Monday, April 30, 2007


sevenoseven...
Last night, CVC's young adult ministry held a special time of celebration and vision casting. Andy Sikora, our lead pastor for sevenoseven, preached from Isaiah 61. He talked about how good stories have a beginning, an exciting and somewhat complex middle, and (you guessed it!) an end. I joined him for a brief time on stage and talked about the beginning of sevenoseven.
Then Andy taught us from the scripture. He reminded us that we are in the heart of the story of sevenoseven. The conclusion of his message was very compelling. As he painted a picture of where He feels God is leading sevenoseven, I was deeply moved... as were many others. I asked Andy to send me his notes. Below, here they are. I think they are worth reading and rereading. And, perhaps, you might feel led to use these words as inspiration for your prayers for sevenoseven.
* * *
As the heart of the story of 707 begins to unfold, the hopes, the dreams, the vision that we have here at 707 is this that the poor, the oppressed, the blind, the prisoners would be set free.
And when they’ve been set free… they would start moving with us.
What’s that look like? It’s hard to say… because the story is still being written…
While we may not be able to tell you all the details of the heart of the story, let me tell you a little of how I see this story unfolding. Here's the dream that we have here at 707 for the heart of our story.
As we look back 10, 15, 20 years from now the story would be…
A Story of HOPE.
A story where hundreds and thousands of young adults would encounter the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.
Where people who are lost can be found.
People who are blind receive their sight.
People who are slaves to all sorts of sin, slaves to addiction, slaves to fear and unhealthy expectations are set free.
This is a story of people who are abused breaking free from that abuse - addicts having the shackles broken and walking away from that addiction.
It’s a story of young men and young women who tried to fill their lives with damaging, selfish relationships and casual sex finally finding fulfillment in the only relationship that could ever complete them by being reconciled with their Heavenly Father. And perhaps even finding each other! It’s a story of Hope!
And it’s a story of COMMUNITY.
A story where many young adults who were disconnected and lonely, trying their best to make it through life on their own, would find brothers and sisters in Christ to journey together with them.
A story of a people who had such significant relationships with each other that when one was hurt, others would rally around them and carry them… when one was sick they would lift them up in prayer… when one was successful they would celebrate God’s movement together... and together they would WORSHIP EVERYWHERE.
A story of young men and women who care so deeply for each other - and so deeply for the lives God called them to - that they spur each other on to love and good deeds… to not settle for anything less than the lives that Christ calls them to and to make Jesus famous by how they love one another.
It’s a story of young adults finding deep, meaningful relationships with members of the older generation. Relationships of discipleship, of mentoring, of encouragement. It’s a story of Hope... a story of Community.
And it’s a story of KINGDOM MOVEMENT.
It’s a story of people from the MY generation that know there’s more to following Jesus than the church you attend. They knowThat church is really less of a place and more of a people… and that the church has got to move because the Kingdom was meant to come.
It’s a story of people who refuse to let the cynicism that defines our generation take over their life. It’s a story of young adults who refuse to let the poor stay poor… the blind stay blind… the prisoners stay locked up… and the dying die.
It’s a story of people who step up and do something.
People who reach out and feed the hungry.
Clothe the needy.
Comfort the brokenhearted.
Care for the sick.
It’s a story of people who see pain, suffering, hurt, need and refuse to turn a blind eye. A people who are extremely intelligent and deeply gifted… who have more than they need and decide to do something about it… as ambassadors of Christ… as if God were making his appeal through them. This WILL BE a story of hope, community & of Kingdom movement.
It’s a story where in a few years people all over Northeast Ohio will know about 707. But it will be less for the amazing worship services we have here on Sunday nights and more for the way we’re loving God, loving one another, and loving the world in our everyday lives.
It’s a story full of artists and activists, teachers and students, business people & baristas who KNOW that God has changed them… and because of that they just have to build God’s Kingdom.
I don’t know about you… but this is the kind of story I can devote my life to.
* * *
Me, too, Andy. Thanks, Lord, for casting vision through Andy for the next chapter in the sevenoseven story.
Reinventing God...

Elizabeth Edwards has been in the news lately. She’s the wife of Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer before the 2004 election. The cancer has now spread to her bones. But that’s not the defining disappointment of her life. That would be the loss of her son, Wade, in a car accident 11 years ago. She’s written a book called "Saving Graces."

On the TV show, Nightline, she talked with Cynthia McFadden about how that accident changed her view of God.

* * *

I had to think about a God who would not save my son. Wade was… a gentle and good boy. I wish I could take credit for it, but I can't. You'd think that if God was going to protect somebody, he'd protect that boy. But not only did he not protect him, the wind blew him from the road. The hand of God blew him from the road.

So I had to think, “What kind of God do I have that doesn't intervene—in fact, may even participate—in the death of this good boy?”

I had to accept that my God was a God who promised enlightenment and salvation. And that's all. Didn't promise us protection. So, if I was going to have a God, it couldn’t be an intervening God any more. That’s the God I live with now. It’s not exactly the God I want, but it’s the God I have.

* * *

I can’t identify with the kind of hurt she’s been through. My heart goes out to that family. We need to hurt with them. And I’m hoping that no one is trying to give them simplistic, holier-than-thou answers about God. We just have to sit with people who hurt and cry with them. They don’t need sermonettes from us.

But make no mistake, in the face of unimaginable and unexplainable heartache, Elizabeth Edwards has had to reinvent God. Her God is not an intervening God who is sovereign.

But what does the Bible say? We can try to reinvent God, but we’re going to have to deal with the One who revealed Himself in the pages of the Book.

The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all.
Psalm 103:19 (ESV)

The LORD of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.”
Isaiah 14:27 (ESV)

I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.
Isaiah 45:7 (ESV)

He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”
Daniel 4:35 (ESV)

[He] works all things according to the counsel of His will.
Ephesians 1:11 (ESV)

This means that God is ultimately in charge of all the events, the circumstances, and the people that impact our lives. Thelogians have defined the sovereignty of God this way: God is on the throne of the universe directing all things and ruling over the destiny of all peoples so that His purposes are accomplished. To say that God is sovereign is to say that God is in charge of the universe and all who are in it and all that happens in it.

I know that this raises all kinds of questions – certainly more than I can ever answer. But we have to decide whether or not we want to believe what the Bible says about God or whether we want to create our own God to believe in.

The whole idea of God's sovereignty can seem harsh and fatalistic except for a truth found in one of the most well-known verses in all of the Bible. Romans 8:28.

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 (ESV)

Over the years, I have had some difficult things happen to me. The death of my dad. The loss of a child due to miscarriage. But I've experinced nothing like losing a teenage child. I can't imagine that.

I expect more difficult days ahead. Who know what tough stuff is coming? And I can imagine that I will struggle with God's sovereignty. Yet, I pray that I would never feel the urge to reinvent God. When we give up on God's sovereignty, we lose the comfort and the hope found in Romans 8:28. Only a sovereign God can work all things together for our good.

