Saturday, May 31, 2008

New City Streets

If we are going to reach more and more of NE Ohio, it will require more and more new, relevant churches.

Over the last couple of years, I've been working to help establish NEO360, a local church planting organization affiliated with Vision 360, an international church planting association.

Some of the influential leaders who are part of Vision 360 include Al Weiss, the President of Worldwide Operations for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Brian Bloye of Westridge Church in Atlanta, Steve Andrews of Kensington Community Church in Detroit, Bob Roberts of Northwood Church in Dallas, Erwin McManus of Mosaic in Los Angeles, and Darrin Patrick of The Journey in St. Louis.

One church that we've planted as a part of the NEO360 network is Church of the Hills. Another is going to start this fall, Mercy Hill Chapel, a church that will locate in Parma Heights focused on reaching Ukrainiane speaking young adults.

Our most recent church start has been New City Streets. It's just a few weeks old. They were recently featured on News Channel 5. Check it out.

Would you pray with me for the growth of New City Streets, for the establishment of NEO360 and for many, many real, relevant, relational churches to be planted in NE Ohio?

Thursday, May 29, 2008


This weekend, we're dealing with what the Bible has to say about the difficult feeling of guilt. Confession is key. But usually we confess our sins is a very general way. And our specific sins go unconfessed.

Therefore, we're publishing a guide to confession this weekend. I've updated it from something we published in the past.

What comes below is the heart of what we're publishing. The following questions have been selected from Dr. Gregory Frizzell’s book Returning to Holiness.

Cut and paste and print this out for your use. Or better yet, come to CVC this weekend, worship, listen to a message on overcoming guilt, and get a copy of the guide (with instructions on how to use it) for yourself and for those in your family.

* * *

Sunday – Confessing sins of Thought
Am I consumed with earthly issues rather than Christ and His Kingdom? (II Cor 10:5)
Am I plagued by unclean, fearful, or angry thoughts? (Phil 4:8)
Do I watch, listen to, or read things that stimulate unclean thoughts? Matt 5:28)
Have my priorities revolved around earthly things more than Jesus? (Col 3:1-3)
Have I failed to seriously read and study God’s Word daily? (Ps 1:2)
Does God’s Word have little place in my thoughts? (Ps 119:15-16)
Do I seek God for what He can do for me more than for who He is? (Ps 37:4)
Are my selfish desires surpassing my desire for God’s glory? (James 4:3)
Does my worship decrease when things don’t go my way? (I Thess 5:16-18)
Do I exhibit a shallow reverence for and worship of God? (Matt 15:8-9)

Monday – Confessing sins of Attitude
Is my love for and service to Jesus lacking passion/zeal/fire? (Rev 3:15-16)
Do I see myself with the spiritual right to criticize/judge others? (I Pet 5:5)
Do I feel little need of cleansing or do I allow God to search my life? (Ps 51:17)
Am I complacent or desperately hungry to see a mighty move of God? (Matt 5:6)
Do I have a “holier-than-thou” reputation because I think I’m better than others? (Phil 2:3-4)
Do I look down on others because of their race, culture, or finances? (James 2:1)
Do I worry rather than trust God and rest in His promises? (Heb 11:6)
Have I let disappointments weaken my faith and prayer life? (Matt 7:7-11)
Am I argumentative/critical/harsh/contentious or kind and gentle? (Eph 4:2)
Do I respond with forgiveness and love when someone hurts me? (Matt 5:44)
Can I truly say, “Jesus is in control of my desires and my finances?” (I Jn 2:15-17)

Tuesday – Confessing sins of Speech
Do I use God’s name in any way other than worship, honor, and praise? (Eph 4:29)
Have I engaged in off-color conversations that reflect the filthiness of society? (Eph 5:4)
Do I ever lie, exaggerate, or mislead people to make myself look better? (Col 3:9)
Do I fail to follow-through with promises and commitments? (James 5:12)
Do I often gripe and complain about situations in my life? (I Cor 10:10)
Do I fail to give thanks in all things and at all times? (Ps 103:1-5)
Do my words reflect an underlying anger and impatience with others? (Eph 4:31)
Am I guilty of any form of gossip or slander? (James 4:11-12)
Do I tear down my church by contributing to disunity or do I build it up? (I Cor 1:10)
Have I been critical or slanderous of Christian leaders? (I Tim 5:17)

Wednesday – Confessing sins of Relationship
Have I hurt or offended others and am I now refusing to be reconciled? (Matt 5:23-24)
Am I bitter or holding grudges against people who have offended me? (Matt 6:14-15)
Am I rationalizing any improper relationships or guilty of adultery/fornication? I Cor 15:33)
Do I neglect regular fellowship or meaningful service through my church? (Heb 10:24-25)

(For husbands) Do I put my own needs ahead of my wife’s needs? (Eph 5:25)
(For wives) Do I have a rebellious spirit and show disrespect to my husband? (Eph 5:24, 33)
(For children) Do I disobey/disrespect my parents and ignore their guidance? (Col 3:20)
(For parents) Do I respond with anger or do I listen with love and understanding? (Matt 18:6)
(For adult children) Do I neglect my parents emotionally or financially? (Eph 6:1-3)
(For adult children) Are there unresolved issues between me and my parents? (Ex 20:12)

