Saturday, March 31, 2007

Worship at CVC...

My post on this blog on March 28 was about the analysis a young church planter made about CVC.

“Their worship songs and style were very dated… the atmosphere was not laid back (i.e. no one clapped, applauded, very few laughed)… the senior pastor had a basic three point style that pushed for a decision and avoided humor and, in general, did not seem to connect with seekers or unchurched people.”

In the blog, I shared that I sought to learn from that critique. And I've received some questions about that posting. Some people are wondering, "Are things going to be changing at CVC?" So, let me clarify a few things.

The short answer is "No; things aren't changing. We feel that God is pleased with our philosophy of ministry at CVC. Other than the typical minor tweaks here and there and our ongoing desire to present our worship to the Lord with increasing purity and excellence, we aren't changing our approach to worship."

What I didn't mention in the previous post was that this analysis took place over three years ago before our current Arts Ministry team was established. The critique was made even before the church planter hit town. His prospectus was written then and used to raise funds for his church start. So, the whole things happened a few years ago.

This means that I have made some personal adjustments in my approach to teaching since then. When I wrote to the church planter, “I really viewed your analysis as a wake-up call,” I didn’t mean so much for CVC, but for me. Personally, I don’t want to be antiquated as a communicator. Over the last few years, I’ve made some adjustments in my communication style while seeking to be true to God's Word and while seeking to be true to who God has made me to be. As I mentioned in the previous post, I am personally seeking to learn from younger preachers rather than just the older guys.

And our Arts Ministry has changed significantly since then. God has sent Worship Pastor Brian Howell, Tech Director Jeff Ziolkowski, and Worship Assistant Brad Darge, as well as Chris Blasius to our Arts staff since then.

I often tell people that our Arts Ministry is a true joy. There is a passion for God, a unity, a relevance, a synergy, a passion for prayer, and an excellence that is rare in arts ministries in most churches. Over 90% of the people in Arts are involved in Community Groups. And the joy we experience and see week after week is contagious.

In fact, the other day, I told Brian Howell that he simply has to be the best worship pastor in the nation. I love his heart for God, his passion for pastoring the members of the Arts ministry, his commitment to his team, his musical excellence, his ability to get the best out of his people, and his commitment to the health of the overall church. He is really hitting it out of the park.

Having said all that, as church leaders, we are always seeking God for wisdom in being more biblical as well as being more relevant to our culture. Overall, though, I feel that God is pleased with our passion to communicate timeless truth in a relevant way.

I count it a rare privilege to be a part of a great team at CVC. God has been using us in big ways and I believe that He has even bigger plans for us in the future. I'm claiming Haggai 2:9 for us:

The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.
Haggai 2:9 (ESV)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Christian books...
I was sharing with someone a concern about the kinds of books Christians in the US like to read. I call a lot of it "Christian fluff."

I'm not an author; I'm a pastor/teacher. I'm not published. So, even I ask, "Who am I to give a critique to the Christian publishing ministry?"

But with all due respect to the many Christian writers today, most of whom have a wonderful heart for God, I really do think that much that is being published is too man-centered, too pop psychology-oriented, and too Bible-lite for our good and for God's glory. We've got to go deeper than “Christian fluff” books will take us.

In the future, I propose that people look for books and tracts, not in bookstores, but on some solid sites like…

If you're in the Cleveland area and you like to browse for books, you really ought to check out Parkside Church's bookstore. "Books by the Park" is a ministry of Parkside Church that opened in November 1999. They say, "Our desire is to provide excellent Christian literature for believers and unbelievers. We offer a unique selection of Bibles, Books, Music and Greeting Cards. We carry used/out of print books, puritan selections, commentaries, theology, Christian living and more. If you are in the Greater Cleveland area please come and visit our store which also has a café so you can browse at your leisure. We wish to help you in any way we can, including special orders if not in our inventory."

FYI, the hours of operation are:
Monday through Thursday - 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Friday- 7:30 4:00 p.m.
Saturday - Closed
Sunday - 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. (closed during evening service)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Greek and Hebrew...

