Tuesday, July 24, 2007

God at work

We have been going through some difficult challenges in the life of our church. God has been revealing sin. Sadly, we've had to exercise church discipline.

However, we have been seeing this as a time to seek God’s wisdom and direction for our church and our individual lives as He continues to cleanse this ministry and build His Kingdom.

Last Sunday evening, Andy Sikora, our lead pastor for 707, gave a very strong plea to our young adults to cleanse their lives of sin and to glorify God by living lives of moral purity. Many responded positively to his challenge. Andy also mentioned that it’s easy for us to see God at work when things are going well. It’s more difficult to see God at work when things are not going as well.

But God has reminded me that we must recognize that God is at work right now in the difficulties that our church is facing. He is purifying us for greater holiness and pruning us for greater fruitfulness.

I’m reminded of the truths of Hebrews 12. I think God would have us take this to heart, not only as individuals, but as a community of faith. I've asked our leaders to slow down, read the passage, and pray it into their lives and into the life of our church.

5 Have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. 6 For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” 7 As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? 8 If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. 9 Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? 10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. 12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. 13 Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. 14 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. 15 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. 28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. 29 For our God is a devouring fire. Hebrews 12:5-15, 28-29 (NLT)

On Sunday, I listened to a podcast by Rick Warren. He talked about what it takes to keep God’s blessing on a ministry – purity, maturity, and unity. He told a story of moral failure on the staff of Saddleback in 2006, how they dealt with it, and how God’s hand of blessing seems to have been restored to Saddleback in 2007. Hearing that message was very timely for me personally and, I think, will be for us as a church.

I fully have faith and hope in the Lord that He will bring us through this time of testing and discipline to greater faithfulness and fruitfulness.

Make it so, Lord Jesus, Make it so.

Monday, July 23, 2007

My son, Evan, and his friend, Tommy Sawyer, created a My Space page for me. Then, they sent a notice out to several people about it. Now, I have 14 My Space friends.

One of my My Space friends wrote to me after my last blog where I expressed that we've been going through some tough times at church lately.

"This all reminded me of a service back in February. The service was titled 'mean streak.' You taught us to use the word of God as the Spirit's sword."

In the message, I focused on Romans 8:13. "If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13, ESV).

This prompted me to do some cross reference work on why we need to have a "mean streak" when it comes to sin.

When David sinned, the prophet Nathan came to him and pointed out the high price of sin. "You despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight. By this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD" (II Samuel 12:9, 14; ESV).

Paul reminded the Jews about the high price of sin. "You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? For, as it is written, 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you'" (Romans 2:22, 24; ESV).

Peter warned his readers about the high price of sin. "Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed" (I Peter 2:2, ESV).

May we take God seriously. May we pray that we will never despise the word of the Lord, do what is evil in His sight, blaspheme His name among the non-believing world, or cause the way of truth to be blasphemed.

May we all have a mean streak when it comes to killing sin. I still remember the quote from John Owens that I used in my message from Romans 8: "You be killing sin or sin will be killing you."

Last night, Andy Sikora also preached from Romans 8 and asked 707ers, "Who's killing who in your life? Are you killing sin or is sin killing you?"

Truly, in recent weeks, we've seen that sin kills. So, by God's grace and for God's glory, let's kill sin. Romans 8:5-6 teaches us that when we kill sin using the Spirit's sword, that the Spirit gives life and peace.

Let's have more of that!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Light in the darkness
Maryanne, Ryan, Evan and I really enjoyed our time with 110 CVCers on a mission trip in West Virginia. We spilt up the 110 into several teams. The team built steps, refurbished playgrounds, provided medical care, conducted a Vacation Bible School, built a prayer gazebo at Appalachia Bible College, painted picnic tables and a shelter, cut hair, and served needy women with pedicures and manicures. All these good deeds were done in the name of Jesus. Our team told stories of how some of the people we served had prayed to receive Christ.

On Sunday morning, I remember sitting at breakfast looking out at our team. I felt so joyful about the many wonderful things that God is doing through CVC

But at the same time, we’ve recently learned some news that has, frankly, taken some of the wind out of my sails. I am very ashamed that we have hurt the cause of Christ with our sin. Let me explain.

This year, we have been celebrating 20 years of ministry at CVC. God has won many great victories over these 20 years. I remember thanking God just a few months ago that for 20 years no flagrant, immoral behavior regarding finances or sexuality has ever stained the ministry of CVC.

Unfortunately, we can now no longer pray that kind of prayer. A few weeks ago, we learned about something in the life of one of our staff members that is very tragic. One of our leaders has fallen into moral failure. Our enemy, Satan, has had one of our own under his domain.

