Sunday, August 31, 2008

3 for 3

I once heard a church leader, Jim Dethmer, say, "Churches are made up of people who usually are made by God to have personal passion and ability in one of three areas of church life: Community, Cause, and Corporation." This has been a helpful tool for me over the years as I have thought about church.

Community is the "let's make sure we take the time to love one another" piece. Cause is the "let's go storm the gates of hell and win some souls" piece. Corporation is the "let's make sure we don't run out of gas for our tanks as we fight the war" piece.

You need all three for a ministry to work well. But usually no one person is equally gifted or fired up about all three.

That's why when you hire staff you look for people who are gifted and passionate about things that you aren't as gifted and passionate about.

Personally, I am motivated primarily by Cause. Now that's not to say that Community and Corporation are not important to me. And I have some giftings in each of those areas. But getting excited about and engaged in the Cause is how God made me. It's a main reason why God was able to use me to plant a church here in NE Ohio. I wanted to see people saved. I wanted to see a church established. So, the people around me know that I am most energized by the Cause (even if they don't know or use the Cause, Community, Corporation terminology).

Over the years, I've recognized that I need people around me who are more gifted at Community and Corporation. And we've hired them. Our staff is full of people who have personal passion and gifts in these areas. And I am grateful for them.

OK. With that as background, here's my rant.

We've been talking about discipleship a lot lately at CVC. And I firmly believe that for the people of CVC to be fully devoted followers of Jesus they need to go 3 for 3 when it comes to Loving God, Loving One Another, and Loving The World.

So, we're been talking a lot about what it takes to get people to go 3 for 3. And the last part that we talk about is, of course, the Love The World part.

I truly think something special happens inside the soul of a believer who goes on mission. That believer now is asking some great questions: "How can I share my faith? How can I pray more effectively? How can I maintain a closeness to God as I'm on mission becasue I surely can't do this alone? Do you have ideas on how to maintain relationships with others when we disagree on the mission field?" These questions and many others that are related to Loving God and Loving One Another come up over as people engage in Loving The World.

So, what's my rant? Because I've been talking not only about Loving God and Loving One Another, I've been accused of using the focus on discipleship as a thinly disguised way of trying to grow CVC - to add numbers. "Is this just a way to get more people in the door? It feels like you are wanting people to go out and be on mission to get more people to come to CVC."

Ouch! Listen, I think we could all find lots of easier ways to get people into the church and to keep them than trying to motivate people to truly be on mission. Think about it. We are asking even the new people who come to CVC to not only Love God and Love One Another, but to also Love The World - to go on mission. We aren't asking them to get comfortable. We are asking people to get out of their comfort zone because we think it's what a disciple does. We're not catering to the crowd.

Now, hopefully, we'll come up with other strategies to attract people to CVC. I do want to grow the church. I always have wanted to see God grow CVC and, God willing, I always will.

But please don't say that we are using Love God, Love One Another and Love The World as a thinly disguised church growth tactic. That hurts.

Yes, I'm Cause-oriented. But I want CVC to be used by God to produce passionate, fully developed disciples. That means we have to help people go 3 for 3.

Friday, August 29, 2008


This past week, I was invited to spend 2 days in Dallas with a group for 30 leaders from the North American Mission Board. Participants were from Atlanta, Cleveland, Baltimore, and San Deigo.

We learned how to use some tools to facilitate Result-Based Conversations - a term coined by WildWorks - an organization built to enhance collaborative team-building and strategic planning.

I am now a certified faciltator. I even have a certificate. Nice.

I paid the price. Our flight on Tuesday night was cancelled. So, we had to leave CVC for the Canton-Akron ariport at 4:00 AM on Wednesday. We had all day sessions and an evening session on Wednesday. And we were back at it at from 8:00 to 1:00 on Thursday. After flying back on Fontier through Denver, I got in bed at 2:00 AM Friday morning. (We even had some DNC people on board with us from Denver to Cleveland.)

I'm tired. But certified.

The material is really good stuff. So, how will I use the information? Stay tuned.

I am an ESV fan. That's the English Standard Version of the Bible.

When I became really serious about my walk with Christ, I was at Vanderbilt. I used a NASB Single Column Reference Bible.


