Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What about the people in the 10-40 window?

In light of the message on Sunday from John 14:6, people are asking questions.

Here's an email I received:

Your sermon today on Christ being the only path has brought me to a question. In the world today, roughly 2 billion identify themselves as Christians. However, Iʼm thinking that if we really added it all up, less than half of those (or fewer than 1 billion) could be considered true practicing (quad 4) Christians. Meanwhile another 4 billion people of the world identify themselves with some other religion (such as Buddha, Etc,). In conclusion it means that at least 5 of the 6 billion people on that planet will end up burning in hell for all eternity. Is that how you add it up as well?

My response is below:

Thanks for your question.

It’s important to note that “God our Savior… desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (I Timothy 2:3-6, ESV). Since God desires all to be saved, He has provided the way – the one way – for all to be saved. Jesus has given Himself as a ransom for all on the cross. All who believe in Him will be saved. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-18, ESV).

I understand your math. I agree that there are many people who profess Christ without possessing Christ. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Matthew 7:21-23, ESV). So, the numbers of people who have experienced true conversion might be less than we would like to think.

But I think it’s good for us to let God do the math on who’s in and who’s out and how many are in and how many are out. It’s safe to say, though, based on Jesus’ words, that many more will be lost than saved. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14, ESV).

There are some basic truths that motivate me.

People without Christ are lost (II Thessalonians 1:5-9).
Only Jesus saves (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, I Timothy 2:5).
There is a real heaven and a real hell and real people like you and me go to one or the other.
Therefore, let’s go to heaven and take as many people with us as we can (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8).

These are the reasons Maryanne and I left our families behind to plant a church here in NE Ohio. These are reasons why we are now trying to leverage our influence as a church to motivate CVCers to see themselves as missionaries, to plant other churches, and to send and support missionaries to help fulfill the Great Commission. It’s what gets me up and keeps me going.

Preaching from John 14:6 has helped me recommit to the task of seeking to populate heaven with worshippers of Jesus. I’m praying for greater fruitfulness and faithfulness for me.

Now, may I ask a question of you? If Jesus is your savior, what will you do to leverage all your resources to get the word of Christ out to those who have never heard?

Thanks again for your question.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Can being maligned foster worship?
My friend, Sam Jackson, posted a blog about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor. As an African-American pastor, Sam has a unique perspective that deserves to be considered.

In his blog, Sam remembers a time when he was misrepresented because of some things that he said at a difficult funeral. So, Sam can identify with people taking things out of context.

Sam writes, "In 2 past blog entries, I have addressed these comments. I took issue with [Wright's] most circulated statements in my blog and still take issue with those statements today. Many who have a deeper familiarity with Dr. Wright have said such criticisms are unfair and do not paint a complete picture of who he is."

Sam concludes, "In one sense, Rev. Wright has done us all a favor. He has once again exposed the gap of understanding on issues of race in this nation. If we can display the grit to keep coming to the table in love, and to attempt to confront even the ugliest scenarios in building bridges of understanding, perhaps we can make some progress. In any case, as listeners we must move beyond sound bites and carefully assess what a speaker says in the rightful context and not carelessly move to conclusions that digress beyond a speaker's actual words. As speakers, we must work hard not to set up a sound bite feeding frenzy with careless rhetoric that destroys the very progress we claim we are attempting to build. Otherwise, we will continue to be pundits full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

To read the rest of his blog, click here.

As I thought about Sam's words, I responded this way:

* * *

Thanks, Sam, for a thoughtful response.

I do remember your tough assignment in Florida. Thanks for being willing to take the heat for Jesus.

I, too, have been misquoted and maligned. Often, it happens between past and present attenders and members of CVC. A few times, it's been in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
I have found that there is a sense in which being misquoted and misunderstood is simply part of the calling. It just happens.

But the amazing thing is that, for me, it gives just a little glimpse into the sufferings of Jesus.
He was the greatest truth-teller ever, yet He was falsely accused, maligned, slandered, lied about, and ultimately murdered.

