Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Excellence in worship

This past weekend, I made a statement in my message about how we as a church strive for excellence in our worship/praise/music and about how we seek to be creative in how we present the gospel.

I received a very thoughtful email from a friend who took issue with my statement. Below is part of what she wrote.

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The word “excellence” does not go with the word “worship.” Striving for “excellence” only dilutes what He does as He woos us and we express our love and awe and joy in Him. Being aware of his own beauty, the desire for excellence and perfection and attention is some of what caused the chief worship leader to fall from heaven and become Satan in battle with God for preeminence. I know the theory of offering Him our best. But… our best is “what?” to Him? As a Daddy you know you'd rather have a pure response of a snotty nosed child running into your arms as soon as he hears you coming to the door, throwing his arms around you unabashedly, than a practiced and formal, “hello Father” dressed in his Sunday best. So now, whether you wanted to know it or not, you know the word excellence is like scratching your fingernails on the chalkboard when it comes to gathering for worship or any service to Him

* * *

Here’s part of my response to my friend.

* * *

Thanks for your very thoughtful email.

I think of Psalm 33 in this regard.

13The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; 14from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, 15he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. 16The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.

I apply this to myself and our staff in this way:

“The pastor is not saved by a great sermon.
A worship leader is not delivered by his great musicianship.
The most excellent service is a false hope for salvation
and with its creativity it cannot rescue.”

Having said all that, though, I believe that we should offer to the Lord our very best. As a dad, I was pleased with any little drawing from my sons when they were small. But I felt more honored by a drawing or a poem that I knew cost them something, that I knew they had put more thought and creativity and time to develop. It still didn’t have to be perfection. But the effort toward making it the best they could make it meant something special to me.

I’m reminded of David’s words: “I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing.” Each week, I could get up without preparation, but I believe that would greatly dishonor God. Our musicians could worship without rehearsal, but music with notes that are sharp or flat are distracting, not compelling.

So, I think I must pursue excellence and creativity in sermons and services. Not because God needs anything from me. But because it honors Him when I put forward my best efforts in living a life or preaching a sermon or putting together a service for His glory.

I think of the worship described in the Nehemiah 12.

27And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. 28And the sons of the singers gathered together from the district surrounding Jerusalem and from the villages of the Netophathites; 29also from Beth-gilgal and from the region of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built for themselves villages around Jerusalem. 30And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and they purified the people and the gates and the wall. 31Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks. One went to the south on the wall to the Dung Gate. 32And after them went Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah, 33and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, and Jeremiah, 35and certain of the priests' sons with trumpets: Zechariah the son of Jonathan, son of Shemaiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Micaiah, son of Zaccur, son of Asaph; 36and his relatives, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them. 37At the Fountain Gate they went up straight before them by the stairs of the city of David, at the ascent of the wall, above the house of David, to the Water Gate on the east. 38The other choir of those who gave thanks went to the north, and I followed them with half of the people, on the wall, above the Tower of the Ovens, to the Broad Wall, 39and above the Gate of Ephraim, and by the Gate of Yeshanah, and by the Fish Gate and the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, to the Sheep Gate; and they came to a halt at the Gate of the Guard. 40So both choirs of those who gave thanks stood in the house of God, and I and half of the officials with me; 41and the priests Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; 42and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. And the singers sang with Jezrahiah as their leader. 43And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.

As you can imagine, this worship celebration took careful planning and creativity. I think God was happy with their pursuit of excellence (not perfection, but excellence!).

I think the big question is not “What?” but “Why?” “Why do you do what you do? Is it truly for God or is it for your own reputation – your own name’s sake?” Please know that examining deep motives is a very important issue for me and for our staff. Please pray that we will always do what we do for his glory and not for our own.

We strive for “non-distracting excellence” in our services. We want to people to see Jesus, not us. Pray for us about this!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Who's in charge?

Recently, a friend sent to me a prayer request. His company is making a decision about a job opportunity he wants. Here's his fear: "My fear is that I may become a victim of affirmative action for the second time. I am competing against a middle aged woman with no experience in our industry. The last time I applied for a similar position I lost out for the same reason. I don't mind losing to a qualified person, not a quota. I'm trying to stand on faith but I'm being weak."

How would you respond? I wanted my friend to have joy and trust even if things don't work out the way he wants. Below is my response.

I believe, like you, that a person should get a job based on his or her qualifications for that job, not based on affirmative action or some quota.

God's word certainly has a lot to say about His passion for justice.

