Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The straight way

This is a story God woke me up to write for a village head in Pearl Island, Imdonesia. Please pray that he will follow the One dressed in white.

***

Many, many years ago, when Pearl Island was undeveloped and only a few people lived on the island, a man journeyed from the south to the north. This was long before the days of cars and Vespas!

The man lived during a time of famine in the south. His family was starving.

He had heard that if he built terraced fields at the foot of a mountain his family would always have water because of perpetual mountain springs. If a farmer there staggered the times of planting and used the mountain spring water for the fields, his family would always have a harvest.

That's what this man wanted for his wife and children because at that time on the island, the south had endured many, many dry seasons. And no harvests. His family was going hungry.

That's why the man decided to go alone on the long, dangerous journey from the south to the north on foot. He wanted to see if the story he had heard about the always-watered fields in the north was true. If the story turned out to be true, he would return for his family and bring them there. He longed for rich harvests and much food for everyone.

The name of Pearl Island is from a word that means "straight." And this man took pride in knowing how to walk in the straight way. He knew he would be headed straight from the south to the north - to the base of the mountain.

And at first he did walk straight.

But he grew hungry. He thought he smelled bananas to his right. He thought, "It won't matter much if I go off the straight way just for a few minutes to find bananas to eat."

It took him longer to find a banana tree than he thought it would. Up a hill. Through a ravine. Several twists and turns. There they were. Bananas. So good. Then a little further out, he saw pineapples. So good, too. Next, mangos! He gorged himself.

Suddenly, he remembered his mission: stay on a straight path to the north - to the mountain -  so he could feed his family. He frantically tried to find his way back to the straight path. But he had strayed too far when he had pursued his own appetites.

And so he wandered. Up and down the hills. Around and around the dry places. Trying harder and harder to find the straight path. But he was lost and twisted.

He was losing hope. Then he heard a voice. It was not a native voice. It was from someone outside Pearl Island.

The voice was powerful, persuasive, full of promise, "I will lead you to the mountain, where the springs always flow and the harvests always come. There you will find paradise for you and your family."

So, the man followed that voice. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year.  The voice always promised paradise.

The voice wasn't as helpful as he  had hoped. The voice made many demands: "Promise you will always be loyal to me. Walk faster. Walk straighter. Now, run! Try harder. Do more. If you don't walk the way I say you should - if you don't keep my rules - then you will never make paradise."

The voice which always seemed so powerful and true in the beginning now sounded harsh and unkind.

Although the man always wanted to have a relationship with this voice, the person with the voice was elusive and distant, even cold and harsh.

The man had done all he could do for the voice. He had made the promise to be loyal. He had followed the voice's demands as best he knew how. But no matter how hard he tried, he always failed.

To make matters worse, paradise never came.

Something did not feel right in the man's soul. The mountain never came closer. It was always distant. Deep down inside the man knew that he was not walking the straight way. Instead, he knew that the voice was leading him in twists and turns away from the promise. The voice was always promising, paradise, but never delivering.

The longing in the man"s soul for the fertile fields and the always-watered terraces increased. He longed to lead his family to a better place.

The man said, "Surely there must be a better way." But the voice kept saying, "No. My voice is true. You must fulfill my demands."

So, the man quit hoping. He lived in fear, following the voice down crooked path after cooked path because he knew no other way.

Then one day, he looked up at the top of a hill. He saw Someone dressed in bright white clothing. And he heard another voice. This voice was different. It was powerful like the first voice. But also gentle and kind. The One dressed in white said, "I care about you. I have come to save all the people on your island. You matter to Me. I will not only tell you the way. But I will show you the way because I am the Way. Follow Me."

The man's heart was moved. There was something compelling and attractive about the One in white. He wanted to follow. But he had made a promise to the other voice.

So, the man stayed loyal to the harsh voice that had threatened destruction if the man ever turned another way. And the man stayed twisted, lost, confused. Always striving but never arriving.

A few weeks passed. Then the One in white appeared again. This time by a quiet pool of refreshing water. "Come to Me," He said, "and you will never thirst."

The man wanted to follow. But he couldn't. What would the other voice say? The man kept wandering in desolate, dry places.

A third time the One in dazzling white appeared. This time He was closer. The invitation came again, "Follow Me. I can forgive you for all your wandering astray from the path. I will not only show you the straight way. But I will walk with you and we will be friends. I will feed you along the way. And one day, we will enjoy the fertile fields and the always-watered terraces forever. I will bring your family, too. I have been longing to be with you on your journey for a long, long time. Won't you come with Me?"