Today I had a question from one of the members of our community group. Here's the question: "I want to get a Greek dictionary. You know... like if we looked up the word 'eagle,' what might it say? Any recommendations on which one would be good for us?"

Here's my answer: I can certainly give you the names of some books. But I would suggest that you first see if some websites might meet your needs. I have many good books in my personal library that help me do Greek and Hebrew word studies. But most of them stay on the shelf most of the time.

I go online to use tools that are there. A lot.

I know my seminary profs would likely not be happy with that. Yes, I'm glad I took Greek and Hebrew. I see some nuances that I might not see otherwise. But a lot of good study can happen with online tools. And it saves time, money, and shelf space.

Here are my favorites:

Blue Letter Bible. The drawback to this site is that it uses only the KJV. But a wealth of information is there. It uses information from Strong's Concordance, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Thayer's Greek Lexicon as well as many other helps. For finding Greek words, just type in your reference, click on the little "C" (which stands for "concordance") next to the verse, and then click on the number under Strong's. Then you will see the lexicon results for the word you wish to study. If you scroll down, you can find every usage of that word in the Bible.

Scripture Text. This is a pretty cool tool. What I like about it is that it has multiple translations. Find your verse by using the tool in the top right corner of the home page. If you're in the OT, look for the place at the top left where it says "Heb." Click there and you'll see the verse in English. But if you scroll across each word, you'll be able to click on each word that you wish to study. If you're in the NT, look for the place at the top left where it says "Greek." Or you could click on "Lex" for the lexicon entry.

Have fun exploring the riches of the word! You are seeking to live as the Weymouth translation of II Timothy 2:15 says, "Earnestly seek to commend yourself to God as a servant who, because of his straightforward dealing with the word of truth, has no reason to feel any shame."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I ran into a young church planter a couple of weeks ago. He's doing a great job here in NE Ohio starting a vibrant community of faith geared toward younger adults. He visited CVC before starting the new church and he had some hard things to say about us in his analysis. Even though we hope to be relevant to young unchurched 30 somethings. He pretty much said that we weren't. I'm pretty sure he didn't know that I read what he said about CVC.

I just sent him an email responding to his request for information about how we do baby dedications. Here's what I wrote to him about his analysis of CVC. I hope it encourages him. He's a bright young leader that's getting a lot done for Jesus.

* * *

Before you launched... I saw your prospectus and what you or someone on your team wrote about CVC:

“Their worship songs and style were very dated… the atmosphere was not laid back (i.e. no one clapped, applauded, very few laughed)… the senior pastor had a basic three point style that pushed for a decision and avoided humor and, in general, did not seem to connect with seekers or unchurched people.”

Yikes! Ouch! God save us from that! That was hard to read because 20 years ago, I was the new [young church planter/pastor] in town. And I must admit that I had what I call a “church planter swagger.” As the new kid in town, I thought I could do things better than the old guys. One of our ads said, “Finally, a church that won’t put you to sleep!”

But I really viewed your analysis as a wake-up call.

Even though I’m 53, we have said that we hope to be able to reach the 35 year-old family man. We think if we can win him, then we can win the wife and the kids. So, staying relevant to young families is our goal. Your comments helped me see that maybe we were missing the mark.

Having said that, though, I can’t be a 53-year-old pretending to be 35. It’s one reason we launched 707 – we have a desire to not become an aging Boomer church that is no longer relevant.

And it’s why I listen to Rob Bell, Ed Young, and Andy Stanley more these days than to Rick Warren and Bill Hybles. (I still have to get my John Piper and Timothy Keller "fix," though.)

I have a certainty in my heart from God’s word that God’s not done with us yet… and that He’s not done with me! Here’s a promise I claimed 20 years ago and I still think God is in the process of fulfilling it through CVC.

“It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6

My thought is this: Moses was at his most productive for God during the last 1/3 of his life. I sure believe that every follower of Christ ought to be more fruitful as we age since we ought to know more about abiding in Christ as we live out this life in Christ.

So, please don’t’ give up on us old guys. I’m asking God for many more years of fruit-bearing for me!

May God bless your service abundantely as you plant [your church]. Sounds like you’re off to a great start.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Pictures of Jesus...