Thursday – Confessing sins of Commission
Am I guilty of any sexual immorality through what I’ve done, read, or seen? (Eph 5:5, 12)
Do I engage in harmful habits – overeating, alcohol/drug abuse, smoking? (I Cor 3:16-17)
Do I put anything before God – reputation, work, family, entertainment? (Ex 20:2-3)
Do I spend more time online or watching TV than in Bible reading and prayer? (Matt 6:33)
Does recreation or some hobby take precedence over serving Jesus? (Matthew 6:24)
Have I been honest in fully tithing my time, talent, and treasure to God? (Mal 3:8-10)
Have I been deceived to think that gambling is just harmless recreation? (Prov 13:11)
Do I consult horoscopes/psychics/self-help gurus rather than the Lord? (Lev 19:31)
Do I compromise biblical convictions when the pressure to conform comes? (Rev 2:14-15)
Is there something in my life that I don’t have peace about but won’t give up? (Ro 14:23)

Friday – Confessing sins of Omission
Have I been too busy to give God significant time? (Rev 3:20)
Have I neglected to abide in a close relationship with Christ? (John 15:4-5)
Have I failed to pray for, show love to, share Christ with the lost? (Acts 1:8)
Have I been a taker, not a giver – a spectator who watches others serve Christ? (Ro 12:6-8)
Have I been spiritually lazy and not a productive member of Christ’s church? (I Peter 4:10)
Do I put up with recurring sins or do I claim God’s full victory? (Ro 6:14)
Am I fervently seeking God for more of His daily presence and power? (Jer 29:13)
Do I make excuses when prompted to fervently pray and biblically fast? (Matt 6:5-18)
Do I fail to show godly sorrow or true repentance over some particular sin? (II Cor 7:9-11)
Am I guilty of the sin of partial or delayed obedience? (Jam 1:23-24)

Saturday – Confession sins of Self-rule and Self-reliance
Has God told me something to do that I’ve failed to do? (Jam 4:17)
Is God telling me to stop something that I’m still doing? (Ro 6:6)
Am I doing something that’s not an overt sin but is a hindrance? (Matt 16:24-25)
Do I become defensive and run from God’s conviction and breaking? (Is 66:2)
Am I coasting spiritually and assuming I need little further breaking? (John 12:14)
Do I resent hardships rather than embrace them as ways to fully know Jesus? (Prov 17:3)
Am I avoiding times of deep searching and cleansing before God? (Ps 139:23-24)
Am I failing to pursue holiness with greater and greater passion? (Heb 12:14)
Do I trust my training/talent/strengths more than the fullness of God’s Spirit? (II Cor 12:9-10)
Do I place more emphasis on strategies than on deep cleansing and prayer? (Gal 2:20)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Listening to a message

I believe that in this day of consumerism in the American church and in a time when any church member can down load the sermons of the best preachers in the world, it is becoming more and more difficult for local church pastors to have the kind of influence and impact in parishioner's lives that they used to have.

Church attenders now can easily and routinely listen to a menu of their favorite speakers like Chuck Swindoll, Rob Bell, Anne Graham Lotz, John MacArthur, Andy Stanley, Charles Stanley, Beth Moore, James McDonald, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, etc.

So, the temptation is for church attenders to compare their pastor's words against the best of the best. And local church pastors often just doesn't measure up. I know I don't. The result is that some people view a radio or conference or TV personality as their real teacher/spiritual authority, not their local church pastor. It seems that some people often don't want to be truly pastored by their local pastor (until it's time for a wedding or funeral).

So, how is a parishioner supposed to glean something from the words of his/her local church pastor when the communication isn't as world class as some other communicator might be?

I was reading a message by C. H. Spurgeon and saw that he once taught his people how to listen to his sermons. It was a message on II Corinthians 13:5 delivered on Sunday morning, October 10, 1858.

I thought it was good advice for me (because I listen to and read a lot of sermons myself) and I thought it was good advice for church-goers, especially CVCers.

* * *

"Let not any one of you, as he goeth out of the house of God, say unto his neighbour, 'How did you like the preacher? What did you think of the sermon this morning?'

Is that the question you should ask as you retire from God's house? Do you come here to judge God's servants?

I know it is but a small thing unto us to be judged of man's judgment; for our judgment is of the Lord our God; to our own Master we shall stand or fall.

But, O men! ye should ask a question more profitable unto yourselves than this. Ye should say, 'Did not such-and-such a speech strike me? Did not that exactly consort with my condition? Was that not a rebuke that I deserve, a word of reproof or of exhortation? Let me take unto myself that which I have heard, and let me not judge the preacher, for he is God's messenger to my soul: I came up here to be judged of God's Word, and not to judge God's Word myself.'"

* * *

Help us all, Lord, have ears to hear - even from the not-so-world-class communicators!