I think of how slight the misrepresentations have been for me and how painful they nevertheless have been. Then I think about the fact that to save us Jesus came to this planet knowing that He would be grossly abused.
That's when I am moved to worship. I worship the One who, on purpose, suffered all the pain, the rejection, the abuse, the false accusations, the misrepresentations, and the lies so I could be saved.

What love. What amazing love.

I don't like it one little bit when others talk falsely about me. Yet the bad talk about me is less than nothing compared to what Jesus willingly embraced. And He went through it to save me.
It's just one of the reasons I love Jesus.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Way

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6 (ESV)

One of the criticisms leveled against Christ and Christians is that this belief is so exclusive. People say, “You telling me that you believe that Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists can’t be saved? That’s just too narrow and too exclusive for me to believe.” I’ve had people say to me, “That’s just narrow-minded, Rick. It’s arrogant. Only religious bigots believe that Jesus is the only way.”

I say, "You know, you’re argument isn’t really with me. You’re argument is really with Jesus. He’s the One who said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.'”

Is that narrow? Yes. But don't we want the pilot of a plane we're on to be narrow-minded? We want him to land it right side up. We want him to land it on the runway, not the freeway.

It’s true that the claims of Christ are exclusive. But exclusivity is just part of it. Jesus came for everybody. Jew. Gentile. Muslim. Hindu. All the nations.

Jesus is the inclusive/exclusive truth. Think about these “I am” statements. They’re inclusive as well as exclusive.

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger.
John 6:35 (ESV)

“Whoever” means Jews, too. Jews can come to Him.

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.
John 8:12 (ESV)

“Whoever” includes Arabs. Muslims can follow Him.

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.
John 10:9 (ESV)

“Anyone” means Buddhists, too. Buddhists can enter by Him.

I am the good shepherd... And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.
John 10:14, 16 (ESV)

“Other sheep” includes all non-Jews. Hindus can become part of His flock.

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.
John 11:25 (ESV)

Whoever means atheists and agnostics. They are invited to believe in Him.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.
John 15:5 (ESV)

Yes, this is exclusive truth. But “whoever will” may come. It’s inclusive, too. This is why we do missions. It’s why we send people to El Salvador and Ghana. And other parts of the world. Whosoever will may come. We go because only Jesus saves.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

five solas

In doing some research for the message this weekend on John 14:6, I was reminded of the five "solas" of the Protestant reformation. They are Latin phrases with deep theological meaning and ecclesiological ramifications.

As I think about these"solas," I want to reaffirm them publicly. These are things that Martin Luther and the reformers were willing to sacrifice and even die for. These are things that I deeply believe reflect vital truths about our faith. These are things that CVC believes. These are things that we ought to teach to our kids.

See if you can memorize the list and some of the supporting verses.

The five solas:

sola scriptura – scripture alone (II Timothy 3:16-17, Isaiah 8:20). The Bible alone is the inspired and authoritative word of God. It the only source for Christian doctrine.

sola fide – faith alone (Romans 3:28, Romans 5:1-2). Being declared right with God is received by faith alone apart from our good works. Saving faith is always evidenced by good works. Good deeds are the result of our salvation, not the cause of our salvation.

sola gratia – grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9 ). Our salvation comes by God’s grace or “unmerited favor” only and is undeserved. Salvation is an unearned gift from God.

solus Christus – Christ alone (Acts 4:12, I Timothy 2:5-6). Christ is the only mediator between God and man. Salvation comes no other way.

soli Deo gloria – glory to God alone (Romans 11:36, I Corinthians 10:31). All glory is due to God alone since our salvation is accomplished solely by His will and work in our behalf.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Christ the only way

We've been in a series at CVC about the "I am" statements of Jesus. This weekend, we are dealing with John 14:6 where Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me."

It's an amazingly exclusive statement. To say that Jesus is the only way is counter to what many so-called believers actually believe. It sounds so intolerant to our ears - ears that have been bombarded by the message of tolerance and non-judgementalism.