A few years ago, I delivered a message on the 2nd Commandment (Exodus 20:4-6) . In the message, I said, "If you have any images in your house or any statues of gods from other religions or any occult items, get rid of them." Several people at CVC asked whether or not it is permissible to have any pictures of Jesus.

Many followers of Christ have used pictures of Jesus and other Bible pictures in Sunday school for teaching children. In my home, we had a picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd that brings back fond memories for me. We also enjoy three-dimensional nativity scenes at Christmas. We also have seen the use of films (like the Jesus film and the Passion of Christ) depicting the life of Christ.

Are the use of pictures of Jesus, nativity scenes, and films on the life of Jesus forbidden by the 2nd commandment or not?

As we read the gospels, it is difficult, if not impossible, to refrain from picturing the persons and events in our minds. Jesus being baptized, Jesus walking on water, and Jesus feeding the 5,000 are examples of stories from the life of Christ that are extremely visual in nature. Since it is acceptable to think of these scenes from the life of Christ and to describe them with words, it seems reasonable to also do so with pictures.

When we read about the passion of Christ, an image of Jesus suspended on a cross is formed in our minds. There is no sin in having such an image in the mind. It actually seems difficult for us not to picture such a scene in our minds' eyes. THerefore, I would say that mentally picturing Christ on the cross seems not sinful to do.

Jesus is also depicted in passages like Revelation 1:13-17: "In the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow, and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man." Reading these words moves our minds to imagine what Christ in all His glory must look like.

Since God has revealed Himself in the incarnate Christ, it seems reasonable and permissible for us to use pictures of Christ for educational purposes.

We must be cautious about using such pictures, though.

Keep in mind that there is no description of the physical appearance of Jesus anywhere in the New Testament or Old Testament other than the general comments of Isaiah 52:14 and 53:2. The body of Christ was not left long in man's sight. Jesus left this earth and no authorized picture was left behind. The Word and the Spirit were left instead. Therefore, the supreme means for us to learn of Christ and develop our relationship with Him must not come through pictures, but through a study of the Bible that is illumined by the Holy Spirit.

In using pictures of Jesus for educational purposes, we should be careful to remember that they will inevitably miss elements of truth about the nature and character of Christ our Lord. We must also guard against the danger that pictures of Jesus may bring out respectful thoughts or feelings that might come dangerously close to worshipful feelings. We must never even come close to the worship of any image.

Any picture of Christ must of necessity represent only His human nature. Pictures, therefore, will tempt us to separate His humanity from His divinity. The divinity of Christ cannot be depicted. Yet the Jesus of Scripture is both human and divine. In our relationship with Christ, we must never let a picture cause us to forget the fact that He is the God-man.

We must also remember that every artist portrays his own personal image of Jesus, from his own imagination – he or she does not portray the true Jesus Christ.

These cautions can help us fight the temptation that we all have to break the 2nd commandment, especially in our minds. In our fallen state, even the words of Scripture can be misused to form wrong images. But words are far less prone to that danger than visible representations, which tend to become etched upon our minds.

If a picture of Christ becomes a focal point for your meditation or if you find that you need the picture in your presence (or even in your mind) in order for you to pray effectively, then you've crossed the line and are breaking the 2nd Commandment. Get rid of the image !

My recommendation is that pictures of Jesus should be used very cautiously and only for educational purposes, never for worship.
Unequally yoked...

I was recently asked about the meaning of II Corinthians 6:14. "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?"

One of our community group leaders wrote, "We know it means don’t marry someone that’s a non-believer. Does it also mean don’t have close friends that are non-believers? We’re trying to understand the meaning/application outside of the marriage meaning."

Here's my attempt to answer:

In Deuteronomy 22:10, we are taught not to yoke an ox and a donkey together. The animal with the longer stride would drag the other along by the neck. They would not be able to pull smoothly or painlessly together. Little work would get done. But when two animals of approximately the same size and weight are yoked together, they pull the plow smoothly and help each other. Work is accomplished.