That's a God to trust and love.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A loving God who hates sin?
I spoke on the love of God last weekend. A new believer at CVC heard me say that God hates sin. She was confused. "How can a loving God ever hate?" Good question. Here's my answer...
* * *
I hope you know that we are all about helping people grow to be passionate followers of Christ. And what does a passionate follower of Christ look like? We love God, love one another, and love the world. So, we are seeking to help people grow to love the way Jesus loves.

Let me see if I can address some of your concerns.

You ask how the statement "God hates sin" can be applied to a God who is all loving all the time. How can He hate sin and still love us--those who do the sinning?

The old cliché rings true. “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” The Bible talks about this in many places. For example:

6 Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; 7 you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Psalm 45: 6-7

16 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
Proverbs 6:16-19

Here’s why God hates sin. He hates sin because He loves us. He knows how damaging it is to His glory and how destructive it is to our good. As we see in the story about the prodigal son in Luke 15, sin ruins our relationships, wastes our resources, and damages our souls. God hates sin because he hates us hurting ourselves, which is what sin does. So, it grieves God when we sin. It’s in that sense that He hates sin.

You mentioned that you have 2 daughters. I’m sure you love them very, very, very much. And I’m sure that anything that would hurt your children would be highly offensive to you. Because parents love their children, they defend them from anything that would harm them. In that sense, the love of the parents leads them to hate what would bring pain to their children.

That’s the way God is with us. He loves us so much that He hates the sin that hurts us.

God is wholly unique in that His love never ceases even when He’s displaying His other attributes. For us humans, when we are joyous, we can’t be in a simultaneous state of grief. But God is different. All of God’s attributes are true of Him all the time. So, He is always loving, just, holy, righteous, merciful, gracious, faithful, etc. One attribute does not cancel out or diminish another. Therefore, it is possible for Him to love the sinner and hate the sin.

In fact, His nature and character demand it. God loves the sinner; but His holy nature leaves Him no alternative but to hate the sin.

Because God is holy, He is perfection. He is not only sinless, but sin cannot be in His presence. His holy nature won't allow for it.

In His desire to have a fully loving relationship with us (sinners), He made provision for sin to be covered. That is why God sacrificed the life of His Son, Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus, fully God, fully equal to God the Father, was the only way a holy God could reconcile sinful people like us to Himself. His death was a perfect atoning sacrifice, on behalf of our sin, to bring us into relationship with a perfect God.

We now are not only let into His presence, we are His children...loved as such and now capable of the most fulfilling relationship anyone could have, that being with God Himself.

And by the way, once we come into a relationship with Him, we can now love what He loves and (are you ready for this?) hate what He hates. A couple of verses teach this.

O you who love the LORD, hate evil!
Psalm 97:10

I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.
Psalm 101:3

I think that the Bible teaches that it’s a loving thing to hate what hurts others.

I hope this helps a little. And I pray you'll continue to teach your family about the love of Jesus. May God bless you richly.

Lovingly,

Pastor Rick

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The tragedy at Virginia Tech

After the tragedy of 9/11, I wrote an article that sought to answer the question: How now shall we live? Some of those thoughts might be helpful as we seek to find some comfort and make some sense out of the Virginia Tech tragedy. So, I thought I would post that previous article on this blog.

* * *

The impact the September 11 tragedy will have on us in the weeks, months, and even years ahead, is disturbing. As the realities of these horrific acts are still unfolding, together we mourn the loss of family, friends and neighbors... some right here in our own community.

What will life be like for us next week, next month, or next year? Good question. With the ongoing threat of terrorism in our homeland, and our nation now deploying thousands of ground troops, air and nautical support to Pakistan, and the areas surrounding Afghanistan, people are scared. There is fear. Uncertainy. Doubt.

Is this how God wants us to live? No. The Bible indicates we are to be people who live with peace, and joy and hope. But we will suffer devastating, long-term trauma unless we develop a Biblical perspective.

Below, I’d like to share some characteristics of God with you presented at our Sunday service on September 16. It is my prayer that God will use this tragedy to turn us towards Him. For it is when we look to Him that He can provide His power, pardon and peace. Attributes our hurting nation needs today, tomorrow, and forever more.

Pastor Rick Duncan
Cuyahoga Valley Community Church

How Now Shall We Live?

We will weep with Him who weeps.

Our hearts break as we look into the faces of the victims, their families, and the rescue workers. We are saddened to think about the dreams and hopes and fears of those who died. But we need to know that as we weep, God’s heart is broken, too. Jesus wept when His close friend, Lazarus, died. And He weeps now.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

We will turn to Him who heals.

God will strengthen us for the uncertain days ahead in spite of all the darkness.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

President Bush has said we should live our lives and hug our children. Are your children afraid? Consider this from Psalm 4:8: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.”

Notice that safety comes from God alone. If God alone is the source of safety for our lives and families, then we must go to Him alone for protection. We need to turn to God. He’s the healer.

Why don’t we turn to Him? Sadly, we have had more confidence in our ability and our technology than in God. So, we’ve tried to solve things in our own energy. This is the time to turn to God in prayer.

We will win through Him who loves.

God's love conquers all... even through calamity. People who had trusted in Christ were on those fatal flights, or in the World Trade Center or Pentagon, but their deaths do not mean they were abandoned by God or not loved by God -- even in those agonizing hours of suffering.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39

Yes, God did lift His wing of protection and death came. That doesn’t change the fact that He still loves and his people still win. The Bible says that the Lord is the Shepherd who walks through the valley of the shadow of death with His people. Those believers who died know more than any of us who remain here that we have a God who loves and gives victory to His people.

We will wait for Him who judges.

Tuesday, September 11 was a day of great evil. Our President called it the day the enemies of freedom committed an act of war on our country. We must remember that God’s anger is greatly stirred by the meaningless destruction of human life that He created. Life He created in His image. He will see to it that those responsible for this great evil will reap what they have sown.

As we wait for God to act justly, we read in Romans 13:1-7 that He governs the world and delegates some of His authority to governments to restrain evil and promote good.

There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. . . . [This authority is] a minister of God to you for good . . . it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Romans 13:1-4

Promoting justice through the use of force is what God has set up governments to do. This is the way God mercifully limits the flood of sin and misery in the earth.

President Bush and Congress have the God-given right to use force to restrain evil and bring law-breakers to justice. This is why we must pray for them – that the decisions that are made will not be based on the exercise of revenge and retaliation, but with godly wisdom, justice and righteousness. For revenge is alone in God’s hands.

And while we wait for the government’s plan to unfold, the hatred and threats to people of Arabic decent and Islamic faith must stop. The hijackers who crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were radical Muslim terrorists. It's not right to see all Muslims in the same light. We must learn to love Muslims... all the way to Jesus.

We will trust in Him who rules.

We do not know all the reasons why God would permit such evil to happen, when it was in His power to stop it. While we believe that God didn’t fly those planes into those buildings, we must remember that the scriptures remind us that God is in control.

God is in control of life and death.

This is a hard truth, but the Bible treats human life as something God has absolute rights over. He gives it and takes it according to His will and infinite wisdom. To have life is a gift and to lose it is never an injustice from God, whether he takes it at age seven or seventy-seven.