The man hesitated. But as he looked closer, he could see wounds in the body of this One dressed in white. He finally asked, "What are these wounds?"

The One in white said, "I once left paradise. I lived among the travelers on Pearl Island.  I showed them the straight way. But they wanted to follow their own way. They rejected Me. They killed Me. But My death wasn't a mistake or a tragedy. No. You see, I died as a sacrifice for all who have walked on crooked, selfish, wrong paths. I paid the price of death they should have paid. Because I died, they don't have to. Now, I am alive to show the way and be the way for anyone who will follow Me."

What would the man do? He had grown accustomed to that first voice.

He considered.

The first voice was familiar, but harsh and demanding. The first voice made promises, but never delivered.

The One in white seemed powerful and holy, but also kind and forgiving. The One in white offered companionship, friendship, fellowship.

Deep inside the man's heart he knew. The One in white was truth and life.

What would the man do?

He chose. This time he turned away from that first voice to follow the wounded One, the resurrected One in white, the One who knows the straight Way, goes the straight Way, and shows the straight Way for everyone on Pearl Island who would follow Him.

Today, the man lives among the fertile fields and always-watered terraces on the slopes of the mountain. His family is with him. They are full of food. They are free. They are full of joy.  And they are forever friends with the One who showed them all the straight Way.

And the man says that the very best day of his life was the day he decided to follow the One with the wounds who is dressed in dazzling white

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to pray for an overseas mission trip


I am headed with a team of 9 CVCers to an island in S.E. Asia with 3,000,000 Muslims and only 100-200 believers. 

We will be camping in villages and hopefully having many gospel conversations with people. T&K, our hosts who are running a tourist business, will be introducing us to people they have found to be "persons of peace" (see Luke 10).

As God brings it to your mind, please pray for visions and dreams to precede our visit so the people will be open and prepared to receive the gospel. We hope to not only plant seeds but to do some harvesting! We hope to have at least 100 gospel conversations with people on the island.

Thanks for your prayers.

Our goals for our mission trip

1. Proclamation: To glorify God by proclaiming Christ and planting Gospel seeds in the power of the Holy Spirit

2. Friendships: To build relationships to share Gospel, sharing the good news with as many people as possible - hopefully, over 100

3. Flexibility: To persevere through any and all difficulty, conflict, tension, disappointments, disagreements, and obstacles in a spirit of joy and flexibility, which will build our trust in the Lord and will protect our unity

4. Growth: To experience God at work in, through, with, for, & by us experiencing an intimacy with Christ, the supernatural power of the Spirit, and the sense of being a Beloved Child of the Father

5. Support: To support the mission of T&K, giving feedback to T&K to help build their travel business

6. Team: To build up one another so that we all grow toward greater spiritual maturity, seeing our faith in God and trust in each other develop

7. Safety: To arrive alive – both there and back home!

8. Sustainability: To be more highly motivated, effective, and fruitful to be on mission in productive ways for Christ after we return to Northeast Ohio

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How to measure your manhood

How do you measure your manhood? Here's one way.

Denny Burke spoke at a conference this past weekend dealing with the issue of pornography. 

During one session, a friend highlighted apropos words from C. S. Lewis’ classic The Four Loves

In the following lines, Lewis explains why a lustful man ironically has no use for a real woman. He writes:

"We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling the streets, that he 'wants a woman.'

"Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus.

"How much he cares about the woman as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition (one does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes)."

Men, our role is protecter/provider not user/misuser/abuser.

"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men [not little boys or immature teens], be strong. Let all that you do be done in love" (I Corinthians 16:13–14).

Never forget that the only way to obey these commands is by depending upon Christ for forgiveness when you fail and depending on Christ for the power to obey. The gospel message is this: Jesus is our pattern, our pardon, and our power.

It's all Him. It's not us. Abide in Christ and He will help us act like men.


Question: How do you measure manhood?

Related posts:

How Worship Smashes the Idol of Lust
Overcoming Male Passivity
A Man's Man Is a Godly Man

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Celebrating New Life in Christ after Christopher Yuan's weekend at CVC

What a weekend at CVC!

We hosted Christopher Yuan, who has written Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God (WaterBrook Multnomah, 2013). He was once a drug dealer and estranged not only from God but also his parents. His choices led to two outcomes: prison and HIV positive status. God brought him and his parents to Christ, and Yuan went to the Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, gaining in 2007 an M.A. in biblical exegesis. He is now pursuing a doctorate of ministry at Bethel.