In a previous post I wrote:

The NASB is a good literal translation. But it reads a little awkwardly in some places. Since the ESV has been published, it has become the Bible of choice for me. We are using it at both CVC and 707. I switched to the ESV because it is a more literal translation than the Message, the NLT, and the NIV (sorry NIV users!). I want a Bible that is as close as I can get to the original and still feels accessible and natural and readable. When we started CVC, I used the NASB. But it was a little tough for some people. We switched to the NIV for many years. But after looking at the orginal Greek I found that I would say sometimes in sermons and think oftentimes in my study, "The NIV gets it wrong here" or "There's an important nuance of the original text that the NIV is missing." When the ESV came out, I found something that is literal like the NASB and readable like the NIV. Check out what John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota says. Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle also has posted great reasons for using the ESV.


Now, the ESV people are putting out a Study Bible.

The features look really nice. Color maps and drawings of the Tabernacle and the Temple throughout the text. Solid introductions to each book of the Bible. Theological articles from trusted Biblical scholars. This video announcing the ESV explains the features well.

I'm thinking that it would be a good idea for most homes to have a copy for people to access when they have a question about a text or topic.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What if...

In this past weekend's message, I particularly called our men to “fight the fight with a band of brothers.”

I dreamed a little at the end of the message. What if we really had authentic, open, caring relationships with a few men and women?


What if you were part of a group of believers whose members would call you just to see how you are doing – who didn’t want anything from you, but just wanted to know what’s going on in your life?

What if you were part of a group of believers whose members accepted you just like you are – who didn’t judge you or criticize you or reject you when you sinned, when you failed?

What if you were a part of a groups of believers whose members kicked you in the seat of the pants when they saw you coasting – who lovingly called you out when they saw you slipping into sin?

What if you were a part of a group of believers where you were able to share your secrets with some safe people who would help you work through the pain and disappointments in your life?

What if you were part of a group of believers whose members sometimes surprised you with little acts of kindness – who blessed your life with a short note or a small gift for no other reason than they just care?

What if…?

* * *

What changes need to be made in your life that will help you be a part of a group like that?

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I was reviewing some old files and ran across a letter that I wrote 8 years ago when our son, Alan, was heading off to college.

He's graduated. He's got a ministry job at American Policy Roundtable. He's married now to wonderful Christian. I'm a proud dad - of all three of our sons.

But I thought this letter might encourage some other dads and sons.

* * *

August 12, 2000

Dear Alan,

I’m going to go ahead and admit it right now, up front. I’m struggling! You give yourself wholeheartedly to your child only to watch him walk out the door. Who invented this experience where parents send a son off to college anyway?

And just how is a dad supposed to be when a son goes off to college? Am I to be mad, sad, or glad? Mad that nothing ever stays the same in this uncertain, ever-changing world? Sad that our little family unit is being changed forever? Glad that you are going out into this needy world to make a difference? And how am I supposed to process this time in my life? Should I remember the past joys and trials? Or should I simply anticipate future happiness and challenges? What should be my focus?

Maybe it’s all of the above.

I know that, for now, I'm grieving.

The time really does go by fast. On Monday, you’re a barely-standing boy poised in a living room in Jacksonville learning to hit a ball hanging from a drawer handle, lefty, of course! On Tuesday, you’re “Cowboy Dan” on backyard rocking horse at our Tchulahoma Road house in Memphis. On Wednesday, you’re Batman bouncing on a mini tramp on Ridge Park in Broadview Heights. On Thursday, you're a little boy who is celebrating an “almost home run” just before being tagged out at the plate at the York Road fields. On Friday, you're breaking free on a run around the right side and scoring a touchdown in Strongsville. On Saturday, you're hand is being held high after a “come from behind” Pioneer conference championship wrestling match in North Royalton. And then on Sunday… on Sunday…, you're gone from home. The time really does go by fast. Too fast. Way too fast.

When did the little boy I could hold up in one hand grow big enough and strong enough to pin me at will in wrestling? When did you get fast enough to beat me in a race? I was beating you and telling people that one day you would be faster than me. And it happened so soon. I was winning easily and then, I was being “smoked.” But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Sons grow up to better their dads.

But I remember… I remember. Teaching you multiplication and division tables. Laughing at your funny, phonetic spelling. Memorizing the ABC Bible verses. Learning some of the Westminster catechism. Reading and collating verses from Proverbs. Talking with you about assurance of salvation. Watching you grow into that assurance on a youth retreat. Having the privilege of baptizing you. Watching you on stage in church dramas. Watching you interact with your LIFT friends. Going to Africa with you to tell others about Jesus.

