Monday, October 30, 2006

Slow down...

Do you ever feel almost overwhelmed by the demands of life and work and ministry? Sure. We all feel that way... a lot!
As a busy leader, I find that I am simultaneously energized and drained by the demands of leadership. Like many organizations on a calendar year budget, we are now working on adopting a budget for 2007. We have a large staff who all want their dreams and desires to be top priority. Sometimes, staffers are hurt when we have to say, "That's not a priority for us at this time." Working to maintain unity and synergy at this time of year is demanding.

God has a verse for busy people. Maybe it could help you. It's Psalm 46:10.

God is speaking. "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (NIV). I like the New American Standard Version. "Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (NASB). Another version says: "Let be and be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations! I will be exalted in the earth!" (Amp).

I've thought about the "Be still" or "Cease striving" part many times. But I've not done a good job connecting it to the rest of the passage.

See, I know that life is about exalting God. It's about magnifying the Lord. The goal can't be build a bigger building or draw a larger crowd. It can't be finding personal peace or affluence. Life is about magnifying Jesus. It's about making sure that He is spotlighted. As John Piper has tweaked the first question from the Westminster catechism, "Our purpose in life is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever." So, if that's the goal, then Psalm 46:10 says to me that the pressure's off.

Why do I say this? God has promised in the verse to exalt Himself. I must be still. I must cease striving. He will get it done. Yet another version says, "Calm down, and learn that I am God! All nations on earth will honor me" (CEV).

Of course, we are given the privilege of working with Him. There are things we are to do. The budget won't get done without our working some. The ministry plans won't happen without our help. Our families need us for certain things. But the goal isn't budgets or buildings or baptisms that we help produce - that we help make happen. The goal is glorifying God.

And God says that He is going to get that done. We need to be still and watch Him do it. We need to cease striving. We need to relax. The pressure's off. And that's a good feeling for a guy like me who tends to let the work of the Lord crowd out the Lord of the work.
What's first?

Last week, I was asked, “What came first, being chosen by God, or our ability to choose salvation? Does God decide who will eventually choose his Son? If so, how can you pray for salvation for yourself or others if our fates have already been decided?”

These are tough questions. They came from someone who heard a message from John 10:31-33 about being sure you are going to heaven. What follows is part of my answer.

The Bible clearly teaches that God elects persons to salvation. See Ephesians 1:3. But He does it in such a way as to do no violence to their personal responsibility to repent from sin and believe the Gospel. Is there a tension here? Yes. Is there divine mystery? Absolutely! God has chosen. But whosoever will may come. See Romans 10:11.

Here’s the way I think of it: If you are willing, then you are chosen. No one will be standing before God on judgment day saying, “I wanted to be saved, but You wouldn’t save me. I was willing, but You weren’t.”

One of the greatest preachers in the 19th Century was the British pastor Charles Spurgeon. He was a five-point Calvinist. He was also a passionate evangelist and soul winner. On August 1, 1858, he preached a sermon entitled, “Sovereign Grace and Man's Responsibility.” What came from his mouth on that day could only come from a theologian with a shepherd's heart and a love for the lost. I think he addresses the issue you are raising with great wisdom.

“That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.... You ask me to reconcile the two. I answer, they do not want any reconcilement; I never tried to reconcile them to myself, because I could never see a discrepancy.... Both are true; no two truths can be inconsistent with each other; and what you have to do is to believe them both.”

This teaching is an encouragement to me. I worship thankfully and with a full heart because I’ve been chosen for no good reason other than God’s pure grace. And I evangelize because I know that if I keep spreading the good news, some of the people that I share with will respond because they are elect. I believe that any theology that does not result in a "hot heart" for the souls of lost persons is a theology not worth having.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Jesus, King of angels

Last night, Fernando Ortega sang at a concert at CVC. For me, it was spritual therapy.

I was given the opportunity to pray before the concert. Before I prayed, I mentioned that recently I hiked up to Chimney Tops, a spectacular view in the Smoky Mountains National Park. I sat there on some sheer rock and simply soaked in the beauty of God's creation. I didn't feel the need to be doing anything. Just sit. Just look. Just admire. That's what you do when you see beauty. As John Piper says, "Just looking and admiring is an end in itself." In my prayer, I asked God to help us all simply sit and listen and admire the beauty of the person of Jesus Christ.

And Fernando helped us do that. God has given him a gift to lift up Jesus in such a way that we see multiple facets of His beauty. We sat and did nothing but admire the beauty of Jesus, the One who inspired the music and the lyrics.

One of my favorites was a prayerful song Fernando wrote for his family. He's on the road so much, he felt a pull to write a song asking Jesus to protect those he loves. In the song, he lifts up Jesus. As you read these lyrics, admire Him. Remember, it's an end in itself.

Jesus, King of angels, heaven's light,
Shine Your face upon this house tonight.
Let no evil come into my dreams;
Light of heaven, keep me in Your peace.

