Sunday, December 31, 2006

How can I help?

Today, I sent some emails to various agencies in Cleveland that deal with poverty issues. I'm hoping to do some volunteering in 2007 and beyond.

Our church is doing several things to help serve the last, the least, and the lost. They are all good. But I'd like to do something that is in no way self-serving. When I do something that is connected with CVC, it can become a "job-related/pastor-driven" deal. I want to avoid that.

Plus, I think it's time for the church to stop duplicating human services and ministries and to start partnering with existing services and ministries.

An article I reread recently says, "Nearly every community has a number of human service agencies that are morally positive and spiritually neutral that are doing their best to meet the needs of the under-served and under-resourced people of the community."

Rick Rusaw is pastor of LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont Colorado. Several years ago LifeBridge made a conscious decision to "care for their community." Rusaw says, "I used to think I could change the world. Now I just want to change the stream… not by standing on the bank and yelling but by getting in the water. The way to make truth visible is to make 'Christian' a verb not just an adjective." LifeBridge's commitment to their community is their letter "known and read by everybody" (2 Corinthians 3:2).

So, here is what I wrote early this monrning to several Cleveland agencies.

* * *

Hi,

I am a pastor of a suburban church in Brecksville/Broadview Heights.

I recently gave a message in which I said, “We need to help pull people out of the river of poverty. But we also need to go upstream and do something about stopping them from being pushed in.”

Since then, I have been feeling a need to be involved personally.

I am exploring opportunities to be involved in some kind of organization that is focused on helping people in need. I saw your website. Is there a need in your organization for a volunteer like me? What are some areas where I might be able to serve? Or could you suggest another organization that might be able to use my help? I would prefer a secular organization rather than a religious organization since it’s been my observation that religious organizations sometimes duplicate services (often in a substandard way) that are already being handled well by a secular organization.

Thanks for all you are doing.

Rick Duncan
Sr. Pastor, Cuyahoga Valley Church

* * *

If you're reading this, would you stop and pray for me? Please pray that God will open a door for me to be help serve the last, the least, and the lost in a way that will be a good fit for me and that would not violate my 2007 commitment to slow down, know God, and take care. Thanks!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Blue coats and grey jackets...

I am reformed in my theology. But I don't "wear the doctrines on my sleeve." In other words, when preaching through a passage (like Ephesians 1) that deals with the doctrines of grace, I bang the drum. If I'm preaching on something like anger, for example, I won't try to force some reformed approach on the topic.

I actually came to a reformed view before I went to seminary, but my time at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary helped me grow in the doctrines of grace. Mid-America, at the time, had a diverse collection of views on the faculty. But I became more articulate about reformed theology mainly because of the influence of my church history professor, Tom Nettles. I love to read John Piper and R.C. Sproul. As Piper would say, most of my dead heroes of the faith are Calvinists. And I use their exegesis and commentary often. For example, I read John Gill’s commentaries in preparation for messages and I often check out what C.H. Spurgeon has to say.

I am, however, pragmatic when it comes to church growth strategies and leveraging some of the tools of the 21st century to reach people for Christ. I’ve learned from Rick Warren and Bill Hybels and Andy Stanley and Ed Young, Jr. And I have found that this makes me suspect in the eyes of some of our reformed brethren. They would say that I have sold out to the spirit of the age. Oh well… I'm not trying to please a reformed constituency or a Christian sub-culture of Calvinist watchdogs. I don’t have some Calvinistic seminary prof that I need to make sure approves of the way I'm doing things. I say this: "If you displease God, it doesn't really matter who you please. But if you please God, it doesn't really matter who you displease."

So, some would say that I'm not a true church growth guy because of my reformed theology. Some would say that I'm not a good Calvinist because of my pragmatic emphasis on church growth. Some would say that I'm not a good SBC dude because of my para-church/non-denom approach to ministry. And some would say I'm not a good non-denom/para-church guy because I really like the cooperative approach of the SBC. I sometimes feel like a man without a home.