At times, we experience disappointment and defeat in our lives and ministries. We can feel that God’s favor has gone away – that He’s removed His hand of blessing from our lives and ministry. The moral failure that has come to light recently has made me feel this way.

And I wonder. Are our enemies – the world, the flesh, the devil – gloating? I’ve been asking myself some tough questions. What kind of leader am I? Did we lay hands on young leaders too quickly? Where was my discernment? Did the system we have set up contribute to or cause this failure?

But God has been encouraging me through His word. Psalm 18 is a Psalm that David wrote when He had been facing enemies. It says that God is our strength, our rock, our fortress, our deliverer, our refuge, our shield, our stronghold. No wonder we can call upon Him, “who is worthy to be praised, and [be] saved from [our] enemies” (Psalm 18:3).

I love to claim the promises of God. And Psalm 18 has some powerful promises to claim.

"They [the enemies] confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; He rescued me…" (Psalm 18:18-19a).

I’m being reminded that my hope must not be in our goodness or our righteousness. My hope must be in the Lord. He defeats the enemies, not me and not CVC.

Our worship pastor, Brian Howell, sent to me some words from Psalm 23 that God has also used to encourage me.

“You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I'm back home in the house of God for the rest of my life” (Psalm 23:3, 5-6; Msg).

Then he wrote, “Even through these challenging days, may He be seen, honored, and glorified. Be refreshed. He is good.”

The defeat, for sure, has been a set back. But God has been telling me that He’s not through with us. We’ll catch our breath and get headed in the right direction. Blessing is coming. God’s beauty and love will chase us down.

I remember reading what John Piper once wrote about Psalm 23:6. Most versions say that the goodness and mercy of God will “follow” us. Piper writes:

“A beautiful picture is a little bit obscured in verse 6 by the English word ‘follow.’ ‘Follow’ might mean trail behind and never quite catch up. That wouldn't be very comforting: ‘Surely goodness and mercy will lag behind me all my days.’ The Hebrew word is much more active than ‘follow.’ It almost always means pursue, often in the sense of pursue to do harm or persecute.

“So David has painted a picture for us a little like this: Imagine yourself driving nonchalantly down the freeway, when all of a sudden you see a red light flashing in your rear view mirror. And for some crazy reason you make the irrational decision to push the gas instead of the brake.

"You roar down the freeway at 100 miles per hour and try to get away from the highway patrol. All the times you went over the speed limit flash before your eyes. And as your sense of guilt mounts, all the faults of your life start popping up out of your unconsciousness where they had lain just waiting to make you miserable. And all the while, you remember that if you get one more ticket your license will be revoked and you won't be able to take that hard-earned vacation to Miami with your wife.

"But your car simply does not have the power of the highway patrol, and he finally forces you over. You sit there trembling as he walks up to your window and says: ‘Got a little guilty conscience there, don't you?’

"Then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a wallet and says, ‘That motel you just left asked me to catch up with you and bring you your wallet you left on the counter.’ So you feel an utter fool, and as you reach out to take it he says, ‘O, and there's one other thing. They had a drawing this morning for the sweepstakes you registered for at the motel last night, and you won a free trip for two to Miami if you phone in your acceptance by noon today.’”

Then Piper applies the point.

“God is not only our good shepherd, nor only our lavish host; he is also a highway patrolman pursuing you with goodness and mercy every day of your life, and he is fast.”

Thanks, Lord, that even when we fail You, You still chase us down, not to write us a ticket, but to lavish us with blessings. That amazes me and, truly, encourages me.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Caring for those the culture leaves behind

In my quiet time last Friday, I was reading about leadership, authority, and government in Psalm 10. And God brought a member of CVC, Joe Price, who is campaigning for mayor of Broadview Heights, Ohio to mind.

In the Psalm, the poor and needy are not being cared for well. The wicked leaders are prospering at the expense of the poor. Where is God? Does He see it? What will He do? What is God’s heart when it comes to government?

But You do see, for You note mischief and vexation, that You may take it into your hands; to You the helpless commits himself; You have been the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.
Psalm 10:14-15 (ESV)

In every community, there are those who have more than they need. Why? To help people in need. Unfortunately, many people in leadership use the system to help themselves or their friends. In this passage, I see three things about God that show His heart toward politicians and how they treat the oppressed.

1. God takes note

… You do see, for you note mischief and vexation…

God sees how leaders treat the oppressed and the afflicted and the poor.