Remind me how You made dark spirits flee,
And spoke Your power to the raging sea.
And spoke Your mercy to a sinful man;
Remind me, Jesus, this is what I am.

CHORUS:
The universe is vast beyond the stars,
But You are mindful when the sparrow falls,
And mindful of the anxious thoughts
That find me, surround me, and bind me . . . .

With all my heart I love You, Sovereign Lord.
Tomorrow, let me love You even more.
And rise to speak the goodness of Your name
Until I close my eyes and sleep again.
Your Divine destiny

This past week, I had conversations with some men who were struggling with direction for their lives. One was almost 30. One was in his 40s. The other was in his 50s. They’re wondering, “What am I supposed to do next? I’ve given my life to Christ. I know I’m supposed to live for Him. I want to be a good husband and a good dad. But I feel like I’m missing something. Am I really doing what God made me to do?”

I’m sure they aren’t alone in wondering. Maybe you’re not sure you’re really living out your Divine destiny. Are you wondering if you are really living out who God has made you to be? Do you feel like you might just be missing something – missing your Divine destiny?

I think God wants something for you. He wants you to know your divine destiny. Because there is no feeling like the feeling of being used by God and experiencing Him in the process. When you know why you are here and you live that out, it’s a dream come true. The fulfillment and the joy of connecting with God as He does something to build His kingdom through you are incredible. There is no feeling like the feeling of being used by God and experiencing Him.

Sometimes, I drive away from CVC on a weekend and I’m just stunned. I drive away and I think, “It’s really unreal that God would be so kind as to use me.” Why? I know me. Truth be told, I’m really an insecure, sinful, pitiful excuse for a Christian leader. I don’t live up to what I know I should be and do as a follower of Christ. And yet God does something through me. It’s truly a humbling thing to drive away on a weekend and realize, “A God-thing happened today. I just showed up and God, for some unknown reason, chose to use me.”

When the dust settles and I am all alone in my van or at home and I think, “It’s amazing that God spoke through me. I can’t believe that God showed up to bless the life of a person through me. I’m awed that someone moved further in their walk with God through something I said or did.”

There is no feeling like the feeling of being used by God and experiencing Him.

It all begins with discovering your destiny

From his birth, people knew that John the Baptist was no ordinary little boy. An angel had announced his birth to his dad.

How many times do you think John heard the story about the angel from his dad? John: “Daddy, tell me the story about the angel. What was his name? Gabriel?” Zechariah: “Yep.” John: “What did he say about me?”

“Well, you’re going to be a great man of God. And because of that, you’re going to steer clear of all forms of alcohol. You’re not going to be filled up with strong drink. You’re going to filled up with God’s Spirit. And I don’t know how it’s going to happen. But we haven’t had a prophet in Israel in 400 years. God’s going to use your words to turn people back to God. In fact, you’re going to be like one of the most famous prophets in our history, Elijah. God will use you to bring families back together. The disobedient will get smart and start to obey. And somehow, God is going to use you to prepare the way for the Lord, the Messiah, to come.”

John had this presence about him that few people have. “I know who I am and I know why I’m here.”

Do you? Do you know what God’s call is for your life?

On a scale of 1-10, here’s how sure I am that I’ve found the Divine destiny for my life.

________________________________________________________________

1 10

Where would you put your “x” on that line? Could it be that God has words of destiny for you in His word and you haven’t found them yet?

The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.
Psalm 33:11 (ESV)

You really have to get insight from God’s word about your calling – your vocation. God can take His word and energize it, make it jump off the page and apply it to us and say, “This is for you. I want to do this for you and through you and with you.”

What if you spent some time over the next several months asking this question, “Lord, why am I here? Would you show me some verses in the Bible that can become some life verses for me? I’ll write them down. I’ll memorize them. Just reveal Your word to me. I want to know Your destiny for my life.”

For God’s dream to come true for you, you have to discover your destiny. Because there's no feeling like the feeling of being used by God and experiencing Him.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Bringing no shame

I read recently that Ravi Zacharias once asked Billy Graham what he prays for every day. Graham's reply: That he would do nothing that would jeopardize the things God had done in and through his life.

Billy Graham’s concern reminds me of a prayer from the Psalms.

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel.
Psalm 69:6 (ESV)


One click of a mouse that takes you to a sinful website can put any follower of Christ in a compromising situation and ruin a lifelong testimony. Solomon said it this way, “Dead flies make the perfumer's ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” (Ecclesiastes 10:1). A little folly – one sin, one lie, one fit of rage can undo a great reputation.

Billy Graham gets it. Do I? Do you? Let’s join Billy Graham in prayer.

“Lord, let me do nothing that would jeopardize Your reputation – the things you have done in and through and with and for me. Deliver me from evil. In Jesus name, Amen.”