The days of taking trips to the playground to watch you ride a turtle or a snail on a spring are long gone. The days of trying to help you hone your baseball skills in sultry Alabama are no longer needed. The “good night, mom/Ryan/Evan/dad – I love you” won’t be routine anymore.

There are so many parts of your personality that I will miss. Alan, the cereal connoisseur and milk inhaler. Alan, the "please buy some fruit" man. Alan, the "got to blow my nose to stay healthy" man. Alan, the opinionated, emphatic verbalizer. Alan, the "got to pet Gypsy before I come in" man. I'll miss watching football games with you and your insistence that the running backs get their fair share of carries. I'll miss running and lifting with you to help stay in shape. I’ll miss giving you a ride to school. I’ll miss even the videos with Ryan and Evan and Bub.

You have always been a loud person. But it's been a good kind of loud. You shared your feelings well. We've never had to wonder, "What does Alan think?" But now, we won't know for sure about your life's experiences. We will be wondering, "Is Alan watching this game? What happened in practice today? Where did he go tonight? Did he get enough to eat for supper? How is his ankle feeling? Does he need help with his schoolwork? Who will he debrief with about his relationships? I wonder what Alan’s opinion would be about this or that?"

When we came home from taking you to college that first night, it was quiet. Way too quiet. We were all alone in our thoughts. I miss your loudness.

Right now, everything in me is screaming, "My job is not over! There are so many things left undone! There are things are wanted to teach that I didn't. There are verses I wanted to help him memorize, but I didn't. I didn't set an example for him by loving his mother well enough. I've been too moody and melancholic in front of him. I've been too impatient with my discipline, especially with his brother. My heart for God has beat too weakly. There is so much more growing that I need to do. I’ve not been the passionate follower of Christ that I ought to be. I wanted to be a better man front of him. He deserved so much more than I have given him. Please, Lord. Tell me my job isn't over. Tell me there's more for me to do. Give me more chances to parent him better."

I’m sorry that I haven’t been a better example for you. I am a frail and fallen man. I haven’t loved the Lord well enough. I haven’t loved your mother well enough. I haven’t loved your brothers well enough. I haven’t loved you well enough.

But I do hope and pray that you’ve seen some faint flicker of maturity, of love in me. For I really do love you and your mom and Ryan and Evan– so very, very much.

I want to thank you for some things. You've been a great teenager to raise. You've shown much honor to me and to your mom. You have been a great big brother. Your teachers and coaches have said things like, "If I had a son, I'd be honored if he were like you" and "In all my years of secondary education, I never met a finer young man than Alan Duncan." My heart is filled with gratitude for all these things and more. You have made me proud.

I’ve talked to other parents who are distraught over the fact that their sons don’t get along with each other. But you and Ryan and Evan are such a source of joy to us. You really do love one another and it shows. You’ve had your skirmishes. But your heart has been so big toward your brothers. Many teens are wanting away from their little kid brothers. But not you. You take the time to play with them, to watch their games, to make funny videos with them. I thank you for that. You’ve been a great example for both of them.

When you were little, we used to sing you a homemade “name song” hoping that you would grow into it. I must admit that at times we wondered. You were such a strong-willed little boy.

Cheerful and harmonious,
that’s what Alan means.
Cheerful and harmonious,
Alan wants to please…
Alan, Alan, cheerful little boy.
Alan, Alan, bringing lots of joy.

Now, after eighteen years, I see that you have indeed grown into the truths of that song – and more. You’ve brought so much joy to our lives. So much joy…

The Bible says that children are like arrows in the hand of a warrior. Parents are responsible to take a rough wooden shaft and sand it, to shelter the still “in-process” arrow in a quiver, to shape it to be a useful weapon. The arrow is to fly straight and true. It can go places that a warrior cannot go. This is God's way. Well, the time has come for you to be out of our quiver. We are sending you into the battle for the glory of God. The stakes are high. The task is tough. But I believe that you are ready.

As your coaches have said, “You’re a straight arrow.”

Your passion came out loud and clear in Africa when you spoke the Word of God to the people of Nkroful, when you preached to the young men in Atuabo, when you rapped for the Muslim idol-seller in the High Street market in Accra. Don’t let that fire die – ever!