Maybe Jesus likes me. Zephaniah 3:17 says so anyway.

I don't like to argue about reformed theology. I just try to enjoy it. I particularly delight in being one of the elect!

I think there are a lot of mean-spirited Calvinists who are kind of like the Pharisees when it comes to doctrine and practice. I think they should read I and II Timothy and Titus and take special note of all the verses that say things like "Don't wrangle over words." I don't want to be associated with negative, critical people. This life to live and love for Christ is too short for that.

I don't want to be a "nay-saying Calvinistic church growth critic." To me, that's the way some reformed guys come across. I want to grab them by the collar and say, "There's a lost world out there. You'd do the kingdom more good by winning the lost than by judging and criticizing the people who are least trying to get something done. Don't tell me about your doctrine. I want to know how many of the elect did you find and baptize last year?"

When it comes to church growth, I'm trying to have a heart like Spurgeon's whom I've heard used to say, "Lord, save the elect. Then, elect some more." So many Calvinists that I know are so hung up on doctrinal precision that they fail to have a heart for the world of lost people. They seem to be more passionate about criticizing the Rick Warrens and Bill Hybels of the world than they are about seeking ways to leverage greater influence to build the Kingdom.

A friend once wrote to me as we discussed the loneliness of not fitting into the prescribed molds of the US evangelical scene, “So, maybe there are a few of God's men out there who wear blue coats and gray jackets. In this civil war of American Christianity you may continue to be shot at from both sides.”

After reading John Piper's book on missions, “Let the Nations Be Glad,” I found that I want to have the kind of heart expressed there: Let's grow the church and reach the world - populating heaven with worshippers of Jesus Christ. To God alone be the glory.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Prayer for CVC for 2007...

Steve Kaloper is a Vice President with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). I received an email letter from him asking for prayer for their ministry. As I read it, I was reminded that CVC needs people to pray passionately for our ministry. So, I’m using some of his thoughts as I ask for prayer coverage for CVC and for our various ministries – missions, Blast!, Impact, 707, and “Up Close.”

CVC has a devoted group of men and women who have committed their life to helping people grow to be passionate followers of Christ. We are seeking to be an Acts 1:8 church proclaiming Jesus throughout the world -including many difficult and hostile settings. Our leaders sometimes feel the oppression of spiritual attack.

As we share the truth, lives are changed. But if a life is changed, we know that it is only because of the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit. In everything CVC does, the key to spiritual victory is that people uphold us in prayer – serious prayer for the opportunities we are given.

During this holiday season as we stand on the brink of a new year, I ask you to come alongside us once again in prayer for 2007.

That God would grant supernatural wisdom to every person who speaks, teaches, leads worship, and serves as support staff,
That He would give us strength to carry out His ministry plans of us for 2007,
That He would give us clarity of thought and speech,
That we would not try to do things in our ability but in the grace of the Holy Spirit,
That we would not run on automatic pilot, but be attentive for the Spirit's movement,
That we would gain fresh insights from the Scriptures, gleaning direction from God's Truth,
That the families (especially children and marriages) of CVC leaders be protected from damaging enemy attacks,
That there really would be a sense that God is moving - not because of our human giftedness or human wisdom, but because of a demonstration of the Spirit and power as Paul says in I Corinthians.

I also ask you to pray for physical protection and moral protection for our elders and staff. All kinds of challenging and confusing things can happen during worship services and ministry opportunities. So, pray for an anointing from God that would cut through enemy opposition when CVC engages in ministry and when people from CVC enter a ministry location. Pray against the spiritual forces and the darkness that is in the hearts of lives of those we are called to reach and teach so that the seed planted will fall on good soil.

That is what we as a ministry hunger for. We would like to see a sea of prayer behind CVC’s worldwide activity in 2007 as well. And I think as we do, we'll see more fruit for what we do as God continues to accomplish His purposes through this ministry.

