Monday, February 19, 2007

Anything done in our own strength will either fail miserably or succeed even more miserably.
G.K. Chesterton

Guy Stevens, the Church Starting Strategist for the Greater Cleveland Baptist Association , shared this quote with me a couple of weeks ago. I passed it along yesterday at CVC in a message on abiding in Christ. Jesus said:

4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
John 15:4-5 (ESV)

Getting things done while not abiding in Christ equals doing good things through self-effort (in our own strength). That's a sure-fire way of doing nothing of eternal value. Getting things done through self-effort is fruitless. Ecclesiastes calls it “chasing after the wind.” I Corinthians calls it “wood, hay, and stubble” that burn up on the day of judgment. Galatians calls it “running in vain.” Philippians calls it “laboring in vain.” Hebrews calls it “dead works.”

When I shared the quote, "Anything done in our own strength will either fail miserably or succeed even more miserably, " I could see light bulbs go on in some people’s eyes. At least some of the people at CVC saw that our deeds done when we’re not abiding in Christ may be successful in men’s eyes, but they are not successful in God’s eyes. And, in that sense, they fail. And to make matters worse, the “success” can reinforce even more self-effort on our part.

That's why I pray, "O God, save us from 'successful' self-effort."

And below is a prayer that I put together last week relating to our need to abide in Christ to bear much fruit that remains. I think I'm going to use it as a guide for praying this every day for the next month or so. Maybe you could use it, too.

Jesus, I praise You as the living Vine in heaven. And I thank You that You have made me a living branch on earth.

I confess how little I have understood how great my need is for You. And I confess how little I have understood that You desire to bear fruit through me to bless the world with Your love.

So, now, I offer myself as an empty branch to You. Apart from You, I am lifeless, hopeless, helpless. I ask that You fill me with Your fullness, Your life, Your love. I desire a complete and close connection to You. I know now that You want me to be a fruitful branch.

Let me more and more clearly see this wondrous union between You and me. Guide me into an ever-increasing communion with You, my beloved Lord. Let my whole being cry out, “Jesus is indeed to me the True Vine, bearing me, nourishing me, supplying me, using me, and filling me to the full to make me bring forth fruit abundantly. And I am indeed a branch to Jesus, abiding in Him, resting on Him, waiting for Him, and living in Him that through me He is giving His fruit to a perishing world.”

By faith, Lord Jesus, I claim Your strength for my weakness; Your riches for my poverty; Your supply for My need. I yield myself wholly to You. I am nothing without You. I can do nothing without You. But through Your life in me, I can accomplish all Your holy will and bear much fruit for the Father’s glory.

May it be my aim for the rest of my life to discover more deeply what it means to abide in You, Jesus. Right now, by faith, I connect to You, Christ. Bear Your eternal fruit through me. Bless the world through me today.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Today, I had lunch with Steve Tuckerman. He's leading our men's ministry, Guardians Men's Fellowship, at CVC. We discussed that one of the big problems at CVC and in the church at large is male passivity.

Male passivity began in Genesis 3 at the fall – in the garden. At that point, the heart of the husband’s problem became the problem of the husband’s heart. (And the heart of the wife’s problem became the problem of the wife’s heart.) God’s perfect plan for marriage was marred.

Instead of husbands leading with love, we fell to one of two extremes – sometimes vacillating between them both. Passivity or abuse. And instead of wives responding with passion, they fell to one of two extremes – sometimes vacillating between them both. Door mats or brick walls.

And so, sin wrecks our families. The problems in our hearts make for problems in the home.

There’s the passive husband/door mat wife marriage.
There’s the abusive husband/door mat wife marriage.
There’s the passive husband/brick wall marriage.
There’s the abusive husband/brick wall marriage.

Where is your marriage? Husbands, God wants you to lead with tenderness. Wives, God wants you to respond with passion.

Since my discussion at lunch was dealing with a man's responsibilities, we must reemphasize this point: A real man is not passive or abusive. A real man is not impotent or on steroids. A real man leads lovingly. A real man takes initiative with tenderness.

Unfortunately, most men are far more comfortable at taking the initiative in the marketplace than they are in the home. On the job, men develop mission statements, set goals, solve problems, coordinate staff meetings, establish new strategies, create, innovate. They move! But at home, they freeze… until they get mad and then they explode. There is a male leadership vacuum in our homes and in the church and in the culture at large.

So, what can we do? Start with repentance. Continue with prayer for help. Meditate on the way Jesus lived out his masculinity. Begin some friendships with some men that are passionate about overcoming thier passivity. And converse with some men who have thought deeply about these issues by reading some good books.

