Monday, March 31, 2008

Loving God Journal

The Loving God Journal is now available. It's something I developed about a year ago after hearing Pastor Wayne Cordeiro talk about how he combined a systematic Bible reading plan with journaling. At CVC, we say we are seeking to "Love God, Love One Another, and Love the World." This tool was developed to enhance our discipleship process as we learn to "Love God" more passionately by spending regular, unhurried time with Him listening to His voice and recording what He says day by day.

We released the journal this past weekend at CVC.

Here is some of the feedback I've received from some people who are starting to use it.

* * *

I’m big with journaling and see the difference it’s made in my life through the years (huge!) And the One Year Bible reading plan, right in the journal, is great! I love the size, colors and set up of the journal. Can you tell I like it? I’m a journal lover, I can’t help it.

* * *

These journals are great! I am excited to... try this form of journaling.

* * *

I used the Loving God journal this morning and REALLY enjoyed the process. God spoke to me clearly on the verse from Luke 7:47, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little”. This woman “loved much” because she was very conscious of her sin and the grace and mercy it took to forgive her. God reminded me of the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to search me and expose the sin in my life, which should lead to confession, which leads to cleansing, which leads to worship!

* * *

Hey, I used the Loving God Prayer Journal this morning - I enjoyed the process, plus I reread your introductory information - it was really helpful. If people are serious about spiritual growth, this will be a valuable tool. I look forward to continuing with it - please pray for me that I'll have the diligence to create a habit out of this process.

* * *

I love it! I began using it Sunday and of course again today. I especially like the Love, Observe, Value, and Express page. The last few weeks in a small group, we had talked about death words and life words. Today the reading selection included Proverb 12:18 "There is one who speaks rashly like the thrust of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." So these were the words that jumped off the page for me. Reading God's word is becoming such a pleasure of a relational time for me. I'm also filling in the Bible Verses to Memorize pages - thank you for including that and the prayer pages, and the Personalized Table of Contents. Actually, I just really like the whole format.

* * *

I thought I'd start fresh on April 1st to begin using my Loving God Journal. One of the scripture passages for the day was Proverbs 12:10, "The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel". It amazed me how God spoke to me right out of the gate with that one. It just so happened that yesterday (April 1) was my first baby's birthday; my golden retriever, Redford. He is an awesome dog and we love him very much. I tend to be one of those pet owners that go a little overboard in caring for them. I thought it was cool that this piece of scripture was part of his birthday! Thanks for giving me a new and energized way of studying God's word and growing closer to Him.

* * *

I’m a member at CVC and purchased the “Loving God Journal” on Sunday. I can only conclude that it was the Holy Spirit, since I hate to journalize. I have tried a multitude of times, but have always given up. Well, praise God, all week I have been journalizing. It’s wonderful. God’s speaks. I listen. I respond back to Him; sometimes in Praise, sometimes in questions, sometimes in confession, and others in awe. I have adapted your journal a bit (I hope you don’t mind), but it was a lot of reading for me in one day with the journalizing. I started on the day in the bible reading plan, and just read one verse at a time and listened. God has been near and wonderful. When the page is full I am done for the day. But God didn’t let me off the hook to easily. I have the Bible on my MP3 and listen on the way to work, back home, and in the evenings. I am feasting. Thank you for getting me started, again.

* * *

If you would like a copy, you can order one at Cost is $10.00 plus $3.50 for shipping and handling.

* * *

Friday, March 28, 2008

Prayerfully preparing to preach

I've been thinking about prayer and preaching. It's best, when approaching the end of the time of message preparation, to seek to get before the Lord while asking a series of questions. A pastor can then tweak the message a little more to help it have greater impact. Using these questions, a pastor can spend 30 -60 minutes with the manuscript or outline. Changes can be made as the Lord leads. Pastors will be glad they did… and so will their congregations!
* * *

1. Relevance: Am I truly going to connect and engage the people by raising a felt need so that they really want to go on the journey with me? How can I improve the relevance of the message without compromising the God-glorifying, Christ-centeredness of the sermon?

2. Scripture: Have I applied the truth of scripture in an accurate, simple, clear, relevant, and practical way? Should I use more scripture? Should I use less?

3. Keepers: What in the message will really work well? What will be most helpful? What should I keep?

4. Additions: What will the people need to hear more of? What should I add?

5. Deletions: What will the people need to hear less of? What should I not say? What might make the people yawn? Is there anything in the message that might cause a “cringe factor”?

6. Momentum: Where might the message start to drag – to lose energy?

7. Clarity: How can I “thicken” the MUD – making things more Memorable, Understandable, Do-able?

8. Focus: What truly is the “take away” – the big idea? Is it really clear? How can I make it more clear?

9. Answers: Did I answer the four big questions: 1) What does God want them to know? 2) Why does God want them to know it? 3) What does God want them to do? 4) Why does God want them to do it?

10. Illustrations: Which illustrations will really work? Which might not? Are there enough illustrations? Are there too many?