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A road for Jesus

When someone met my wife, Maryanne, they said, “Dude! You out-kicked your coverage!” He meant, “You married over your head, boy!” He’s right. I have a very gracious and forgiving wife. We just celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary!

We went back to the Smoky Mountains where we had our honeymoon. It was a great time of the year to go. We saw some amazing fall color. And the view from the tops of those mountains gave us a sense of awe and joy. There was a bonding that took place from our shared experiences.

It almost goes without saying, but for us to get to where the views were best, someone had to prepare the way. Someone had to make a road or a trail. We traveled roads carved out of rock. We passed through tunnels. Low places were built up. High places had been brought down. Paths are built all through those mountains so people can see the beauty. And know joy… and awe.

Here’s the point. If you want to have beauty and awe and joy in your relationship with Jesus, somebody has to build a road. You need a road for Jesus to come with His joy and beauty to your life.

Question: Are you content with the level of joy and peace and power you have in your relationship with Christ? Are you content with your home and its spiritual condition? Are you content with the spiritual power in your church? I hope you will say, “No. I am not content. I see some things that only Christ can fix. I want Christ to come to me.”

I’m not talking about the first Coming of Christ or the second Coming. Today, we’re talking about a spiritual Coming of Christ to His church. We’re talking about Jesus coming in a new, fresh way into our hearts and homes and church. When Jesus shows up, we are never, ever the same again.

Do you believe that you can experience Jesus in a way that you never have before? That you can have more of His peace and power and joy? Jesus has done that for people before. And He waits to do it again. God tells us that there’s a price that has to be paid.

Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
Acts 3:19 (NASB)

Times of refreshing come when Jesus comes. This is what the Jesus does today when He visits a heart, a home, and a church. When Christ comes and visits His people, they are never the same again.

Will you repent and return?
Recently, I was looking through an old prayer journal. I wrote a prayer for CVC based on Acts 2 a few years ago.

I think it’s still appropriate for us. Maybe you think so, too. If so, join me in letting this prayer guide your own words from your heart to His heart.

A Prayer based on Acts 2:42-47:

Our Father, would You be pleased to “show up” in increasingly evident ways in our lives and in our church? Give us more faith to expect big things, more commitment to stop playing church, and more dedication to use my gifts to serve You and others.

Great Triune God, would You be pleased to inspire awe when people see the quality of our relationships? Grant us more commitment to build true community and more generosity in opening up our hands, our homes, and our hearts to the people in our circle of influence.

Dearest Savior, would You be pleased to increase the “charisma” of our lives and of our church? Please use us as a lighthouse to honor You, to grow the church, and to rescue the perishing. Motivate us to be effective in our outreach to those who do not yet know You.

O worthy Lord, would You demonstrate Your life-changing power in our lives and in our church as we truly worship You? Help us to meet You regularly as we devote ourselves to know You more deeply as we learn Your word, celebrate Your supper, kneel in prayer, and sing Your praise.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Planning for 2007

As You do your thinking and planning for 2007, you might want to remember three phrases.

1. Slow down.

2. Know God.

3. Take care.

These three phrases could guide you in thinking through your personal and professional and ministry strategies and tactics for 2007.

Recently, our church staff worked together to put together what a letter might look like from Jesus to our church, CVC. It's in the spirit of the letters written to the churches in Revelation in chapters 2 and 3. Maybe He might something like this to you.

To the angel of the church called CVC write:

I am the LORD. I breathed life into you. I created you. It is by My grace alone that you are where you are. These are the words from the One who looks not at your outward appearance, but looks at your hearts.

I know your works – your activity in and generosity toward missions locally and globally, your passion to proclaim the truth of My Word, and your commitment to glorify Me in word and in worship. In this, you are an example for many churches. Continue.

But I have some things against you. Your reputation has grown beyond your reality.

Slow down to sort some of the important things out. Slow down and truly hear My voice so your steps are less sporadic and more steady, less haphazard and more purposeful, less hectic and more strategic. You have found your worth in activity and have forgotten that your worth is found in Me alone.

Your serving Me has replaced your knowing Me. You give so that others may know Me, but you yourselves do not know Me as you should. Grow in the knowledge of God. Deepen your understanding of Me through careful study of My word. Do this and you will love Me more.

You have been busy and focused on the future while many of My sheep have gone astray. Yes, I have added many to your numbers. Now care for them and teach them deep truths of the faith. Care for one another by listening for and responding to each others’ hurts and hearts.

Repent! Don't mistake My provision for My blessing. Turn from your pride. Unless you repent you will never find rest for your souls for you will wander, doing what seems good, but not what is truly pleasing in My sight. If you do not repent I will see to it that your busy-ness results in barrenness. And the fruit that you have produced will lie in waste.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the church.

To the one who overcomes, I will give him a Sabbath rest in My house where rejoicing for what I have done through him will never cease.

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