He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.
Deuteronomy 10:18 (NASB)

It's good when a people seek to adopt policies to care for the last and the least. But it seems that affirmative action sometimes brings about injustice to qualified people (like you!) in order to provide opportunities for those our culture identifies as the disenfranchised. Justice, it seems to me, would mean that the most qualified get the best opportunities.

I would like for you to think about what a biblical response might be if you are the victim of affirmative action again.

Here's a principle I have tried to remember - especially when a leader makes a decision that hurts or disappoints me: "God is in charge of the people in charge." We see this from many verses in the Bible.

I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.
Isaiah 45:6b-7 (NASB)

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.
Psalm 115:3 (NASB)

The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.
Proverbs 21:1 (NASB)

The king may not even know God. He may even be wicked. But God is sovereign, even over a wicked king. Whether a king knows it or not, he does what God wants done. For example, Herod Antipas unjustly threw John the Baptist in jail. But Herod could only do what God allowed him to do. It was wrong for Herod to cut off John's head. But God used that sinful act to accomplish what He wanted in John's life -that is, to bring him home to heaven to be with Him forever.

Typically, we see decision-makers as primary causes. We see the boss who picks an unqualified candidate as the one who is to blame. And we get angry and frustrated and hurt. And we dishonor God in the process.

But theologians talk about primary causes and secondary causes. God is always the primary cause. And the people around us - the bosses and leaders and decision-makers - are secondary causes. "God is in charge of the people in charge."

Believing this can help us develop trust and hope and joy. We may not initially like the decision that was made. But we know that ultimately, God as our loving Father, will not allow any decision that affects us to be made that will hinder His getting glory and our getting joy.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4 (NASB)

When I played baseball in the minor leagues, I sometimes performed just as well or better than another player, but he would be promoted over me. Why? He was drafted higher or signed a larger contract. Was it right? No. But God was in charge. And He lovingly oversaw my baseball career and accomplished what He wanted to accomplish in and through and with and for me. He has a plan that cannot be thwarted by any human - even a sinful one.

So, there's a very real sense in which it is impossible for us to be "victims." We are always and forever the objects of love from the heart of a sovereign, kind Father. Think "providential care," not "victimization."

So, if someone less qualified is picked over you, you can thank God and live in peace. It might be appropriate for you to kindly and firmly let those in authority know that they treated you unjustly. Outwardly, call for justice. But inwardly, trust in the One who is in charge of the people in charge.

During this Thanksgiving season, that will help you have a true attitude of gratitude - no matter what.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Our Father...

Most people are familiar with what is called the “Lord’s Prayer,” the “Disciple’s Prayer,” the “Model Prayer,” the “Our Father.” Each phrase can launch us into a wonderful focus for our conversations with God. It also keeps us from using the “gimme” approach in prayer.

Here are some suggestions on how to use this prayer from Jesus as a guide for your own prayer life.

Our Father… Spend some time thanking God that you are His child. Praise Him for some of the benefits you have because you are in His family. We start with a recognition of our adoption. We approach God with a child-like spirit.

Who is in heaven… Our child-like spirit gives way to a spirit of devout adoration. Praise God for the fact that He is in heaven ruling over all things.

Hallowed be Your name… Our adoration erupts so that we are like the angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” Ask God to make a name for Himself through you, through your family, through your church.

Your kingdom come… We move from pure worship to a missionary passion. Submit yourself to God as the King of your life and ask Him to help others (family, friends, community, nation, world) learn to bow the knee to Him.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven… Seek to line up your life with God’s will. And ask Him to help others do the same.

Give us this day our daily bread… We express our dependence on God. Ask God to meet your needs for the day.

And forgive us our debts… We see that we are not only dependent, but sinful. So we ask God for mercy. This highlights our justification – being saved from the penalty of sin. Ask God for forgiveness for specific sins you’ve committed.

As we also have forgiven our debtors… Ask Him for the grace to forgive the people who have hurt you. And do not lead us into temptation… This highlights our sanctification – being saved from the power of sin. If we are really forgiven, we are anxious not to offend again.

Lead us not into temptation... Justification inevitably leads to a desire for sanctification. We ask God for the grace to persevere in personal righteousness. Ask God for victory over temptation.

But deliver us from evil… Out justification inevitably leads to a desire for our sanctification. Ask God for victory over the devil.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever… This highlights our glorification – being saved from the presence of sin. God is never in heaven wringing His hands wondering what He’s going to do next. Our King reigns! He is victorious and, therefore, we are more than conquerors. So, in prayer, we give God the glory in advance for everything!