11. Application: Am I applying the truths to various seasons of life? Will people from 6 to 66 have something to take home and apply? Am I applying the truths to various spiritual conditions? Will both the lost and the saved be challenged? Will both the spiritually immature and the spiritually mature be helped? Did I point people to Jesus and the cross?

12. Conclusion: Will the people be truly inspired and motivated with the conclusion? How can I strengthen the close?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I learned yesterday that 86 people prayed to receive Christ on Good Friday and Easter at CVC this year. We praise God for that. What now? What do we make of these commitments?

Well, we surely need to follow up well. It’s likely that someone invited these persons who prayed to CVC. They mustered the courage to check out a new church. We must think that these are people in whom the Holy Spirit is at work. These people are, at least, what some Christian leaders have called “inquirers.” They need and deserve special care.

When people pray to receive Christ, we don’t know how much of the gospel message they have really understood. So, we view those who prayed the prayer at the end of a service as people who are in some way moving toward Christ. Some have crossed the line of faith. Some are spiritual seekers. Some are just expressing a level of interest. Time will tell whether or not their interest is genuine.

Remember the Parable of the Sower. We read Jesus’ words of four different soils and how only one out of four grew to a maturity that produced fruit. Yet the ones who grew to maturity produced fruit thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold. Imagine what must have been going on in our Lord’s heart as He preached life to those who would hear, knowing that there would be those who had the word snatched from them, those whose words grew yet withered, or those whose words were choked out by thorns. But He also knew that there would be those who “when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Luke 8:15).

Paul encouraged Timothy that “this is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:9-10). In our work to follow-up, we can trust that Jesus is the savior of all who believe and will continue to nurture those who believe. We can also rely on the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, who has been moving in the heart of the individual to bring them to Christ. We can trust that the Holy Spirit will urge and prompt the individual to continue to grow their faith after they’ve made a decision to follow Him. Although we may not see the fruit of this person’s salvation immediately, we can pray for the spirit to continue working in the individual’s life.

In the end, we must rely on the sufficiency of God’s grace and pray for His continuing work in a person’s life regardless of whether he or she becomes involved at CVC after indicating a desire to follow Jesus. We can be certain that there will be some who fall away, yet there will be those who bear fruit. It’s encouraging to know that in the midst of seeing the results of four different soils, we can follow-up with hope in our efforts to reach NE Ohio for Christ.

Please pray for us as we follow up with a great passion to help these new inquirers grow to be passionate followers of Christ.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The life of Christ defeats death

Yesterday, on Resurrection Sunday 2008, I taught from John 11, the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

I encouraged our people to think about what was going on in their hearts, in their homes, in their careers - that there were probably things for them that felt vibrant and things for them that felt kind of dead. So, I asked them, "What’s dead for you? Your marriage? A relationship with a family member or friend? Your career? Your finances? Your heart? Maybe all you want to do is stay in bed all day and pull the covers over your head. Where are you not alive?"

As I taught through John 11, I made the point that the life of Christ defeats death and that we should be trading our death for His life.

My concern about the message was that it could be interpreted as a "feel good" message - that some might think of it as a "name it, claim it" teaching - that God exists to make life "work" for us - that God exists for us rather than we for Him.

So, I tried to counter that thinking with the following words. I think it might have been some teaching that went un-absorbed by some people. But it's important. So, in an effort to help us think God-honoring thoughts about difficulty and death in life, here's what I said.

* * *

Some people teach that when we come to Jesus He takes away all pain and trouble and death. That's just not true. There will always be circumstances, relationships, and problems for us that will feel like death. Why? We are in a fallen world.

Psalm 23:4 says, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for You are with me" (Psalm 23:4, ESV).

Notice that the verse doesn't say “if” I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but “even though.” We have to go through the valley. We don’t go around it. We don’t go over it. We don’t go beside it. We go through it.

At CVC, we’re not going to say, “Come to Jesus and He’ll protect you from all pain.” And we won’t say, “If you’re in pain, then something’s wrong with your faith.”

Stuff will happen and it will feel like death. It’s unavoidable even for the most faithful follower of Jesus. Think about it. After Jesus raised Lazarus at this time in John 11, it’s pretty safe to say that likely a few years later Lazarus died again. So, this miracle - this gift - from Jesus to Lazarus didn't shield Lazarus from further death.

And Jesus hasn’t promised to keep away from us those everyday deaths and that “once-and-for-all” death.

Be honest. Some of us decided, “I’ll go to church this Easter because I’ve got a huge sales opportunity coming up. Maybe I can get God on my side if I show up at church and drop a twenty in the offering basket. Maybe He’ll make sure I don’t have low sales this month.” We think God is there to shield us from pain.

I think I would be helpful for our spiritual health and growth for us to see our human experiences as a series of deaths and resurrections.

The little everyday deaths, defeats, discouragements are the disappointments that make us depend more and more on Jesus. We learn to trust Him. Our relationship grows with Him. We long more and more for our own once-and-for-all resurrection to be in heaven with Him. And we learn it’s through the deaths in our experience that He comes to us and says as He said to Lazarus, “Come forth!”

