Thursday, August 30, 2007

My friend, John Beckett, is seeing about 4,000 people a month comes to Christ through his website "Life's Greatest Question." He has online follow-up for 30 days for people who pray to receive Christ. But he's concerned that it's not personal enough. So, he's asked a few pastors to be available as test cases to have an online mentoring relationship with some of his inquirers. He's asked me to work with a man from India. Here's my intitial communique.
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Dear _______,

I received your name and email address from a friend. Evidently, you responded through a website called “Life’s Greatest Question.” I have been asked to respond to your questions.

You asked, “How can I have God in my life? How can I take my first step towards Him? I used to pray to God but I had a feeling in me that my prayers are not complete. Please tell me how I should move towards Him.”

Please know that God desires to have fellowship with us. In the Bible I Corinthians 1:9 says, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

But before we go further, we have to understand the nature of God. For our prayers to be complete, we must know who it is that we are praying to. We must answer the questions, “Who is God?” and “How has He revealed Himself to us?” Who is this God who desires fellowship with us?

God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and everyone in it. In the Bible, He has revealed Himself to us as one God in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We say that God is Triune. I do not fully understand the Trinity. But I believe that God is Triune because He has revealed Himself as Triune in the Bible.

"Trinity" is a term that is not found in the Bible but a word used to describe what is apparent about God in the Scriptures. The Bible clearly speaks of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit...and also clearly presents that there is only one God. Thus the term: "Tri" meaning three, and "Unity" meaning one, Tri + Unity = Trinity.

God the Son (Jesus) is fully, completely God. God the Father is fully, completely God. And God the Holy Spirit is fully, completely God. Yet there is only one God. In our world, with our limited human experience, it is difficult to understand the Trinity. But from the beginning we see God this way in Scripture.

Some Bible verses that shows God is one in Trinity are Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!" (One God) and Matthew 3:16-17, “After being baptized, Jesus [God the Son] went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God [God the Spirit] descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice [God the Father] out of the heavens, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.'"

This Triune God longs to enter into a love relationship with us. But we are separated from God because of our sin. In the Bible Romans 3:13 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We’ve all done things, said things, and thought things that hurt other people and displease the Lord. This is sin and it separates us from God. In the Bible Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

We must recognize that our sin has separated us from God and that God is a holy Judge who must punish sin. In the Bible Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” What we deserve for all our sinning is eternal death and separation from God forever.

But God has done something for us to overcome our separation from Him. In the Bible Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God the Father sent Jesus, God the Son, to this earth to live a perfect life and to die on a cross. Jesus took the punishment we deserve for our sins in our place when He died on the cross almost 2000 years ago. Since Jesus died for our sins in our place, God’s demand for justice against us as sinners has been met. We can now have access to God through Jesus.

It’s important to realize that Jesus is no longer dead. He rose from the dead. In the Bible I Corinthians 15:3-4 says, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.” He’s alive and He is Lord of all. He can make a difference in our lives today.

We cannot earn our way into a relationship with God. We cannot atone for our own sins. We can’t do enough works to make us right with God. A relationship with God comes to us by God’s grace and through God’s initiative. In the Bible, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Now, God is willing to forgive anyone who will repent (turn from their sins) and trust Jesus to be Savior (Forgiver) and Lord (Leader) of his or her life. In the Bible John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

We can receive Jesus through prayer. You could pray a prayer like this: “Dear Jesus, I believe that I am a sinner and separated from God. But I want to have fellowship with God. I believe that You died on a cross to pay for my sins. I believe that You rose again. Right now, I turn away from my sins. I want You to change my life. I ask You, Jesus, to come into my life – to be my Savior and Lord. I want to follow You for the rest of my life. Please change me and make me a new person.”

When we receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, the God, the Holy Spirit, actually comes to live in our lives. He empowers us to live lives that are pleasing to God.

I encourage you to read the Bible to get a clearer understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Do you have a copy of the Bible? Here some the sections I suggest you read: Matthew 13, Luke 9:23-26, Luke 14 and 15, and the book of John. You can use the table of contents to find these passages in the Bible. God will lead you to other sections to read. When you sit down to read, ask God to reveal Himself to you. He will. Having God in your life means that you begin to understand more and more who Jesus is and you fall so much in love with Him that the things of this world don’t mean nearly as much to you as they once did. It’s refusing to trust in any of our human goodness to earn our way into heaven and trusting only in God’s grace.