Friday, December 22, 2006


Your personal growth plan: slow down, know God, take care



Several years ago, leadership expert John Maxwell wrote, “One of the things I enjoy most is doing conferences around the country. One of the most important things I talk about at those conferences is personal growth. I often invite anyone in the audience who has already created a personal plan for growth to come up during the break to tell me about it. Do you know that in all the years I have been doing that, not once has anyone come up to me. Why? Because not one had created a personal growth plan for himself.”

Paul told Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself" (I Timothy 4:16a). Growth is not automatic; it does not necessarily come with experience, nor simply as a result of gathering information. What we want to see is transformation. The word “transformed” in Romans 12:1-2 is metamorphoo in the Greek. We learned the word in grade school. Metamorphosis. A caterpillar “morphs” into a butterfly.

That’s what God intends for us. We are to change, to morph, to grow! Staying the same isn’t an option. Don’t you want your life to be different at the end of this year than it is today? An angry mom becomes more patient. A lazy student becomes more disciplined. A sour dad becomes more joyful. An impatient single person becomes more at peace.

Personal growth must be…
· deliberate,
· planned, and
· consistent.

Think of yourself as a well and think of the people around as having a bucket. They will drain you dry. Unless the well is replenished, you will be emptied soon. Your growth requires a plan.

1. Ask God to help you grow.

Yes, God has pormised to work in us. That's why we can be confident that He will answer us when we ask Him to help us grow. A man was overheard thanking God for answering his prayer for something good that happened in his life. His friend said, “It was a coincidence.” The praying man replied, “If it is a coincidence, I sure have a lot more coincidences when I pray than when I don’t!”

What should you ask God? Ask Him to give you the grace to implement the classic spiritual disciplines in our life. Ask Him to motivate and guide you to the activities, experiences, and relationships that have been used by God down through the centuries to change believers to actually become more like Jesus. Ask Him to show you where you need to grow. Often, a spouse, a child, or an associate will be more than happy to let you know what your growth areas are!

How do you begin? Begin with prayer - asking God for specific things that you want to see changed in your life! Be specific. How would you like to see God change you this coming year? Write the things down that come to your mind and then add them to a prayer list that you will keep handy over the next few months.

2. Develop a plan for growth.

Get alone with God and ask Him to help you develop a plan. Listen to Him! You may want to answer the following questions. Don’t forget to write down what He says.

12 questions to help you develop a plan.

In what area of your life do you need to grow to be more like Jesus?
Which fruit of the Spirit needs most development in your life?
What will you read in scripture this year?
What sections of scripture will you memorize?
How will you grow in your prayer life this year?
What music will you listen to?
What books will you read and/or reread?
With whom do you need to build a relationship/friendship with this year?
What CDs do you need to listen to?
What seminars/conferences do you need to go to?
What new disciplines do you need to develop? (For example, praying with your spouse or having devotions with your kids.)
Who will hold you accountable?

3. File quickly what you learn.

Every good piece of information a person finds needs to be processed and filed. Each time you reduce a book, a tape, or an article down to its one most relevant sentence or paragraph, you have processed through all the information, digested it, summarized it, and learned it. You'll never get that real life application without reflecting on what you are learning and creating a system to retrieve what you've learned to put it into practice and use in the future.

4. Apply quickly what you learn.

Simply knowing a thing will not make it a part of you. To do that, you must apply it. Each time you learn something new, it's good to ask yourself, “Where, when, and how can I use this?” You can do more than simply make a mental connection with the things you learn, so you may want to use the following system developed by John Maxwell.

· Select one thing each week that you've learned.
· Put it on a 3 x 5 card. (Keep it in front of you for a week.)
· Share it with your spouse or close friend.
· Share it with someone else within twenty-four hours.
· Teach it to someone else. (Put it in a lesson.)

5. Grow with someone.

I often say, "People don’t do what’s expected, they do what’s inspected." So, find someone to inspect you! When you share what you are learning with others, it increases your insights, builds your relationships, gives you a common vision, and holds you accountable. At CVC, we highly value accountability. Get connected with another growing person or group!