Christopher, Angela and Leon Yuan (Christopher's mother and father) were so good. What powerful testimonies of redemption! They are nice, approachable people.

Here is a recap of the weekend from Gregg Jacobsen, our Executive Pastor of Administration:

163 attended the Saturday morning seminar. There was lots of “positive buzz” in the foyer with a lot of people talking with the Yuans.

Sunday Service attendance up significantly from the previous 2 weeks. Attendance was 15% higher from the previous 2 weeks. We had several First Time Guests with at least one Decision for Christ. There was lots of “positive buzz” in the foyer and lot’s of activity with the Yuans.

90 people attended Christopher’s Q and A on Sunday afternoon. About a third had NOT been to a service or heard his testimony. Chad Allen, our Lead Pastor, had to cut off questions. People that attended told Gregg they wished it could have gone on for at least another hour. 35 people attended Leon and Angela's Sunday afternoon session. Lots of people were looking for the handouts for the Saturday morning sessions since they weren’t able to attend. We had them out on the Yuan table.

17 people signed up indicating an interest in a Same Sex Attraction LifeGroup. Yesterday, I personally talked with a dad who said, "I was so challenged by the faithfulness and perseverance of Christopher's mother in fasting and praying for her son for 8 years that I am going to fast on Mondays to pray for my daughter & make a list of blessings God gives to her." I am sure many others will increase their passion for prayer for their children as a result of Angela's example.

Our opportunities for further ministry are great.

All of Christopher’s Saturday sessions and the Sunday services are on our website. Christopher also has much more on his site.


Question: If you are a CVCer, how did the weekend impact you? 

Related posts:

Monday, July 21, 2014

How to develop a greater passion for the salvation of souls

So many people we know -teens, young adults, friends, neighbors, co-workers - pursue pleasure, popularity, riches, reputation, health, fame, convenience, personal peace, and so much more at the expense of their souls.

And in the end there is hell waiting for them. Jesus said, "40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:40-42). What a price to pay for momentary, fleeting pleasure.

An old song unwittingly poetically describes not only how unnecessary death is in this life but also in the life to come.

"They found him slumped up against the drain
With a whole lot of trouble running through his veins.
Bye-bye Johnny, Johnny bye-bye.
You didn't have to die, you didn't have to die."

You didn't have to die.

How we should pray that those who don't know Christ will find the way of escape before it is too late.

God takes no pleasure in a wasted life and in a wasted eternity. No one has to face an eternal death away from God.

"Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?" declares the Sovereign LORD. "Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die...?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone," declares the Sovereign LORD. "Repent and live!" Ezekiel 18:23;30-32

So, what's the answer? How can  your family and friends not die unnecessary deaths? How can anyone live eternally?

"God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." II Corinthians 5:19-21

Make no mistake about it. There is an eternal night with no hope of a morning awaiting those apart from Christ.

But good news! There is an eternal morning with no threat of night for those who find New Life in Christ.

Everyone you know will either experience an eternal death without a resurrection in Gods hell or an eternal resurrection without a death in Gods heaven.

What will it be for the people you know?

Do you care? William Booth once prayed, "Lord, help me lift the lid off hell and hold Your people over its flames until they catch fire to win souls."

I believe you do care.

Be an ambassador today. They don't have to die. Not if you tell them. About Jesus.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to set behavior expectations for a mission trip

Our Team's 10 Values/Norms of Behavior for Our Trip to Pearl Island, Indo

At a team prep meeting, we used markers and a Post-it note to made a collaborative list of the expectations we have of how we are going to live and behave on our trip.

The exercise was a team building, energizing way to gain "buy in" on the norms of behavior that we can encourage one another to live out. It's a better way to set expectations of behavior than if a leader comes up with the list on his/her own.

***

We will seek to be continuously Spirit-filled so that we can and will be...

​​​​​​​Flexible
Prayerful
​​​​​​​Sensitive
Caring, Loving
​​​​​​​Polite, Kind
Assertive w/out being aggressive
​​​​​​​Patient
Encouraging
Attentive, ​​​​​​​Listening
​​​​​​​Helpful, Servant-hearted

This is the way that we will seek to live as a team toward each other, as servants to our hosts, and as friends of the people of Indo.

This list is similar to the list in Galatians 5 describing the fruit of the Spirit. Because we know we cannot bear this fruit on our own, we will resist the works of the flesh by seeking to constantly live in a God-dependent way. We will pray, "Father, search me. Jesus, cleanse me. Spirit, fill me."