I can honestly say that I have never heard of anyone who has experienced this kind of a transformation who eventually said, “I regret inviting Jesus into my life.” No, the reverse is true. People say, “I have made many sacrifices to serve Jesus Christ. But I can honestly say that I would do it all over again. Following Jesus is challenging, but it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

I hope you will seek God with all your heart. In the Bible Jeremiah 29:13 quotes God saying, “When you seek Me with all your heart, you will find me.”

Please email me if you have more questions. I would imagine that you might have many.

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I think it's amazing that right here from NE Ohio, we can impact the world. Please join me in praying for this man in India.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Accountability Questions
Everybody needs somebody who will ask them the tough questions. Why? Character counts. Who's counting yours?
I've put together a series of accountability questions for this coming weekend's message. Maybe the following list of questions can be a tool God would use to inspire you to develop an accountability relationship with a friend. Use these questions. Or come up with a list of your own that you think better holds you accountable to who God is calling you to be.
According to Proverbs 27:17, God wants us to sharpen one another. So… sharpen somebody. And let somebody sharpen you.
Accountability questions

Loving God

Have you spent regular, unhurried time in God’s word and in prayer? What verses in the Bible most impacted your heart this week? What is the Lord saying to you?

Have you taken care of your body with proper exercise and proper eating/sleeping habits?

Has your thought life been pure? Have you exposed yourself to any explicit materials through the internet, television, movies, music, etc. that would not glorify God? Have you committed any sexual sin or been in any compromising situations/relationships? Are you walking near “the edge” in any area of your life?

How are you doing when it comes to financial integrity in your life? Are you growing toward financial freedom? Are you praying about the money you spend? Are you giving generously to the Lord's work?

Are you sensing spiritual attacks from the enemy right now? What temptations are you dealing with? If Satan were to try to invalidate you as a person or as a servant of the Lord, how might he do it?

Loving One Another

Are you abiding in Christ and filled with the Spirit? Which fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) have you had the hardest time living out?

Have you been honoring, understanding, and generous in your most important relationships this week? Have you spent quality relationship time with each family member this week? Have you given priority time to your family? What did you do this week to enhance your relationship with your spouse and/or your child(ren)?

Have your words encouraged or discouraged others? Have you exposed yourself to or contributed to gossip? Have you damaged another person by your words, either behind their back or face-to-face? Have you kept your tongue in check this week? Are you guilty of grumbling and complaining?

Have you been sinfully angry at anyone this week? Are there any unresolved conflicts in your circle of relationships right now? Is there anyone whom you fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what are you going to do about it?

Loving the World

What have you done for someone else this week? Did you have open eyes, an open heart, and open hands in order to show compassion to someone in need?

How have you shared your faith? When did you last speak to someone about Jesus? Did you seize an opportunity to talk to someone about the Lord this past week?

Have you done anything to compromise your integrity or your witness?

* * *
Have you been truthful about everything we have discussed? Have you told the whole truth?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It's a good thing when the people in a congregation are listening carefully to a pastor and are acting like the Bereans who "received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (Acts 17:11).

Yesterday, I received an email from some friends that questioned some of what I shared in recent messages. Yet the email was thoughtful and magnanimous. (Magnanimous means "free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness.")

My friends wrote: "Could you please help us? We have been struggling with one of the points that you have been making over the last couple of weeks. You have expressed that the reason you are teaching us how to share our faith and serve others is so that we can have 'the wonderful feeling' that you have experienced when you are being used by God. You seem to be implying that 'the' motivation should be gaining this good 'feeling.' Could you please clarify your thoughts on this? This has caused concern and confusion."

I'm grateful for the spirit in which this email was sent. Sometimes, people are trying to "catch" the preacher in order to criticize, undermine, or accuse. I really didn't feel this way about this question because I know the hearts of these friends. They weren't trying to fault-find, but were trying to clarify.