But we can’t just look back, can we? We must look forward. And I can see the future fluttering faintly out there on the horizon. Someday you’ll be shouting, “I got the job!” Someday I hope you’ll be bringing home a girl for us to meet and you’ll say, “Dad, I think this is the one for me. I hope you’ll love her as much as you have always loved me.” Someday I hope you’ll make a phone call to say, “Mom. Dad. It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” And just maybe God will be gracious to keep me around 25 or 30 years from now when it’s time for you to send off your first-born to college. I’ll pray for you. Believe me, you’ll need it!

When reading a great novel, you must finish one chapter before you can begin another. The last chapter has closed to in all our lives. We can’t go back and do it again. But another exciting chapter is beginning. And so, the plot develops. How will God honor Himself through the life of this great young man, Alan Duncan?

As always, we will watch your life with great joy and love and interest and prayerfulness and pride. I guess that now, we’ll just have to watch it from a little further away. That’s what makes this hard.

Why is this so hard? I guess I will sum it up in a way that I'm sure you'll understand. Not only do I love you, I like you, too. I've often said that if I were an eighteen or nineteen year old, I would count it an honor to be your friend. I mean that. It's true. God has made you a good person.

But I have my memories. There are good. They are strong. They are precious. We will make more, I know. Our relationship will move to a new level. And I'm looking forward to the new things.

So, for now…

Remember who you are and remember whose you are.
Develop a prayer list and pray for yourself and for us every day.
Stay in touch with us, especially your mom, through phone calls, e-mails, and letters.
Read the Bible and memorize key verses.
Read good books that will grow your soul.
Find a good role model for your life and follow him as he follows Christ.
Date girls who are godly.
Study hard.
When it's time to play, play hard!
Plan your day wisely and well for those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
Remember that successful people are able to turn their intentions into actions.
Remember that success is finding the will God for your life and doing it.
Remember that if you please God, it doesn't matter who you displease. But if you displease God, it doesn't matter who you please.
Remember that a gentleman thinks of the rights of others before his own feelings and the feelings of others before his own rights.

I’m praying that your righteousness will exceed my own. God has great things in store for you. I know that. He has given us that promise from Isaiah 54:13. “And all your sons will be taught of the Lord and the well-being of your sons will be great.” The greatness that hovers around you is so thick that we can almost touch it.

Three squeezes to you, my son! I... Love... You! You're the man!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

drummers in worship

Our young adult ministry at CVC, sevenoseven, had a special night of worship this past Sunday evening. Bryan Karas, the worship leader, had a great vision for a great night.

There was an "acoustic" version of the regular 707 band with 6 additional percussionists using various kinds of drums. At different times three of the regular band members also played drums during the evening.

And during the very first song, Indescribable, my son, Alan C. Duncan, performed one of his raps.

Based on what I see in Psalm 150, then I think the Lord was well-pleased.

Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with tambourine and dance... Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
Psalm 150:1-2, 4a, 5-6 (ESV)

So, check out the sevenoseven service from last Sunday. The songs are great and the message by Andy Sikora on spiritual warfare is, too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Richard Land and Brian McLaren talk

Two of Time Magazine's 25 most influential Evangelicals, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Brian McLaren , a leader in the current conversation about how to do ministry in the postmodern era, talked recently about some of the issues facing Christians today.

This is a very interesting and friendly discussion between two leaders that many people might think would never happen. They discuss the labels "conservative," "liberal," and "progressive." They discuss problems with Christ-followers identifying their faith with any one party.

It's a 43 minute discussion. But in this day when believers who disagree with each other haven't yet learned how to talk to one another in a civil way, it's a good investment of your time. The discussion can be found on

It's a good thing to listen to level headed Christ-followers talking with each other instead of talking to each other. The left/right polarity that keeps us from talking and working together can stop. This is a good conversation. Check it out.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Rick Warren with the presidential candidates

Whatever you think of Rick Warren, Barak Obama, or John McCain, I believe it would be a good investment of your time to watch the Q&A that took place on Saturday night.

You can watch it here.

I think we all realize that this is a very important election. Be informed. This Q&A session can help.

After you watch the Q&A, pray for our nation... and the world. Discuss the issues with family and friends. If you disagree, disagree agreeably.