Friday, July 18, 2014

How listening to the music - His music - makes us smile even in the darkest of our days


Yes. The news has been bad lately.

A commercial jet shot down in the Ukraine. Israel being hit with missle attacks. Israel striking back. Boko Haram gunmen killing villagers in Nigeria. 5,500 civilians killed in Iraq this year. So many deaths all around the world.

The bad news is thick, heavy, weighty, hard, sad.

I know you have your own heavy load of bad news to carry, too. We all do.

We hurt with those who hurt. We have been told to "weep with those who weep." We've been told to serve the last, the least, and the lost and to "give a couple of cold water" in Jesus' name. We must alleviate suffering, injustice, and depression whenever and however we can.

But we've also been told to rejoice.

"David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy" ( I Chronicles 15:16).

But why? With the world in such conflict, heartache, and disarray, why rejoice? Why make music?

It's because we know the end of the story.

"I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away'" (Revelation 21:3-4).

I think the old song might be close to being right.

"Don't you feel it growin', day by day.
People gettin' ready for the news.
Some are happy; some are sad.
Oh, we got to let the music play.

What the people need
is a way to make 'em smile.
It ain't so hard to do if you know how.
Gotta get a message; Get it on through.

Oh, oh, oh, listen to the music...
Oh, oh, oh, listen to the music...
Oh, oh, oh, listen to the music
All the time..."

So, remind yourself that even in the hardest of hard times, because of Jesus and His gospel, those who repent and believe have a reason to listen to the music. His music. 


And, by the way, spread the news to those who don't know. In a world gone crazy, they need to listen to His music, too.

"I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music" (Psalm 101:1)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How to stand your ground


Where and how might you be cutting corners, compromising, losing heart, or giving up ground?

We are all tempted to slip and slide away from the truth, away from righteousness, and away from Christ Himself. But the great leader Paul encourages us.

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (I Corinthians 15:58).


An old song says:

I know what's right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin' me around
But I'll stand my ground
And I won't back down
There ain't no easy way out
I will stand my ground
I won't back down

Just make sure that if you are attempting to stand your ground that you are doing it in the strength of Christ and not on your own. Only in Christ, will you have the power to NOT back down.

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand , therefore..." (Ephesians 6:10, 13-14a).

You can do it today. You can stand strong today. In His strength alone by His grace alone for His glory alone.


This is the way to be God-dependent. When the world pushes you around, you can stand your ground.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

7 Leadership Lessons from the Life of Jane Rutti

It's rare for a staff member to serve at the same church for 25 years. At CVC, we have had the privilege of serving with Jane Rutti. We hired her as our 2nd pastoral assistant back in 1989. She's been serving Jesus faithfully at CVC in a variety of roles since then. Our church would not be the same without her. 

We celebrated her 25th anniversary of service last month and I had the joy of sharing a few insights about Jane to thank her. Here are my notes.

***

On the occasion of her 25th anniversary of employment at CVC, I want to share 7 leadership lessons from the life of Jane Rutti.

One, be a servant.

Jane has learned the discipline of servanthood. Recently, I peeked into our worship center to see a new podium we had built. As I looked inside, there was Jane, all by herself on her knees taping and then posting directional signs for our Seek Night, a night of prayer. I thought, “How many menial, selfless acts of kindness has Jane performed for our congregation over the past 25 years?” Truly, there are too many to count.

Two, be diligent.

Jane is an example of hard work for all of us. She literally comes in early and stays late. No doubt, it’s too much at times. (Ask her family about that, especially her daughter!) But if you want to get something done – and done right – ask Jane. She’s effective and she’s efficient. I have always appreciated her “can do” spirit. She doesn’t think first why something won’t work. She has an uncanny ability to figure out a way to get things done.

Three, be flexible.

Countless times over the years, I’ve asked her to tweak this or change that for me or for the church. And she does.  Without complaint. For example, we made some changes in how we are going to organize the New Life LifeGroup curriculum. She didn’t even blink. The changes will be made. Seemingly effortlessly. Jane is able to “roll with the flow.” I love that about her.

Four, be a confidant.

How many confidences has Jane kept for me and for others over the years? In her role, being discreet and trustworthy are absolutely indispensible ingredients. And she has those ingredients. As we drove back from a staff trip to NC, Alan sent me a text picture of the ultrasound of his and Joanna's new baby. I was sitting next to Jane as Leigh-Ann drove the car. I wanted to tell Jane that we had another grandchild on the way. But Alan had asked me not to tell about the baby yet. I thought, “I want to tell Jane, but I can’t violate a confidence to tell a secret to someone who values keeping confidences so much!” Now, why did I want to tell Jane? It’s because she’s walked through lots of our family joys, sorrows, and challenges over the years and always kept things confidential.