This has fairly obvious application to marriage. But I take this to apply to business partnerships and our closest friendships as well as marriage. Do not connect at the deepest levels with someone who cannot “pull and plow” for Jesus equally with you.

What is discouraged is this: allowing ourselves to become deeply involved in associations where we will be under the negative influence, power, and control of those who are opposed to God's will and who may seek to turn us away from the Lord. To be unequally yoked would be to be so connected with an unbeliever that the believer would be controlled or negatively influenced by the unbeliever so as to pull the believer away from Jesus and from holy living.

From many places in the Old Testament, we see the reasons behind God's commands not to marry nonbelievers: They often lead believers astray. But this passage is also a warning to not associate too closely with nonbelievers in other areas of life outside of marriage.

You might ask, “What about a business partnership?” I think it depends on the nature of the partnership. If there’s a limited partnership in buying a business and there are many others buying into the business and you’re only one of many, that, in my opinion, is permissible. We put money in banks and, in a sense, that’s a form of partnership with others who may be unsaved. That doesn’t seem to me to be the issue here. What I think should be discouraged is a business partnership with one or two non-believers who obviously don’t have a biblical worldview or God-honoring value system. This will inevitably lead to a clash of values and either gut-wrenching conflict or ungodly compromise.

So, the applications for II Corinthians 6:14 seem to me to be these: Don’t marry a non-believer. Don’t even seriously date a non-believer. Don’t go into a business partnership with a non-believer. Don’t be “best friends” or build your very closest relationships with non-believers. And there may be others.

However, let me be quick to say that II Corinthians 6:14 is not a passage suggesting exclusion and isolation from the world, like the Amish do. I don’t believe that God intends for us to cloister ourselves in convents or monasteries or holy huddles or Bible studies. Paul even talks about believers associating with non-believers in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 where he says that if we were to pull away from all relationships with unbelievers, “you would have to leave this world.” And don’t forget that Jesus obviously had many relationships with non-believers. Some of them He won and some He didn’t. And when He prayed for us, He prayed, "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15).

A self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude that disengages from the world is, I believe, repugnant to God. He so loved the world that He sent His Son (John 3:16). And Jesus said, "As the Father has sent Me, so send I you" (John 20:21). So, in that sense, we are to "love the world." We don't love the world system that is under Satan's influence (I John 2:15). But we are to passionately love the world of people without Jesus.

I believe that scripture clearly teaches us to invest in relationships with those who are not believers. How will they be won to Christ if we don’t develop friendships with them? We should invest in relationships with people who don't know Christ.

What does that look like? Go shopping with a non-believer. Go to a game with them. Have them over for meals. Go to a movie with them. Have coffee with them. Do a service project with them. Join some local community service organization to work with them. Enter into authentic relationship. Non-believers aren't be projects, they are people from whom Christ died. Love them!

And after investing, get the guts to prayerfully and carefully invite them to environments designed to reach them - evangelistic meetings/services/groups/events/studies. Ultimately, your goal is to invite them to Christ. Jesus will help you know when the time is right. At CVC, we call it our “invest and invite” strategy.

As you read through the gospels, it is clear that Jesus was comfortable in relating to those who were lost. He was accused of being a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34). He came to seek and to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10).

Bottom line? We are to be “in the world,” but not “of the world.” In other words, we are to be in the world of relationships with non-Christians, but not be “of them,” not be like them, or not be negatively influenced by them.

As we relate with non-Christians, we engage with them - we love them - for a time and then reenter our edifying relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Loving the world... to Jesus. I think that puts a smile on God's face.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A member of our children's staff, Raquel Schors, and I crossed paths on Sunday after church. She thanked me for how the message from this past weekend impacted her. And as we talked, we had a conversation about “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

For several years, I’ve been subscribing to Mars Hill Audio, a organization based in Virginia committed to “assisting Christians who desire to move from thoughtless consumption of contemporary culture to a vantage point of thoughtful engagement.”

A couple of years ago, I received a CD from Mars Hill and learned about “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” The term was coined by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton who wrote a book entitled
Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2005).