And then be an activist in doing something about addressing some part of the injustice, oppression, and suffering in this world.

If we confess “Jesus is Lord” then we simply cannot focus primarily and solely on our own agendas. We must be willing to experience discomfort to our lifestyles. We have to cross ethnic, economic, and racial divisions. We have to give more than a check to show our compassion for those who are in need. We can't say that we love God and neglect the widows, forget the orphans, fail to visit the prisoners, and ignore the oppressed.

None of us can do everything. But all of us can do something. So, pick some need - some cause - and be an activist.

And, in November, vote your Christian convictions. And then pray some more.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Like Mike...

Michael Phelps, that is. He's ridiculously great at swimming.

But we are like him. At the core of our being.

Physically, he's 6' 4" with a wingspan of 6' 7". He has the legs of a man who is 6' 0" and the torso of a man who is 6' 8". Phelps is double-jointed in his elbows, knees and ankles, which allows him to do things that few other swimmers can. His shoe size is 14. And when you couple the size of his feet to his ankle flexibility, his feet act like giant flippers. Lactate is to blood what lactic acid is to the muscles. The higher the measurement, the greater the oxygen deficit. "The harder you work, the more lactate you produce," said Genadijus Sokolovas, the director of physiology for USA Swimming. "[Phelps] is the only one who can set a world record with very small lactate in the blood."

He's made to swim. So, even if we all trained like Phelps from an early age, we would not be able to do what he can do. He's... well... ridiculous. Ridiculously great.

But, still, he's like the rest of us. How? Depravity.

Matt Jenson reviewed Alan Jacobs' book called "Original Sin."

"Original sin's deniers like to claim that the doctrine does bad things, or at least discourages us from doing good things. It deals death. So they tell us. But over and over in Jacobs' account, we meet well-intentioned characters, only to find their happier, gentler anthropologies turning sour, leading to (or at least abetting) anarchy, eugenics, despair. Perhaps the greatest irony in this history is the discovery that knowledge of original sin gives life—by revealing us to ourselves, yes, but also by grounding a sense of universal human kinship.... Truly a revolutionary thought—that the roots of our common humanity might be found, not in our dignity or even our potential, but in our depravity."

So, this is not a slam on Phelps. It's just to say that the biggest fight we all have is overcoming our tendency toward sin and evil. What we need most is not an ability to be a winner in the pool or at work. What we need more than that is the grace to overcome sin. We need more of Jesus.

We find out how to access more of Him in Romans 8. Check it out. Memorize it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Passion Church

Louie Giglio is someone who has had influence in my life and at CVC. For many years, he spoke at Northpoint Community Church at their young adult ministry called 722. He wrote a great little book on worship called "The Air I Breathe." For the last several years, he's been leading life-changing Passion Conferences all around the world.

Now, Giglio is starting a church in Atlanta. It sounds like Louie's long-time friend and ministry partner, Andy Stanley, is supportive.

Giglio feels called to start "a local expression of the face of Jesus in a city of people who really need to know where life and light are found." He doesn't know when the first service will be. The team is just forming. They don't know the location. The church is going to have the Passion DNA. They want to get through the current world tour with Passion before making definite plans. Evidently, the reason it's being talked about now is that it's common knowledge in Atlanta that people like Chris Tomlin, Matt Redmen and the Nockles have already moved to Atlanta presumbably to help start the church.

Watch out. I think it's safe to say that a new church started by Louie with music led by Tomlin, Redman, and the Nockles might just have a little impact.

You can see an interview with Giglio about it here.
Lakeland Revival

For about a month now, people have been asking me about my opinion of the "Lakeland Revival" led by a man named Todd Bentley. I watched some of the services online. It reminded me of the kinds of things we have seen in the past - lots of emotion and little exposition of the Bible. I wasn't drawn to appreciate what I was seeing.

What I long to see is the kind of revival our nation experienced in the 18th century. The revival in Jonathan Edwards' day, called the Great Awakening, stirred the emotions, too, but through the exposition of scripture.

I was in central Florida near Lakeland recently while visiting my mom. I wanted to see the Lakeland Revival" firsthand. But because of trying to meet my mom's ongoing care needs, I was unable to get over to the revival.