What follows is my reply:

"Thanks for the question. I didn’t mean to communicate that getting a feeling was 'the' reason/motivation for sharing our faith or helping someone in need. It didn’t occur to me as I was putting the messages together that anyone would process the messages that way, i.e., that our main motive should be “getting a feeling” when we share our faith and help others.

"But I do see (now that you’ve raised the issue) that someone could interpret my words that way.

"I would say that 'the' primary motive for sharing our faith and for helping people is the glory of God (Romans 11:33). Our motives should also be, among other things, a love for God, a love for people, a desire to please God, a desire to build His kingdom, a hunger for holiness, and a passion for obedience. Then, I would say that the feeling of being used by God may be a by-product of all of the above.

"Consider Paul’s words in I Thessalonians 2:20, 'You are our glory and joy.' As Paul thinks about how God used him in the lives of the Thessalonians, he has a joyful feeling of being used by God. That gets at the feeling that I was seeking to encourage people to long for. However, the pursuit of a feeling like that should be secondary or a by-product of other more primary, God-saturated motives.

"As I reflect on your question, it seems that I may have inadvertently communicated a man-centered motivation rather than a God-centered one. That wasn’t my intent.

"So, thanks for the question. You’re helping me clarify my thinking and preaching. And thanks for listening carefully!"

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Reading books

Recently, I've been sharing some thoughts with a friend about leadership and learning. Someone said, "If you stop learning, you stop leading."

One of the great ways to learn is by reading books. Choosing books is like choosing freinds. You have to be careful. So many options exist.

I remember what John Piper had to say about C.S. Lewis about reading books: "He has had a tremendous influence on me. He has made me wary of chronological snobbery. That is, he has shown me that 'newness' is no virtue and 'oldness' is no fault. Truth and beauty and goodness are not determined by when they exist. Nothing is inferior for being old and nothing is valuable for being modern. This has freed me from the tyranny of novelty and opened for me the wisdom of the ages. He said once: every third book you read should be from outside your own (provincial) century."

I've tried to keep that in mind over the last few years. What both Piper and Lewis are saying is that we need to not only read books that are written by "live guys." Why? They are shaped by the culture in which we live. They tend to see life through the same lens as we do. Therefore, we should also read things written by "dead guys." They were shaped by the culture in which they lived and, because of that, they can give us a much needed different perspective. They broaden us.

So, maybe the follwing is a good rule: For every 2 books we read that are written by someone who is living today, we should read at least one book that was written by someone who is dead.

I'm seeking to finish Randy Alcorn's book on "Heaven." Alcorn's a "live guy." After that, for me, maybe it's time to "resurrect" the dead.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

This week, I had a conversation with a friend who made me think about my passion for mission and evangelism? Am I too passionate about outreach? I don't think so, but I’ve thought a lot about our conversation.

I think that many of us at CVC have lost some of our evangelistic zeal, including me. As they say, “The Great Commission can easily become the Great Omission.”

I had lunch with a business consultant on Friday. He said that one of his clients was in his 50s and, as a leader, was seeking to help his organization adhere to the values that he felt were paramount. I learned from that conversation that one of my roles here is to make sure that CVC and our staff adhere to our God-given founding values.

Let's face it, I am a guy for whom outreach, mission, and evangelism are passions. That's why I came here to plant the church in the first place. And as founding pastor and senior leader, I must make sure that these values stay part of the fabric of CVC. So, I will always beat that drum. I also think that our staff and members need to reflect that value passionately.

Having said that, let me hurry to add that I do want to be a both/and man. I know that both evangelism and discipleship are vital. One can’t truly exist without the other. And I do know that God has sent us staff and members to help us with the value of discipleship. They must keep passionate about that. But God has sent me here to help us with the value of evangelism. So, it’s my job to stay passionate about that.

In the new member’s classes, we teach people that the five purposes of the church are 1) worship, 2) edification, 3) evangelism, 4) love, and 5) service. I want others to encourage me to go 5 for 5. Another way of looking at this is to say that when it comes to loving God, loving one another, and loving the world, we all have to go 3 for 3. We can’t just say, “Well, my calling is loving one another, not loving the world.” I must be a growing example to the flock in all areas of discipleship – worship, edification, evangelism, love, and service. I sometimes ask myself, “If everyone at CVC read their Bible and prayed the way I do, would we be a church that really and truly pleases God?” or “If everyone at CVC evangelized the way I do, would we be a church that really and truly pleases God?”