Friday, May 23, 2008

What do you think?

I am sometimes asked questions about various Christian leaders. People stop me in the hall or foyer of the church and casually ask, "What do you think about ______?"

I take all such questions seriously. But I answer cautiously.

Who am I to discuss another person's ministry? I can't look into another person's heart and read their motives. I don't understand why they have said what they said or why they did what they did. If I were in the same context. I might do things exactly the same. Plus, it's clear to me from the story about David and Saul that we are not to lift our hand against the Lord's anointed. We have to be very, very careful when given the opportunity to critique another person's teachings and ministry.

I'm careful because over the years, I've been on the receiving end of the critiquing. I try to say, "Thanks" or "I'll pray about that" or "Your critique will make me seek God more." But I'm often left thinking, "What I just experienced didn't feel like love. I don't feel like this person really knows me. Or loves me. Or understands why we're doing what we're doing. Or why we're doing it the way we're doing it. Instead, this person just wants to change me - to make me more like their favorite leader. Why can't this person just accept me the way God made me? Why are they on a mission to change me? Why can't they pray and then trust God's Spirit to change me?"

So, when people ask me for a critique or someone else, I try hard to say, "You know, I've found that one size doesn't fit all. God has lots of His people out there doing His work in lots of different ways. I praise God for what He's doing through the life and ministry of this person. And we all know that this person will one day stand before God, not any of us, to give an account. Let's pray together for the further sanctification in this person's life and for more fruitfulness of their ministry. Let's see what we can learn from this person. We can take what we feel God wants us to have and leave the rest."

Yet there are times when leaders have to take a stand. When essential doctrines are involved or when unity is at stake, we have to draw a line in the sand. We have to sometimes say, "We believe this, not that" and "We're doing things this way, not that way."

I've been around long enough to know that when people ask, "What do you think about _____?" often it's an honest question.

Sometimes, people at CVC are simply confused by the teachings, writing, and/or ministries of others. They are wanting me as their pastor to help them know how to think biblically about a certain person or movement. These are people who actually want to be shepherded/helped/mentored by me and by our church.

Other times, it's not such an honest question because the question-askers have an agenda. They have already made up their minds about someone. Maybe they distrust the teacher or ministry. Or maybe they a raving fans of a teacher or ministry. In such cases, when they ask what I think, they are actually using my opinion as a litmus test to see whether I'm an OK leader or not. These kinds of question-askers are people who probably do not actually want to be shepherded/helped/mentored by me. Instead, they want me to be shaped/corrected/led by their favorite teacher or ministry.

So, how to respond is always difficult. I try to follow Spirit-inspired leadings. If I sense that people want to be taught, I'll share my insights freely. If I sense that people have an agenda, I won't open up very much because I have seen in the past how some of the information I have shared has been against me or the church.

Pray for your leaders. And for yourself. We all need wisdom to know how to respond when asked, "What do you think about ________?"

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Prescription Medications and the Care, Mentorship, and Biblical Counseling Process at Cuyahoga Valley Church
This past weekend, I spoke on depression at CVC. And the conversation often includes a discussion about the appropriateness of medication. Some believers feel that medicines used for things like panic attacks, ADD, and depression betray a lack of confidence in God and His Word. Other believers feel that God has given physicians insight into the workings of the human body and that it is therefore appropriate to use various prescriptions medications under a doctor's direction. So, we get asked, "What do we believe at CVC about prescription medications when it comes to things like depression and ADD?" What follows is a position paper the elders of CVC adopted several years ago. We updated it recently.
* * *

The Elders and staff of CVC are sometimes asked questions about whether or not it is biblically appropriate for Christians to use prescription medications in dealing with emotional or psychological problems.

It is our recommendation that anyone seeking help or spiritual care for extreme emotional and psychological problems consult a physician for a complete physical at the earliest time possible while continuing to connect with our church leadership at CVC. After the complete physical, we encourage people to follow the doctor’s recommendation regarding medications while proceeding with their spiritual growth at our church.

Sometimes prescription medications of various kinds are regularly prescribed by medical professionals to treat emotional, mental, and related problems. The care provided at our church is in no way meant to replace or replicate appropriate medical, psychiatric, or outpatient mental health services. Should a referral be needed at any time to one of these services, one will be immediately provided.

When a person who is taking prescription medication enters a counseling, spiritual care, or mentorship relationship through our church, our goal is to use biblical principles to help the person handle the problems of life. It is the responsibility of the one who has prescribed the medication to determine when and if it is time for people to stop using the medication. Our pastors, mentors, and spiritual leaders do not give direction concerning the use or non-use of prescription medication.

The skill of the CVC staff, Elders, mentors, and spiritual leaders is in the application of the Bible to help people deal with emotional or psychological problems. It is NEVER our church’s responsibility to make a determination to prescribe, modify, or discontinue taking such medications. That is exclusively the domain of the medical and mental health professional community.