Now, I see that a leading Charismatic has shared some serious concerns. Lee Grady is the editor of Charisma, one of the most prominent charismatic magazines throughout the world. He wrote, "Many of us would rather watch a noisy demonstration of miracles, signs and wonders than have a quiet Bible study. Yet we are faced today with the sad reality that our untempered zeal is a sign of immaturity. Our adolescent craving for the wild and crazy makes us do stupid things. It’s way past time for us to grow up." You can read his entire article here.

John Piper has long been one of my long distance mentors through his writings and teachings. He has serious concerns as well. He wrote, "Our test for every Lakeland that comes along should first be doctrinal and expositional. Is this awakening carried along by a “love for the truth” and a passion to hear the whole counsel of God proclaimed? Discernment is not created in God’s people by brokenness, humility, reverence, and repentance. It is created by biblical truth and the application of truth by the power of the Holy Spirit to our hearts and minds. When that happens, then the brokenness, humility, reverence, and repentance will have the strong fiber of the full counsel of God in them. They will be profoundly Christian and not merely religious and emotional and psychological." You can read the rest of what Piper has to say here:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


This past week, the message was called "parts." I asked, "What part of the body are you?" I used PARTS as an acrostic like Rick Warren uses SHAPE. Here's what I shared with CVC.

* * *

You are a combination of many different features. To help you remember five of these, let’s think about a simple acrostic: PARTS.

P – Personality

You don’t have to be like someone else. Just be you. God has a place for introverts. And extroverts. And thinkers. And feelers. What is your personality?

A – Abilities

These are the natural talents you were born with. Maybe you’re good with words – you came out of the womb talking. Or maybe you’re good with numbers – you came out of the womb adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying. Maybe you’re good with your hands. Maybe you’re good with people. Maybe you’re good with music or with computers. What are your abilities?

R – Responses

There are some problems or needs that probably hit you harder than others. What makes you respond? What issues make you pound the table or bring a tear to your eye? And you think, “Something must be done about that?” You instinctively care more about some things than others. That’s a clue about where you should be serving. What are your responses?

T – Troubles

God loves to use your hurts – your painful experiences – to help others. He often uses your troubles to bless someone else who might be going through the same thing that you went through. God never wastes pain. More than likely, your greatest help will come out of your greatest hurt. What will you do with what you’ve been through? What are your troubles?

S – Spiritual gifts

No single gift is given to everyone. And no one person gets all the gifts. But every believer gets at least one spiritual gift. But an unopened gift is worthless. What are your spiritual gifts?
Serving in the body of Christ

This past weekend, I talked from I Corinthians 12 about the importance of serving in the body of Christ. We brought our children's ministry program, blast!, into our regular services. And I was praying that the adults would not tune out the message.

I started by saying this: "I can remember a time in my life when I was confused about what I was supposed to do with my life. I was in my 20s. I loved God and wanted to make difference in the world. But I felt like I wasn’t doing what God created me to do. I was unfulfilled. And then someone taught me about spiritual gifts. I wondered, “What’s mine?” Another person told me that he thought I had the spiritual gift of teaching. So, I tried teaching the Bible. And at least some people learned. Another person told me that I had the ability to start a new church. And the opportunity opened up and 22 years later, here we are. And I have to say, I moved from being unfulfilled to having an incredible sense of fulfillment as I’ve tried to play the part God has asked me to play in the church. Maybe you are feeling unfulfilled. Maybe you are confused about what you are supposed to do with your life. Well, God has a part for you to play, too. When you find where you’re supposed to serve God, you find purpose like you’ve never had before. And then you’re doing exactly what God created you to do."

At least one person didn't tune out the message. Check out the email I received this week.

* * *

I wanted to tell you that your message yesterday was directed squarely at ME!!!

I have been wrestling with how to serve at CVC for a long time now. Lately I have been having various conversations with friends and family about what God would have me doing. Just yesterday morning I was talking with my husband about serving. The Lord has been nudging me and nudging me about this... and then to my surprise you preached on the subject of serving. How amazing is that?

So... with that in mind, could I impose upon you to pray for me about what my role might be in service at CVC?

My desire is to get to know more people and then begin to serve and glorify God with the gifts that he has given me. I pretty much know what my gifts are, but I need to find the right spot.

Thank you for your prayers. Your message convicted my heart. Hopefully you will see me around the church more often other than on Sunday.