Yes. Everyday deaths will come our way. And, one day, if Christ doesn't return, the ultimate death will come our way. But, in spite of all the deaths we will know in this world, we must never forget that the life of Christ defeats death. After all, Jesus is the only One who could ever rightly say, "I am the resurrection and the life."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Yesterday, while walking into our new church plant, Church of the Hills, a CVCer who has decided to help plant the new church said, "I saw your name in the paper today." I was surprised. I asked, "What did it say?" I'm always a bit nervous when I'm quoted in the paper (which isn't all that often). The writers can take something out of context you end up feeling like what was presented wasn't exactly what you intended.

It was a front page article written by the Plain Dealer's David Briggs entitled "Mixing politics and religion a tricky issue for churches, synagogues."

I've been blessed to have a relationship with David Briggs over the years. His son is an intern for MLB who has written for the websites for the Pittsburg Pirates and the Tribe. So, David is a fan. We have in common a love for baseball.

David called a few weeks ago to ask me about how evangelicals are dealing with the election issues this year. I can't speak, obviously, for all evangelicals. I can only speak for me. We talked for about 15 -20 minutes and here's the portion of the the article that mentioned me.

* * *

Evangelicals: Less active this election

The Rev. Rick Duncan was so fired up from a pastors' meeting with President Bush before the 2004 election that he came back to his Broadview Heights church and spoke in favor of a federal amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

After hearing what politicians promised to do about the marriage issue -- and how little political push the amendment received after the election -- the pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Community Church is more skeptical of becoming involved in this election. "I think we got scammed a little bit," Duncan said.

There are several reasons evangelical churches in Northeast Ohio have less interest in politics this year, analysts say.

Many younger evangelicals are interested in a greater range of issues than just abortion and gay marriage, said Jim Wallis, founder of the progressive evangelical movement Sojourners. These include poverty, the environment and the Iraq war, Wallis said.
Plus, pastors of megachurches don't want to divide their congregations with squabbles over political issues. Their large, more diverse congregations come for spiritual, not political, nurture, said the Rev. Martin Marty, a University of Chicago religion scholar.

"We have Republicans and Democrats in our congregation, and we allow people to make their own decision based on what they feel is best," said the Rev. Joe Coffey, pastor of Hudson Community Chapel.

Duncan and several of his peers at large evangelical churches say they will provide voter guides on issues from groups such as the Strongsville based American Policy Roundtable.

They will encourage people to vote in the fall, but they are looking inward for solutions.

The church is the answer to society's ills, said the Rev. Paul Endrei of Church on the Rise in Westlake. "The answer is not a political answer," he said.

* * *

I generally agree with Paul Endrei on this last point. I'd say it this way: The Lord Jesus is the answer and He works in this world through His body - the Church. So, politicians aren't the hope. Jesus is. We must remember II Chronicles 7:14 and place our hope in the God of renewal and awakening more than in some political party or leader.

But that doesn't mean that we don't participate in local, state, and national elections. We need to be informed and realize that no one candidate is likely to be fully aligned with how we view biblical values.

Dave Zanotti, of American Policy Roundtable, has written a great book entitiled God Won't Vote This Year that encourages citizens (particularly believers) to be informed. He challenges us to start paying more attention to grass root politics rather than putting an undue emphasis on presidential elections.

The article quotes me as saying, "I think we got scammed" in 2004 regarding the Federal Marriage Amendment. Let me explain.

I said that because, in retrospect, it seems to me that some political guru was able to turn what could have been a non-partisan issue - defining marriage as one man/one woman - into a partisan issue. That year, I took a trip to DC where evangelical leaders were all but promised that this would be a focal point of legislative effort. This issue was leveraged for votes by the political pundits all the while knowing that they didn't have the political clout to deliver. (Zanotti makes this point brilliantly in his book on pages 70-73.) After the election, our leaders made a token effort to deliver on this issue that was important to many voters. But they didn't really seem to want to put their intentions into actions.

I readily admit that I am politically naive. But, in all honesty, in the end, I felt "used" when all the dust settled.

Rather than putting my hopes in the Republicans or the Democrats or even some Independent, I want to be one who gets informed, gets involved, votes as biblically informed as possible, but one who ultimately makes the Lord my political as well as my spiritual refuge.

"Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him" (Psalm 2:10-12, ESV).

227... and a bright future

Church of the Hills (COTH) launched yesterday.

Since Gary Nave was preaching at CVC on Palm Sunday, Maryanne, Ryan, Evan, and I decided to go to the first service of COTH. I'm glad we did.

We arrived about 15 minutes early. We were greeted out front by a parking attendant. When we entered the building, there were lots of people with COTH lanyards smiling and greeting us. There was a lot of energy in the building.

We took a quick tour of how COTH is set up to care for kids. It looked fun and well-staffed.

COTH is worshipping in the Nordonia Middle School gym. The set up looked nice. Black curtains on the back wall. A nice-sized flat screen TV with words for the songs and message. Portable staging. Folding chairs. Bleachers. A really nice-sounding sound system.