Remember: There is no perfect growth plan. Your plan should be dynamic. It should change as the year develops and God shows you new things to learn and new areas of growth. Many of the most highly gifted leaders jump from new ideas to new plans. Sometimes they’re just bored. And sometimes they just can't help themselves. But persevere. A good plan from a persistant person will produce better results than a great plan from an inconsistent person.


Beware the barrenness of busy-ness. We are witnessing the acceleration of just about everything in life. But faster internet connections do not make us grow to be like Jesus faster. The growth of our souls takes time. If you want to make sure that do not experience a barrenness in your life, then take pains with the growth of your own soul. Start making your plan today! Personal growth is like investing. It's not your timing. It's your time in. So, get growing now! Develop a plan and stick to it.

When a church stops growing...

I have a friend who is a pastor in another city. He read my “Pass the Baton” from December 18th. He wrote, "Our church fits the profile in a lot of ways. Explosive growth for the first ten years. We didn’t plateau at that point, there was a sharp division in the church and many left. We are currently in year 22 and have been on the decline for the last 12 years. I have been here for the last 4 years and we are moving back toward more of a plateau level – in other words it’s not really growing, but it has stopped declining for the most part. Do you know of any resources that document that life-cycle? Also, we are a true boomer church like yours was and we just don’t reach 20 somethings. We... have a hard time turning ministry over to younger people, but I fear that if we don’t we are on a quick path to death. Any thoughts or encouragement you could give me on that?"

* * *

Below is part of my response.

* * *

I’ll have to think about my source for the church cycle. It’s been over ten years since I saw that study.

You probably know this, but 20 somethings will reach 20 somethings (unless you’re as good a communicator as a guy like Louis Giglio or the pied Piper for the 20 somethings, John.) If you want to go that route (empowering 20 somethings to reach 20 somethings), there will be a price to pay. I could talk to you a long, long time about that! I’ve paid a personal price for having 707 here at CVC – believe me!

When you try something fresh to reach out, the believers in your church who are all about themselves (their worship, their Bible study, and their own growth, etc) will complain and maybe leave. So, count the cost.

It’s not right for a pastor to make a radical change and then leave when things get uncomfortable with the people. That’s what I’ve seen lots of guys do. The church would have been better off with the pastor trying nothing new. Just shepherd the sheep into glory. Not a bad gig. God can be honored greatly in that!

I think that maybe some churches are called to serve the saints and maybe not penetrate the culture as much. One day, those churches will perhaps end up closing their doors. But that’s not bad. God will always be raising up new expressions of His church. New churches will need to be launched to replace the old. (I’m guessing that you already know that evangelicals are experiencing a net loss of 2,400 churches a year in the USA.)

For me, I’d go crazy in a long-term plateau situation. With the tons and tons of unsaved in our “Jerusalem,” I have to be thinking of ways to reach them. It’s the way I’m wired. And I think caring about the lost so much that it impacts your strategy is a mark of a mature follower of Jesus. Based on Matthew 4:19, “If you ain’t fishin’, you aint’ followin’.”

Your church seems to have a core value – discipling kids. If that’s true, I have one quick idea. Why not develop the very best children’s ministry in [your city]?

Our last growth strategy from a human perspective (we know that God gives the growth!) was launching something called “blast!” for families. It’s the "252 basics" program (from Luke 2:52.) We learned about it from North Point Community Church's "kidstuff."

See

http://www.252basics.com/

http://www.cuyahogavalleychurch.com/blast/

http://www.kidstuf.com/

In 2003, I was reading a Barna book (Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions) about children’s ministry and I was also at a conference learning about North Point Community Church’s kidstuf. I was impressed with how important children’s ministry is to reaching young families. Even though my kids are 25, 19, and 13, I said to my staff, “I think God wants us to invest in our kids. Our next growth wave may be from launching a world class children’s ministry. When people in Cleveland think of the best children’s ministry, they should think of CVC.”

