Friday, October 26, 2007

Grappling with God for a blessing

On Saturday evenings, we end our services with a Q & A. This past weekend, I spoke from Genesis 32 and encouraged our people to wrestle with God like Jacob. He said, "I will not let You go until I get a blessing!"

One question afterwards was this:

"It feels arrogant and prideful to ask God to bless me. Shouldn't we just 'be content' with where we are and what we have? Aren't we already blessed?"

This was a great question.

Here's my response:

Should we be content? Absolutely! "I have learned how to be content with whatever I have" (Philippians 4:11). "True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth" (I Timothy 6:6). Should we be thankful for what we already have? Absolutely! "Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20). "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus" (I Thessalonians 5:18). Should we think of ourselves as already blessed? Absolutely! "All praise to God... who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms..." (Ephesians 1: 3).

Yet the Bible is filled with scripture that indicate that it is good and right to cry out to God for blessings. "With all my heart I want your blessings" (Psalm 119:58). “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). "May God be merciful and bless us. May his face smile with favor on us" (Psalm 67:1).

It is good a right to cry out to God for His favor. "Let your favor shine on your servant. In your unfailing love, rescue me" (Psalm 31:16). "Send me a sign of your favor" (Psalm 86:17). "Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people" (Psalm 106:4).

It is good to ask God for His face to shine on us. "Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us" (Psalm 80:3). "Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved" (Psalm 80:7).

Plus, Bible characters like Jacob (Genesis 32) and Jabez (I Chronicles 4) cried out to God for blessings. These things happened to them as examples for us.

So, how can we pursue God for blessings, favor, and a shining face while at the same time be content and thankful?

I think that God is checking out our motives. When we ask for God's favor with hearts of contentment and gratitude, it's not about us. It's about Him.

If we want God's favor and blessings for selfish, materialistic reasons, then God sees right through that! We don't get answers to many of our prayers because we are asking with the wrong motives (James 4:3).

We must let God set the "blessing agenda" for our lives. We don't pursue God so He will bless our plans. We pursue God so He will plan our blessings. God plans the blessings, not us.

We must want God's favor not so we can be fulfilled and comfortable, but so our lives can demonstrate God's glory.

Like Jacob, after wrestling with God, we may end up with a limp, but that place in our lives that's "out-of-joint" will show His glory even more. When God comes through for us in spite of the limp, people have to recognize His grace and power.

So,we pursue his favor for His fame. And that produces, not pride, but humility.

So, let's wrestle with God. It's good and right to say with Jacob, "I will not let You go until You bless me."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Healthy church revisited...

Here's one more mark of a healthy church.

A healthy church reproduces itself

In nature, all healthy organisms reproduce themselves. The same is true for the church. CVC was started twenty years ago as a church plant sponsored by a church in Dayton, Ohio with missions as a part of its DNA. It is that same DNA that CVC is seeking to pass on to Church of the Hills.

Ask yourself, “Does this church care about building the Kingdom of God beyond its own direct ministry? Does the church have a plan to reproduce itself? Are mission dollars being set aside to be used for evangelism that results in the establishment of new churches?”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Finding a healthy church

As CVC gets ready to launch a new church in the spring of 2008 called Church of the Hills, we anticipate questions about the kind of church we are seeking to start. Stated simply, we want to start a God-honoring, healthy church. For many years in CVC’s membership classes, we have included material designed to help people evaluate the health of a church. What follows is a list of characteristics that not only defines a healthy church, but that defines the kind of church that Church of the Hills intends to be.

* * *

Perhaps you’ve moved and are unfamiliar with the area. Or you could be a new follower of Christ in need of a place to worship. Or maybe God is leading you to join a new church plant to reach some new people for Christ. Whatever your situation, we want to help you distinguish a healthy church from one that’s not.

Churches come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with its own personality and style of ministry. Some are contemporary while others are traditional. Some appeal to baby boomers while others appeal to post-moderns. The best church for you is one that meets your needs while giving you the opportunity to meet the needs of others. We encourage you to ask God to lead you in your search. He desires your worship, especially as part of His body, and He will direct you to the right church for you.

A healthy church glorifies God

Scripture says, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31b). To glorify God means to draw attention to His greatness. The local church is the focal point of God's plan for displaying His glory to the nations. This is the primary purpose of the church and of individual Christians.

Ask yourself, “Do I sense that the leaders of this church really are seeking to glorify God? Or are they somehow wanting to get attention for themselves? Is the worship of God in spirit and in truth a top priority for this church?”

A healthy church is Bible-based and Christ-centered

The early church emphasized Christ-centered biblical teaching. Teaching should explain what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the people. Solid, consistent teaching from God’s Word helps us grow to be like Jesus in several ways. It matures and stabilizes our faith in times of testing. It increases our ability to detect and confront error. It gives us wisdom. Solid teaching should also be coupled with compassionate application. A Bible-based church produces people who are not just hearers of the word, but also doers who live like Christ and who have a commitment to know God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

Ask yourself, “Do I see the leaders of this church challenging people to learn the Word of God and to live out the Word of God in practical ways? Are they giving people practical opportunities to apply the Word – to love the Lord, serve each other, and be a blessing to the world?”

A healthy church is led by accountable servant leaders

Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:43). In a healthy church, the staff and leaders should serve in a context of loving, supportive accountability to God and each other. Since the best predictor of future performance is past behavior, it’s important to find others who have already served on a team with the leaders and to ask them questions about the leaders’ approach to ministry.