There is no God besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand. Deuteronomy 32:39

God is in control of moral evil.

The best example of this is the death of Jesus Christ. The cross shows how God ruled that a sinful act take place. The crucifixion of Christ was a great sin. It angered God. Yet it was the will of God that it happen for Jesus to become a sacrifice for sin.

These are tough truths to comprehend. But, let’s admit it. We can’t fully understand God or His ways.

The secret things belong to the LORD our God… Deuteronomy 29:29

When we settle it Biblically, intellectually and emotionally, that God has ultimate control of all things, including evil, then a stunning stability and depth come into our lives. We can trust that He’s not up in heaven wringing His hands wondering what He’s going to do next. God rules the world in such a way that all calamities and all sin remain in His ultimate control, and therefore, within His ultimate good plan and purpose for our lives.

We will hope in Him who’s good.

God has ability to what is humanly impossible. He will bring us through this nightmare and, in some inscrutable way, bring good out of it. When we find ourselves living in fear, we need to be reminded that God is good.

I love You, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. Psalm 18:1-3

Notice the words describing God as our Protector... He’s a rock, a fortress, a deliverer, a refuge, a shield, a stronghold, a savior. That’s who He is. We must never forget that. We can trust God. It does not honor God when we live in fear.

An event like this doesn’t mean that God is defeated or that He’s no longer good. Though He is not the author of evil, He takes it and uses it for His own good purposes. His kingdom is coming. He is building His church. He is worthy of our trust even when tragedy hits.

This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” Lamentations 3:21-24

Christians, of all people, ought to live life with great confidence. For our God reigns!

We will return to Him who’s holy.

Nothing justifies terrorism. But we must admit that our country is far from perfect. Many are controlled by money, power, and greed. Yes, we do much good – all around the world. But is it possible that because our country puts on the appearance of being a religious, moral country, that we fail to notice the ways we act corruptly?”

In the Bible, we learn that repeatedly let His people, Israel, be taken over by oppressors until they repented and turned back to Him. One such enemy of God’s people was Assyria.

The Assyrian [is] the rod of My anger, in whose hand is the club of My wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. Isaiah 10:5-7

God may be seeking to use this terrorist attack to call our nation to repentance. We are not secure. We are vulnerable. We need God.

We will point to Him who saves.

One message of all this misery is to show us that life is short. It is fragile. And life is followed by eternity.

Consider this: If you were killed by some revenge-filled terrorists, where would you spend eternity? Do you think you would truly spend eternity in heaven if you died today? It’s a fair question to ask. We are all destined to die. After death, what then? The Bible puts it this way,

We are destined to die once and after that to face judgment. Hebrews 9:27

Are you and those you love ready for this judgment? The death of more than 3,000 people is truly a tragedy. But there’s a worse tragedy. It’s a death that faces an eternity without Christ.

We all know guilt and that is what separates us from God. We fail to live up to our own standards of behavior, not to mention God’s standards. Who among us always acts loving? Who among us always treats others the way we want to be treated? The Bible says it this way,

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

We know we’ve fallen short. So we try to patch things up between us and God in our own way. We try to build our own bridge. Many times we try to do this through good works and our religious performance. But God says,

All of your righteousness is like filthy rags. Isaiah 64:4

The Good News

The good news is that God loves us so much that He provides the way to heaven. Jesus Christ came to this earth to take away our guilt and to provide us with salvation. He died on a cross to pay a debt that we should have paid. The Bible says:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

If you feel a need for Christ in your life – if you feel the tug in your heart to turn to Him during these uncertain days – you could pray a pray like the following:

Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I turn away from my sins. I believe that You died for me on the cross – paying the penalty for my sins. I believe You rose again from the grave. I receive You into my life. I invite You to be my Savior. I make You my Lord. Please help me have Your power, Your pardon, and Your peace as we face uncertain days. Amen.

Monday, April 16, 2007


The love of God

Yesterday, we began a series at CVC called "Knowing God." We are looking at some of the attributes of God. We started by thinking through the love of God.

In preparing, I was reading John Gill's theology called "A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity."

I was helped by what I learned because sometimes I lose sight of God's love for me. I can fall into the trap of looking at my circumstances, comparing myself with others, and concluding that God loves others more than He loves me. When I'm thinking that way, I lose joy and focus and energy and contentment.

So, I rewrote some of what I learned from Gill. I couldn't share all of it in the message I gave yesterday. But it encouraged me. Maybe it will encourage you.

* * *

Love describes God so much that 1 John 4:8 and 16 say that “God is love.”

Love originates in God. To us, it might be a strange thought to say that God first loves God. That sounds so selfish. But even for fallen humans, self-love is not a bad thing if it’s not carried to a criminal excess and if it doesn’t neglect others. In fact, we are to love others not more than ourselves but as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). So, it shouldn’t surprise us that God first and chiefly loves Himself. In fact, it should comfort us. He has made Himself the ultimate end of all He does.

From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.
Rom. 11:36 (ESV)

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.
Rev. 4:11 (ESV)

Love originates in God for God. Since God is Triune, love flows perfectly, passionately, and eternally between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit; the Son loves the Father and the Spirit; and the Spirit loves the Father and the Son.

He loves because it's His nature and His character to love. God is love.

Now, what is amazing is this: Because of our union with Christ, God loves all His children with the very same love that flowed in eternity past between Father, Son, and Spirit. He does not love one child more than any other.

We must look to scripture, not to our circumstances to prove this point. Scripture teaches us that God loves us with the same love that flows between God the Father and God the Son. You can see this when Jesus prayed to His Father for us, “May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me”(John 17:23, HCSB).

Think of it! The passion that the Father has for Jesus is the passion the Father has for you. He can't love you any more than that.

Let this sink in: There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more. There’s nothing you can do to make God love you less. As my friend Laryssa Ziolkowski said to me on Saturday night, "God the Father doesn’t even love Jesus any more than He loves you."

This means that we don’t have to perform! We really don't have to earn this love. It's granted to us if we are in Christ.

If He loves us as much as He loves His Son, then why do we grumble and complain at the circumstances in which He’s placed us? He is too loving to be unkind to us. Why should we ever allow ourselves to become cold and half-hearted in serving a God who loves us like this?