A Barna survey found that over one-fourth of the "born again" evangelicals surveyed agreed with the statement: "If a person is good, or does enough good things for others during life, they will earn a place in Heaven." When asked whether they agreed with the following statement: "Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others all pray to the same God, even though they use different names for that God," two-thirds of the evangelicals didn't find that objectionable.

I ran across a video from R.C. Sproul that helps to explain why it is reasonable and right for us to believe that Jesus indeed is the only way.

Check it out.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


This week I was informed about the movie Expelled. It's a film that is going to be released this Friday. It looks like the movie will be at Cinemark 15 at 8161 Macedonia Commons Blvd, Middleburg Town Square 16 at 18348 Bagley Road, and Valley View 24 at 6001 Canal Rd.

Expelled is a documentary about how people who hold to Intelligent Design are being "expelled" from various publications, colleges, and unversities because they are not following the tenants of Darwinism.

I usually hold off on promoting a film without seeing it for myself. But I was able to find a review from MovieGuide, a source that I have trusted for many years. The review is below.

It seems as though it would be a good thing for many believers to view the film so we can have an engaging dialogue with our friends who may be Darwinians.

But we must remember that dialogue is key, not arguing. "The Lord's bondservent must not be quarrelsome but be kind to all" is what scripture says in II Timothy 2.

So, go see it. Take your older children and teens if you have them. And consider how reasonable it is to reject believing that Darwinian theory is correct in favor of believing that there is a God who created the heavens and the earth.

And then talk with (not preach to) your friends about their views. Tell some of your story. Then listen to theirs. And then see how much of His story they will let you tell them.

But before you do, "In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (I Peter 3:15, ESV).

Now, for the review from Ted Baehr's Movie Guide...

In the brilliant documentary EXPELLED, actor and pundit Ben Stein takes on the Darwinian scientists who have become oppressive totalitarians. One by one, Stein introduces us to prestigious scientists at major universities who were expelled because they dared to mention Intelligent Design and open up the academic discussion to non-Darwinian viewpoints. He moves from there to questioning the institutions and administrators who fired them unfairly. Then he visits France and Germany and shows the Darwinian roots of totalitarian fascism and Communism. Stein also discusses the complex life of the cell. Finally, he questions Darwinist Richard Dawkins, who comes across as a smug pseudo-scientist who can’t answer basic questions.

EXPELLED is a wry, funny, well-crafted documentary. The juxtaposition of popular music, dramatic vignettes, documentary footage, and Ben Stein’s quest for truth is often laugh-out-loud funny. At the same time, it is heart-rending, convincing and transformational. Like any documentary, however, there are very few moments where the tension relaxes, but the last third of the movie is extraordinarily captivating because of Ben’s expose of the atheist Richard Dawkins.

Spirit-led self-examination

This is a classic spiritual discipline that can lead to brokenness, confession, repentance, and revival in your life.

You will grow spiritually if you will commit to practice the discipline of Christian self-examination. A lost art in the Christian community is the ability to use scripture to explore the darkness of our hearts without falling into the trap of self-loathing which leads to self-condemnation. With the present-day overemphasis on building up our self-esteem, we have neglected to deal with true guilt in a biblically correct way. To be sure, false guilt is harmful to our souls. It is to be rejected. But when we fail to live up to God's standards, we sin and, therefore, know true guilt.

The sins that cause true guilt are to be confessed. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). Most Christians today confess their sins in a general way. ("Dear God, please forgive me for all my sins. Amen.") This guide is a practical tool to aid you to be more specific as you confess. My prayer is that those who use this guide will find themselves experiencing greater freedom from guilt and more victory over sin. As we grow in our personal holiness, God will gain greater glory through our lives and we will find more satisfaction in Him. May this tool be used by God to bring about revival in our personal lives as well as in our families and our church community.

Some practical tips on Spirit-led self-examination:

1. Read through Biblical passages that list various sins to forsake or characteristics to pursue. You can reword the sins or characteristics in question form to prompt honest introspection.

2. Set a time each day for self-examination. You might want to try confessing this way just before bedtime. Many great Christians in the past practiced this discipline at bedtime.