Brad Darge led worship. Mark Stegall greeted everyone. Kim Edwards led the children's ministry. Randy Chestnut preached. He talked about how Jesus was abandoned by the crowds, by His followers, and by His Father as He went to the cross so we could be accepted and forgiven. He said that Jesus now calls us to abandon all and follow Him.

The volunteers and staff of COTH is abandoning comfort and predictability to plant COTH. I admire that. A lot.

Lead pastor for COTH, Randy Chestnut, wrote these words after the service:

* * *

Dear Friends,

Today was a very special day. The Lord blessed our launch service at Nordonia Middle School with 227 people in attendance! I could really sense the Presence of the Holy Spirit from the time (6:30am) we left the parking lot at CVC with the trailer until we dropped it back off at 1:30pm. The set-up went very smoothly. We were able to pull everyone together for a corporate prayer time at 8:30am. It was a sweet time. The worship service was awesome. Brad Darge did an amazing job in leading us in worship. I could really tell many folks were praying for us. There was one person that indicated he had prayed to receive Christ and five others that indicated they were renewing their commitment to Christ.

We could not have done this without the wonderful partners God has given us. First Baptist Church Concord, Knoxville, TN sent a team of seven volunteers. The Campus Ministry of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell also sent us a team of seven volunteers. We had folks there from Florida, New Jersey, Tennessee and Massachusetts.

Thank you again for you again for your support and prayers. We will continue to need them!


Randy Chestnut

* * *

I'm truly proud of the work that the staff and volunteers did to launch COTH.

As a comparison, CVC launched in April 1987 with 66 people.

I think that the future of COTH is so bright, I just gotta wear shades!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Jesus on the cross

We have some really special art in the worship center for holy week. It's a very creative 6 feet x 6 feet perspective. It's as though you are looking at Jesus on the cross through the eyes of the thief on Jesus’ left.
The art in the worship center depicting Christ on the cross was created by CVC attender, Shaun Kinley.
Shaun was a wrestler at The Ohio State University. He’s been involved in sales and marketing, framing, landscaping business, Bible College and pastoral ministry, and education. Currently, he is actively pursuing his painting and his Master's degree in art.
Shaun teaches two-dimensional art, coaches wrestling, and leads the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio. To see more of his art, please check his website at

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Church planting missionaries
Church of the Hills is a church plant sposored by CVC. And the first service is tomorrow. 88 adults from CVC have made commitments to help plant this church. I am excited about it. I wrote a letter to the people who are leaving CVC to help plant this new church. Here's what I wrote to them:

* * *

March 14, 2008

Dear fellow missionaries,

As I thought about those of you who are heading to Church of the Hills from CVC, I am so grateful. I am sad like a parent who sends a child off to college. When we sent Alan off to college in 2000, I had a very tangible ache in my heart. Yet I knew that this was God’s will for him and for our family. So, there was a bittersweet feeling of pride and sadness going on in my soul on that day. I feel the same about you.

I believe that you faithful, passionate servants are truly heroes in the Kingdom of God. I was reading in Mark 10 a few days ago. And these words from Jesus reminded me of you.

“Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life’” (Mark 10:29-30, ESV).

This is a promise for missionaries. You are church planting missionaries. And missionaries have to leave things behind to pursue the call of God.

You are leaving behind some friends – some brothers and sisters in Christ. You are leaving behind land – the property that God has so graciously given us here at CVC. You may be leaving behind some children in the faith – people you have led to Christ and helped disciple.

Jesus has promised in these verses that if you leave things behind, you will be rewarded. A hundredfold. So, there at Church of the Hills, be looking for new friends, new brothers and sisters in Christ, and new children in the faith. And, I’m trusting Jesus that one day God will provide Church of the Hills some new land.

But did you notice that little phrase “with persecutions”? Jesus has promised a hundredfold reward for all you leave behind… plus persecutions. I take this to mean that missionaries – even state-side church planting ones – will face opposition, trouble, difficulty, and pain. Planting COTH will be challenging for you. It will require sacrifice and perseverance and dedication and commitment. You will have to agree to disagree agreeably sometimes. You will have to give up your agenda sometimes. You will have to love the unlovely sometimes. You will suffer through some hard times. But please, please, please don’t quit! Our gracious God will never give you more difficulty than you can handle. His grace will be sufficient for every church planting challenge.

Why should you persevere as a missionary/church planter through the inevitable hard times? The Kingdom of God will advance through your efforts. God will be glorified. Sinners will be saved. Saints will be encouraged. And notice the very last promise in the verses. You will receive “in the age to come eternal life.” There’s a reward promised for faithful missionaries – for people who leave comfort behind to build the Kingdom of God.

I am indeed grateful for you. I couldn’t be prouder of you. You truly have wonderful, godly, gifted volunteer and staff leadership at COTH. What a team you are and will be. Please know that I will be praying for you – that your faithfulness and fruitfulness will exceed that of CVC.