Tomorrow, why not hit your knees before you hit your feet? And why not use the "Lord's prayer" as a model to follow? Your confidence in God as you face your day will grow. And your intimacy with the Lord will be greater. You'll be glad you prayed. And so will the people you love.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is CVC truly "missional"?

I have a new friend. Her name is Kima Jude. She's a writer. She's also a pastor's wife. She was asked by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to write a book on missional churches. Evidently, one chapter is going to be about our church, CVC. So, she and I have talked on the phone a few times. Who knows? She may be able to help me turn some of my messages into a book or two someday.

She's also written about missional churches and CVC in "On Mission" - a magazine published by NAMB. Here's some of what she wrote in that article. CVC is written up as an example of a missional church. I think we have lots of room to grow to be more and more missional. But what she wrote may help people understand why we started our young adult outreach called 707.

* * *

Missionaries still travel great distances to share Christ and plant churches, but others merely walk around the block to do it. Like their international counterparts, North American church planters and churches take a missional approach to church planting. They identify an unreached people group, learn their language, study their customs and notice how they dress. When they plant a church, they design it to be biblically sound and-to some degree-resemble the people they hope to reach.

It's called missional church planting, and while it's a term that's become vogue, it's not new.
Missional church planting- or a people-focused approached to starting churches - is a strategy that's been around since the New Testament. However, the term and its application are gaining popularity and attention among evangelicals. Perhaps this is because on mission Christians no longer have to travel far to encounter exotic cultures peopled by those who speak a different language and practice different customs.

In the great American mosaic there is such a diversity of ethnic groups that churches intent on reaching the lost must adopt missionary practices to impact their culture. The current missional church movement emerged, in part, because the fertile grounds of paganism, idolatry and unbelief not only exist on distant lands but on the very soil upon which we tread. Although building a church facility and saying "y'all come" might have passed for church planting once upon a time, it doesn't make much of an impression in unchurched North America these days.

"Establishing a missional church means you plant a church that's part of the culture you're seeking to reach," says Ed Stetzer, author of Planting Missional Churches (B&H, 2006). This requires adopting the practices of international missionaries who break down cultural barriers by understanding and relating to the local culture without compromising the gospel or scriptures. Missionaries learn the language, dress like the natives and adopt their customs-not the other way around. You take some parts of culture and adapt them to Christianity while challenging other parts of the culture.

Missional churches are not simply missions-minded churches either, according to Stetzer, although a church should certainly be both. For example, a missions-minded church may fund missionaries and mission work but not act like a missionary in its own community. A missions-minded church may even send volunteer teams on short-term mission trips. While it engages in a kind of missionary endeavor, a missions-minded church may remain disconnected from the local culture.

The missional church intentionally seeks to be biblically faithful and relevant by contextualizing church for the culture-relying not on methods that worked somewhere else but what fits locally.

"To be missional is to move from doing missions as a program to 'it's the essence of my existence,'" explains Fred Hewitt, NAMB regional field representative for church planting. A missional church is on mission all the time.

"Churches can't think missionally without recognizing that there are a lot of different flavors in North America," Hewitt says. "Missional churches recognize a variety of people groups that exist and not just out there in the uttermost parts of the world but right here in my Jerusalem-or at least my Judea."

This is vital because while Christianity was once the first choice of spiritually minded North Americans, that's not necessarily true these days. "We are missing a clear reality if we do not recognize that this is a harder mission field than it once was," Stetzer writes in Breaking the Missional Code (B&H, 2006).

In Cleveland, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley Church created a church within a church to keep up with a culture of young adults. Although Cuyahoga Valley would be considered contemporary by most church standards, its founding pastor, Rick Duncan, recognized that the church, initially peopled by young adults, had become a middle-aged congregation and no longer reflected young adult culture.

With Cleveland's 300,000 young adults in mind, Cuyahoga Valley planted a church within their church - dubbed Sevenoseven Ministries ( Sevenoseven conducts three Sunday evening worship services and a Tuesday night service focused on young adults ages 18 to 35. Although they meet in the same facility as Cuyahoga Valley's, they differ from the mother church's three Sunday morning services in ways designed to appeal to a younger crowd.

For example, while sevenoseven utilizes five video screens it foregoes the PowerPoint. Instead, TV cameras often capture and project the audience on screen. They also employ a U2-style worship band and show humorous video clips.