3. Ask God for assistance as you start. He can remind you of secret sins that you've forgotten. He will also keep you from self-loathing and self-condemnation. Remember that God alone grants true repentance (II Timothy 2:25).

4. Take your time as you think about your life in light of the sins or characteristics listed. Go slow. Let the pain that you caused God and others sink in. Ask God for a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. "Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up" (James 4:9, 10). Be specific in your confession to God. You may find that He reminds you of things done weeks, months, or years ago. Or you may find yourself confessing things done that very day.

5. In some cases, you will find that you can honestly say that you have a clear conscience before God concerning certain sins. Praise Him for the victory over sin that He has given you! Ask Him for further grace to overcome.

6. As you confess to God, ask Him how you can make restitution. Listen to Him. Purpose to do what He says. We often fail at this crucial point because of pride. An important part of repentance is asking for forgiveness from those we have hurt or seeking to do something nice for them. These things can never atone for our sins, but they do demonstrate a truly repentant heart.

7. Before you finish, take time to reflect on the fact that it was those very sins that put Jesus on the cross. Thank Him that He paid the price to secure your forgiveness. Ask God to be merciful to you based on the finished work of Christ. Remember, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8: 1).

Sunday - from Matthew 5:3-10
How have I failed to be poor in spirit?
How have I failed to mourn over my sin?
When did I neglect to be meek?
When was I hungry and thirsty for things other than righteousness?
How did I fail to show mercy?
How did I lose my purity of heart?
How did I fail to be a peacemaker?
How have I failed to live righteously in order to avoid persecution?

Monday - from Psalm 15
How did I fail to walk blamelessly?
When did I do what was unrighteous?
When did I not speak the truth from my heart?
How did I slander someone?
When did I do a neighbor wrong?
Which of my fellowman did I cast a slur on?
When did I not honor someone who fears the Lord?
Which oaths did I fail to keep?
How did I fail to maintain financial integrity?

Tuesday - from Galatians 5:19-21
How was I guilty of sexual immorality, impurity, or debauchery?
When did I participate in idolatry or witchcraft?
When was I guilty of hatred, discord, and jealousy?
How have I fallen into fits of rage?
How have I shown selfish ambition?
When did I create dissensions and factions?
Who have I envied?
When did I participate in drunkenness and orgies?

Wednesday - from Proverbs 6:16-19
How have I had haughty eyes?
When did I have a lying tongue?
How have my hands shed innocent blood?
How has my heart devised wicked schemes?
When have my feet been quick to rush into evil?
How have I been a false witness who pours out lies?
What did I do to stir up dissension among brothers?

Thursday - from Galatians 5:22, 23
How have I failed to live in love?
When did I lose my joy?
Why did I lose my peace?
When was I impatient?
When was I unkind?
How have I failed to demonstrate goodness?
Where have I been unfaithful?
When was I not gentle?
How did I show a lack of self-control?

Friday - from Revelation 2-3
How have I forsaken my first love? (Revelation 2:4)
When was I unfaithful in the face of persecution? (Revelation 2: 10)
How have I not challenged my fellow Christians who sin? (Revelation 2:14)
How have I failed to stay true to sound Bible doctrine? (Revelation 2:20)
What parts of my spiritual life are dead? (Revelation 3: 1)
What open door of ministry have I failed to go through? (Revelation 3:8)
How am I demonstrating spiritual lukewarm-ness? (Revelation 3:15)
When have I failed to see that I am desperately needy? (Revelation 3:17)

Saturday - from Exodus 20:1-17
When have I followed after other gods?
What has become an idol for me?
How have I misused the name of the Lord?
How have I failed to keep the Sabbath day holy?
How have I not honored my father and mother?
How have I committed murder (in my heart)?
How have I committed adultery (in my heart)?
When have I been guilty of stealing?
How have I given false testimony against my neighbor?
What am I coveting?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24).
* * *
Someone sent me a thank you note via email yesterday.

* * *

Just wanted to let you know that at our Bible study last night, the sermon series on the 7 Deadly Sins was mentioned as one on the most powerful series to one of the ladies. When we could only name 6 of the 7sins, this woman called her teenage daughter. She quickly named all 7, remembering them because this series had such an impact on her.