2. God takes charge

… that You may take it into Your hands…

God decides to act in behalf of the oppressed and the afflicted and the poor. He calls the leaders to account.

3. God takes care

… to You the helpless commits himself; You have been the helper of the fatherless…

When the poor cry out to God for help, God hears. And He helps. God is looking for people He can work through to act in behalf of the oppressed and the afflicted and the poor. He takes care of them through people of good character.

In thinking about Joe Price’s character, I was reminded that he was to be "ROASTed" at a fundraiser for his campaign on Wednesday night. I thought about an acrostic using the word ROAST. I think the words below describe Joe's character.

The R stands for Responsible
The O stands for Outgoing
The A stands for Able
The S stands for Servant
The T stands for Tenacious

William Penn said, “Governments depend upon men rather than men upon governments. Let men be good and the government cannot be bad. Though good laws do well, good men do better; for good laws may lack good men, but good men will never lack good laws nor allow bad ones.” (Thomas Clarkson, Memoirs of the Private and Public Life of William Penn (London: Longman, Hunt, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1813), Vol. I, p. 303.)

We need good men and women in responsible roles in government. Through these good men and women, God intends to care for those that our culture leaves behind. I believe that God wants to work through good men like Joe Price.

May God cause many of His people to be willing to step up and be used by God to bless the poor, the afflicted, the needy, and the oppressed.
How are you helping?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Last night, my boys and I watched Field of Dreams - for me, the best movie ever. I needed a break and needed to laugh with my boys. (I just wish the language was not as salty as it is in the film. Although, I must admit that the language I heard in my five years in pro baseball was much, much more than a little salty!)

Anyway, I was reminded that baseball is such a great game. And that Field of Dreams is a great movie.

Some of my favorite quotes from the film:

Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham: Well, you know I... I never got to bat in the major leagues. I would have liked to have had that chance. Just once. To stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn't. That's what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases - stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That's my wish, Ray Kinsella. That's my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?

* * *

Ray Kinsella: Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within... y-you came this close. It would KILL some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they'd consider it a tragedy. Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham: Son, if I'd only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes... now that would have been a tragedy.

* * *

Terence Mann: Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

* * *

John Kinsella: Well, good night Ray.

Ray Kinsella: Good night, John. [They shake hands and John begins to walk away]

Ray Kinsella: Hey... Dad? [John turns]

Ray Kinsella: [choked up] "You wanna have a catch?"

John Kinsella: I'd like that.

* * *

A reviewer of the film, Jonathan Neale, from London wrote: "There was a review of this film which first intrigued me enough to watch it several years ago. I cannot remember who said it but if memory serves me well his summation of Field of Dreams was this...'Could you ever really love someone who didn't cry at this film, even just a little?'"

I agree. I would only add, "Could you ever really love someone who didn't laugh at some of the lines and scenes in this film, even just a little?"

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Purity in life, love, and ministry

Many years ago, I read a book on marriage written by Bill Hybels. In the book, he talked about the negative consequences of sexual sin.

Unfortunately, I have seen these consequences wreak havoc in the lives, families, and ministries of too many people. I adapted Hybels' list for myself and placed it in a prayer journal. And, over the years, I have periodically reviewed the list in order to remind myself that "It's not worth it." Any momentary pleasure one might gain from sin is not worth the long term devestation that results.

Here’s my adapted list. Maybe you should produce one for yourself.

The negative consequences of sexual sin

Dragging Christ’s reputation into the mud

Having to one day look Jesus in the face at the judgment seat and tell why I did it

Untold hurt to Maryanne, my best friend and loyal wife

Loss of Maryanne’s trust and respect

The possibility that I could lose my wife and children forever

Hurt to and loss of credibility with my fantatic sons – Alan, Ryan, and Evan (Why listen to a man who betrayed mom and us?)

Shame to my family (Why isn’t dad a pastor anymore?)

The cruel comments of others who would invariably find out

Shame and hurt to my church and friends – especially to those I’ve led to Christ and discipled

An irretrievable loss of years of witnessing to the unsaved

Bringing great pleasure to Satan,God’s enemy

Possibly contracting an STD and passing on the STD to Maryanne

The possiblity of pregnancy with its personal and financial implications including a lifelong reminder of my sin to me and my family

Loss of self-respect, discrediting my own name, and invoking shame and lifelong embarrassment upon myself

I have asked God for grace not to be a casualty in this area. In fact, I've asked Him to take me home to heaven before I would ever bring shame to Jesus, to my wife, to my kids, or to the church.

Let's pray for one another. Let's ask God for purity all the way to glory.

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