We also encourage every member and regular attender to participate fully in our community group ministry. Many people have found active participation in a community group can facilitate spiritual growth and maximize the effectiveness of the spiritual care they receive through the church.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Even though I was really tired this weekend after preaching 4 times on an emotional topic, I went to 707 this past Sunday night to hear my daughter-in law, Joanna, sing a great opening song with Bryan Karas, our 707 worship pastor. I also wanted to hear the testimonies of the 4 people who were baptized. I wanted to celebrate by singing and watching the baptisms.

But I have to admit that I slipped out a little early after the last baptism. And when I did, I missed something really moving.

Today, Andy Sikora, our lead pastor for 707, told me the reast of the story. During the baptisms, Andy said that he prayed that the testimonies of those being baptized would have impact on the people who attended the service. That prayer was answered. And fast.

A young woman was so moved by the stories of how Jesus was changing lives that she wanted Jesus, too. So, even before the service was over, while the band led people in worship, Andy had the chance to talk with her and to encrouage her to receive Christ. She did. Afterwards, she was willing for Andy to share her story at the end of the evening before everyone went home.

God is still changing lives! What an encouragment to Andy, to the entire 707 team, to those being baptized, to me, and to our entire CVC family.

Thanks be to God for changing lives. And oh yeah, 707 unveiled a new logo, too. Nice.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Meek and mild Alan?

Our oldest son, Alan, was recently in Nashville recording a radio program with American Policy Roundtable. They are putting together a series of programs with the cast of the new Billy Graham movie that is currently being filmed. Right now it's being called Billy: The Early Years.

Alan was cast as an extra in the movie - listening to a young Billy Graham preach. The scene is set in the 30s. Alan had to shave his beard. And comb his hair old-style.

Someone from Roundtable sent me a picture of Alan as an extra.

After preaching to Alan for 26 years, I have to say that I don't think I ever saw him as meek and mild while listening to me! O to be able to preach like Billy!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A prayer for abiding in Christ

Several months ago, I penned a prayer to help me abide in Christ. Maybe something like this will help you. Why not pray it every day for the next 30 days?

* * *

Jesus, I praise You as the living Vine in heaven. And I thank You that You have made me a living branch on earth.

I confess how little I have understood how great my need is for You. And I confess how little I have understood that You desire to bear fruit through me to bless the world with Your love.

So, now, I offer myself as an empty branch to You. Apart from You, I am lifeless, hopeless, and helpless. I ask that You fill me with Your fullness, Your life, Your love. I desire a complete and close connection to You. I know that You want me to be a fruitful branch now.

Let me more and more clearly see this amazing union between You and me. Guide me into an ever-increasing communion with You, Lord. Let me cry out with my whole being, “Yes, Jesus is the True Vine to me, bearing me, nourishing me, supplying me, using me, and filling me to the full to make me bring forth fruit abundantly. And, yes, I am a branch to Jesus, abiding in Him, resting on Him, waiting for Him, and living in Him so that through me He gives His fruit to a perishing world.”

By faith, Lord Jesus, I claim Your strength for my weakness; Your riches for my poverty; Your supply for My need. I yield myself wholly to You. I am nothing without You. I can do nothing without You. But through Your life in me, I can accomplish all Your holy will and bear much fruit for the Father’s glory.

Fruit-bearing and social justice

This past weekend, I spoke from John 15 about Jesus being the "true vine."

To really understand what Jesus says in John 15, we have to know a little something about the relationship between God and His people in the Old Testament.

The people of God – the people of Israel – were supposed to be God’s vineyard. The people were called a choice vine that God brought out of Egypt and planted in the Promised Land. So, the vine had become a symbol for the nation of Israel.

The fruit Israel was to produce was intended to bless the world. They were to bear righteousness, justice, truth, mercy, shalom, healing for all wounds, rest for the weary. As G. Campbell Morgan once said, "The fruit of the kingdom of God was supposed to gladden the hearts of humanity." That’s why God made Israel a people.

So, how did Israel do? In Isaiah 5, the prophet describes God and what God was looking for.

2a He plowed the land, cleared its stones, and planted it with the best vines… 4 [The LORD said,] “What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not already done? When I expected sweet grapes, why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?” 7 He looked for a crop of justice and saw them murdering each other. He looked for a harvest of righteousness and heard only the moans of victims. Isaiah 5:2a, 4, 7 (NLT)

God had formed Israel to be a blessing to the world. But Israel had failed. God says, “Israel is not bearing fruit. You’re not blessing the world.” And that’s why God sent Jesus.

Now, with this as background, look at John 15. Jesus is with His closest followers. It’s the night He’s going to be arrested. The next day, He’ll be scourged and crucified. He’s just celebrated the Last Supper in an upper room in Jerusalem with His followers. He’s said, “Let’s go from here.” He’s on the way out of the city of Jerusalem to a garden where He will pray.

The most prominent structure in the city was the Temple. At the entrance of the Temple was a great golden vine – a symbol of the nation. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, said that the vine was known for its beauty and size and cost. The golden clusters of grapes were as large as a man.

So, as Jesus leaves the city with the Temple and the vine as a backdrop, He says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser" (John 15:1).