* * *

I replied:

Thanks so much for the encouragement!

By the way, in my own personal copy of the Loving God Journal that I use, I have listed the seven deadly sins. I wrote the list in the prayer section on the page for confession and repentance (p. 232). The seven deadly sins are sins that I feel I need to consider as I do some regular Spirit-led self-examination. I’m sure the roots and the fruits of these sins are in my life. As I think through, pray through, and confess through each sin on the list, I am reminded of my proneness to wander and I am reminded of the grace of God in Christ. I will always need the cross. Here’s how I have listed the seven deadly sins in my own Journal. As you can see, my goal is to deal with one sin each day.

Sun – Pride
Mon – Sloth
Tues – Lust
Wed – Anger
Thur – Envy
Fri – Greed
Sat - Gluttony

On a particular day, I can spend some time asking God to show me how that particular sin shows up in my life. Then I can ask God to forgive me and sanctify me in that area. This, of course, drives me once again to the cross. We need to understand more and more every day how much we desperately need the cross of Jesus.

* * *

There are other lists of sins to consider that can aid us in the discipline of confessing and repenting. We can use passages such as Galatians 5:19-21, Proverbs 6:16-19, Mark 7:21-23, Colossians 3:5-10, and, of course, Exodus 20:3-17.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Galatians 5:19-21a).

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

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:21-23).

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self (Colossians 3:5-10a).

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s (Exodus 20:3-17).

* * *

So, why not make a list of sins that you can regularly reflect on and repent of? It’s one way to obey Psalm 139:23-24.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Today, I asked several people at CVC to answer some simple questions. 1) What is the vision of CVC? 2) What do we say a mature follower of Christ looks like? 3) What is our process for helping people grow as Christ followers?

I received some great responses. But no one really was able to answer all three questions the way I hoped.

The quiz was actually to see if I and the rest of our staff are doing our job well in really communicating our vision, our goal, and our process in a simple and memorable way. We’re trying to discover how well our volunteers are locked in on what we are trying to accomplish and how we want to go about it.

Here’s what we have been seeking to communicate:

1) What is the vision of CVC? "Helping people grow to be passionate followers of Christ." 2) What do we say a mature follower of Christ looks like? "It looks like someone who loves God, loves one another, and loves the world." 3) What is our process for helping people grow as Christ followers? "Same as #2. First, we help people learn to love God. Then, we help people learn to love one another. Finally, we help people learn to love the world."

We think that this must be an ongoing process – a cycle that goes on and on and on. We think that as our people love God more passionately through public and private worship, love one another more fervently through participating in Community Groups and serving in a ministry of the church, and love the world more compassionately by going on mission locally and globally in the spirit of Acts 1:8, they will increasingly be transformed/changed into the likeness of Jesus.

It’s my belief that people don’t really understand how all our ministries at CVC fit into this dynamic. People tend to see our activities as programs. We want them to see what we are encouraging them to do as a process by which they will grow to be more like Jesus and, therefore, be more likely to hear the “well done” that we all for sure want to hear on “the day.”

So, as staff, we are rereading the book Simple Church by Thom Rainer and asking, "What will it take for these following statements to be a reality at CVC?"

CVC is truly helping people grow to be passionate followers of Christ.

A passionate follower of Christ is someone who loves God, loves one another, and loves the world.

CVC is designed around a straightforward and strategic process – love God; love one another; and love the world – that moves people through these stages of spiritual growth. The leadership and the church are clear about the process and are committed to executing it. The process flows logically and is implemented in each area of CVC.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

More about the Loving God Journal
I've been getting emails about how God is using the journal in people's lives. Here's one:

* * *

I just want to share with you what a positive effect the journal you created has had on my life. I do like to journal but can ramble on and not be very structured. Then I get tired of it and don't journal. I actually am using my own reading plan. So for example, I started in Isaiah 40. That was journal day 1. I followed your directions which were very clear. After two days of journaling (and please note that this has been a very trying week and a half...), I felt very blessed by God with my journalling.