Smith and Denton say that “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD) is a result of and is reflective of our culture – a culture that values tolerance and relativism virtually above all. Here are the tenants of MTD:

1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth."
2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions."
3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."
4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem."
5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

Think about it. This is something that Jews or Catholics or Protestants of all stripes could have in common.

What is striking and sobering about all this is that, according to the research, “Christian” teens – the ones in our “best” evangelical churches – have basically the same views. And that should concern us deeply. Why? Jesus is very absent. MTD is a man-centered, Christ-less form of religion. MTD promotes happiness, not holiness. MTD presents a non-demanding God whose job is to solve our problems. And MTD will leave people in their sins and on the way to hell.

As I learned about MTD, I wondered if some of my past messages might fit pretty well into a MTD world-view. I had to admit that some people might walk away from a message more committed to MTD than to thorough Biblical Christianity. God, forgive me!

What a pastor could say in a message could come right from the Bible and even be true, but not really be TRUE to the overall message of the Bible. For example, a pastor could preach a MTD message from Ephesians 4:29 about the use of words. The MTD message would be, “Let’s learn how God wants you to speak to those in your circle of influence. If you follow His principles, you’ll have better relationships. You’ll be happier. So will the people around you. And if you do it well, God will like you and reward you in this life and in the life to come.”

The big, bad problem is not in what was said, but in what was NOT said. All the morals/ethics/practices taught in Ephesians 4-6 can’t be lived out without appropriating the blood-bought, Christ-exalting truths about believers that are taught in Ephesians 1-3.

MTD is bankrupt. It can’t deliver. Why? MTD doesn’t even need the cross... or the resurrection. Without Jesus, there’s no pardon for the failure to live a moral life. Without Jesus, there’s no pattern for the moral life. And without Jesus, there’s no power to live a moral life. Trying to teach virtues without pointing people point-blank to Jesus can only lead to self-righteous self-effort that will ultimately lead to frustration and failure.

We want the people of CVC to be radical Jesus people! We must be all about His cross and His resurrection. We dare not take "Christ" out of "Christian." We must be crystal clear in pointing people to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Augustine wins... and so can you.

When it comes to winning over sin, for every believer, there's something true about us that many of us either don't know or fail to remember. Either way, we're beat. And sin wins.

But when we know and remember the truths about our union with Christ and what Jesus has won for us and then live in light of those truths, by God's grace and for His glory, we can win over sin.

Here's what we are supposed to know... and remember:
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Romans 6:6-7 (ESV)

Yesterday, I was listening to a message from Romans 6 from Dr. Timothy Keller, a pastor in New York. He said, “When Jesus died, we died. Our old self was crucified. That’s past tense. Therefore, you are not the same person now. Your body is now under the reign of your new spiritual master. Because of this new identity, you can break the reign of your old spiritual masters. You must learn to remind yourself of who you are. If you’re not changing, it’s not because you don’t lack any spiritual resources. It’s because you’re not deploying them. They don’t deploy automatically. If you’re still sinning in the same old ways, you’re not remembering who you really are.”
Then Dr. Keller told a story about Augustine. I tried to verify the story. It appears that the English minister, F. B. Meyer, used to love to tell the story, too.
It's a story about how St. Augustine defeated sin and temptation. Before his conversion, Augustine felt pulled in two directions. He was pulled toward the Lord by his mother, Monica, a saintly woman. He was pulled toward sin by a mistress. The conflict was long and terrible and Augustine went back and forth.

But when the Lord shined into Augustine’s heart through the words in Romans 13:14 — “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ”— everything changed.

F. B. Meyer described what happened to Augustine: Instantly he arose. He had made his decision. He had counted the cost. He told his friend, Alypius, and they went and told Monica, and Monica was glad. The next day he went down the main street of Carthage. As he did so, he met the woman who had been the source of so much temptation for Augustine. She wanted to pull him away once again for a fling. And in those days, that might have meant several weeks of sensual pleasure. Augustine said, “No thank you.” She thought, “Maybe he didn’t really recognize me.” So she called out, “Augustine, It is I!” He said, “Yes, I know. But it is not I. I am not the former I.”
He was applying the truths found in Romans 6.

Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. Romans 6:17-18 (ESV)

Of course, we don’t know what Augustine said to himself the day that former mistress tried to seduce him. But maybe he said something like this to himself: “I used to be a person who had to have female affection. I was a slave to sex. It wasn’t about love; it was about lust – about pleasure, about me. I was driven to sin with that mistress before. But now I have a new master. I don’t need this. I am free not to live according to lust, but according to love. I am not the former I.”

This is the way we must learn to talk to ourselves when we are faced with temptation. This is how you change. This is how you win over sin. Know your new identity. And then live courageously, confidently, and conqueringly because of what Christ has done for you.

Jesus made us new. He set us free. We don't have to sin. We have a new master. Now, let’s live like it.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A cleverly disguised missionary

I met on Thursday with NE Ohio business leader John Beckett. I was very encouraged at the meeting. Jonathan, his son who attends one of our CVC church plants and who works with his dad, set up the meeting and was there.

John travels a lot speaking and sharing the concepts with business leaders around the world. He’s leveraging his two books for Christian businessmen: Loving Monday and Mastering Monday.

John was in 9 countries last year. He is able to leverage his success as a business leader. I see it this way: He's a missionary cleverly disguised as a businessman.

John seems most passionate about his opportunities to speak around the world and about using the web for world-wide evangelism. He has a website that shows up as a sponsored link on Google if you type into the search engine things like “purpose of life.” He said about 3,500 to 4,000 people a month from all around the world pray to receive Christ via his website. 1 out of 8 who visit his site pray to receive Christ. John uses Global Media Outreach to help him with his website ministry.

John is concerned about the follow-up for the people praying to receive Christ. So, he wrote a 30 day Bible study that people can receive online via email. 4 or 5 other organizations using Global Media Outreach are using his 30 day follow-up. He said that 95% of the people who start the study finish. Now, John is thinking about what to do with those who finish the 30 day study. He asked me if I would be interested in being a test case – linking me with someone via email who is a new Christian, answering questions and building a friendship, etc. I said, “OK.” So, we’ll see how that goes.

FYI: I’ve included the websites below.

In all, we spent about 2 ½ hours together. Much more time than I had asked for. I think he was energized by the meeting. I know I was.

John is on mission. He's leveraging all that He is to reach the world for Jesus. I was inspired to be even more passionate about seeking to ask God to use me to reach the world. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was encouraged in my walk with Jesus to seek to be more faithful and fruitful. The time flew by for me. John's passion for being light and salt in this world was a great motivation for me.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Today, I am meeting with John Beckett, a NE Ohio business leader, to discuss Vision USA, a new national church planting network. I'm praying that we will be able to pull together some business leaders in NE Ohio who will catch a vision for starting a church planting movement here. I believe that we need literally hundreds of new churches with Acts 1:8 DNA in NE Ohio to see city-wide tranformation.

Often, people say that new churches aren't needed - that what we need to do is strenthen the existing churches. I agree that older churches need to be stronger. But let's not set up an either/or scenario. It's both/and.

John Piper's Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota is passionate about church planting. His insights are helpful.

Four Reasons to Plant Churches

Adapted from an article by John Piper

Church planting is worthy of prayerful and serious consideration by every believer in North America.

* * *

First, we do not have too many churches today.

· In 1900 there were 27 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 1950, there were 17 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 1996, there were 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
· From 1986-1996, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations declined by 9.5%, while the national population has increased by 11%.
· In an average year, half of all churches do not add one new member through conversion growth.
· Each year over 3,500 churches close their doors for the last time while only 1,100 to 1,500 are started each year.

We have too few churches in America. And not just too few churches in general: there are too few God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, missions-mobilizing, justice-pursuing churches.

We need more. Many of the present church-planting churches are doctrinally indifferent, with the result that over time their orientation will prevail, and weaken the church, if doctrinally engaged churches don’t become more aggressive in church planting.

Second, new churches are one of the most effective means of evangelism.

Experience has shown this and the Bible would support it.