He's with the 11 disciples minus Judas who has gone out to betray Him. Jesus is talking to a group here. He’s talking to His closest followers – the twelve disciples minus Judas who has left the group to sell out Jesus – to betray him. So, in a very real sense, Jesus is talking to the very first church. And through them, He’s talking to the Church-at-large. And to particular churches – like CVC.

It's as if He's pulled His followers aside and said, "Want to know a secret? I am the true vine. Yes, I know all about how Israel was the vine My Father planted. But let’s face the truth. Israel did not accomplish My Father’s will. He got no fruit from Israel. As a whole, the nation did not bless the world. Instead of justice, injustice. Instead of service, serve us. Instead of givers, takers. So, I have come. See that vine around that door that represents Israel? Look at Me. I am the true vine. Not Israel. The fruit that will bless the world will come from Me. Through Me righteousness and truth and justice will prevail. I am the true vine."

So, we are to abide in Him. Individually... and corporately. And when we do, we bear fruit.

For years, I have been individualizing this passage thinking that Jesus is telling me how to bear the fruit of the Spirit in my marriage and family and other relationships. I've thought that if I abide in Christ, I’ll have more love and joy and peace and patience. And that’s not a wrong application. But God has made it very clear to me that it’s incomplete.

The Church, not just individuals, is to bear the fruit because the world is waiting – needing – the fruit from the church – righteousness, justice, truth. We bless the world if we abide in Christ.

Shame on us if we grow clusters of grapes containing the wine of the Kingdom of God and we consume it all ourselves. G. Campbell Morgan said, “There can be no selfishness so devilish as the selfishness of the man who takes whatever comes to him from Christ and fails to hand it on to other men.”

The purpose is fruit for the world. People are in need. They need fruit from Jesus. And He bears that fruit through us. When we do this, we will do what God has called us to do. We will love the world. God doesn’t want us to abide to bear fruit simply for our own enjoyment. We have been engrafted into the vine so we can bear fruit that blesses the world.

Where there’s injustice, we bring justice. Where there’s hurt, we bring healing. Where there’s poverty, we bring our wealth. We live our lives on mission.

I'm grateful that there are people here at CVC who have given themselves to take care of orphans, to feed the homeless, to help young mothers keep and care for their babies. Why? How? It’s the life of Jesus surging through them. They’ve connected to Christ for lives that count.

How about me? And how about you?

My story

3 Story evangelism is a very engaging approach to sharing your faith. Check it out on the web here. The website says that it's "a way of life based on living and understanding three stories — God's, mine, and theirs'... Talking about Jesus comes out of the context of My Story and not my agenda."

I like this approach. A lot.

Recently, I was asked to read the story of how one of my friends came to know Jesus personally. As I read my friend's story, I was reminded how full of amazing grace all our journeys are. I thanked my friend for sharing the story. It’s truly a story of grace and redemption. I’m so glad to know how God has been at work in yet another life to draw a sinner to Himself.

At the very end, my friend wrote that "God lives within each and every one of us and I needed to just look with in my heart and there I would find God."

That statement caused me some concern. Why?

I John 5:11-13 teaches that some have Jesus in them and some don’t: “He who has the Son has the life and He who has not the Son of God does not have the life.” So, our desire must be to encourage everyone to ask people to ask Jesus into their hearts. John 1:12 also teaches us that there comes a point in time where each person receive Christ: “But as many as received Him, to them he gave the right to become children of God.”

We are all children of God in the sense that He is the Creator. But as John 1:12 says, we must “become” children of God by receiving Christ. That establishes a unique relationship between us and God. He adopts us into His family. He becomes our heavenly Father. We can cry our "Abba!"

I like to think of it this way: God is not going to force His way into anyone’s life. He only comes into those hearts where He’s been invited. So, the Bible teaches that it's not true that God lives within each and every one of us.

Now, to be sure, Genesis 1 teaches us that both those who have invited Christ in and those who haven’t are all created in the image of God. That’s why all life – no matter what race or religion or culture – should be so precious to us.

Yet we still have been given the task of getting the message of Jesus to the whole world because everyone created in His image has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We have all failed to reflect His image to the world.

That's why we point people to receive Jesus, the One who died in our place paying for our sin to forgive us, who then inhabits us when we receieve Him, and enables us to live lives that more closely reflect the image of God.

So, I encouraged my friend to stay consistent with these truths listed above.

I'm hoping my friend will say it something like this:

"God has created all of us in His image. And I can see His image reflected in me as well as in those around me. And since I invited Jesus into my lif, I know that as I look into my heart, I will find Him. I hope you will invite Jesus into your life, too."

Overall, I'm so thankful for my friend's beautiful testimony. God's grace is truly amazing!
Now, let me ask: What's your story? Can you articulate it? Maybe you should write it out. Are you curious about anyone else's story - especially those that don't yet know Jesus? Will you build a relationship and ask them about their story? And then will you share your story? And will you see if they are interested in His? Will you share what you know about His story?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Last weekend, I saw a car in our church parking lot with a "coexisit" bumper sticker. I had just talked about Bono and his "coexisit" bandana and chant earlier that Sunday.