* * *

Thank You, Father, for loving me the way You love Jesus. Now, help me rest in this love. And help me love You in return.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Jesus and Zach Johnson...
Zach Johnson won the Master's golf tournament yesterday and gave Jesus credit. After the win, Johnson said, "This being Easter, Jesus was with me every step. I felt him. It was awesome."
As you can imagine, the skeptics are not buying what he's selling.
One blogger wrote, "Jesus has some splainin' to do to professed Christian golfers Stuart Cink (T-17) and Aaron Baddeley (T-52); not to mention Ben Crane, Berhard Langer and Larry Mize, who failed to make the cut. No doubt there were a few others in the field who cried silently, 'Why hast thou forsaken me?'"
Another under-impressed man wrote, "What made this Easter so special was finding out that Jesus actually has had his second coming. According to Zach, Jesus was walking with him during his play on Easter Sunday. Now I am not an overly religious sort, but it was very exciting to find out that on such an important Christian holiday, Jesus chose a young man from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to tag along with and help him win the Masters. Now, I would have thought that Jesus was much too busy with his other official duties yesterday to make an appearance at the Masters, but that just goes to show that the Masters is one of golfs most important events and, secondly it shows just how loving Jesus really is. Wouldn’t you agree?"
Clearly, Johnson's words about Jesus didn't land well in a few people's ears.
As a former athlete who wanted to make it to "the show" in baseball in order to shine the spotlight on Jesus, I am wondering, "What's the best way to glorify God after you win big?"
A few months ago, I spoke to the Baltimore Ravens before they played the Cleveland Browns. I think some of what I shared might help answer that question. The scripture I spoke from was Romans 11:36. Here's some of what I said to the Ravens :

* * *

“For from Him, to Him, through Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.”
Romans 11:36
In the verse are three prepositions: from, through, to. This can help us shape three prayers - three things you say in your heart to God as you perform.
From Him
Prayer number 1: "Jesus, my talent is from You!"
I watch you guys every Sunday. As a former pro athlete who didn’t make it all the way to the top, I appreciate the hard work and the natural ability that enables you to do what you do. Your speed. Your strength. Your heart. Your agility. Your work ethic. Look at what God gave you!
Where did all that come from? From Him are all things! You ought to be so thankful, so humble, and so careful. To whom much has been given, much will be required. You will be held accountable for how you used this gift. God has entrusted you with something very valuable in our culture.
So, inside your heart, you pray, "Jesus, my talent is from You."
Through Him
Prayer number 2: "Jesus, my strength is through You."
In the fourth quarter when it’s time to dig deep, where do you go? Are you going to turn to yourself? I hope not. Godly people say that it's "not by might, nor by power, but by Thy Spirit." Your strength is in Him. You’re "I can’t" is His "I can."
This is how you apply the David and Goliath thing. David said to Goliath, "You come against me with swords and shields. I come against you in the name of the Lord." The people who get strength from God remember that His name is "I Am." Think about the implications of that. If God is "I Am" then who am I? "I am not!"
So, inside your heart, you pray, "Jesus, my strength is through You."
To Him
Prayer number 3: "Jesus, my praise is to You."
Why do you have all your talent? It's to glorify God.
Not to us, not to us, but to Your name give glory.
Psalm 115:1
But know this: glorifying God is not necessarily about pointing up to heaven when you score a touchdown. Or praying after the game with the guys who you’ve been at war with for the last 3 hours. Or saying after you won the Super Bowl, “I just want to give praise to My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Yes, there is something happening in the game that has eternal significance. But it’s mostly what’s happening in your heart rather than what you might or might not say after the game.
So, inside your heart, you pray, "Jesus, my praise if to You."
It’s all about Him. Do you rob God or do you live for His fame? Do you do what you do without ever "connecting the dots" to God? I think we'd all agree that if a husband is asked "Who is the most important person in your life?" and he says, "My agent," and he forgets to mention his wife as the most important person in his life beside God, we would think that there is a defect in his love. And when a Christian athlete can play and practice for hours and days without connecting it to God, there is a defect in that person's love for God.
The opposite of taking God for granted is an hour-by-hour inner conversation with Jesus, "Lord it's all from, through, to You!"
This is the way you admire God and love God and treasure God and stand in awe of God.
* * *
Well, that's some of what I said to the Ravens that day a few months ago. Bottom line? Glorifying God is more about what happens inside your heart than what you say on TV. But if it's in the heart, it will spill over.
So, I'm glad that Zach Johnson gave credit to Jesus. It has people talking... and blogging. I'm glad that a brother in Christ won the Masters.
But most of us will never win a Masters or a Superbowl or an NBA championship. Most of us will likely lose more than we win... in anything. But we can still glorify God. Why? It's an inside job. And if we pray these kinds of prayers as a lifestyle, we'll have a deep, abiding sense of joy as we live our lives.
Many in the world are listening to Zach Johnson and are not impressed. That's to be expected since the natural man cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God.
But when we truly honor God from the inside and find our deepest joy in Him especially when we lose, that's when that the world will really listen to us.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Jesus Family Tomb?

They say they found His bones. On March 4 on the Discovery Channel “Titanic” director, James Cameron, produced a program based on a book called “The Jesus Family Tomb.”

It’s a slick production about a discovery made 27 years ago. It’s a first-century Jewish burial cave near Jerusalem with bone boxes found inside. They say they found the bones of Jesus, Mary, and Mary Magdalene, along with some of Jesus’ relatives.

In the time of Jesus, Jewish families with money stored the remains of their loved ones in what are called ossuaries. A newly dead body would be laid out on a rock shelf. When that body decomposed, family members would put the bones inside a box. Over time, the tombs – the caves – grew crowded with boxes.

Cameron and his crew are saying they’ve found the box with Jesus’ bones.

Here’s their theory. Jesus didn’t die on the cross. He died sometime later after marrying Mary Magdalene and fathering a son named Judas. (Why Jesus would name His son "Judas" after the man who betrayed Him isn't discussed.) And they say that since we have his bones in a box, He obviously didn’t rise bodily from the dead. This supposedly proves that some things in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code are right. And Christianity, as we know it, can now be officially laid in the dust.

Not so fast! This has been commonly called “The swoon theory.” Even secular history tells us that Jesus was nailed to a cross. The swoon theory says He didn’t die there -that He just passed out on the cross. In the coolness of the tomb, He supposedly revived, regained enough strength after a brutal scourging to move a stone, escaped past 4 squads of professional Roman soldiers, and then somehow convinced His followers that He had risen from the dead. Come on! It takes more faith to believe the swoon theory than to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

This is old news. Even secular scholars are big-time skeptical about the so-called “Jesus Family Tomb.” They are wondering why a poor family like Jesus’ family would have such an elaborate tomb. They are wondering why a family from Nazareth would have a family tomb near Jerusalem. And they are saying that the names inscribed on all those bone boxes, including the name “Jesus,” are very, very, very common names at the time of Christ.

The evidence is underwhelming that the Discovery Channel has shown us “The Jesus Family Tomb.”

And think about it. The first followers of Jesus knew that this faith hinged on the resurrection of Jesus. If those first followers of Christ thought, “Jesus is dead; but we have to somehow keep the faith going. So, let’s store His bones.” Why would they even save the bones? And if He’s supposed to be raised from the dead, why engrave His name on the box so that the skeptics could one day find the bones?

The truth of the matter is that the followers of Jesus were all afraid after Jesus’ arrest and during the crucifixion. They didn’t want to die like Jesus. Some ran. One denied even knowing Him. But soon after Jesus’ death, the disciples were telling everyone that Jesus was alive.

What turned these scared men into bold lions? They kept talking about the resurrection even after being threatened. They went to their deaths proclaiming it was true. Would you die for a lie? Not me. And neither did they. They died for what they knew what happened. They had literally seen the Risen Lord.