It took a year of vision casting and then a year of fundraising and infrastructure building. But we launched "blast!" publicly in Jan 2006. We now have over 400 children and parents coming. It’s a draw to young parents because we are equipping them to teach their kids.

Admittedly, it takes tons of resources – staff, volunteers, technology, and facility. We have 2 ½ staffers just for blast, plus 1 full-time children’s director (with two assistants) who oversees it all. We’ve had to invest in staging and lights and video, etc. It's a big investment, but we don't regret it. The kids are learning.

I have foudn that our people want to invest in children and the future. And it’s an easy vision to cast. I say things like, “The next wave of missionaries might be coming to Christ right now in our blast! ministry.”

Some people sometimes question the biblical content of 252 basics. For some people, it's not hard-hitting enough. In my view, however, it’s a “draw” to bring in the irreligious and then you can take them deeper in Sunday School and small groups.

Basically, in my humble opinion, you may need to add something to what you are currently doing that’s outreach-oriented, exciting, visionary, and relevant to the culture to start a new growth curve. Get with God and ask Him, “What’s next for this church?” Status quo is not an option. He always has the Great Commission on His heart.

Let’s stay in touch.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pray for the preacher!

Last week, I received an email from a friend that made me think. Here's what he wrote.

* * *

I have noticed a marked difference (to the better--the much, much better) in your sermons over the last two months. Over the last few years, one could have gotten the impression that to be “nice” was your concept of the highest goal for the Christian. Now you note the ‘subversive” nature of the Gospel to the present world system, the “Imperial News” that is the Gospel of the Lordship of Christ... I have been truly, truly impressed (and challenged). I thank you for your renewed emphasis (and courage to do so). ... just what happened to make this change (and I am not the only one to notice it)?

* * *

What follows is my answer.

* * *

I honestly thank you for your encouragement. It means a lot.

As far as I can tell, I am approaching preaching the same way as before. I continue to read the Bible and the usual commentaries as I approach sermon preparation. I haven’t really been reading anything out of the ordinary. However, I am always seeking to grow in my walk with Jesus and in my skill as a preacher.

I guess it’s hard not to preach harder hitting messages when one is preaching on the life of John the Baptist. [The series that I jsut recently finished.]

As far as encouraging people to be “nice,” 20 years ago, we didn’t move 1000 miles away from our families simply to be “nice.” I can remember several years ago in a series through James specifically challenging men especially to be more than just “nice.” So, I’m very sad if my preaching over the last few years has caused people to think that being “nice” followers of Jesus is what we wanted to produce. But I’m happy if people are sensing that we are now calling for something more radical.

I have long, long agreed with the “Lordship salvation” position and that a changed life resulting in fruitful living is the only life worthy of assurance.

Whether I receive encouragement or criticism, I try to remember Paul’s words in I Corinthians 4.

1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
I Corinthians 4:1-5 (ESV)

As God prompts you, please pray for me.

… that I will be a true servant of Christ. v. 1a
… that I will be a faithful steward of the secret things of God. v. 1b
… that I will be proven faithful. v. 2
… that where I rank in popular opinion will matter very little to me. v. 3a
… that I will not even trust my own evaluation of myself. v. 3b
… that I will have a clear conscience as a pastor/teacher. v. 4
… that I will remember that when the Lord comes, He will examine me. v. 5a
… that I will remember that He will bring my darkest secrets to light. v. 5b
… that I will remember that He will reveal my private motives. v. 5c
… that I will one day receive a “well done” from God. v. 5d

Thanks again. I value your thoughts because I know that you think!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pass the baton

Yesterday, I didn't preach at CVC. Instead, Andy Sikora, our lead communicator for sevenoseven, our ministry/mission to young adults spoke. I participated in baptisms during the service. But Andy spoke on what it means to say Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. I learned. And Andy gave a prespective to CVC AM that I never could have given. I'm glad Andy spoke.