I have continued for the past week or so. I now have it organized with my Table of Contents. I know some people go back and read their journals, I rarely did this. Now that I am confined to one page, seeking meaning out of each and every reading, my quiet times have been very enriched. I can easily go back to a topic. I feel so much closer to the Lord! Thank you so much for this gift!

I actually bought a journal for one of the pharmacists I used to work with. She was asking me how to have a quiet time. I told her about this and she said to pick up one for her!
* * *

I wrote: I’m so encouraged that the journal is helping you. Thanks so very much. I’m hoping that the directions, the smaller sized pages, and the one page per day format will enable the people who are intimidated by lots of writing to feel that this is something they can actually do. And I’m hoping that the one page per day format will also limit those of us who can go on and on and on so that we won’t get burned out and give up.

Last night... I was able to talk with a couple of young women who are using the journal. And they are now calling each other to compare journal entries. So, their spiritual fellowship is being encouraged. I think that’s very cool.

So, thanks, again for the encouragement. You are a true blessing!

And thanks for being a missionary to one of the pharmacists you work with. I’m honored that God would use the journal with the pharmacist, too.

* * *

If you would like to order a Loving God Journal, you can place your order at
karpospress@yahoo.com. Cost is $10.00 with $3.50 shipping and handling. Or you can pick one up at Cuyahoga Valley Church.
* * *

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Remember. Wait. Abide.

Yesterday, I led our staff in a little study of I Timothy 1:12.

Paul writes to Timothy, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service."

I mentioned that we as a staff, like Paul, have been appointed by Jesus to serve Him. And I mentioned that there are three characteristics (or qualifications) that Jesus seeks to see in us as those appointed to His service.

1) We are to be grateful people ("I thank Christ Jesus our Lord...")
2) We are to be strengthened people ("... who has given me strength...")
3) We are to be faithful people ("... he considered me faithful...")

We divided the staff up into smaller groups of people who wrestled with questions about each characteristic. What does a person look like who is grateful, strengthened, and faithful? What happens when leaders are not grateful, strengthened, and faithful? How can we seek to increase our gratitude, strength, and faithfulness?

I was really intrigued with the answers that our staff came up with to answer that last question. "How can we seek to increase our gratitude, strength, and faithfulness?"

The staff of CVC said: We increase our gratefulness by remembering. We don't forget as the Israelites did in Psalm 78. Instead, we remember what the Lord has done for us, especially His work on the cross.

The staff of CVC said: We increase our strength by waiting. We wait on the Lord as Isaiah 43 teaches.

The staff of CVC said: We increase our faithfulness by abiding. Faithfulness is a fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. We bear fruit by abiding in the vine as we learn in John 15:5.

I love the wisdom of our staff!

What is vital, then, for those appointed to the service of Christ? Remembering. Waiting. Abiding. These are words that encourage me to be "actively passive" as I sit quietly before the Lord. Or perhaps I should think of it as being "passively active."

Bottom line? Trying to be better servants in our own strength won't cut it. Only God produces a grateful, strengthened, faithful servant. Therefore, we must - we must, we must - spend time with the Lord. Remembering. Waiting. Abiding. This is the means of grace toward being better servants of Christ.

Pray that you will do this. And pray for me and the staff of CVC that we will remember the means of grace to see Jesus increase our capacity to serve Him.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Oprah's theology

Yesterday's message at CVC was about Jesus saying, "I am the Light of the world."

In the message, I mentioned that we can go to lots of places other than Christ to try to find light. And I mentioned Oprah's recommended self-help therapy books as a possible source of guidance that many people seem to try. At least one person thought that I was implying that it wasn't all that bad to listen to Oprah's advice on life. Here's the email I received:

"Good to see you yesterday and be at CVC. In your sermon you mentioned something about Oprah that didn't seemed to indicate it was all that bad to listen to her. She is a brilliant woman but very deceived and many are following her foolishness."