As Jesus has promised, may you truly receive your hundredfold, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

Lovingly for His Kingdom,

Rick Duncan
Senior Pastor, CVC
Crystal at bat
My friend Andy Sikora wrote about comedian Billy Crystal's recent at bat in a spring training game for the Yankees. He didn't like it. Neither do I.
Crystal struck out. I do like that fact.

I posted a comment on Andy's blog. Here it is:

Dude, how do you think a guy like me feels?

I’m sad for all the other minor league ballplayers like me who just wanted to get a whiff of some aciton at the MLB level.

How many bus rides did we endure in the minor leagues? How many games did we play in poorly lit parks? How many cheap fast-food meals did we eat?
We paid our dues, but no one gave us an invite. You had to earn your way into MLB. And that’s the way it should be.

Most of the guys in the minors could smell MLB treatment - the big league after-game spread, the manicured fields, the first-class way the clubhouse boys shined your shoes before each game. But most didn’t taste it. Even the guys in the lowest minor league levels felt that the dream was possible - the dream of getting some MLB playing time. Some, obviously, were closer than others. And it’s a very, very, very sad day when you have to walk away from the game knowing that you weren’t good enough.

Then to see non-dues-paying Billy Crystal being invited to an at bat even in a meaningless spring training game because he’s a famous fan and friendly toward the game is a travesty.

I spent the entire Spring Training at the Reds AAA level my last season. I hit the ball very well, but was sent down because we had too many lefthanded hitting players on that team - something that had never happened on any team I had ever been on. Usually, we needed more lefthanded hitters. And then the Reds actually borrowed a player from the White Sox orgnaization to play my position. Something, again, that I hadn’t ever seen happen. It was a sad, sad day for me because once a player gets to AAA, then you are one injury away from being in the show. I could smell MLB, but I never tasted it.

And then I see a comedian (who never rode on a minor league bus trip through the sweltering heat) swinging at bat in a MLB game against a MLB pitcher? That’s hard to watch. To my knowledge, nobody cut any minor leaguer I knew a break like Billy Crystal got.

Being in “The Show,” even in Spring Training, was something you should have to earn. Either you are good enough or you aren’t.

I guess I’ll have to settle for my memories of playing in the minors against guys like Eddie Murray and Rickey Henderson before they became famous. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. It was a true joy being able to play for a few years in the minors. I actually got paid (not much) for playing the greatest game, baseball. When I think about all my high school and college teammates who never got to play pro ball at all, I count my blessings. I got to play professionally.

But it will always be true that I didn’t have what it takes to make it all the way to MLB. While it’s hard to admit that, it makes me appreciate the guys who play at that level even more.

So, enough of this nonsense about celebrities playing a game at the highest level because the fans might like it. It’s demeaning to the game.

Let’s hope this is not the start of a trend.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Make no mistake about it, local churches have problems. And CVC is one of them. Too often, churches are filled with pettiness, political infighting, power struggles, grumbling, wrong priorities, irrelevance and red tape. This can be discouraging and disheartening for passionate, pure-hearted, and motivated followers of Christ. Often, we will find ourselves wanting to give up on the church.

If your local church has problems, then it is in good company. Most every church in the New Testament had problems, too. If your local church is not having problems, then know this: It has either just come out of some problems or it’s getting ready to go through some! As California pastor, Rick Warren, has said, "Life is just a series of problems - one after another. We are either coming out of one, in the middle of one, or getting ready to go through one."

Most of the epistles in the New Testament were written to give instruction, correction, or rebuke to local churches. The Apostles saw all the spots and wrinkles in the bride of Christ, yet they never gave up on the church. And, more importantly, Jesus hasn’t given up on the church, either.

“Admittedly, the pettiness and failures, the division and discord, can be disheartening at times. What a sorry mess we mortals make in the name of the church! But our comfort comes from God's promise that He will build His church!" Chuck Colson. The Body, p. 59

It's the churches who proclaim Jesus and disciple His followers. That means that churches hold the hope of the world in their hands. Churches have more power than the Republicans or the Democrats, more influence than businessmen, more answers for the world’s heartbreaks than any professor. Business professionals, politicians, and educators can rearrange stuff on the surface of life. They can spend money and enact legislation and draw attention to a cause. But they can’t bring fundamental transformation into the life of one individual. They can’t rewrite the eternal address of a single person. They can’t order genuine reconciliation between two estranged human beings. They can’t instill character into anybody. They can't turn a selfish heart into a servant heart, or a granite heart into a giving heart. And this is what our country desperately needs the most.

And this is the work of the Church. What greater mission ‑ what more critical enterprise ‑ can you possibly invest your life in? What is nobler, what is loftier, what is a higher purpose in life, than devoting yourself to establishing and developing a community of believers that strives to fulfill the Acts 2:42-47 description of what Christ treasures most - the church? Following Jesus’ vision for the church is the highest calling anyone could pursue. Its implications extend beyond earth into eternity.

The product of our efforts is destined to endure in heaven forever. Nothing on this planet is more important, more strategic, and more urgently needed than the local church. So, ask God to energize His people and breath life into His church. Then, go all out to help some particualr local body of Christ be then most beautiful bride she can possible be.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

“Christ… loved the church and gave Himself up for her…”

This quote from Ephesians 5:25 is striking, even staggering in light of the low level of commitment many Christians have to the church.