Lots of people ask me about our young adult mission, sevenoseven. (You can see sevenoseven online at sevenoseven.com.) They meet on Sunday nights at 6:30 and 8:30. People wonder, “Why did you start 707? How’s it working for you? Does it threaten you that another guy is preaching to hundreds of people each weekend at your church?”

Here’s what we were seeing a few years ago. Our church that was once reaching young boomers was now reaching aging boomers. We had grown well for about the first ten years. Then we plateaued.

I had learned that many churches had a very predictable life cycle. They grow for the first ten years. They plateau for the next 15 years. Then they start a decline after year 25 and die a slow death. We asked God to help us break out of that cycle.

And we were concerned that we were losing our young adults. No one in Cleveland was doing a great job of reaching them. We wanted to pass the baton to a younger generation intentionally. Our not-so-new-anymore church start needed a fresh start. So, we felt God’s leading for us to start something fresh – a new mission within our church. We wanted to begin a new growth curve.

We called a 30 year-old young adult pastor and a 26 year-old worship leader in the fall of 2002. They launched a new Sunday evening service on April 6, 2003. How’s it going?

Well, last night, seveoseven had 992 in attendance after 3 1/2 years of ministry. And last night, they baptized 8 young adults – what some have called the most unchurched generation in America.

This has required trust; a trust in God to let go of control and a trust that God will work through younger leaders.

So, whenever I get the chance, I ask Boomer church leaders: Where is our trust? When are we planning to hand over the leadership that we have leveraged over the last several decades? Who are we graciously passing the baton to?

In general, we’re not passing the baton very well. We don’t trust that God can work through a younger generation and we don’t trust the younger generation.

Most Boomers Christian leaders have no intention of lovingly handing the baton to Baby Busters. I hear people say, “They aren’t ready! The busters whine. They aren’t as dedicated. Their values are not right.”

My advice to us: get over it.

We have to trust God and graciously let go of the reigns. We must allow – and even encourage – the emergence of new models of ministry that either improve or replace what we introduced. We must support these young leaders even if they do some things we wouldn’t have done. The Bible gives freedom when it comes to methodology. Boomers need to hear this: "Let the younger generations put their fingerprints on your ministry."

It's time for Boomer leaders to be like Moses was to a young Joshua. It's time for Boomer leaders to be like Paul was to some young Timothy.

One contemporary way to say it: Pass the baton... and let go!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Jesus, the poor, Christmas, and you

Christmas is about Jesus "stepping down." Jesus stepped down to create a revolution. God wasn’t happy with the world. Too many proud people needed to be scattered. Too many lowly people needed to be lifted. Too many hungry people needed to be filled. So, God sent His Son.

Remember that Jesus had influence and affluence. We sing about what He was experiencing in heaven. “The splendor of the King, veiled in majesty. Let all the earth rejoice, let all the earth rejoice. He wraps Himself in light and darkness tries to hide. And trembles at His voice, and trembles at His voice. How great is our God.” That’s what Jesus had in heaven. He is the Creator. And He was worshipped in heaven. Truly, He had influence and affluence.

If He wanted to live an insulated, isolated life, He could have. But He left it. He stepped down. Why? He died on a cross to forgive our sins and save us. And to bring justice to this world.

Here’s why He said He came…

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.
Luke 4:18-19 (NLT)

Jesus "stepped down" to die on a cross and forgive our sins. But there's more. He came to heal the hurting and to help the poor. Jesus was a revolutionary for justice. And now, He’s calling His followers to do the same.

We must "step down" to serve the needy among us. We have influence and affluence. Will we step down to lift somebody up? The scriptures are clear on our responsibility.

Give generously to [the poor] and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
Deuteronomy 15:10-11 (NIV)

He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.
Proverbs 28:27 (NIV)

Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.
Isaiah 58:10-11 (NLT)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
James 2:14-16 (ESV)

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
I John 3:16-19 (ESV)

If you’re a mechanic or a dentist or a painter or a carpenter or a lawyer or a hairstylist, how much would it really hurt you to do something for a needy person for free? If you own a clothing store, a furniture store, a book store, how much would it really hurt you to give some things away to the poor?