Here are 20 “Manhood” books that I’ve read and that have helped to shape my views.

The Men’s Manual – Bill Gothard
The Effective Father – Gordon MacDonald
The Measure of a Man – Gene Getz
The Man in the Mirror – Patrick Morley
Seven Seasons of the Man in the Mirror – Patrick Morley
Disciplines of a Godly Man – R. Kent Hughes
Tender Warrior – Stu Weber
Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart – Stu Weber
Locking Arms – Stu Weber
Along the Road to Manhood – Stu Weber
The Five Key Habits of Smart Dads – Paul Lewis
Raising a Modern Day Knight – Robert Lewis
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood – Ed. By John Piper and Wayne Grudem
Point Man – Steve Farrar
Standing Tall – Steve Farrar
King Me – Steve Farrar
Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference – Larry Crabb
The Silence of Adam – Larry Crabb
Every Man’s Battle – Stephen Arterburn
Wild at Heart – John Eldredge

I try to read or reread one or two of these each year. Why? I don't want to be a pssaive man! I need to remind myself of what a godly man really looks like. I want to be an example to my sons and to the men of CVC.

So, men, what's your strategy to overcome the fallen pull toward passivity? Why not repent, pray, meditate on the life of Jesus, develop some friendships with some guys who want to grow, and pick a book from the above list and read it?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

“Hi. Great to see you. How are you doing?”

What do people usually say? “Fine.” “Great.” “Blessed and doing well.” “Better than I deserve.”

Most of those responses are clich├ęs, and usually not very authentic. What kinds of things do people say when they are speaking the truth? “Busy.” “Tired.” “Stressed.” “Drained.” “Exhausted.” “Overloaded.” “Burned out.” “Worn out.”

I can’t remember anyone saying to me, “Well rested.” We are a tired generation. We have a disease someone described as “hurry sickness.” Our carburetors are set on high and our gears are stuck in overdrive. Our lives are nonstop, busy. And it’s hurting us.

Consider the Chinese character for “busy. A simple Chinese character contains a lot of information. This word is made from two symbols. “Heart/mind” on one side. And “death/lost” on the other. Put it all together and you get the word “busy.” The Chinese know that when a person gets “busy”, his or her “heart” tends to become “dead” – he or she is losing their mind. The mind/heart is lost/dead.

Jesus know all about this before the Chinese, of course. Here's what He said:

28 Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

This is a stunning, amazing, awe-inspiring, audacious invitation. If any one of us stood up and said anything like this, people would say, “He finally lost it.” No one says this kind of stuff.

But Jesus said it. We have to decide what we’re going to do with a Person who says things like this. Maybe He’s a mad-man. Maybe He’s a con-man. Or maybe He’s the God-man. You decide.

Notice what He promises for everyone – anyone – who will come to Him. “Come to Me, all you busy, stressed-out people, and I will give you rest.” Rest.

You want that? I do. So, let's go to Jesus and take His yoke. Let's stop doing what everyone around us says we should do. Quit wearing the yokes from your mom or dad or spouse or kids. Busy is "Being Under Satan's Yoke." Or "Stuff's yoke." Or "Sprint's" yoke. Or "Sin's" yoke. Or "Someone else's" yoke. Check in with Jesus every day (word and prayer) and stay checked in through moment-by-moment prayer. And He'll tell us what yoke to bear.

The end result? Rest. Go to Jesus and take His yoke. And only His.

So, how are you doing? "I'm well-rested." Don't rest until you can one day honsetly say that. Don't rest until you get His rest.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

enjoying Jesus...

The very first question in the Westminster catechism is “What is the chief purpose of man?” The answer is “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Pastor John Piper suggests an alternative: “To glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”

Enjoying Jesus. Is this really your experience? Is He your ultimate source of joy?

Most people look to circumstances for joy. A wife who is passionately responsive. A husband who is a tender leader. A child who cheerfully obeys. A boss who is encouraging. A bank account that is growing. Health that is stable. When we prosper emotionally, relationally, and physically then we have an incredible sense of well-being and we know delight.

Yet God’s word says that we are to delight in the Lord, not in our circumstances. This ability to delight in the Lord is the way we glorify God during those times when the wife is contentious or the husband is an angry, disengaged brute. This passion to enjoy Jesus is the way we show His worth during those times when the children are out-of-control or the boss has just fired us.

Let’s face it: The comforts of life will ebb and flow. If we pursue earthly, temporal comforts, then our sense of delight will come and go. People will see that the Lord is not our true source of joy. And His glory will not be magnified through us.