The site of Jesus’ real tomb – the one borrowed from a man named Joseph – was known to His friends… and His enemies. It could have been checked out by the skeptics back then. But nobody – not even the Roman authorities or the Jewish leaders – ever claimed that the tomb still contained Jesus’ body. To stop this new faith, all they had to do was to find the body of Jesus, throw it on a cart, and parade it through the streets of Jerusalem. Then the new religion would be over. But they didn’t and they couldn’t. Why? He’s alive. There was no body to be found.

A miraculous resurrection is the most reasonable explanation for what happened.

Why is the resurrection so important? It’s foundational for our hope.

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. I Corinthians 15:17, 19-20a (ESV)

He's alive. We don't have to be afraid of a rehashed version of the swoon theory. The "Jesus Family Tomb" isn't! We have hope. Our faith isn't futile. We aren't still in our sins. We have not hoped in Christ for this life only. And for all those who know Him, His resurrection guarantees ours.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Forgiven...

I’ve been thinking that one of my regrets as a man, as a husband, and as a dad is that I’ve not learned how to deal with the guilt of my sin better. And one of my regrets as a pastor is that I’ve not taught the people of CVC how to deal with the guilt of their sin better.

We spend a lot of our time talking about how not to sin – how to win over sin. And that’s good. But what do we do when we sin? The problem is not just how to not to fail. The problem is how to deal with failure so that we don’t end up giving up.

It’s so sad and so unnecessary when we sin and then say, “I guess I’m just a second-rate believer and I’ll never be much for God.” And Satan uses the guilt of our sin to neutralize us.

At CVC, we’ve been learning to fight against sin over the last six weeks. As John Owen said, "Be killing sin or sin will be killing you." But many of us have fallen. And Satan has been accusing us: “See, you’re a loser. Just drop out of sight. The people around you know you’re a hypocrite. So, quit playing games with God. You don’t follow Him well. Just give up.”

I’ve certainly been there. And so have you. What do we do with such thoughts?

I heard a message John Piper preached at a Passion gathering for young adults this past January. Piper is pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota. Piper was seeking to help young adults learn how to hang onto their dreams of serving Christ even when they had fallen into sexual sin.

In the message, Piper taught through two verses from Micah. His words were deeply moving to me. These truths can help us deal with the guilt of not only sexual failure, but any sinful failure.

Micah 7:8-9 gives us words to say to our enemy when he accuses us of sin.

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.
Micah 7:8-9 (ESV)

When the devil or anyone else accuses you, or even when you accuse yourself saying, “Christ can’t use you because you’ve sinned too much. You’re a loser,” here’s what you say. As Piper did, let's look at the verses phrase-by-phrase.

“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy.”

You’re laughing at me because I sinned… again? You think I’m going to stop living for Jesus because you’re making fun of me? You think to cause me pain by mocking me? That’s not stopping me.

“When I fall, I shall rise.”

Yes, I fell. And I hate what I did. I’m sorry that I fell and dishonored Jesus. I regret that I fell and hurt the people I love. But listen…I will rise.

“When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.”

Yes, because of my sin, I am sitting in darkness. I feel miserable. I feel guilty… because I am guilty. But even in the darkness of my guilt, the Lord has promised to be a light to me. He has not forsaken me.

“I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him.”

Yes. I’ve sinned. And the Lord is indignant because of my sin. But that’s not all.

“He pleads my cause and executes judgment for me.”

The very One who is indignant with me pleads my cause. You say He is against me and that I have no future with Him because of my sin? That’s a lie. Jesus was judged in my place for me. The Father executed judgment on the Son for me. Even though I have sinned, He’s not against me. He’s for me.

“He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.”

I’ll sit in this darkness as long as He wants. But I know this for sure, because Jesus took my sin and gave me His righteousness, He will bring me to the light. I don’t have to vindicate myself. Vindication is His. Jesus will vindicate me. Jesus will clear acquit me. Jesus will clear my name.

And I love this quote…

“O my brothers and sisters, when you learn to deal with the guilt of…failure with this kind of brokenhearted boldness… this kind of gutsy guilt, this kind of unshakable position that you have in the crucified, risen, invincible king Jesus Christ—when you learn to deal with the guilt of… failure this way, you will fall less often. Because Christ will become increasingly precious to you.” John Piper