I understand that each of us are wired differently when it comes to spiritual gifts and that each of us must operate in our primary area of giftedness. So, some will be more wired to teach and disciple while others will be more wired toward mission and evangelism. However, we wouldn’t say that if we don’t have the gift of giving, then we don’t have to give. In the same way, even if one doesn’t have the gift of evangelism doesn’t mean that that person doesn’t have to evangelize.

I don’t think we are loving people very well if we go on and on and on in building a relationship with them and take forever in getting around to sharing with them who the most important Person in our life is. Invest? Yes! Build the bridge? Yes! Let them know how much you care? Yes! Go face-to-face and then heart-to-heart? Yes! But there comes a time – and for most of us it’s probably sooner than we will be comfortable with – that we need to quit the “small talk” and move to the “big talk.” How can we talk about the weather and the Tribe and the housing market on and on and on and fail to get to the topic that matters most? I can think of a few reasons why we hold back: fear, a desire to fit in, pride, lack of love, not allowing the reality of heaven and hell to move us, not treasuring Jesus above all else…

Below is some of what I said this past Sunday as we wrapped up our "let's go" series.

From time to time in the life of any church there needs to be a wake up call to some basic things. Bible reading. Prayer. Discipleship. And evangelism. We have been called to help others meet Jesus – to learn to worship and serve God, to have their sins forgiven, to find meaning and purpose and power in life, to go to heaven. Our faith is supposed to be persuasive and missionary. We don’t twist arms. We don’t brainwash. We don’t manipulate. We don’t become someone’s friend and then drop them if they don’t come to Christ. But we do seek to persuade. (Check out II Corinthians 5 where it says that we are ambassadors who are to “beg” people to be reconciled to God.) And where this doesn’t happen, Christianity ceases to be Christianity. John Piper says, “When we lose a passion to see people won over to Jesus, we lose Jesus.” Christianity is a soul-winning, out-reaching missionary faith, or it is not true Christianity.

We needed to be reminded of this at CVC, because it is almost incredible how passionless we can become while still calling ourselves Christ-followers. Little by little our whole orientation can become self-focused. We can go for months and years and not think about those who are heading to hell. We become so spiritually callous that we don't even think about heaven or hell and where the people we love are headed. We just take care of our own business and don’t have a passion for those who don’t yet know.

What would you think about a medical clinic that begins to see fewer and fewer patients but has more and more staff meetings, until there is nothing left but a smooth running program for the doctors and nurses and their families? That is what happens to many churches.

So, when it comes to witnessing, be yourself. There are varieties of gifts in the body of Christ. Don't think that you should be a carbon copy of anyone else. And remember that you’re not alone. Most of us want to be better witnesses than we are. We all struggle with missed opportunities and ineptness in conversation. Just remember: If you’re not fishing, you’re not following because Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19, ESV).

So, if you're still reading, let me "push you." You probably can move from “small talk” to “big talk” faster than you think. Leverage your relationships! The most loving thing you can do is help someone come to know Christ. It’s not manipulation if you keep on being their friend even if they don’t come to Christ. Here’s my challenge: Try using one of these questions sometime in the next 7 days.

What has been your most meaningful spiritual experience?
Do you find that your spiritual background helps you answer your questions about life?
How did you arrive at the spiritual beliefs that you have?
How is God involved in your life?
To you, who is Jesus?
I sometimes pray for people I meet. How can I pray for you?
When you die, if God says to you, "Why should I let you into Heaven?", what would you say?

Meanwhile, I’m going to take a plate of cookies over to our neighbor... and start building a relationship in order to see if God just might want to use me to win him to Jesus.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I have a friend who is going through a divorce. And he's feeling a sense of shame about it. When we talked, I mentioned that some of his guilt is likely true guilt and some of it is false. He needs to distinguish between the two. I reminded him that Satan accuses us to condemn us and bring us to despair while the Spirit convicts us to bring us to repentance and hope.