Prayer was the driving force, according to Nancy Still, age 27 and a student at Moody Bible Institute. Still was part of a core group of about 20 young adults involved in planting sevenoseven. Formerly a student at Cleveland State, Still would walk the campus and pray "asking the Lord to bring them in."

Melissa Rosendahl, 28, had recently finished college and was working as a card designer at American Greetings when she joined the group. She put up posters around her workplace and still meets people who responded to them. "From my perspective I think we are meeting the needs of young adults within our church," said Rosendahl, who now serves on the sevenoseven staff as women's lifegroups coach. "I think we try to communicate church in the language of our generation," Rosendahl says. "It's still the Bible. It's the same Bible CVCC teaches from, but we do it in a way our generation will understand."

If by this time you're under the impression that a missional church plant must be trendy and hip, you're missing the point. Missional churches take the unchanging gospel into the culture they find themselves in whether that is traditional, contemporary, emerging or something else. And for an existing church to grow it must understand and stay attuned to cultural changes just as Cuyahoga Valley did.

* * *

I"m glad that I have a new friend in Kima Jude who knows how to write. And I'm glad 707 is at CVC. And I pray that CVC will be truly more and more missional in our approach to reaching our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Burn out

Bob Roberts, a pastor friend of mine, shared a quote that resonates with me: "Burn brightly but don’t burn out."

I like those words because I often run at too many RPMs in ministry. And I don't say, "no" enough. I often find myself doing good things but not the best things. I end up doing a kind of psuedo-ministry. It's just busy-ness. And, then, I get overly tired and find that I'm not as available to God and His people for true ministry as I should be. And when I'm on the verge of burn out, I get emotionally irritable, personally impulsive, and spiritually lazy.

Paul Powell is a 73 year old pastor who developed some wise self-talk to help him do ministry in a way that protected him from burn out. These are words I need to say to myself frequently.

1. I am not invincible. I can get sick and grow weary and sin. Therefore, I must be careful.

2. I am not immortal. I am going to die. Therefore, I must be responsible.

3. I am not indispensable. The Kingdom keeps going without me. Therefore, I must be humble.

4. I am not an island. I need friends around me. Therefore, I must be accountable.

"Burn brightly, but don't burn out." What does God need to change in your life to make sure that happens?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

For a thriving marriage

Last night, I perfomed a wedding ceremony for Sue Blair and Tom Wagner. Tom lost his first wife to cancer and Sue is a cancer survivor. I am deeply moved by what I see God doing in their lives. Last night I said, "It is my privilege to pastor this church where both Tom and Sue serve Jesus. It is my very great honor to perform their wedding ceremony."

One of the things I ask couples to do is to select some scriptures they want me to use during their wedding ceremony. I use the verses they select to put together a wedding message. I invite you to think about your own relationships as I share with you some of the thoughts I shared with Tom and Sue last night. Maybe you can gain some insights.

* * *

It’s no accident that God brought together a man who lost his wife to cancer and a woman who survived cancer. There is a real sense in which you both are survivors.

"Survivor." I looked up the word. It means someone who endures. We all know that you both have done that. But you’ve done more than that.

Sue, as you reflected on your cancer challenges, you wrote these words, “Much good has come out of this. We are closer to the Lord and each other.” Those are words from someone who is more than a survivor.

Some people survive through difficult times. Some people thrive. And thriving describes both of you. Surviving isn’t enough for you. And that’s good. It’s thriving you’re after.

And I think we’re going to see that in your marriage. Lots of couples have a marriage that survives. But not many have a marriage that thrives. We are longing for you to thrive as individuals and as a couple. But for you to thrive, it’s going to take some basic habits/commitments/disciplines.

I have four words for you from the verses you chose.

1. Christ

Two are better than one… (Ecclesiates 4:9).

You've gone through lots of tough times already in your life. And God has given you strength. But now, He's going to do a new thing. He's going to use you in each other' s lives for even greater strength. Tom, you said, "We are better off together than apart in every way." That's the way God wants your marriage to be. Don't forget what you said.

The passage in Ecclesiastes talks about two. Then, suddenly, three appear.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiates 4:12).

Who is this third person? I think it's Jesus. Make sure your lives intertwine with Jesus. That makes a triple-braided cord. Get so close to Jesus, that you don’t know where you stop and He begins. He gives a supernatural strength.

Tom, you said that Jesus is the source of your strength and peace and hope. For you to thrive in this marriage, you need to stay connected to Jesus as a couple. First word: Christ.