* * *

Here's my response to that email:

"Thanks for the info about Oprah. I think you may have misheard what I said about her. I was actually trying to get people NOT to use her as a source of light. Since I preach from a pretty full manuscript, here's what I actually said in the message:

Jesus will give us energy. He will give us joy. But we have to be regularly in His light. There are lots of ways we try to light up our darkness. Cry on the shoulder of a friend. Find a new guy. Or a new car. Go to a book store and buy the Oprah’s most recently recommended self-help therapy book. Try all these methods. All you’ll get is a pseudo-light - a fake light, a false light. These things may seem to work for a while. But the "light" will eventually dim. You need the light of Christ. His Light followed gives life."

* * *

Every now and then, I will say something like this about Oprah in a message to let the CVCers who watch her show know that when you watch her (or others like her) you have to keep your spiritual radar on.

I'm not an Oprah expert. I don't claim to know about her personal theology. But I think most people would agree with me that that she's very talented, extremely gifted, consistently entertaining, extravagantly wealthy, passionately generous, and deeply spiritual. She definitely has influence on millions of Americans. (And her charitable work actually is something that we as believers ought to applaud.)

But if you take just a cursory look at some You Tube clips from Oprah's past shows where she talks about God, the Bible, Jesus, and religion, you will see that Oprah doesn't use God's Word as her ultimate source of authority. Contrary to John 14:6, she doesn't point to Jesus as the only way to God. She seems to have fashioned for herself a god she prefers to follow rather than the God of the Bible. Therefore, for Bible-believing followers of Jesus, Oprah's "theology" is dangerous.

The apostle Paul warns us about certain so-called spiritual leaders in II Corinthians 11:13-15. He says that there are "false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve."

So, for me - and for every follower of Christ - it has to be Jesus only. Jesus always. Jesus ever. He is the Bread of Life, the Light of the world, the Resurrection and the Life, the Gate, the Good Shepherd, the Way/Truth/Life, and the True Vine.

Let's be on guard against anything or anyone who detracts from His glory or departs from His teachings. (And let's not let the Oprah's of this world outdo us when it comes to a generosity that seeks to make a difference in the lives of hurting and needy people.)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The PIT Crew

I have a PIT Crew. What's that? It's a term from a book called "The Prayer Saturated Church." In the book, Carol Sacks, the author, talks about a Pastor's Intercessory Team. Hence, the PIT Crew.

A friend named Carlton Smith who is a prayer leader here in NE Ohio, challenged me to recruit some people at CVC to pray for me. He said, "Your church is a leading church in our region. You have a target on your back. You need prayer support."

So, I did what he said. And I actually was able to be blessed with two teams: 1) a group of women (affectionately called the "Yadies" by one lady's little daughter) and 2) a group of men. I am so honored that they regularly pray for me and for my family and for our church. I do not take it for granted. Not at all. I've let them know that only heaven will tell how much difference their prayers have made for CVC and for me.

This past week, I sent to them these words from John Piper. Maybe they will inspire you to better care for your pastor.

* * *

I want to remind us why we need to minister to our pastor, how we might do it better, and what we can hope for as a result.

First, why must we minister to our pastor? The reason is that he is a human and a fellow believer like us. As a man, he is just as suscep­tible to temptations as any of us. Faith isn't automatic for him just because he is a pastor. It is no easier for him to be a loving, hopeful person than it is for us. His resources in the fight of faith are no greater than ours. He is one of us.
More than that, the unique burdens of his calling demand our faithful ministry to him; for example, the administrative burden of see­ing that a hundred details are taken care of. Most of these we are never even aware of.

Then there is the burden of hearing and delivering messages from God week after week. Don't ever think that these messages come easily for a pastor. If they are con­sistently Biblical, they require much hard work. Many tears are shed in a pastor's study over sermons that just won't come. If we feel spiritually dry we might skip church or come for renewal, but where can a pastor go?
Then there is the burden of wanting his peo­ple to act more like Jesus and be the light of the world. Paul said to the Galatians (4:19), "I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!" Nothing weighs heavier on a pastor's heart than when his people don’t grow in faith, love, and righteousness.
You could all make a longer list of pastoral pressures, but now let's consider how we can minister to our pastor.
The best way to bear the burden of your pastor is to be a Christian. Paul said in Philip­pians 2:2-3, "Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves."