Ephesians 5:25 shows the level of commitment Jesus has for the church. He loves the church with an agape love a love that commits and sacrifices. He doesn’t love the church “if” or “because of.” He loves the church “in spite of.” Jesus has a great heart of affection for the church in spite of all her weaknesses and problems. He shed His blood for the church. He gave His all for the church.

It is not really possible to be a follower of Christ - to be like Him - with a half-hearted, conditional love for the church. Surely, Jesus is dishonored when those who say they belong to Him do not value what He values. Surely, He is grieved when those who call themselves believers will not commit to what He was willing to die for.

Since the church itself is held in such low regard today, little wonder church membership is not highly regarded. Many civic organizations or professional associations have much higher requirements for membership than the church. In how many local civic clubs could you remain a member in good standing while never attending or paying dues? Many civic organizations should have higher standards for members than the church of Jesus Christ. I think that is a shame.

John Calvin wrote these words: “So highly does the Lord esteem the communion of His church that He considers everyone a traitor and apostate from religion who perversely withdraws himself from any Christian society which preserves the true ministry of the Word and sacraments.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Authority and accountability

God has called pastors/elders to “shepherd the flock.” Therefore, it is important for church leaders to be able to identify who is in the “flock.” This allows leaders to know who it is that they can count on and who it is that they need to shepherd.

In Hebrews 13:17, all believers are commanded, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” Obey and submit. What do these commands mean and how can we obey them?

It is evident from two other occurrences of this phrase in Hebrews 13 (vv. 7, 24) that church leaders - not family leaders or civil leaders - are in view. It is the elders of the church who have been given the responsibility to shepherd the flock of God under their pastoral care, to exercise proper spiritual oversight (I Peter 5:1-2). This involves ruling over the affairs of the church. As His ministers they rule in Christ’s stead. As we submit to their lawful rule we are actually obeying Christ.

But someone might object, “I’m not a member of any church. No church has the right to be in authority over me. This Scripture cannot apply to me.” Hebrews 13:17 assumes what should be the case for every Christian; it presents the norm for the Christian life. Wouldn't every true child of God who understood the implications of this verse want to put himself in the place where it was possible for him obey this plain apostolic command?

Many Christians cringe at the idea of church authorities having rule over them. After all, wasn’t our nation forged out of the wilderness by self-reliant, self-made men? Some of that early “rugged individualism” has permeated into our psyches, and consequently we do not take well to the idea of submission to authority. We like to think that we have gotten to where we are in life by our own power and we really do not need to submit. But submission is a biblical concept. We must obey them that have the rule over us in order to be in submission to Christ.

How do we obey? The apostle clarifies this command by the added words “submit yourselves.” Submit! The very mention of the word makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up. Submit? Why, that’s demeaning! That implies inferiority, that someone is over us. Inwardly, we may hate that idea, but it’s scriptural. Jesus Himself voluntarily submitted to the Father. The loving wife submits to her husband. Is Christ in any way inferior to the Father? Is the loving wife in any way inferior to her husband? No. Yet both submit out of obedience. In the same way, we have an obligation to submit to the authority of the church.

There is no getting around the fact that the disciple of Jesus is under an obligation to submit obediently to the authority of Christ’s church. Submission is not a popular concept these days, but it is what God requires in the best interest of the community of faith.

The Bible commands, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” This does not mean to obey in some vague way, simply giving lip service. You cannot obey those empowered to lead Christ’s church if you never join.

Every team must have a roster so the coach will know who to coach. Every school must have an enrollment so the teacher will know who to teach. Every army has an enlistment so the officers will know who to train.

Membership identifies who is responsible to and for whom.

Friday, March 07, 2008

I have noticed that in some circles there seems to be a feeling that it is the parachurch agencies, not the church, that are really fulfilling the Great Commission. Some think that if you want to give your money where it will achieve real results, you should give the biggest chunks of it to one of the parachurch ministries.

While Maryanne and I do give financially to various parachurch ministries, I think that there is a general misunderstanding about the Great Commission that causes some people to give disproportionately to the parachurch groups. We mistakenly think that evangelism involves only persuading individuals to “invite Jesus Christ into their life”— or to walk down an aisle, sign a decision card, speak with a counselor who will show them a few verses from the Bible, pray with them and give them assurance of salvation. But is this all there is to evangelism? No; far more is involved.

Analyzed grammatically, it is evident that the Great Commission is primarily a command to make disciples. And it is the church that is best equipped by God to make disciples.

The local church is the body through which the full range of spiritual gifts are to be exercised. And what a new convert needs is not follow-up from some disconnected discipler, but follow-up from an entire church family. When the entire church family is operating as it should, a full range of disciplship opportunities exist for the new believer. In a church, the new believer can see many people teaching and modeling loving God, loving each other, and loving the lost world.

When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He gave it to the very first local church body, not to an individual.