2. Love

Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37).

Sue, I like what you once wrote: “My goal is to grow more in love with Jesus every day. I can be by myself with God and be OK.” If you will both make a commitment to love God first, even before you love each other, not only will you be OK, but your marriage will also be OK. Actually, it will be more than OK.

Always put loving Him first and He will help you love each other. If your horizontal relationship with each other is out of sync, it’s because the vertical relationship with God isn’t what it’s supposed to be.

Love God. When you were dating, you called each other on the phone every night to pray together. After tonight, you won't need to call each other on the phone anymore. But keep on praying together. Why? It's one way you are helping one another love God more. And loving God more is foundational for a marriage that thrives.

Second word: Love.

3. Yield

I Corinthians 13 has been called the love chapter in the Bible. The word for love is agape. Not “I love you if…” Not “I love you because…” But “I love you in spite of…” You can’t love that way without Jesus.

If you put your names in the passage, it would read like this: "Tom is patient and kind and never seeks his own. Sue never takes into account a wrong suffered and bears all things and never fails."

When you put your name in that chapter, you’re left thinking, "That doesn't describe me. I can’t possibly do this all the time!" And you're right. That’s why you have to yield control to the Holy Spirit. He can produce in you the power to live out this supernatural kind of life described in I Corinthians 13.

So, you constantly pray: "Father, search me; show me my sin. Jesus, wash me; cleanse me from my sin. Spirit, fill me; help me overcome my sin and bear Your fruit in my life." As you live your lives yielding control to God's Spirit, your marriage will thrive.

Third word: Yield.

4. Serve

Matthew 20:26-28 says, "Whoever wants to be great must be a servant. Whoever wants to be first must be last. Jesus didn’t come to be served. But to serve."

Sue, you told me that your parents have been married for 54 years. And that you are amazed at how well they serve one another. Then, you shared a stat. 90/10. Give 90% and expect 10%. You said your dad pours into your mom 90/10 and that she pours into him 90/10. That's a numerical equation for servanthood.

Don’t drop that baton they’ve passed to you. Follow that example. Serving one another. That’s being like Jesus.

And serve others. You are examples for our church family with feeding the homeless downtown and praying with them. You are examples for us as you go on mission trips.

You’ve said, “We believe that we can serve God better together than we can apart.” You get it. You get what marriage is about. Serving together will help you have a marriage that thrives.

Fourth word: Serve.

Christ. Love. Yield. Serve.

If you can’t remember the words, maybe you can remember some numbers.


Sounds like a football play. But it’s the signal for a marriage that thrives.

A cord of three strands - Christ at the center of your marriage. The number 1 commandment - love God first and He'll help you love each other. I Corinthains 13 - a chapter that reminds you to yield control to the indwelling Spirit because you can't possibly live a loving life without Him. And serve one another 90/10.

See, some people survive through a marriage. Some people thrive in a marriage.

That’s what we want for you. A Christ-centered, God-loving, Spirit-yielded, servant-hearted marriage. That’s not just surviving. That’s thriving.

* * *

Make it so, Lord Jesus, for Tom and Sue and every married couple I know. Make it so!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ohio Issue 3

Back in September, I was at the "Make a Difference" banquet sponsored by the American Policy Roundtable. George Voinovich, US Senator from Ohio, was there.

He made a few remarks that have continued to impact me. He's been traveling around the state of Ohio campaigning. Not for himself. He's not even up for reelection.

He's been campaigning against Issue 3. It's been mistakenly called the "Learn and Earn" amendment. Supposedly, it will help Ohioans send their kids to college.

As I understand it, that's a smokescreen. The issue is really about introducing more gambling into our state. The Learn and Earn Casino proposal (Issue 3) attempts to amend the Ohio Constitution, which has prohibited legalized gambling since 1850. Ohio voters have made a few exceptions along the way passing amendments to permit charitable, non-profit gambling events and legalizing the State Lottery in 1973. Learn and Earn will turn all seven Ohio racetracks and two new Cleveland facilities into casino/slot parlors.

In a previous blog entitled "To gamble or not to gamble", I tried to share why I believe that gambling violates many biblical principles. Gambling compromises character and hurts people and families. I urge all Ohioans to vote against Issue 3.

Senator Voinovich was asked by some friends, "Why are you traveling all around the state when you are not even up for reelection?" His response? "The Great Commandment. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Issue 3 will hurt the people of Ohio. Even the proponents of Issue 3 are saying that it will cause 109,000 addictions to gambling. This is not good for Ohio. So, I'm taking the time to travel and speak out because I love the people of Ohio."