As we talked, I shared with him how God has used Psalm 31 to encourage me recently. And it became evident that my friend has not been accessing the scriptures like he should. So, he's been buying the lies of the enemy. He's not been letting God tell him the truth. I reminded him that, in spite of his guilt, he is precious in God’s sight. I let him know, "You matter to God. And to me. Don’t let the devil or yourself or anyone else tell you otherwise."

Then I encouraged him to get a One Year Bible, to buy a journal, to set aside 30 minutes every day, to start reading the Bible while expecting God to speak to him about his life situation, and to write down what he is learning from the Lord.

I approach my Bible reading this way: I expect God to speak. I number the pages in my journal. I start journaling at about page 10 or so. At the beginning of my journal, I create space for a table of contents. I make numbers for each entry in the table of contents.

I call the journal a "Love God" journal.

L is for Learn. Open your Bible to the reading found under today's date of your One Year Bible reading plan. Take your time reading the scriptures. Allow God to speak to you. When you finish reading, be selective. Look for a verse or verses that particularly spoke to you and seek to learn the verse or verses by writing the words in your journal.

O is for Observe. What do you think God is saying to you in the verse or verses? Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you and reveal God’s love to you. Write what you observe in your journal. You could use the following questions to help you get started: What is a title that you would give this passage? What does this teach you about God, about others, about yourself? What are some cross references for the passage?

V is for Value. Based on what you have learned, how will you show God that you value Him and His word? You show God that you value Him and His word by obeying what He’s teaching you. So, personalize what you have read by asking yourself how it applies to your life right now. Perhaps God is lovingly teaching you, reproving you, correcting you, or training you in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16-17). You can use the following questions to help you find an application: Is there a sin to avoid? A promise to claim? An example to follow? A command to obey? A service to perform? Write down how you intend to apply the scripture to your life today.

E is for Express. Now, you can express yourself to God in prayer by writing out at least a portion of your prayer. Adore God by telling Him that you love Him and why you love Him. Confess your sins of thought, sins of attitude, sins of relationships, sins of omission, sins of commission, sins of self-rule, or sins of self-reliance. Thank God for the many blessings that He has given you. And ask God for the things that are on your heart. Especially ask God to help you apply what you have learned from Him. Ask Him for greater insight on what He is seeking to reveal to you.

After I write down what I am learning from God, then I come up with a title for the day's entry. I put the page number for the entry in my table of contents. That way I can quickly find an entry and I can quickly review what God has been telling me. If God is indeed speaking, then I think that it makes sense to write it down.

We really need to hear from God. The devil and others are always whispering discouraging things in our ears. This is a disciplined way I approach the scripture that is very helpful, at least to me.

Do you hvae a plan? Why not try this one for 30 days? You may find that you are silencing the devil's despairing words and tuning in to the hope-inspiring voice of the Lord.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

For Father’s Day, my son, Ryan, bought me an iPod. My youngest son, Evan, has helped me get it all set up with some playlists.

I have some songs on a “Going to Sleep” playlist. Fernando Ortega's "Jesus, King of Angels," really helps me wind down and focus on the Lord Jesus as I go to sleep. I also have some songs on a “Quiet Time” playlist. A song like "Indescribable" by Chris Tomlin is pure praise for me and reminds me to glorify and honor my Lord. I have songs on a “Coming Home from Work” playlist. I like to listen to Michael Buble's "Try a Little Tenderness" to get me in the gentle husband mode. And also I have some songs on a “Going to Work” playlist because I want to be reminded of how important and eternal the work that I do is.

And one of the songs on my “going to work” playlist is a song written by our oldest son, Alan. It's "Emergency," a song that reminds me that many people are headed to hell and God has left me on this earth to do something about it.

This past weekend I preached a message on hell called "Emergency" and we asked Alan to rap at the end of the message. I must admit that I am moved by the words God gave to Alan:

It’s time for the mission –

time to work, not just listen.

Imagine your best friend dead.

Where will you best friend head?

What has that person said…

about the Christ?

Without the Christ your friend is in the afterlife without life.

It’s an emergency! Have some urgency!

Many people on the earth are about to burn. You see?

What a privilege to minister with my son this past weekend. And what a privilege to be reminded through his music day after day as I drive to work that we aren't playing games.

What we do matters.

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