Therefore, could it be that the command to "make disciples" is to local churches, rather than to evangelistic parachurch mavericks? Churches have been sent forth into all the world to make disciples of every nation on earth. And the best parachurch ministries do encourage their staff members to be active, contributing members of vibrant local churches.

The Great Commission is accomplished by two specific means: baptizing and teaching. Part of the Great Commission, then, involves baptizing - receiving men and women into the visible church through the God-ordained sign of initiation into the body.

Most people would agree that it's the church that has the God-given responsibility to baptize, not some independent, unaccountable parachurch evangelist. God never gave the authority to baptize to individuals, families, independent mission boards, the state, or parachurch organizations.

Therefore, if men and women who profess to become Christ’s disciples are not being baptized into the church and taught by the church (meaning exposure to a wide variety of teachers and examples in the body), then the Great Commission is simply not being carried out.

Only the church, not the parachurch agencies - as worthy as some of them might be - is ordained by Christ to carry out the Great Commission. It is the church - not the parachurch organizations - which has been specifically established by Christ. Remember His words, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The church or the parachurch?

I spent four years on staff with a parachurch ministry, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I've served on the board for FCA in NE Ohio. I was discipled by people from parachurch organizations - the Navigators and Campus Crusade for Christ. When I played minor league baseball, I served with a parachurch ministry called Baseball Chapel. I went on an overseas mission trip as a young man with a parachurch organization called Overseas Crusades. I love parachurch ministries. I'm now a part of a parachurch ministry called Vision 360/NEO360.

But these ministries, as good as they are, should never supplant the local church. "Para" is a Greek prefix that means "beside." Therefore, these ministries are to exist beside and for the local church.

But many people these days have a higher allegiance to a TV or radio ministry than to the local church. Many people are primarily committed to a variety of nationally known organizations that specialize in ministries and/or outreach efforts. And the local church suffers.

There are many reasons for this. The teaching and quality of parachurch ministries can often be world-class. It’s hard sometimes for local churches to “compete” with the quality that’s offered. Perhaps unconnected believers like the parachurch better because their rugged individualism prompted by our western worldview isn’t easily challenged from a distance. People can listen and/or participate when they want and turn off what they don’t like. Accountability is non-existent.

But this allegiance to a parachurch ministry at the expense of the local church has its drawbacks.

Who will you ask to marry you, dedicate your children, encourage you during a spiritually trying time, hold you accountable, visit you when you are sick or in trouble, and, ultimately bury you? Will some radio or TV speaker do that for you? Will the leader of a parachurch organization be there for you when you need help? And will a local parachurch leader even be able or equipped to perform some of the ministry that you will need?

People who are plugged into parachurch ministries often give local churches a second class commitment. Yet when sickness comes, they expect a first class response from some local church. And most local church leaders try to provide what such a consumer is looking for.

But I must admit that when this has happened to me, I feel hurt, confused, and used.

May I go ahead and say what's on my heart? Don’t demand first class ministry from your local church while you give that same church a second class commitment!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The "one anothers"

We must not forget that we are products of an isolated, individualistic culture. Sadly, the world has squeezed many Christians into its mold. But the Christian life cannot be lived out alone. The church is not to be just a nice-looking building we stop into for an hour or two on Sunday mornings. By our conversion we are made part of the body of Christ. We are to live our Christian lives within the body - in the context of community.

Again, Chuck Colson’s thoughts in the book, The Body, are helpful to me.

“Modern Christians, especially evangelicals, see the Christian faith primarily, if not exclusively, as the gospel of ‘Jesus and me.’ Christianity is simply a personal relationship with Jesus. Accept Christ into your life and you will be saved. This is true as far as it goes, but it falls woefully short. Although we are justified through our faith, Christianity is much more than just a private transaction with Jesus…

When we confess Christ, God’s response is to bring us into His church; we become part of His called-out people. When we become followers of Christ, we become members of His church - and our commitment to the church is indistinguishable from our commitment to Him. Radical words. For we know many Christians who say they are believers but are not members of a church. By that, some mean that they are not members of a local congregation. But many mean that they do not need the church in any sense.

Yet according to scripture, Christianity is corporate. This is why we speak of the body with different parts, the community of the redeemed…”
Chuck Colson, The Body, p. 51.

The New Testament clearly teaches that we must minister to each other in community. Every believer is to participate. We are not only to have someone minister to us, but we also need to minister to and with others. We minister through the full range of the “one another” ministries of the New Testament. Love encompasses all of these ministries. These expressions, and they are numerous, are to be practiced by every believer. We are told to:

Comfort one another. I Thessalonians 4:18
Encourage one another. I Thessalonians 5:11
Build up one another. I Thessalonians 5:11
Live in peace with one another. I Thessalonians 5:13
Seek what is good for one another. I Thessalonians 5:13
Stimulate one another. Hebrews 10:24
Confess sins to one another. James 5:16
Pray for one another. James 5:16
Not complain against one another. James 5:9
Not judge one another. Romans 14:13
Not consume or devour one another. Galatians 5:15
Offer hospitality to one another. I Peter 4:9
Prefer one another. Romans 12:10
Edify one another. Romans 14:19
Receive one another. Romans 15:7
Admonish one another. Romans 15:14
Care for one another. I Corinthians 12:25
Greet one another. I Corinthians 16:20
Serve one another. Galatians 5:13
Submit to one another. Ephesians 5:21