What if we really made delighting in the Lord our great goal, our great passion, our great focus? This is the way “Christ will be honored in [your] body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).

A prayer to pray: Lord Jesus, may my capacity to delight in You grow. Teach me all that I have in You. May the pleasures of this earth pale in comparison to knowing You. May the disappointments that are sure to come into my life seem insignificant compared to the joy that I find in You. And may the people in my circle of influence see that my delight in You is not disturbed by the difficulties and disappointments that may come to me. May they be drawn to delight in You themselves. Give me true joy deep in my heart because I have You in my heart. In Jesus name, Amen.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

healing...
I have a friend named Randy Shafer who is battling cancer. I had the privilege of serving on staff with Randy at Cuyahoga Valley Church several years ago. Now, Randy's on staff at a really cool church in Jackson, Michigan called Westwinds.

In my mind, Randy has incredible authority when he speaks or writes about the issue of healing. He won a previous fight with cancer several years ago in his life. Plus, his daughter, Emma, is also a cancer survivor. Now, Randy is fighting cancer in his body again.

Randy has shared some great insights about healing on his blog (fogparty.blogs.com).

Tonight, I was thinking about his blog on healing because our community group went down to the Cleveland Clinic to pray for a member of our group, Sandy Kaplan, who has had a very serious heart attack. Of course, we prayed for his healing. Ultimately, we must leave things in the hands of God.
Take a look at what follows. Randy's words remind us that God heals in many different ways.

(By the way, don't be put off when you see that Randy writes the name "God" this way: G*D. It's a way for him to remind himself that God is a holy God.)

so… i’ve been wrestling with what i believe about G*D and healing… because… to limit G*D to one way of healing is to limit G*D… and miss out on enjoying him and praising him in what we didn’t see him doing. as you might expect… i’m asking G*D to teach me whatever he wants me to learn… and as a result… he’s opening my eyes to a much broader theology of healing than i’ve settled for previously.

i guess this betrays that i believe there are multiple ways G*D brings healing.
the unexplainable…
these healings go beyond understanding. they baffle doctors and science. they don’t make sense within the realm of the natural. these are the fun stories that we all pray for and love to hear… even though sometimes we wonder if they’re always true or quite as amazing as we’ve been told. these are the easiest to give credit to G*D for because we frankly don’t have a better explanation. even then… some pass them off as flukes or anything other than G*D… desperate not to believe.

the surprising…
these are the things that happen that aren’t completely unimaginable… but they are amazing. they bring a smile and a sense of relief because they weren’t anticipated. and those of us living in the realm of faith are certain G*D had something to do with it. those who don’t… are certain he didn’t.

medically…
when good things happen as a result of medicine or science. what? you don’t think G*D had anything to do with the developments of science and the human brain? i shudder to think how many times i’ve considered a medical healing as less than a miraculous healing… almost like it defeated “the cause” somehow. how appalling it must be to G*D when we ignore his hand in the explainable. LORD, forgive me.

naturally…
i’ll include here everything from natural medicines, positive thinking, the love of good friends and family… as well as drinking water, eating healthy and exercise (not sure if windex counts here). and of course i can’t forget to include our amazing immune systems that are constantly working to help our bodies heal themselves. who do you think created all those things?

through props & orthopedics…
when our burdens aren’t removed physically, but we’re given strength to carry them… through friends, encouragement, the smile of a child or the beauty of a leaf, laughter, peace or simply and profoundly a sense of the very presence of G*D next to us… although not the normal perspective on healing… still healing just the same in my mind.

partly…
after all… we all die at some point. if physical healing were to be the norm for every follower in every situation… we would never experience physical death. so… when we experience healing on any level… even partial… we enjoy the appetizers waiting for us at the feast… around the table of The King.

familial…
sometimes the disease forces people to push through anger, silence or hatred that previously separated them. the healing is more relational than physical. can anyone suggest these are less significant?

mental…
not just psychological… but the healing of dysfunctional ways of thinking and seeing… the damage of cultures and generations of misunderstanding life and G*D and others. how we’ve grown insensitive to this sickness that saturates our lives. could it be that this is in one sense the ultimate healing for this life? the ability to see things as they truly are?

between ourselves and G*D…
often disease invites us to take fresh looks at our lives and come to terms with the reality that we are falling short of living with & for The One Who Made Us. we recognize an emptiness that calls us beyond the temporal… and… if we’ll let it… guides us to the one relationship that is more wonderful than all others. such a healing is surely worth more than them all combined.