Leith Anderson, a church leader in Wooddale, MN says, “New churches are flexible, open to newcomers, entrepreneurial, outreaching, and not burdened with servicing old internal relationships and demands.” Older churches “tend to become so burdened with budgets, buildings, and pastor and people problems that they no longer have the energy for outreach.”

There is no doubt that new churches have new energy for evangelism. Their life depends on it. And that is a good thing.

Third, new churches mobilize new leaders more effectively.

New churches awaken and engage much of the under-used leadership potential of the saints in the older, larger churches. Many people are under-invested in existing churches. A new church cries for the engagement of its members and attenders. The need for more lay ministers in every sphere causes leaders to move toward rigorous efforts of nurturing spiritual growth and leadership development.

Fourth, planting new churches increases our faith.

Breaking free from the risk-free comfort of long-standing patterns of church life is a good thing. It’s good for your faith to be tested. It is good to take risks. Think of it this way. We continually call for people to risk leaving the comforts and securities of America to plant the church among unreached people groups around the world. Should not then all of us seek the Lord for what risks we should be taking at home for the kingdom of Christ? Planting a new church is filled with unknowns and uncertainties. Yes. Where else can faith grow?

* * *

Two things are not uncertain: All authority in heaven and on earth belong to Christ (Matthew 28:18), and he will be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). On the basis of these two certainties Christ calls us to take the risks necessary to plant churches here as well as around the world

Taken from an article entitled “Introducing All Nations Christian Fellowship, A Church Plant of Bethlehem Baptist Church,” February 5, 2006.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A “mean streak."
Last weekend I shared a scenario in my message on defeating sin that hit one of our men right between the eyes.

Here's a little of the message:

I love watching LeBron James play basketball. He can run and jump and shoot and rebound like no one can. But some people say that LeBron is too nice to be a big winner in the NBA. People who know say that LeBron is truly selfless and polite. And they wonder, “Can he win if he’s wired that way?” Is the killer instinct of LeBron MIA? Someone said that Michael Jordan played with the heart of an assassin. And he won 6 NBA titles. Maybe on the court, LeBron needs more of a mean streak.

That’s what you need and that’s what I need if we’re going to win over sin. A mean streak.

If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 8:13

I take this verse to mean that God wants us to have a “killer instinct.” Jesus talks about this need for a “mean streak.”

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.
Matthew 11:12

John Piper says, “There is a mean, violent streak in the true Christian life! But violence against whom, or what? Not other people. It's a violence against all the impulses in us that would be violent to other people. It's a violence against all the impulses in our own selves that would make peace with our own sin. It's a violence against all lust in ourselves, and enslaving desires for food or caffeine or sugar or chocolate or alcohol or pornography or money or the praise of men and the approval of others or power or fame.”

Piper continues, "When temptation comes, we don’t just say 'no.' We also look for a word from God, not just a word that says, 'Don’t do that.' But we look for a promise that Jesus will be more for us and do more for us than what this sin promises us."

Now for the scenario:

Maybe you’re a businessman. And you’re wondering why all the sales went away. So, the sins of fear and anxiety are dominating your life right now. You’re harsh and demanding at work and you’re irritable and impatient and isolated at home. And when you’re alone, you comfort yourself with online porn to dull the pain. Sin is killing you. But God says, "You kill your sin.”

How? Cling to the truths. The sales went away? You remind yourself what the word of God says. God is good (Psalm 73). God is in control (Romans 8). God loves you more than you can you can possibly know (Ephesians 3). God has plans to give you a hope and future, plans to prosper you (Jeremiah 29).

Here's what the man in our church wrote to me:

"Today was a BULLSEYE for me. I’m that salesman! It’s been a horrible sales year and I’ve been an irritable, self reliant, fearful, pleasure-seeking, lazy person as a result. My awakening today is I’ve also been disobedient to the goodness provided by God in my life and his promise for my future. Who have I misled or not touched these past few months due to my self-absorbed state of mind on things that really don’t matter (but hurt so much when it’s your sole source of fulfillment)? Thanks for the 'shaking up' today."

I am always amazed when God uses me like that in the life of someone. There's nothing quite like the feeling of being used by God to help someone grow closer to HIm. To God alone be the glory!

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