. Important: Many people will take 3 or 4 packs of these to give out during the week. It is very exciting. t is atmospheric. Just be mindful of this: Keep it super simple. Do this and you will stay on the tracks!

Scatter Your Seed Like Crazy!

 

“Say what?”

“What kind of drink do you want from the machine?”

“Uh, I guess I’ll take a Cherry Coke…”

As I reach the check out register, the cashier always has a quizzical look on his or her face. They always, naturally, ask me, “So you want what with what…” (it’s called, “Searching for words…”)

I tell them simply, “I am a Christ-follower. You know what a church person is, right?” At that they always get a smirk on their face, roll their eyes with the “Not at all interested in THAT” written all over their face. I even add to their description, “When I was a waiter no one wanted to work on Sundays when the church people came in. Mostly rude, demanding people who thought they were something special for whatever reason then they left little or no tip in the end. We coined a saying about them – ‘The longer they pray, the less they pay’ (in tipping that is).”

“Well, we believe what they believe, but we aspire to live out all of the stuff those guys believe – but our greatest desire is to be generous. Jesus was incredibly generous wherever he went, with everyone he was around.”

They smile. They experience it. They get it.

“Jesus walked in an attitude of natural generosity and kindness. If he were here at Best Buy (or Target or Wal-Mart …) I think he would not simply smile at you or tell you he loved you or liked you … he wouldn’t simply say something, he would do something practical to show you his concern or love. So here I am, too, giving you a cold drink to show you God’s love.”

Of course, as I am answering their question as briefly as possible (I answer them a bit differently each time – there is no magical way to respond to people – experiment and see what works for you in your city / locale) they are checking me out. Of course, they aren’t paid to gab! They usually ask the name of my church. I always laugh a bit and say, “Oh you think I was nice to you so you will come to my church – that’s not it at all. I’ll tell you the name of my church, but I serve people with no strings of any kind attached.” That statement really engages people. Often they say, “Now I’m really curious. A place with people like that is exactly what I’m looking for!”

I always carry with me what I call “connect cards” that do have a way for them to connect with us lest we end up being mere ships passing in the night, but this is not advertising to be clear about it. (I feel insulted when people tell me I am advertising by giving others a connect card. Please! If I / we were advertising I would do it very differently to be clear on things! I’m a better marketer than that!)

* Noticing Note 1: Live Like There’s No Tomorrow – Because There Isn’t!

This week I “celebrate” my return from the dead experience. My book The Day I Died captures the memoir of this sliver of my life. Several years agoyears ago, right about today in fact, I died, flat lined for almost eight minutes during a routine surgery that went completely south. Before I bled out following the piercing of my abdominal aorta with two half-inch cuts, I bled for 75 minutes with a blood pressure of 30 over 10. Normal blood pressure is 120 over 80. At 30 over 10, irreparable brain damage sets in after about 10 minutes. After 25 minutes the doctors working on me were aware that I was nothing but a human vegetable – an organ donor being kept alive with a ventilator. At 7:00 a.m. that December morning I was perhaps the most physically fit guy you could ever meet in his early 40s. Two hours later I was a vegetable with a dozen doctors hovering over me, two dozen nurses running about, I had died once, I had bled out my 13 units of natural blood, and 55 donor units had been pumped into me to control the extreme low pressure situation. *

Noticing Note 2: Sometimes It Happens On a Large Scale

Ponder: To quote Jesus as he referred to the man who was building larger barns, “Tonight you soul will be required of you…” “Night is coming when no man can work…” When the Middle East situation flares up the local news usually calls me and a couple of other local pastors for an interview to get perspectives on this. They ask, “Is this the end of all things?” I don’t know why they all keep asking me – I say the same thing each time! “I honestly don’t think this is the BIG ONE. What worries me – what keeps me up pacing at night is this: We are all going to face the same inevitable end at a personal level pretty soon anyway. Really, what’s the big deal about prophecies anyway? Jesus said no man knows these things, not even him. One thing is absolutely for sure though. Every person watching this is going to stand before God and give an account of how he / she lived life. Unless each of us has given our lives utterly to Jesus – to quote Desi Arnez – ‘Lucy, you have a lot of splaining to do…’ Let’s make peace with God – let’s respond to the invitation of Jesus now.” People around town stop me for the next few days and tell me they laughed at the Desi line, but then they all go “Uh, yeah, I get it.” Usually 500 or more new people show up at church the following weekend.