The best place for these kinds of relationships to be built is in a local church community. In fact, it’s almost impossible to practice the “one anothers” of the New Testament without a commitment to a body of Christ. What makes a church is not the building or a disconnected group of people gathering together once a week for a meeting. A church is a visible, identifiable, connected group of Christ-followers who live in community together. To be obedient to the one anothers of the Bible, believers must belong to a fellowship and be connected. One cannot truly obey the word of God and forsake the church. The Christian life must be rooted in community.

Monday, March 03, 2008

I did it my way

The unattached, unaccountable, lone-ranger believer is a curious non-biblical phenomenom. I think it's fed by the common history we have as Americans.

People populated America because they wanted religious freedom. Our nation was established through a Revolution because we didn't want to submit to tyranny. The US was then settled by independent, pioneering entrepenuers. The adventuresome spirit of the solitary cowboy is a part of our heritage. And add to all this the woundedness, rebellion and cyncism of the modern era. Is it any wonder, then, that the faith landscape is filled with independent, isolated "Batman" types of Christians who do not want to come under the authority of a local church?

Some Christians today prefer the "food court" approach to church life. In the mall, a family of five might choose five different fast food joints to satisfy the whims of each family member. That's the way many people operate when it comes to church. Believers say, "I like the youth program over here, so we'll be a part of that church on Wednesday nights. I like the preaching over there, so we'll be a part of that church on Sunday evenings. I like the worship music across town, so we'll be a part of that church on Sunday morning." And on and on it goes. Meanwhile, no commitment is made to a particular group of believers and the consumerism goes unchecked.

This prompts me to ask a few questions:

How can you learn to love if your involvement in a church is merely as a shallow shopper?
How can you develop humility if you never commit to a community to which you can submit?
How can you learn longsuffering if you always jump ship when a better preacher or worship leader pops up?
How can you learn patience unless you are consistently in a community where others put yours to the test?

In his book, Well-Intentioned Dragons, Marshall Shelley says, "Developing Christian virtues demands other people - ordinary ornery people. We learn agape love most effectively away from the temptation of choosing to love only the attractive. Holiness [is] developed not in isolation but in community. Instead of each person seeking God in his own way, with the dangers of... eccentricity, [we must establish] a common life based on worship, work, and discipline. In community with flawed, sometimes disagreeable people, [we] learn to take hurt rather than give it. As attractive as solitary sanctification may seem, it is life among the dragons that develops the qualities God requires" (pp. 148-149).

Frank Sinatra used to sing, "I did it my way." I really don't think those words fit very well in the mouths of passionate followers of Christ.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Church universal or church particular?

In the evangelical landscape in North America, we often see a not-so-rare species of believer - the unattached Christian. This person is a kind of invible man or woman when it comes to service and accountability within a particular local church. This person sees himself somehow to be a member of the universal, invisible church, but not of the local, visible church. This allows the individual to make an invisible commitment. This is very convenient for modern day consumeristic Americans. But it doesn't really help build the church.

Admittedly, the term ekklesia (the church) in some places in the Bible refers to all of God’s people worldwide - the church universal. But in other places, the word designates a local congregation - the church particular. Some have called the church universal the “invisible” church while the church particular is called the “visible” church. No distinction was made between the two in the Bible because Biblical writers believed that to be a part of the church in one aspect was to be a part of the church in all aspects.

But think through this. How can you show your commitment to the invisible church without a commitment to the visible church?
Only by belonging to a local, visible community of faith can individuals truly make visible the reality of the universal church.
From the beginning it was clearly God’s plan that the body would be made manifest to the world by gathering into confessing communities to fulfill its mission - that is, to worship, edify, serve, evangelize, administer the ordinances, exercise church discipline, preach the Word, and make disciples. Immediately after Pentecost, the apostles established the pattern: Individual believers were to gather into particular communities.

In his book, The Body, Chuck Colson gives what I think is a great analogy.

"In an army, men and women of all shapes and sizes sign up to serve. At the beginning, these recruits are one big disorganized mass of humanity. Until it is trained and organized, this army is useless. So, men and women are assigned to a training unit to learn the skill and discipline of a soldier. Then they are stationed in to divisions and headquarters and honor guards and counterintelligence, all working together so the army can do its job. Only when it is fully uniformed and deployed can the world see the army at work. So it is with the church. Its recruitment is universal, but it has to be broken down into visible fighting units - local churches. These are visible structures we create to enable God’s Army - the body - to do the job it’s called to do."

The pattern is clear in the book of Acts. Each believer is to make his or her confession of faith, be baptized, and become part of a local congregation with all of the privileges, responsibilities, and accountability that implies.

Membership in a particular church is no more optional than membership in the universal church.

Share it