He's not even up for reelection. Yet he's on the campaign trail. Because he loves the people of Ohio. I respect people like that. And I will vote "no" on Issue 3. I urge you to do the same.
Ted Haggard's admission of sin

Today, I read Ted Haggard's letter of confession to the New Life Church. A visiting pastor read the letter to his church this past Sunday morning. It was a letter in which Haggard accepted total responsibility for his sin. He asked to be forgiven but said that he would never seek to be reinstated as a leader at New Life Church. He is going to make himself accountable to three Christian leaders who will develop a process of personal restoration for him. He absolved his wife of any responsibility. Given the circumstances, it was an honest, well-crafted letter after a life of deception.

I had an overwhelming sense of sadness as I read the letter. I also felt that such a letter could be leveraged as a sober warning for anyone in Christian leadership.

The Bible says, "If any man thinks he stands, let him take heed lest he falls." The seeds of the most horrible and embarrassing sins are in all of us. As the saying goes, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." If we think something like that could never happen to us, we are wrong.

So, we must ask God for protection. Are we regularly praying, "Deliver us from evil"? We must look for accountability. Do we have friends who will ask us the tough questions? We must develop a fear of falling. Do we have ways to remind us of the high price of sin?

I want to read Ted Haggard's letter periodically. Why? I don't ever want to have to write something like that. I want to remind myself that Haggard has brought great shame to his wife, to his family, to his church, and to himself. I want to remind myself that he has created questions in the minds of people he has led to Christ. I want to remind myself how he has dishonored the Lord. I want to read this letter to remind me to guard my heart.

The letter follows:

To my New Life Church family:

I am so sorry. I am sorry for the disappointment, the betrayal, and the hurt. I am sorry for the horrible example I have set for you.

I have an overwhelming, all-consuming sadness in my heart for the pain that you and I and my family have experienced over the past few days. I am so sorry for the circumstances that have caused shame and embarrassment to all of you.

I asked that this note be read to you this morning so I could clarify my heart's condition to you. The last four days have been so difficult for me, my family and all of you, and I have further confused the situation with some of the things I've said during interviews with reporters who would catch me coming or going from my home. But I alone am responsible for the confusion caused by my inconsistent statements. The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.

I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life.

For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

Through the years, I've sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn't want to hurt or disappoint them.

The public person I was wasn't a lie; it was just incomplete. When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe.

The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry. Our church's overseers have required me to submit to the oversight of Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett. Those men will perform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family.

I created this entire situation. The things that I did opened the door for additional allegations . But I am responsible; I alone need to be disciplined and corrected. An example must be set.

It is important that you know how much I love and appreciate my wife, Gayle. What I did should never reflect in a negative way on her relationship with me. She has been and continues to be incredible. The problem is not with her, my children or any of you. It was created 100 percent by me.

I have been permanently removed from the office of Senior Pastor of New Life Church. Until a new senior pastor is chosen, our Associate Senior Pastor Ross Parsley will assume all of the the responsibilities of the office. On the day he accepted this new role, he and his wife, Aimee, had a new baby boy. A new life in the midst of this circumstance - I consider the confluence of events to be prophetic. Please commit to join with Pastor Ross and the others in church leadership to make their service to you easy and without burden. They are fine leaders. You are blessed.

I appreciate your loving and forgiving nature, and I humbly ask you to do a few things.

1.) Please stay faithful to God through service and giving.

2.) Please forgive me. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. I caused this and I have no excuse. I am a sinner. I have fallen. I desperately need to be forgiven and healed.

3.) Please forgive my accuser. He is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins, and others, need to be dealt with harshly. So, forgive him and, actually, thank God for him. I am trusting that his action will make me, my wife and family, and ultimately all of you, stronger. He didn't violate you; I did.

4.) Please stay faithful to each other. Perform your functions well. Encourage each other and rejoice in God's faithfulness. Our church body is a beautiful body, and like every family, our strength is tested and proven in the midst of adversity. Because of the negative publicity I've created with my foolishness, we can now demonstrate to the world how our sick and wounded can be healed, and how even disappointed and betrayed church bodies can prosper and rejoice.

Gayle and I need to be gone for a while. We will never return to a leadership role at New Life Church. In our hearts, we will always be members of this body. We love you as our family. I know this situation will put you to the test. I'm sorry I've created the test, but please rise to this challenge and demonstate the incredible grace that is available to all of us.