Maybe God would have some of us start a new business in order to provide jobs for the jobless.

Maybe some of us could hire needy people to shovel snow or rake leaves or clean gutters.

Maybe God would have some of us run for public office and use our influence to declare a war on poverty.

Maybe God would have some of us adopt a needy little boy or girl.

Maybe God would have some of us serve as foster parents.

Maybe God would have some of us start a new career, a new job, serving as a teacher in a Cleveland school or serving in some socially responsible and morally neutral agency.

Maybe God would have us rethink that $500 you are going to spend on our families and the $15 we're going to give to the poor this Christmas. Maybe we’re supposed to redo the math and change those percentages.

Do we really want to stand before God someday and say, “Well, I paid for others to take care of the poor?” Or do we want to stand before Him and say, “I took the responsibility seriously. I could have done more. But I stepped down and did something.”

Let' s not just do what’s easy. Let's get involved personally. Let's step down to lift up someone else up.

That's a Christmas gift that honors not only the poor, but Jesus Himself, the very reason for the season.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

WWJW: What would Jesus write?

One of the biggest things that distinguishes us from all the other good, moral, ethical people is that we have a relationship with a Savior who speaks – who speaks to us about our lives, who speaks to us about our families, who speaks to us about our careers, who speaks to us about our relationships and hopes and dreams and fears. He’s personal. He cares. He speaks.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me.
Revelation 3:20 (ESV)

Jesus has a voice. He speaks. He talks. To us. About what’s going on in our lives today. Because He cares. Are we listening?

This is why I call our faith “acoustic faith.” Acoustic is the science concerned with the production, control, transmission, reception, and effects of sound. The term is derived from the Greek akoustos, meaning “hearing.”

So, “acoustic faith” is a faith that hears from God. He produces and controls and transmits His voice to us. We are to be receptive and to show off the effects of the sound of His voice in our lives.

Are you hearing from Jesus? Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t know how to hear from Jesus.” You’re not alone. But looking at the form/structure of the letters from Jesus to the 7 churches in Revelation 2 and 3 can give us a handle on how to hear.

If you break down these letters, there’s a format to follow.

1. Pray and ask Jesus to speak to you, then listen. What might Jesus dictate in a letter to you, to your family, about your career, to your community group, or to your church?
2. Write down how Jesus might identify Himself to you in this letter – maybe something about His character from Revelation 1:12-16.
3. Write down what Jesus might say to encourage you. “I know your…”
4. Write down what Jesus might say to challenge you – to point out your sins. “I have this against you…”
5. Write down what repentance might look like for you.
6. Write down a warning Jesus might give you. “Unless you repent, I will…”
7. Write down a promise Jesus might give you. “To the one who conquers, I will give…”

What if you took some time to do this spiritual exercise?

A disclaimer: You can’t give this kind of thing the same authority you give to Scripture. We know absolutely for sure that what’s in the Bible is the Word of God. When we do a spiritual exercise like this we have to remember that we are fallen people who tend to hear what we want to hear. So, when we do a spiritual exercise like this, we can’t know absolutely for sure that we’re reading what’s really on Jesus’ heart for us.

When we write things down, we have to say, “I think this is what Jesus is saying to me” or “I feel like I’ve really heard from Christ.” Anything more than that is unwise. We don’t say, “I know I’ve heard from God, so don’t question me.” You’re not writing another Bible when you do this. If we develop a certainty that we’ve heard from God and become unteachable and unchallengeable, that’s scary. So, we always look for feedback from others. You’re not the only one Jesus can talk to. And certainly, anything that comes out of this exercise has to be consistent with what’s in Scripture.

As long as we remember those disclaimers, this spiritual exercise is a good one.

Why not find some time to try this exercise for yourself, for your family, and for your ministry as you end 2006 and head into 2007?