It's reported that Bono said, “Jesus, Jew, Mohammed; all true. Jesus, Jew, Mohammed; all true.”

At last weekend's service, I said, "A young woman, writing in Relevant Magazine, tells about a Bono concert when he began to repeat those words like a mantra. People began to repeat it with him. She wrote, ‘About five songs into their set, Bono stopped the show and strapped on a headband with writing on it. I stared up at the JumboTron to see that the handwritten lettering said: COEXIST. Coexisting sounds like a great idea. I fully support the peaceful philanthropy that Bono has encouraged, and this seemed like another way that he was trying to spread the message. The “C” in “coexist” was the Islamic crescent moon, the “X” was the Star of David, and the “T” was the cross of Christ. Bono pointed at the symbols on his headband – first to the cross, then to the star, then to the crescent moon – and he began to repeat: ‘Jesus, Jew, Mohammed; all true. Jesus, Jew, Mohammed; all true.’ That’s a broad-minded message. That’s a tolerant message. That’s a politically correct message. But is it true?”

So, when I saw the coexisit bumper sticker, I wrote a little note, left a CD of my talk, and encouraged the person who owned the car to reconsider the bumper sticker.

The person wrote to me this past week. I'm glad. It's created some email dialogue. I think that's good. Here's what I received:

* * *

You are incredibly lucky I ever saw your note. I didn't even see it until after I made the drive to Steak n Shake... which involves driving 77 to 480 to Transportation. It stayed tucked under my wipers all the way there. It's kind of cool because I have been wanting to get to know you a little better but I hardly ever see you and when I do I am coming and you are going. I guess God made sure it would happen.

I'm sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I have a very big hypersensitivity to what I see as judgement because of many, many bad experiences with Christian leaders. I wanted to pray about what I should do... When I bought the coexist sticker, it was actually a three sticker purchase. I bought the "war is not pro-life," "endless war" (with the less crossed out and this written over it) and the coexist stickers all at the same time. To me, it means, "Hey guys! I have a great idea...let's not blow things up any more!"

So in light of that, when I read your note, I had absolutely no idea what you were talking about. I decided to find out who this Bono person is. After realizing you were not, in fact, referring to Sunny Bono (who is dead, which had me extremely confused for like an hour or so...I'm not kidding...haha), I found out you meant the lead singer of U2 and I have only ever heard a couple of their songs. Beautiful Day is one of my favorites.

So this led me to seeing that Coexist is actually a song by U2 and I looked up the lyrics. In the note you quoted them as "Jesus, Jews, Mohammed, all true." If that was true it would definitely be unbiblical, but I think you quoted them wrong.

On it quotes the song lyrics as:

Some graphitti was written up
on a wall not too far from here
It says coexist
Jesus, Jew, Mohammed, it's true
Jesus, Jew, Mohammed, it's true
All sons of Abraham
Father Abraham, Father Abraham
Where are you now
Father Abraham, look what you've done
You've pitted your son against your son
Father, Father Abraham
No more, no more, no more
No more, no more, no more
No more, no more, no more
No more, no more

In that context it seems to me that the song is referring to the fact that Christianity, Judaism and Muslim/Islam are all Abrahamic faiths, though I've also heard that Mohammed sort of invented the entire thing and I have no idea which is actually true. I get no sense of Bono saying any of these faiths are true or false. Maybe he's said something different during concerts? I've never been to a U2 concert, so I wouldn't have any idea. I also remember hearing somewhere about Abrahams sons (Isaac and Ishmael?) fighting each other but I have no idea where to look in the Bible to find more information on that.

Your CD might give me answers to the questions I have, but I think something happened to it while I was driving 65 (okay fine it was more like 80...) on the highway because I've tried playing it in three separate CD players and it just sort of spins and never plays. Does CVC have podcasts like sevenoseven does? I could just downlaod the sermon and play it on my ipod if you do. Or I could pick up another CD when I'm at sevenoseven tomorrow.

So, that's all I got. If you can help me out understanding any of this, please feel free. I hope I didn't come off as rude or anything. I hope you had a great week.

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I answered this way:

Thanks for the note. I’m sorry if I came across as judgmental. That’s not my intent. I am just wanting to take a stand for Jesus being the only way. To be sure, it’s not a “tolerant” message.

I get Relevant Magazine’s email. And the article that talks about Bono’s remarks can be found here:

I pulled comments from the article. Looks like there’s a little controversy about what Bono actually said. But again, I like what Tara Leigh Cobble, the author had to say, “If Bono has a saving faith in the one true God, I can only hope that he would speak the Truth without ambiguity. I pray that the name of Jesus would grace his lips, without being equated with Judaism or Islam or any other religion.”

I had never noticed your coexist bumper sticker until last Sunday. And I thought it was very interesting (a Divine appointment?) that I saw your bumper sticker on the very day I preached John 14:6 and used the Bono quote as an example of our tolerant, pluralistic, Jesus-is-not-the-only-way culture. So, I thought I would write a little note and encourage some thinking and, hopefully, some dialogue.