Ted Haggard

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Let's pray for Ted Haggard and the New Life Church. And may Jesus protect all of us at CVC from ever having to write such a letter. "Lord, deliver us from evil."

Saturday, November 04, 2006

When a leader falls

Ted Haggard was pastor of the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He was also president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Just a few days ago, he resigned from ministry because of allegations of drug use and a homosexual affair.

On Tuesday, Colorado will be voting on Amendment 43 which would protect the traditional definition of marriage in that state. Ted Haggard was a leading voice promoting the adoption of the Colorado Marriage Amendment that would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Ross Parsley, an associate senior pastor who is now serving as interim pastor of the New Life Church, told a Colorado Springs television station that Haggard had admitted to some of the allegations. An email to church members late Thursday night said, “It is important for you to know that he confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true.”

Obviously, we don’t know which allegations are true or not. It appears that Haggard is admitting to buying methamphetatmine and getting a massage from the man who is accusing him of homosexual activity. I’m hoping that Ted Haggard will be exonerated from the more serious of the allegations.

But this situation is a sober warning for all leaders in ministry. I'm sure that Ted Haggard never set out to fall. But the stess and busy-ness of ministry can cause a leader to compromise and excuse behavior that is questionable at best. Sometimes leaders can think themselves above the protective laws that God gives to protect His people. Leaders can get "out there" on the edge of danger. But as A.W. Tozer once said, "An unguarded strength is a double weakness."

It's better to build barricades to guard ourselves. I like what I've read in the book Every Man’s Battle: Winning The War On Sexual Temptation One Victory At A Time. What follows is a summary.

“Among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 5:3)

The definition for sexual purity: “You are sexually pure when no sexual gratification comes from anyone or anything other than your wife.”

There's a price a man pays for impurity:
I am paying a price. Can you be sure your setbacks aren’t somehow caused by your sin?
My wife is paying a price. Is your immorality causing spiritual protection to be taken from her?
My church is paying a price. Is your immorality limiting your ability to minister to others?
My children could be paying a price. Might you pass this pattern on to your children?

What a man gains with purity:
I can now look God in the eye.
My wife becomes captivating to me.
My friends find me trustworthy.
I leave a pure, moral legacy for my kids.
I avoid the carnage produced by an immoral life.

Building Three Parameters of Defense In Your Life:

I. With your eyes…

“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” (Job 31:1)

· Bouncing – Train your eyes to immediately bounce away from the sexual, like the jerk of your hand away from a hot stove.

· Starving – When you starve your eyes and eliminate “junk sex” from your life, you’ll deeply crave “real food” – your wife. And no wonder. She’s the only thing in your cupboard, and you’re hungry! Since your visual gratification now pours only from her, she’s looking very good to you.

II. In your mind…

“We take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

· Evaluating – if you find someone attractive, your first line of defense is a proper mindset, which is this: “This attraction threatens everything I hold dear.”

· Capturing – Your second line of defense is to declare, “I have no right to think on these things.” State this to yourself clearly, decisively, and often.

III. In your heart…

“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes.” (Song of Songs 4:9-10)

· Honoring – Remember that your wife has given you her freedom, her sexuality, her secrets, her longings, and her hopes.

· Cherishing – Your wife is to be cherished, not because of what she does for you, but because of her essence, her value to God as a child born in His image. You’ve been entrusted with the priceless essence of another human soul, so precious to God that at the foundation of the world He planned to pay His dearest price to buy her back again.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

To gamble or not to gamble

A few months ago, my wife, Maryanne, and I were asked to participate in a fundraising effort for our son's North Royalton travel baseball team. It was called a "Poker Charity Fundraiser @ The Nautica." We were told that we could make all the money necessary for the upcoming season for the team in one night. We would be handling money or dealing cards or serving at the event.

As a follower of Christ, I couldn't participate. I had to decline. Below is part of what I wrote to the coaches and parents.

* * *

I know that it’s tough leading a team and trying to keep everybody happy and moving forward. So, please don’t take my response to this fundraising idea as being from a guy who is trying to make your job hard. I really appreciate your sacrifice. And I really, really mean that!

At CVC, we try hard not to be legalistic Christ followers. We often say that what we are all about is a relationship with Christ and not rules and regulations and rituals. Too many Christians are focused on the dos and don’ts and they miss the central message of the Bible – that Jesus has done everything to secure a personal relationship with us. We try hard not to just “talk the talk” but to really “walk the walk.”