Ask yourself, “Do the leaders of this church have good track records as servant leaders? Does the structure of the church insure that the leaders are accountable spiritually and financially? Do I sense that the leaders are passionate about serving others rather than being served?”

A healthy church helps people grow

God gives leaders to the church to prepare God’s people for works of service so they will “grow up in every way” (Ephesians 4:15). Healthy churches provide various tools and so people in differing stages of the Christian life can grow. New believers, maturing Christians, as well as passionate followers all find positive encouragement to keep growing in Christ.

Ask yourself, “Does the church have a passion for helping people grow to spiritual maturity? Do the people sense that their leaders are growing in their walk with Christ? Are personal spiritual growth plans encouraged?”

A healthy church exudes warmth

Not only was the early church caught up in worship, individual devotion to the Lord, and instruction from the Word, but “they were continually devoting themselves… to fellowship” (Acts 2:42). They cared for one another. Members of the church should reflect a true commitment to the life of the church through attendance, giving, prayer and service. The leaders must be concerned not only with growing numbers, but with growing members.

Ask yourself, “Do the leaders of this church encourage people to be in authentic community with one another? Do the leaders and people in this church really care about each other? Do they have a plan to help attenders get connected with others believers? Are the leaders themselves connected to others in their church body?”

A healthy church reaches out to others

First-century Christians took their concern a step further and shared what they knew about Jesus with others. When they ventured beyond their walls, lives were changed: “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). A healthy church helps people appropriately express their faith where they live or work.

Ask yourself, “Does this church have a genuine passion to fulfill the Great Commission? Do the leaders and people care about making more and better disciples? Will I be challenged to reach my circle of influence for Christ? Is compassionate service to others in need a part of the ministry of this church and is it exemplified?”

A healthy church has a contagious style

Like a magnet, a church with a contagious style draws people to its doors. Four features comprise this style: 1) It is biblical in content. Messages are based on the Word of God, not on the opinions or interest of the leaders. 2) It is authentic in nature. This is a church that believes what it says. 3) It is gracious in attitude. The church sees itself as a family, not as a corporation. 4) It is relevant in approach. This church shows how God’s Word applies to today’s needs, issues, and concerns.

Ask yourself, “Do the people of this church freely invite others into the church family and fellowship? Would I want to invite my friends, neighbors, and co-workers to visit my church and to join our fellowship?”

Whenever you find a church that glorifies God, is Bible-based and Christ-centered, is led by accountable servant leaders, helps people grow, exudes warmth, reaches out to others, and has a contagious style, you have found a healthy church. Remember, the best church for you is one that meets your needs while giving you the opportunity to meet the needs of others. May your search result in a renewed commitment to the Lord as you join a truly healthy body of believers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How do you know if you are doing well?

I have a friend who asked a group of spiritual leaders that question the other day. It was a great question that fostered some good dialogue.

Stop right now. Don't read any further until you've answered that question for yourself. Maybe flipping the question would help you get started thinking through the issue. How do you know if you're NOT doing well?

Here are some responses from a few spiritual leaders.

* * *

I know I am doing well when...

... my wife is happy and I laugh often with her.

... I have energy for living.

... I feel like I'm being used by God.

... I'm spending regular, unhurried time waiting on God.

... my faith and hope are strong and I'm optimistic regardless of the circumstances.

... I'm enjoying the journey.

... I'm resting in the sovereignty of God.

I know I'm NOT doing well when...

... I'm chewing on hurts.

... I have to fight to get out of myself so I can focus on others.

... I'm on retreat and want to avoid others.

... I start to feel and act like my dad who conveyed a sense of failure.

... I operate out of fear.

... I take my aggression out on the baskeball floor.

... I live like a dark cloud hovers overhead.

... I'm seeking to control people and circumstances.

Do you think wellness is a good thing to pursue? The biblical word for it is "shalom." Personally, I think it's a by-product of pursuing God.
Your thoughts?

Monday, October 01, 2007

More DNA

A couple of weeks ago, I shared what I hoped were the true values of CVC. I've been thinking about my list. Since by definition, a list can't be as long as the entire Bible, my list of values is missing many things that I hope and pray characterize CVC.

I recognize that no list can ever be comprehensive, but I really feel the need to expand the original list. They list is missing some things that I value. So, I'm growing the list from 10 things to 12.

Add, change, delete: What would be on your list that's not on mine? How would you change my list? What would you delete that is on mine?

* * *

What I pray is in the DNA of CVC

1. Sacrificial, radical obedience to Jesus (A "whatever," "wherever," "whenever" kind of discipleship)

2. Clear, accurate, practical, powerfully anointed Bible teaching

3. A missionary mentality (A true Acts 1:8 kind of church that never forgets we are on mission)

4. God-inspired BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) that require a prayerful dependence on God to do what only He can do

5. Contextualizing the gospel for multi-generational outreach and ministry (Think 707)

6. Starting daughter churches (Church planting in our region, nation, and world)

7. Growing bigger (A regional outreach reflecting that we are never satisfied with the impact we are having on our own Jerusalem)

8. Growing smaller (A small group mentality that encourages real connection and community)

9. Raising up a new generation of leaders (A willingness to "pass the baton" to the emerging leaders)

10. A caring community (A true love for one another that unifies us)

11. Passionate, vibrant, heart-felt worship (Expressing our love for God both privately and publicly)

12. Commitment to loving, biblical family life (Strong marriages and close parent/child relationships)

* * *

May God continue to help us be more than we can expect and dream for His glory.

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