Wow! What a stunning application of truth! I want to live and think and fight the guilt of my sin this way. May CVC be led by a pastor and filled with a people who refute the accusations of the enemy with this kind of unshakeable confidence in the grace of God in Christ. Truly, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for the cross. Your cross changes everything!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Crucified...
The 100 pound beam dropped to the dirt. A soldier grabbed Jesus’ hair and jerked Him to the ground where the open wounds on His upper back smashed against the rough wood. His lower back and legs became caked with mud as His blood and the dirt mixed together.
Two strong soldiers seized the wrists and readied themselves for the resistance that came before the nailing. It never came. Those same arms that reached out when Jesus said, “Let the children come to Me” were now stretched willingly across the beam. A third legionnaire felt for the depression at the front of Jesus’ right wrist.
The Romans knew what they were doing. They had perfected this form of execution. A nail driven through the palms wouldn’t hold a man’s weight. The skin and tissue would tear and the victim would have fallen off the cross. So the seven inch nails went through the wrists - through the place where the largest nerve runs out to the hand.
The soldier drove the heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood while crushing the nerve. Jesus wasn’t ready for that kind of pain. No human could be. He screamed. Quickly the legionnaire moved to the other side and cursed his fellow executioner. “Give me another nail. And don’t pull the arms too tightly. Allow some flex and movement.” The first blow sent the nail through the wrist. The second stroke sent the nail into the wood. One more hit finished this part of the execution. Jesus was gritting His teeth and moaning.
The leader said, “Let’s get Him up.” Four soldiers stooped and lifted the horizontal beam into the grooves at the top of the vertical timber permanently planted on the hill called Golgotha - the place of the skull.
The weight of His body caused Jesus’ arms to immediately extend even more - about six inches more - and both shoulders were dislocated. He gasped and, even through the pain, knew that this fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy in Psalm 22, “My bones are out of joint.”
The man with the hammer wanted one more nail. He pointed to the cross. “Put His feet right here - one on top to the other.” He wanted to make sure that the knees were bent. This was a harder nailing job. More awkward. The left foot was pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended and toes down, a single nail was driven. Bam! Through the left arch. Bam! Thought the right arch. Bam! Into the wood. Bam! One more time to make the crucifixion complete. The nerves in the feet were crushed. And as the weight of Jesus’ body rested on the nail in the feet, that nail began to tear through His feet. It would eventually stop when it reached the ankle bones.
The pain was unimaginable. In fact, it was literally beyond words to describe. They had to invent a new word: excruciating. “Ex” means “out of.” “Cruciate” means “cross.” So, literally, excruciating means “out of the cross.” Think of it: they needed to create a new word, because there was nothing in the language that could describe the intense anguish caused during the crucifixion.
Jesus could feel Himself slowly sagging down with more and more weight on the nails in His wrists. Fiery pain shot up His arms and exploded in His brain because of the crushed median nerves. He found that the stresses on His muscles and diaphragm put His chest into the inhaled position. He held His breath as long as He could. He needed to exhale.
Somehow, He found he strength to push up on His feet so the tension on His breathing muscles would be eased for a moment. As He pushed Himself upward, He placed His full weight on the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of the feet. After managing to exhale, Jesus collapsed to take in another breath. A little later, He pushed up again to exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. It was undoubtedly during these periods that he uttered the seven short sentences which are recorded.
1. Looking down at the Roman soldiers throwing dice for his seamless garment, He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He taught us that no matter how much someone has hurt us, we must forgive them to be like Jesus and we can forgive them through His strength.
2. Jesus gasps, “I thirst.” He taught us that it’s good, even godly to be human. We have needs. It’s good to ask for help.
3. To one of the thieves, “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). He taught us that salvation isn’t earned by doing good deeds - that grace is available for everyone (even a criminal) - that it’s never too late or you’re never too bad to put your faith in Jesus.
4. Looking down at His terrified, grief stricken mother, He said, “Woman, behold your son,” and looking to John, His beloved disciple, He said, Behold, your mother.” (John 19:26,27). He taught us that no matter how much personal pain you are experiencing, you can still love others.
5. The next cry was from the beginning of the 22nd Psalm, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46). He taught us that His fellowship with the father was precious to Him and that sin is so ugly that the Father can’t bear to look on it. When He bore the weight of the sin of the world in His body on the cross, His Father had to turn away.
6. The body of Jesus is now in extremes, and he can feel the chill of death creeping through his tissues. This realization brings out his next words, probably uttered in a loud cry: “It is finished” (John 19:30). He taught us that His death - the death of the innocent One in behalf of the guilty - perfectly satisfied the justice of God. No one need do anything else. The debt we owed to God had been paid in full.
7. His mission of atonement has been completed. Finally he can allow his body to die by voluntarily dismissing his spirit. With one last surge of strength, he once again presses his torn feet against the nail, straightens his legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters his seventh and last cry: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). He taught us that those who have God as Father and commit themselves Him need not fear anything - even death.
Each saying from the cross cost Jesus. But He said what He said to teach us, to save us, to love us.
Jesus intentionally walked into the arms of His betrayer, He didn't resist arrest, He didn't defend himself at his trial - it was clear that He was willingly subjecting himself to what was a humiliating and agonizing form of torture. Why? What could possibly have motivated a person to agree to endure this sort of punishment?
Jesus knew what was coming, and He was willing to go through it, because this was the only way He could redeem us - by serving as our substitute and paying the death penalty that we deserve because of our rebellion against God. That was His whole mission in coming to earth.
So if you were to ask Him “Why?” then He would look you in the eyes and He would say, “I did it because of love. I love you.”
Now, love Him back.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fathers and sons.

Lots of fathers and sons have strife-filled relationships. But I was blessed with an unusually close relationship with my father. The way he spelled “love” while I was growing up was T.I.M.E. We stayed close as he struggled through the last stages of cancer and I ended up having to shave the one who taught me how to shave myself.

Fathers and sons. I have three sons of my own. Words can’t describe the closeness that I felt when I held those little boys in my arms for the very first time or the warmth that we share when we snuggle under the covers or the pride that I feel when they accomplish a goal.

Now, collect all that closeness and pride and joy that I have had with my father and my sons and add all the closeness that any father has had with any son for all time on this earth… and it disappears into nothingness - it just doesn’t compare with the closeness and the fellowship that God the Father and God the Son enjoyed from eternity past.

The Father and the Son. Side by side. Joyous in one another. Fellowshipping together. Knowing pure peace in their unity…to an infinite degree for all eternity past. No wonder the Father said at the Son’s baptism, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” Our finite minds can’t even begin to comprehend their eternal love!

Yet, there came a moment in time when that fellowship was broken, traumatized, shattered. It was when the Son cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

It was mid-afternoon. But it was dark outside. It was darker for Jesus inside His soul. He had been dying for hours. The work was almost finished. He had reached the closing moments of His agony.

Now, hear His cry from the lowest point of His misery – “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” There’s not been a sentence ever said that has been or will be more full of sorrow.

Jesus had survived the betrayal of a follower, the desertion by His friends, a sleepless night, false accusations at a shameful trial, the loss of blood from the scourging, and a beating that disfigured His face. He hadn’t complained at the cross with the nails piercing His hands and feet. We see a glimpse of His physical need through His human cry, “I thirst.” He endured all the torture in virtual silence.

But when it came to being forsaken of God, then His great heart burst. He cried out, “Lama sabachthani?” His question is not, “Why has Peter forsaken me? Why has Judas betrayed me?” These things hurt, but this hurt the most. This cut to the quick: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

It was not a new experience for the Lord to find Himself forsaken. His own brothers didn’t believe in Him. His fellow-citizens in Nazareth tried to kill Him. The nation to which He came wouldn’t receive Him. Many who started to follow Him turned back and left Him. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. In the end, “They all forsook Him and fled.” But none of that mattered most to Him. He agonized over this problem, “Why did YOU forsake me, my God?”

When He was baptized, Jesus had heard His Father say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But now, when those words might have meant so much, heaven was silent. The great heart of Christ hurt deeply, powerfully, intensely because He had been forsaken by His Father.

Forsaken. It has to be one of the more desolate words in our language. It’s not uncommon for us to read about children left on doorsteps or even in dumpsters – forsaken. Our hearts say, “That’s beyond comprehension.”

Forsaken. Think of the pain when one spouse leaves another. See the hurt and the confusion in the eyes of a forsaken spouse.

Forsaken. A child forsaken by its parents, a friend forsaken by a friend in the hour of need - these are hard to imagine.

But God the Son being forsaken by God the Father? Who can imagine this?

Jesus, the One who had known a perfect, eternal union with His Father was now saying, “Why have you abandoned Me? Why have you left Me? Why have you walked out on Me? Why have you deserted Me?” What He had feared most when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane to let the cup pass had happened. Why?

You can find the answers all throughout the Bible, but turn your attention to one verse: Isaiah 53:6 “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” It pleased the Father that the weight of our sin would be on the Son.

God the Father is so holy that when all the sins of all who would believe fell on His Son, He could not stay in fellowship with His Son. The holy Father had to turn away from Son who had become sin for us. The perfect fellowship between the eternal Father and the eternal Son was broken.

Why? This was the only way that the justice of God could be satisfied while the love of God could be magnified.

Fathers and sons. I can’t imagine abandoning my sons. Yet that’s what this Father did.

This Father walked out on this Son so He could be there for us. This Father deserted this Son so He could defend us. This Father abandoned this Son so He could accept us.
We sing a song of praise to Christ at our church that speaks of why He was forsaken:

I’m forgiven because You were forsaken.
I’m accepted. You were condemned.
I’m alive and well. Your Spirit is within me.
Because You died and bore my sin.