But I do think that Christ is displeased with certain practices that we ought to say “no” to. I believe gambling is one of them.

I know that the event being planned is a “fun” kind of gambling – that it’s basically donations, etc. But having played my first year of professional baseball for the Minnesota Twins organization in Reno, Nevada where gambling is big business, I saw first hand how “fun” gambling can get out of hand and be very destructive to people. I had teammates who wasted paychecks and who ruined their baseball careers because of the lifestyle that goes with gambling. We see what gambling has cost Pete Rose. And now, as a pastor, I see up close and personal the devastation it has caused many families in our own church. I’ve heard stories over and over about men in our church who have torn up their families because of addictions to gambling. I know a man who almost destroyed his family because he couldn’t drive by a Convenient Mart without stopping to buy lottery tickets. I know a man who almost destroyed his finances and family because of betting thousands of dollars each week on NFL games. I know a man who is an absentee husband and father because of his addiction to betting on races at Northfield Park. Recently a young man from the American Policy Roundtable spoke at our church, a young man who had gone into debt $30,000 by the age of 20 because of gambling and whose life was being threatened because he had no way to pay. I have a friend who is a pastor whose son became addicted to internet gambling and ended up robbing a bank to pay off his gambling debts, something that was recently on the local and national news.

I am absolutely convinced that gambling is not a victimless, innocent diversion. I hate what gambling can do (and has done) to people and to families.

Again, I know that the team isn’t promoting “addictions” to gambling. I know that it’s supposed to be just a light-hearted fundraiser. But I think about gambling this way: You’ll never be addicted to gambling if you never place your first bet – even if it’s an “innocent” diversion.

As a parent, I do not want to innocently, unthinkingly introduce something to my child that might turn out to be something that he will grow up to embrace and one day find that it has mastered him. The same principle can be applied to gambling. I don’t want to create a stumbling block for anyone. If my kids see me gamble and they then think that it’s OK because I do it and then they get “hooked,” I will have unwittingly participated in their downfall.

I think gambling compromises some key principles for followers of Christ. 1. It demonstrates a mistrust in the sovereignty of God. Followers of Jesus don’t depend on luck and chance, but on a loving Sovereign God who cares for them. 2. It violates principles of stewardship. Proverbs 12:11 says, "The one who works his land will have plenty of food, but whoever chases fantasies lacks sense" HCSB). God uses work and responsibility to care for his own. 3. Gambling feeds covetousness. 4. It violates love. Martin Luther said, “Money won by gambling is not without self-seeking and love of self is not without sin.” 5. It puts us in jeopardy of being mastered by something other than Christ. I Corinthians 6:12 says clearly that we ought not be mastered by anything other than God’s Spirit.

I have found that many people have not thought through issues like gambling. We just “go along to get along” and never stop to ask, “What’s really right in God’s sight and what’s wrong?” I believe that if more people saw what I see in the lives of others who gamble, they might see gambling as more problematic than they do.

I know that this is an “easy” way to raise money and that in one night, it’s done. I get that. But I believe that often, the easy way isn’t the best way.

The reason we want kids to play baseball is because we think it helps to build character. I believe that the evidence is overwhelming that a culture that condones gambling does not build character. Instead, it compromises character.

James Dobson from “Focus on the Family” once wrote in an article, “Thirty years ago, gambling was widely understood in the culture to be addictive, progressive and dangerous. Parents taught their children about its evils… More recently, however, betting has been given a face-lift by the industry -- even changing the name from gambling to 'gaming.' The effect of this relentless propaganda has been dramatic. Most Americans now think of gambling not as a vice or unsavory habit, but as harmless entertainment.”

I know that I have plenty of areas in my life that need attention. Jesus said for us to take the beam out of our eye before trying to take the speck out of someone else’s eye. But in this area, I have developed some deep personal convictions. I’m concerned about my behavior and the behavior of my family in the sight of God.

I wish there could be some other options provided. But if no other options are available, then the Duncans will just have to figure out another way to raise some funds. If it comes down to it, we may just have to dig deep into our own personal budget. I’d rather do that than participate in the night at the Nautica.

I appreciate your willingness to let me share my thoughts. Thanks for all you are doing.

* * *

The other parents didn't feel the same way we did. So, the team participated in the event. But I felt it was right to take a stand. Hopefully, I did it in a way that was kind and gentle and winsome. And Christ-honoring.

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