I asked our elders and staff to do this spiritual exercise for our church. What would Jesus write to CVC? I spent a good part of one day reading their responses and praying through them. There were some common threads in what the elders and staff wrote. And here’s some of what we think Jesus would write to us. This is a kind of “state of the church” message.

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.

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.

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I'm right and you're wrong

About 25 years ago, I was mentored by a man named Bob Tebow. (His kid is Tim Tebow, the back-up QB for the Florida Gators.) At that time, I was the director of the Fellowship of Christians Athletes in Jacksonville, Florida. Bob had the job before me and was on staff at the church where I was a member. Bob searched the scriptures with me and, as a result, I came to hold to a Calvinistic/Reformed view of theology.

I believe that “the doctrines of grace,” as some have referred to Calvinism, are truly God-honoring and, therefore, foster passionate worship. The Calvinist position can be can be articulated as a belief in the 5 points: 1) Total depravity. 2) Unconditional election. 3) Limited atonement. 4) Irresistible grace. 5) Perseverance of the saints. I jokingly call myself a 4.5 Calvinist since I struggle with the concept of limited atonement in light of verses like I John 2:2. Overall, reformed theology reminds me that everything good in my life, from start to finish, is all of God and none of me.

So, I gladly call myself Calvinistic. I have been helped greatly by the writings of people like J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and John Piper.

However, I have noticed that some of my Calvinistic brothers are harsh and judgmental and critical of others who do not share their views. This, I think, is a blind spot for many who hold to reformed theological views. They seem to be more intent on turning Arminians into Calvinists rather than turning irreligious people into passionate followers of Christ.

The other day, a member of our church staff, Rick Eimers, informed me about a new theological position. Instead of 5 point Calvinism, some have adopted a 7 point Calvinist position in theology. 1) Total depravity. 2) Unconditional election. 3) Limited atonement. 4) Irresistible grace. 5) Perseverance of the saints. 6) I’m right. 7) You’re wrong!

Unfortunately, I have met some 7 point Calvinists! They make me want to run and hide.

I have been reading a biography of John Newton, the English pastor who wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace. Newton was Calvinistic. But he was deeply disturbed by the contentious spirit he had observed in the lives of some of his Calvinistic friends.

“Throughout his life, John [Newton] could not understand why evangelicals spent so much time attacking each other. He wrote, ‘Will these spiritual gladiators never cease to cut and slash each other?’ Still less could John understand why those who held to the true doctrine of the reformers felt that they must always be hammering others. He wrote, ‘They who avow the doctrines distinguished by the name Calvinistic, ought, if consistent with their own principles, to be the most gentle and forbearing of all men, in meekness instructing them that oppose.’ His argument was that we who hold these truths only understand them because of God’s grace, and therefore have no reason to be angry with those who oppose.” Brian H. Edwards, Through Many Dangers: The Story of John Newton, p. 289.

I like Newton’s attitude. In other words, let’s talk theology, but let’s be charitable about it. Let there be debate between Arminians and Calvinists, but let’s be nice to one another. Our enemy is not a fellow brother in Christ, but the world, the flesh, and the devil.

I think a refusal to quarrel over non-essential issues reflects Paul’s instructions in the pastoral epistles. When we read the pastoral epistles, it is clear that we should refrain from being divisive.

We are warned not to “wander away into vain discussion” (I Timothy 1:6). We are told that leaders are to be “not quarrelsome” (I Timothy 3:3). We are warned that some in the church can be puffed up because they have “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth” (I Timothy 6:4-5).

Paul charges us “before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (II Timothy 2:14). We are told to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (II Timothy 2:23).

We are told to “avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).

I believe that some of us will have to stand before God and give an account of a quarrelsome, controversial, self-righteous attitude that “majors on the minors” and “makes mountains out of molehills.”

So, do you agree or disagree with me about these things? You say you disagree? Then, roll up your sleeves, dude, and get ready to fight! I want to argue with you about the foolishness of arguing! (Just kidding!) Maybe we should sit down together and talk over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. But be warned. I’m right and you’re wrong!

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