Five, be compassionate.

Jane is a busy person. She has lots of moving parts in her life, in her family, and on the job. Yet she still finds time to check in with friends and church members who are hurting on in need. Recently, I walked past her. We were both busy. But she stopped me. She had found out (because Alan and Joanna had finally said it was OK) that Joanna was pregnant. Jane asked a simple question that shows how much she cares, “How is Joanna doing?” Over the last 25 years, we’ve all seen her compassion in action. She loves with the love of Christ.

Six, be a learner.

Jane is smart. Really smart. Think about all the technology changes, church-size changes, vision statement changes, and staff changes we’ve experienced in 25 years. Yet Jane has managed to learn and grow through and with them all. She’s constantly reading, especially history and biography. As we developed our New Life LifeGroup curriculum, she said, “Maybe I need to go through this material myself.” Jane has a hunger to learn. Learners are leaders. She is proof of that.

Seven, be a friend.

A friend will let you vent. And then offer support and perspective. Jane has done that for me over and over for 25 years. She does that with all our staff. You often can walk by her office and see someone in there pouring out problems. How many times has Jane listened to me vent about a problem with our 3 boys? She’s a go-to friend for me and for countless others.

There are more qualities in Jane’s life. Many more. I’ll add 18 more to the 7 already mentioned for a total of 25. One for each year. Here we go…

Perspective. Competence. Honesty. Faith. Youthfulness. Curiosity. Perseverance. Wisdom. Grace. Honor. Loyalty. Hope. Family. Positivity. Devotion. Balance… I mean, appropriate passion. Joy. Worship.

I am very, very, very grateful for Jane Rutti! She’s a leader worth following because she’s a diligent, flexible, compassionate servant; a person who is constantly learning; and a trusted confidant. I am a better man because I can call her my friend. Our church is a better church because we can all call her our friend.


Thanks for the 25 years, Jane Rutti! We love you!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

10 lessons leaders can learn about restoring relationships from the Dan Gilbert & LeBron James story


If you are in leadership, you will, no doubt, hurt someone with words and decisions and someone will hurt you. Conflict and crisis can set you and your organization back. Big time.

The reunion of LeBron James and Dan Gilbert has been reported here by USA Today. In the article, I see some great lessons for leaders who find themselves at odds with others in their ministry. Whether Gilbert knows it or not, he followed some Biblical principles in restoring a wrecked relationship. 

1. When you're in an emotional state ... wait. Gilbert's angry and ill-advised letter after James' departure from Cleveland 4 years ago was written in haste. Plus, Gilbert did not allow enough of his confidants to give him input about the letter. 

2. Follow the advice your trusted colleagues give you. Evidently, two people gave Gilbert advice NOT to send the angry letter. He sent it anyway. And it became a huge barrier between him and James that might have totally derailed any hope for a reunion. 

3. Take the initiative to repair the relationship. Dan Gilbert flew in a private plane to meet James to seek to repair their relationship.

4. Think through your reconciliation process carefully. Gilbert made notes about things to say to James, things, he said, that he had been thinking about for four years.

5. Humble yourself. Gilbert didn't see himself as a billionaire Detroit businessman or an NBA owner. He was "every guy seeing his ex-wife after the divorce, every teen guitarist seeing a former friend who broke up the band."

6. Clear the air man-to-man. "Gilbert entered that private home meeting by himself, no assistants, and sat down at a dining-room table across from James and a few associates."

7. Seek a reconciliation with no strings attached. Gilbert said, "I'm just glad we're here, whether you come [back to Cleveland] or not, LeBron. This has been hanging over my head." 

8. Don't blame the other person; own your own stuff. Gilbert said, "It really is an incredible relief. You can do 999 out of 1,000 things right, and the one wrong thing is who you become. It was a burden. But I couldn't blame anybody else." He admitted that writing the Cavs would win an NBA title before James "was stupid. How could I be so dumb as to write that?"

9. Realize that building bridges is better than building walls. "On this planet," Gilbert said, "there is no perfection. If you chose to end relationships because of one mistake, you're going to be alone."

10. Celebrate the blessings of restoration of the personal relationship more than the professional relationship. USA Today reported that the elephant was off Gilbert's chest. That LeBron said yes "was considerable icing on an already sweet cake."

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