death…
i’m somewhat ashamed to say that it’s only recently that i’ve come to understand the beauty of dying. but when i allow myself to look beyond the event… to what dying accomplishes… i can begin to see it just as legitimate… just as amazing… just as surprising… just as unbelievable a thing that G*D has put into place to repair things… to make things right. the ultimate restoration. but when’s the last time i praised G*D for death… except when it brought relief from suffering and pain or old age? too often i begrudgingly give praise for the very thing that ushers us beyond the frailty of the life that we’ve learned to hold to so tightly.

interestingly enough… i see a thread through my feeble list. a thread that encourages me to realize that healing is not the destination… but the tunnel through which we must pass to all things good… to him… to life here in the kingdom.

i’m sure there are more… more ways in which his brow sweats from redemptive labor. seeing the limitless work of G*D around me gives new life to my prayers… adds new hope to my yearnings… and brings new opportunity for my worship and praise.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

slowing...
This weekend Dale Piscura spoke at CVC. We began a new series called "slowing." I took notes on his message. It was good for me to hear. Here's some of what Dale had to say.

Slowing is not the way of the world. The pace of life in our world continues to accelerate. The world has the appearance of being OK. Materialism and technology can make things look good. But the world is on a downward spiral. And God is calling us to live differently from the world. Someone said, “Any dead fish can float downstream.” We, as Christ-followers, are not to be buying into the world's ways. We are to live as a sub-culture, a sub-culture that follows Christ.

We want Jesus to show us His way. He’s the rabbi. And we’re His students. In the Bible, the rabbis would go about their lives and, as they did, teach their followers. The followers would walk in their way. They would follow the rabbi and become like Him.

We say that we are passionate followers of Christ. What does that mean? We are saying, “I want to live like Jesus lived.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that we will wear sandals and be homeless. But it does mean that we will follow the principles, the driving patterns of His life.

We are to live like He lived. The original followers of Christ weren’t called “Christians. They were called “People of the Way.” Is that you?

If you turn to Mark 1, you can look at one of the days in the life of Christ. It’s a remarkably busy day. But what Jesus does the morning after is even more remarable.

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You." He said to them, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for."
Mark 1:35-38 (NASB)

Verse 35 is a most important verse. This is the key for us to understand the routine, the rhythm of Jesus. Yes, He came to seek and save and heal. Yes, He was an active person. But the activity flowed from something. In the early morning, while it was still dark, the disciples got up to find Jesus. He was nowhere to be found.

Jesus was a “sneak-away” kind of guy. If you look throughout the gospels, you'll see that the disciples wondered, “Where’s He going all the time?” And they finally saw it. “He's going away becasue there is an intimacy that He is enjoying with God the Father.”

And the Father told Him what was counter-intuitive: “Let’s get out of here.”

Think about the Jesus way…
… solitude, then engagement

… rest, then work
… intimacy, then activity
… being, then doing

Engagement comes after solitude. Work will flow from rest. Activity follow intimacy. Doing is secondary to being.

The Jesus Way is living in this kind of rhythm. We're calling it "slowing."

Question: Are you living the Jesus Way?
The best QB of all time...
A friend, John Turner, asked a question on his blog (faith20.org) that I felt compelled to respond to. And in light of Peyton Manning playing in the Superbowl today, I thought it might be interesting to think about his question.

Here is John's question:

I believe the position of Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports. You might disagree with that, but I can’t imagine another single position that has as much impact on a team.

Once again, the AFC Championship game comes down to the New England Patriots vs. the Indianapolis Colts. That, of course, means Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning — arguably two of the top 10 QBs of all time, and that brings us to today’s question:

If you could take one QB to build your franchise (and I’m talking of all-time), who would it be?

Here's my response:

OK. John did ask us to think about which QB of all time would we choose. Right?

Pull out the history books. Hands down, the choice has to be Otto Graham of the Cleveland Browns.

Starting in 1946, with Graham at QB, the Browns won four straight All-America Football Conference (AAFC) titles and compiled an awesome 52-4-3 record.

No big deal, right? After all, it’s just the AAFC. Well, the Browns joined the NFL in 1950. And Graham still led the team to the ultimate victory.

In the Browns’ 30-28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950 NFL Championship Game, Graham threw 4 touchdown passes. Graham’s finest title-game performance was in 1954 when he scored 3 touchdowns and threw for 3 more in a 56-10 defeat of Detroit. In the final game of his career, the 1955 NFL championship against the Los Angeles Rams, Graham ran for 2 touchdowns and passed for 2 more in a 38-14 victory.

For the ninth time in 10 seasons, Graham was named first-team all-league QB. While Graham was QB for the Browns, Cleveland played in 10 straight title games and had four AAFC and three NFL championships.

Not too shabby. What QB in history can match that?

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