For me, I don’t want to “coexist” so “lovingly” with lost people so that I never point them to Christ because I don’t want to come across as judgmental. I don’t want them to one day stand before Jesus and hear Him say, “Depart from Me” (Matthew 7). Maybe it’s just my weird imagination, but I see scene after scene of people hearing “Depart,” then looking at their “friends” who knew Jesus was the Way, and saying to their “friends,” “Why didn’t you tell me?” And the “friends” say, “I didn’t want to judge you or offend you. I wanted to coexist with you. That’s the way I wanted to love you.” I just don’t think it’s loving if the coexist message gets in the way of the “one-way” message. In fact, if we know the Way and we don’t tell others, it’s the most unloving thing we could ever leave undone.

So, pray for me and I will for you. I’m not nearly the loving evangelist I need to be. I want to show people how much I care by loving them in practical ways and then engaging in dialogue about their story, my story, and His story. I hope to live out I Peter 3:15. I trust you do, too.

I’m really happy you wrote to me. Let’s talk more.

You can find my sermon here:

Friday, May 02, 2008


I'm preaching from John 15 this weekend. Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. Our job? Abide in the vine. If we do, we'll bear much fruit.
So, I've been reading what it means to abide. I can't share all of what I've learned on Sunday. So, here's some extra: 30 quotes on abiding in Christ that I found in my research.

Maybe it's more than you want to know. But maybe one of these quotes will inspire you.

Check them out. Try to read and apply one a day for a month.

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Abiding in Christ

It will mean a constant contact with [Jesus]. It will mean arranging life, arranging prayer, arranging silence in such a way that there is never a day when we give ourselves a chance to forget Him. William Barclay, The Gospel of John Volume 2, p. 176.

It is a union formed by believing on him; resulting from our feeling our dependence on him and our need of him; from embracing him as our Saviour, Redeemer, and Friend. We become united to him in all our interests, and have common feelings, common desires, and a common destiny with him. We seek the same objects, are willing to encounter the same trials, contempt, persecution, and want, and are desirous that his God shall be ours, and his eternal abode ours. It is a union of friendship, of love, and of dependence; a union of weakness with strength; of imperfection with perfection; of a dying nature with a living Saviour; of a lost sinner with an unchanging Friend and Redeemer. Albert Barnes, Barnes' Notes on the New Testament, John 15:4.

The ideas suggested are residence and continuance. It is as if He had said, “Think as I think; feel as I feel; will as I will; choose as I choose; and let My views of all objects and all events be yours, because they area Mine; let My feelings, My volitions, My choices, all be yours, and let them be yours because they are Mine… Rely on Me, entirely on Me. Let My wisdom be your wisdom – My righteousness your righteousness – My strength your strength. Come out of yourselves. Come into Me. J. Brown, The Biblical Illustrator Volume 14, p. 616.

Think of the things that take you out of abiding in Christ - Yes, Lord, just a minute, I have got this to do; Yes, I will abide when once this is finished; when this week is over, it will be all right, I will abide then. Get a move on; begin to abide now. In the initial stages it is a continual effort until it becomes so much the law of life that you abide in Him unconsciously. Determine to abide in Jesus wherever you are placed. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, p. 120.

As the branch partakes of the nature of the tree, is nourished by its juice, and lives by its life, so ye must be made partakers of my Divine nature, be wise in my wisdom, powerful in my might, and pure through my holiness. Adam Clark, The Adam Clark Commentary, John 15:4.

Christ precedes fruit. It is dependence, practical habitual nearness of heart to Him, and trust in Him, being attached to Him through dependence on Him. In this way Christ in them would be a constant source of strength and of fruit. He would be in them. Out of Him they could do nothing. If, by abiding in Him, they had the strength of His presence, they should bear much fruit. John Darby, Synopsis of the New Testament, John 15.

Jesus viewed union with Him, which is closely linked to keeping His commandments (John 15:10), as the key to the believer’s whole Christian life. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 974.

… an exhortation to continue in the exercise of faith and love upon Christ, holding to him the head, cleaving to him with full purpose of heart, and so deriving life, grace, strength, and nourishment from him. John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, John 15:4.

The great secret, then, of bringing forth much fruit, or of all advance in holiness, is a constant keeping open the avenue of the soul towards [Christ]. Dean Goulburn, The Biblical Illustrator Volume 14, p. 618.

[Abide] relates to volition, the decision to depend consciously upon Christ as the condition of fruitfulness. Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 347.

To walk with the Lord is to be with Him consistently, to go where He wants me to go, to let Him where set the pace, and to delight in His companionship above all others. Essential to walking with God is maintaining unbroken communion with Him. He alone is the source of abundance and growth. We are the branches and we must stay firmly connected to the Vine in order to mature. Abiding in Christ is deciding to let Christ be our Source, surrendering our life for His life… It is choosing each day to spend time with Him in His Word and in conversation with Him. To abide in Christ is to attach our delicate fragile selves firmly and permanently into the Vine in order to receive His strength and security. Cynthia Heald, Abiding in Christ, pp. 9, 11-12.