This amazing love fills us with awe... and we worship. We dare not ignore such love. We love this Father and this Son for what was suffered for us. Because the Father and the Son went through this "God-forsaken" experience, God gets the glory and we get the joy.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The scourging…

On that awful day we call Good Friday, the Roman governor, Pilate, handed Jesus to his soldiers to be scourged. Scourged. The word comes from Latin. Excoriare is a compound word meaning “to flay.” Ex means “off” and corium means “hide or skin.” So, scourging literally means “off with the skin.”

Jesus knew about scourging. Everyone did. It was one of those brutal punishments the Romans used to put fear into everyone in order to keep lawlessness under control. Just the thought of being scourged kept would-be criminals in check. It was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution and only women and Roman senators and soldiers were exempt. Jesus knew what was coming.

The coarse soldiers who shoved Him had no love for any Jew. In fact, the savage scourging they inflicted was a kind of release. These violent men hated being stationed in Jerusalem, so far away from home. “This Jewish ‘rabble-rouser’ is going to pay,” said one of the men as he stripped Jesus of His clothes and tied His hands to an upright post in the middle of the courtyard.

Two muscular soldiers took their places slightly behind and on each side of Jesus. In their hands, they carried what some have called a “cat-o’-nine” tails - a short whip - with nine strips of heavy leather stained with the blood of previous victims. Attached on each strip at various intervals were metal and stone pellets, little pieces of sharp bone and glass.

The first soldier cocked his arm and hit the Savior.

One!

In unison, all nine strands of the whip whistled full force through the air and struck Jesus in the middle of His back. The shrapnel on the ends of the leather cords tore easily through Jesus’ flesh straight down to the base of His back. Little bits of flesh tore loose. The small balls of lead made large, deep bruises ready to be broken open later by other blows. Jesus jerked forward at the impact. At first it all seemed surreal. The pain seemed to wait a brief moment. Then He felt a wave of burning agony.

That one was for your pride. You constantly compare yourself to others and compete with them. You live in a prideful self-dependence that works as if everything depends on you and nothing depends on God. You’re judgmental and critical, thinking you’re a little better, a little more spiritual, a little more right than anyone else. That was for your pride.

Two!

The second soldier’s lash sliced Jesus a little lower. More skin was torn off. The flesh opened up. It was a horizontal hit. This soldier hit hard and a metal ball came around the front of Christ and cracked a rib. Jesus gritted His teeth and sucked in His breath. But He couldn’t contain the groan of pain.

That one was for your greed - your greed for the praise or the credit - your greedy unreasonable expectations for others to meet your needs - your greed to get your “fair share” and just a little bit more. That was for your greed.

Three!

It was the first soldier’s turn again. He aimed his strike at Jesus’ kidneys. The leather and the shards of bone were once again embedded into the skin, while a few wrapped around toward the front of Jesus, this time slashing at His groin.

That one was for your envy. You resent the good others receive or even might receive. So, to put people down, you gossip, lie, and slander. That was for your envy.

Four!

Jesus felt all His muscles tighten as this swipe of the whip severed muscle tissue in the back of His thighs. These were the same strong legs that carried Jesus throughout Galilee healing the sick and proclaiming God’s power. Now, they were destined to be reduced to bloody masses of disfigured flesh.

That one was for your anger and impatience. You’re so irritable when something you want doesn’t happen the way you want it to. Your rage has hurt the very people you say you love. That was for your anger.

Five!

This blow was to the shoulders. One stray ball hit His cheek, cracking the bone. He wanted to touch it, to somehow comfort himself. But His hands were tied.

That was for your lust. Your legitimate desires are out-of-control and so you are experiencing a self-destructive drive for pleasure out of proportion to its worth. You’re addicted to power or pornography or sex or money or gambling or alcohol or food. You’re out of control. That one was for lust.

Six!

That one hit the same spot hit earlier, tearing deeper into the tissue and leaving oozing slashes on Jesus’ body. The first hits produced bleeding that leaked from the capillaries and veins. But as the flogging continued, the whip tore into the underlying skeletal muscles to produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.

That was for your gluttony - an inability to trust in God to supply tomorrow's needs. You don't truly trust God to meet your needs, so you feel you have to "stock up." It's not just gluttony for food, but for entertainment and recreation and the praise of others. That one was for gluttony.

Seven!

The soldier on His left was hitting Him harder now that He was loosened up and sweating a little. Bone began to show.

That one was for your spiritual and moral laziness. Old timers called it sloth - a sluggish response of the heart to God's commands. You are slow to respond to God. And some are here today and you know that you are drifting completely into the sleep of complacency. That one was for laziness.

On and on and on and on the beating went. The blood wasn’t oozing out now. Some arteries in the underlying muscles were damaged and the blood began to spurt with every heartbeat. The skin on the back was hanging in long ribbons and the entire area was an unrecognizable mass of torn tissue. The soldiers didn’t stop at 39 or 40 lashes. That was a Jewish law. “We’re Romans.” They thought. They went about their business until death was almost about to knock down Jesus’ door. “We’d better stop. He’s got to carry the cross beam. I want to see Him hang with His back up against the raw wood.”

They cut Him loose and He fell to the ground, blood and dirt mixing into the wounds. One soldier spit. The other kicked. After the scourging, Jesus was in a pre-shock state. Jesus was beaten so severely that His body did not look human. In Isaiah we read these words about Jesus: ‘So marred from the form of man was His aspect, that His appearance was not as that of a son of a man.’ People were appalled to look at Him

If you were to ask Him “Why?” He would say, “It’s because of love. I want you to be healed.”

I Peter 2:24 says, “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

As we look at Jesus’ wounds, we know that He did not deserve them. We did. It was our sin that caused Him pain. Yet, He endured what we should have endured.

Hopefully, we see the reason why. For some of us, we see it like a flash of light. For others, the truth of it dawns gradually. “If He suffered for me, then I am free from guilt. If my load was laid on Him, it is no longer on me.”

He takes our hurt and to give us His health. He heals us by taking the sickness of His people upon Himself, by bearing our sins, and being wounded and bruised for us, and by enduring the blows. II Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf.”

This cure is radical. The more we gaze upon the wounds, the more we see that our sin - that which caused the wounds - is intolerable and repugnant and detestable. Seeing the scourging makes it more difficult for us to indulge in our sin. This scourging happened to heal our sin-sick souls. It happened to make us holy, pure, freed from sin.

So, this Holy Week, bring your sin to the Savior who was scourged. Look at Jesus, the One who was wounded for you. And be moved to a sorrow that leads to repentance.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Joining a church planting team...

Someone asked my advice about whether or not to join a church planting team here in NE Ohio. I couldn't give a short answer. But here's what I wrote:

* * *

What does it take to be an effective church planter? Dr. Charles Ridley conducted a study of church planters in the United States and Canada. Based upon his research and subsequent field testing, he developed a list of 13 church planter characteristics. For over a decade, these characteristics have been used to select church planters. At the end of this article is his list of characteristics and their definitions. Ignoring the characteristics or failing to scrutinize a potential church planter in light of the characterisitics is not wise.