In other words, nothing will refresh our pastor like a humble, loving, Christ-like congregation. Paul said to the Roman church, "I long to see you … that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith" (1:11-12). Our faith is a source of great encouragement to our pastor. So let's be a believing people.
Besides this, I have three specific sugges­tions of things we can do to build our pastor up and increase the fruitfulness of his ministry.
1) Pray for him every day. Write it down so you don't forget. And don't just say, "God bless the pastor.” Be specific. Pray for his health, his messages, his family, his visiting, his flaws and weaknesses. Put yourself in his place and try to feel with him as you pray.
2) Second, go out of your way to say some gracious words of encouragement. Write him a note on the registration card, send a letter now and then to his home; call him up on the phone. Get him alone sometime, look him right in the face, and say, "I appreciate your work, pastor, and I am praying for you every day." Don't be satisfied with platitudes at the door after Sunday services.
3) Third, admonish him in a spirit of forgiveness. I have never talked to anyone in my life who is completely satisfied with his pastor. There is a very simple reason: All men are imperfect. Some people never seem to learn this. and they hop from church to church in search of the flawless pastor. That's hopeless. It is far better to find a church where you feel at home and to consider it your life­long responsibility to help the pastor grow. Everyone would like to change something about his pastor, but how many of us have devoted ourselves to earnest prayer about that thing? And how many have sat down with him and with a humble, forgiving spirit admonished him to change? If we love him we will do it ... and he is not all that scary to talk to.
Those are just some of the ways to minister to your pastor.

* * *

For all those at CVC who have been all the above to me and more, thanks! It is a joy serving Jesus in NE Ohio. He's been so very gracious to us as a church family. I am a blessed pastor.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Right or wrong

For many years, I have counseled people (including my family) with the following 12 principles to guide us in knowing right from wrong. These are the questions I have asked myself regarding things like drinking wine or any alcoholic beverage, playing the lottery, etc. Personally, I have said "no" to many things because of wrestling through these questions and verses listed below.

Oftentimes we struggle to know what is right or wrong for a follower of Christ. Certain "activities" have been justified by some believers with the statement, "Well the Bible does not specifically condemn it." Every follower of Christ must understand that while the Bible may not directly speak to an issue ("Should I go there?" "Should I do this thing?", etc.) there are basic principles that can guide every decision in life.

We can ask the following questions:

Is there a direct command from God about it? Luke 6:46
Does it glorify God? I Corinthians 10:31
Does it cause others to stumble? Romans 14:21
Is this activity helpful? I Corinthians 10:23
Does it harm my body? I Corinthians 3:16, 17
Does the activity promote evil? Romans 12:9
Can I ask God to bless it? Psalm 67:1
Is it "of the world" or "of God"? I John 2:15-17
Do I master it or does it master me? I Corinthians 6:12
Do those I admire most engage in this activity? Hebrews 13:7
Does it waste time? Ephesians 5:16
Will it cause me shame in the day of judgment? I John 2:28

Each believer must wrestle with these questions before the Lord concerning questionable activities. For the believer, love limits liberty. I have often said these words to myself, "Others may; you cannot." It's kind of a "Nazirite" thing with me about certain activities that other Christians may engage in, but I feel the Lord convicting me not to engage in. (A Nazirite refers to a Jew who took an ascetic vow described in Numbers 6:1-21.)

It's a hard thing is to not make what the Lord has said to me apply to everyone else. We must refrain from falling to the temptation of making our particular position on a questionable activity the litmus test of everyone else's holiness. If we aren't careful here, we can become legalistic, Pharisaical, judgmental, holier-than-thou types. Remember that Jesus saved His harshest words for that crowd.

Part of what it means to be holy is that we live according to principles found in Romans 14-15 and I Corinthians 8 and Colossians 2:16-23. Romans 14:3-4 is a very challenging passage for those who have stricter views because of their tender consciences.

I go back to what we've often said at CVC, "In essential things, unity. In non-essential things, liberty. In all things, charity."

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