It is the great concern of all Christ’s disciples constantly to keep up a dependence upon Christ and communion with Him, habitually to adhere to Him, and actually to derive supplies from Him. The sap of the vine abides in the branch, and so there is a constant communication between them. Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume 5, p. 1124.

As all spiritual fruitfulness had been ascribed to the mutual inhabitation, and living, active interpenetration (so to speak) of Christ and His disciples, so here the keeping up of this vital connection is made essential to continued fruitfulness. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, John 15:4.

He, and He only, is the dwelling place for the soul… in this desert where no water is. Make Him the resource, make Him the object; and the sap… flows without hindrance, and fruit is borne. William Kelly, Exposition of the Gospel of John, p. 305.

[Abiding is] a simple attentiveness and an habitual, loving turning of my eyes on Him… a wordless and secret conversation between the soul and God which no longer ends. Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, p. 44.

Treasure your attachment to the vine. What branch has managed to stay alive without being attached to the plant? To live and flourish, we must be attached to Jesus. There is nothing of value – no business or agenda – that exists when we are detached from the Vine. Calvin Miller, The Christ We Knew, p. 158.

No branch bears fruit in isolation. It must have vital connection with the vine. In isolation from Him no spiritual achievement is possible. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 671

There are degrees in this union; some are more closely joined to Christ than others, and receive more of His life; and this is due to their growth into Him. They have struck the fibers of their spiritual being deeper and yet deeper into His being, and thus are close knit to Him. C. New, The Biblical Illustrator Volume 14, p. 616.

Jesus’ point is that He Himself must be the focus on His followers’ lives. By faith in Him they are already united with Him in such a way that his life really, although mysteriously, flows through them. Now they are to look to Him as their source of power to serve, listen to Him to find what form that service should take, cultivate His company as they go about His business, and bask in the certainty of His ongoing love. In this all-encompassing relationship to Him they are to “remain” (stay put and stay steady). J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness, pp. 193-194.

No man can grow in holiness unless he abides in Christ. Christ is the great root from which every believer must draw his strength to go forward. Christ is the manna you must daily eat. Christ must be the rock from which you must daily drink the living water. You must be ever looking unto Jesus. J. C. Ryle, Holiness, p. 379.

Closer, closer, closer, this is the way to spiritual wealth. C. H. Spurgeon, The Biblical Illustrator Volume 14, p. 617.

Let nothing keep you from that hallowed communion that is the unique privilege of a life hidden in Christ. Do not be content with the occasional meeting, but always seek to retain His company, for only in His presence will you find either comfort or safety. Jesus should be… one with whom we are in constant touch. C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, p. 3-9.

Continued production depends on constant union with the source of fruitfulness. The effectiveness of the believer depends on his receiving the constant flow of the life of Christ. If the life of Christ permeates a disciple, fruit will be inevitable. Merrill C. Tenney, The Expositors Bible Commentary Volume 9, p. 151.

Abide in Me, not merely on Me, which an unfruitful branch might do, but in Me, i.e. in vital connection with Me, who am the vine. The maintenance of this connection is exhibited as depending on the voluntary action of the believer. Thomas Whitelaw, The Gospel of John, p. 325.

In the Christian life, there is a difference between union and communion. When you trusted Christ to save you, the Holy Spirit united you to Him in a living relationship. You became a branch in the Vine; a living union was formed. But this one-for-all union is the basis for communion – maintaining a moment-by-moment fellowship with the Lord so that His life is shared with you. The branch that tries to go it alone will never bear fruit. Warren Wiersbe, 5 Secrets of Living, p. 29.

Picture the place where ancient trunk meets vigorous branch. Here is the touch point, the place where abiding happens. Here is the connection where life-giving nutrients in the sap flow through to the developing fruit. The only limitation on the amount of sap that goes to the fruit is the circumference of the branch where it meets the vine. That means that the branch with the largest, least-obstructed connection with the vine is abiding the most and will have the greatest potential for a huge crop. Bruce Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine, p. 95.

His purpose is not that you will do more for Him but that you will choose to be more with Him. Only by abiding can you enjoy the most rewarding friendship with God and experience the greatest abundance for His glory. Bruce Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine, p. 96.

To abide means to remain, to stay closely connected, to settle in for the long term. With this picture, Jesus is showing the disciples how and ongoing, vital connection with Him will directly determine the amount of His supernatural power at work in their lives. Bruce Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine, p. 96

If you stay connected to Him, if you draw spiritual nourishment from Him, if you allow the power that flows through Him to flow through you, nothing will hold you back from reaching the most abundant life possible. Bruce Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine, p. 98.

“Abide,” Jesus says. Don’t miss the command. Abide is an imperative – not a suggestion or a request… To abide, we must act. So even though abiding is not about doing more, if we want to experience it, we must do something – and the effort won’t come easily. In abiding, it’s always our move! Bruce Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine, p. 97.

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