Church planting, of course, is a very unique experience and opportunity. Planting a God-honoring church requires several necessary ingredients:

1. A ripe harvest field – a sense that God is currently at work in the target community to draw lost people to Himself.
2. The right motivations – a sense that the true goal of the church plant is to glorify God and build the kingdom of Christ, not to prop up the shaky self-esteem of the leadership.
3. The call of God – a sense that God will supernaturally empower the church to reach and teach lost people.
4. Strong support – a sense that God has called others to support the new church spiritually, emotionally, prayerfully, financially, etc.
5. An equipped church planter – a sense that God has uniquely gifted the leader to have what it takes to see the church through from the conception stage to the reproducing stage.

This last factor is huge. It’s why I have a passion is that the church planter be very well assessed and appropriately placed. I believe that God wires us differently for different callings.

Some leaders are catalysts – they thrive on starting things out of nothing. Some leaders are organizers – they thrive on organizing the “chaos” that others create. Some leaders are operators – they thrive on helping a church that is running pretty well run better. Some leaders are redevelopers – they thrive on joining a declining church to bring new life back into it.

Obviously, a church planter needs to be a catalyst. It’s important that you, as a volunteer, feel as comfortable as possible that the church planter you are going to serve with is a true catalyst. Questions to ask: “What have you started from scratch before? Did what you started last?” If the proposed planter stumbles over these kinds of questions and does not have a strong track record of starting things (whether in business or in existing ministries), then he likely is not a true catalyst and likely will not plant a dynamic church. I have said it a lot, “The best predictor of future performance is past behavior.”

Why is it important for you to determine whether a potential church planter has the “right stuff” or not? You only have one life to invest in the service of the King. Sadly, I’ve seen many people invest many years of service in seeking to help plant a church only to find out in the end that the church planter was not really God’s man for the job.

There are certain skill sets and God-given abilities that are crucial to successfully launching a new congregation. You might find the tab "Is Church Planting for Me?" helpful in thinking through some diagnostic questions that every church planter should be able to answer as you try to discern God’s leading to join up with a particular church planter or not.

I’ve heard that in our denomination, we are successful 50% of the time when we plant churches. That saddens me deeply. I think about the waste of resources – time, talent, and treasure – that happens when we send a non-catalyst to plant a church. The volunteers could have served in another church with greater fruitfulness. The money given could have been invested more wisely. The sponsoring churches could have had a better church sponsoring experience. And the leader could have been serving in a ministry more suitable for his giftings.

There is something kind of “romantic” about the idea of planting a church. I think that, sometimes, people launch out into church planting thinking that they will be the next Rick Warren, Bill Hybles, Andy Stanley, or Ed Young, Jr. But the reality is that there aren’t too many of those guys. So, the call of God can’t be a call to the “romance” of church planting, but a call to the hard, thankless, dirty, grinding-it-out, plodding along kind of work.

This is why we are really seeking to assess our planters more carefully than ever before. We want to be wise stewards of our resources and personnel. Dr. Charles Ridley evaluated successful church planters and identified 13 key characteristics of effective church planters. You need to evaluate whether the leader of your team is wired this way or not.

13 Characteristics of an Effective Church Planter

By Dr. Charles Ridley

1. Visioning Capacity... Being a person who projects into the future beyond the present. Developing a theme which highlights the vision and philosophy of ministry. Coping effectively with non-visioning elements. Not erecting artificial walls or limits either overtly or subconsciously. Establishing a clear church identity related to the theme and vision. Believing in God's capacity to do great things.

2. Intrinsically Motivated... Having a desire to do well and a commitment to excellence. Stick-to-itiveness and persistence. Having initiative and aggressiveness without the negative connotations. Having a willingness to work long and hard. Being a self-starter with a willingness to build from nothing. Having a high energy and vitality level; physical stamina.

3. Creates Ownership of Ministry... Helping people to feel responsible for the growth and success of the church. Gaining a commitment of the people to the vision. Establishing a congregational identity. Avoiding stereotyping of the congregation by imposing unrealistic goals.

4. Relates to the Unchurched... Communicating in style that is understood by the unchurched. Understanding the psychology or mentality of the unchurched. Moving and functioning in the personal space of the unchurched without fear. Quickly getting to know the unchurched on a personal level. Breaking through the barriers erected by the unchurched. Handling crises faced by the unchurched.

5. Spousal Cooperation... Having an explicit agreement regarding each partner's involvement in ministry. Having explicit rules regarding the use of home as an office. Evaluating the consequences of ministry demands upon the children. Functioning as a team through individual and collective action. Having a strategy for dealing with strangers. Modeling wholesome family life before church and community. Agreeing upon and sharing the ministry vision. Deliberately planning and protecting private family life.

6. Effectively Builds Relationships... Responding with urgency to expressed needs and concerns of people. Displaying Godly love and compassion to people. Getting to know people on a personal basis. Making others feel secure and comfortable in one's presence. Not responding judgmentally or prejudicially to new people. Appreciating and accepting a variety of persons. Spends time with present parishioners without ignoring them for new people.

7. Committed to Church Growth... Believing in church growth as a theological principle. Appreciating steady growth without preoccupation with quick success . Committing to numerical growth within the context of spiritual and relational growth. Recognizing that non-growth is threatening and self-defeating. Establishing the goal of quickly becoming a financially self-supporting church. Not prematurely falling into a ministry of maintenance. Seeing the church project within the larger context of God's kingdom.

8. Responsive to Community... Understanding the culture of the community. Identifying and assessing community needs. Responding to community needs on a priority basis. Determining successes and failures of other attempts to respond to the community. Not confusing what the community needs with what the church wants to offer. Acquiring and understanding of the character and pulse of the community. Adapting the philosophy of ministry to the character of the community.

9. Utilizes Giftedness of Others... Understanding the culture of the community. Releasing and equipping people to do the task of ministry. Discerning of spiritual gifts in others. Matching the gifts of people with ministry needs and opportunities. Delegating effectively in areas of personal limitation. Avoiding personal overload by delegating effectively. Not prematurely assigning ministry positions before people are equipped. Not placing unwarranted restrictions on other's spiritual giftedness.

10. Flexible and Adaptable... Coping effectively with ambiguity. Coping effectively with constant and abrupt change. Adapting oneself to the uniqueness of the particular church planting project. Shifting priorities and emphasis during various stages of church growth. Doing whatever is necessary whenever necessary.

11. Builds Group Cohesiveness... Developing a nucleus group or groups as a foundation. Quickly incorporating newcomers into a network of relationships. Engaging others in meaningful church activity. Monitoring the morale of people. Utilizing groups effectively. Dealing with conflict assertively, constructively and tactfully.

12. Resilience... Experiencing setbacks without defeat. Riding the ups and downs (i.e. attendance).
Expecting the unexpected. Rebounding from loss, disappointments and failure.


13. Exercises Faith... Possessing a conviction regarding one's call to church planting ministry. Believing in God's action. Having expectation and hope. Having a willingness to wait for answers to specific prayer requests.

Dr. Charles Ridley, A leading pioneer in church planting assessment, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana

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