* * *

We have a Ministry Connect coming up this coming weekend where we hope 100s of people will start experimenting with places of service in the church. I wrote bakc and encouraged her to be praying and to simply try something.

Why do I preach? I do so because it's my desire that people hear from God and their lives change.

My prayer: Thanks for using me, Jesus. Please do it again!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Miscellany - August 2008

Tough places to win

Which college football stadiums are the toughest to places to play? Hint: One of them is not Vanderbilt's stadium - where I went to college. But for you Big Ten fans, sorry. The SEC wins again - 4-3.

Pride goes before a fall

I was in awe when the US men's relay team won in China. The dudes from France had said about the US team of Lezak, Phelps, Jones, and Weber-Gale, "We will smash them up!" Watching a replay of how Phelps watched the last 25 meters was amazing. Cheering, uncertainty, and then sheer jubilation was written on Phelps' face, It's something I don't think I can forget. Very cool. Go USA.

Church in China

President Bush went to church in China. But some people feel he didn't really get a true picture of the persecution that still exists there. Obviously, I don't know what's really taking place there. But it appears that many of the unregistered house church leaders are still being persecuted. So, let's pray for our presecuted brothers. Let's not lose sight of the limitations of human rights there in China as we watch the Games.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Criticizing other believers

I saw this quote and thought I'd pass it along. It's from D.A. Carson's The Sermon on the Mount:

The doctrinal critic may agree that another person is a brother in Christ, has been significantly used of the Lord, is thoughtful and sincere in his submission to Scripture, but because the critic focuses on the one area of doctrine in which the two disagree, this other brother may be painted publicly in hues of gray and black. That Christians are to demonstrate observable love (John 13:34f.; 17:20-23) is lost to view while the critic "defends the truth".... There ought to be clear-headed discussion of the differences, with honest submission to the Word of God and a repudiation of arguments which consistently and without cause ascribe unworthy motives to the opposing brothers. (page 103)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Where do you stand when it comes to... ?

Over the years, people have asked me where I stand when it comes to Christian leaders like Billy Graham, R.C. Sproul, Chuck Swindoll, John MacArthur, Rick Warren, Bill Hybles, Anne Graham Lotz, Andy Stanley, Ed Young, Nancy DeMoss, Rob Bell, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll... The list goes on and on. I usually say, "I have learned from him/her, but I have never wanted to be a clone.

When I planted CVC, I brought with me things I had learned first and foremost from my study of the scripture; my mom and dad; from mentors like Al Baker and Bob Tebow; from my involvement with FCA, CCC, and the Navigators, from Mid-America Seminary, from Adrian Rogers and Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis; from pastors I admired like Chuck Swindoll and John MacArthur; and from a then-not-that-well-known California church planter named Rick Warren. So, I and, therefore, CVC have been influenced by a wide variety of churches, ministries, and leaders.

I'm seeking to continue to learn from other churches. Northpoint Church in Atlanta, Fellowship Church in Dallas, Northwoods Church in Dallas, Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Fellowship Bible Church in Seattle, and others have been recent influences on my thinking about God and His church.

I believe it's very biblical to learn from many Christian leaders.

Today, I was reading in I Corinthians 3. "Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s" I Corinthians 3:21-23).

I stopped at the phrase "All things are yours." I asked the Lord,"What does this mean?"

In I Corinthians, Paul has been talking about why there should be no division in the church. He's said that Apollos, Cephas (Peter), and he should not be reasons for division in the church. They are to be seen as nothing but servants. God is the Something, the Everything. Since we are all part of the temple of God, we are not to destroy it by siding with one leader over another. So, we are not to boast about men/leaders/pastors/teachers. "For all things are yours," Paul says. Apollos is yours. Cephas is yours. Paul is yours.

The Expositor's Bible Commentary on I Corinthians says, "The ministry of Paul, Apllos, Cephas (Peter), and any ohter Christian worker belongs to God's people" (p. 209).

Matthew Henry's Commentary on I Corinthians says, "Ministers are not to be set up in competition with one another. All faithful ministers are serving one Lord and pursuing one purpose. They were appointed of Christ, for the common benefit of the church: 'Paul, and Apollos, and Cephas, are all yours. One is not to be set up against another, but all are to be valued and used for your own spiritual benefit.' Upon this occasion also he gives in an inventory of the church's possessions, the spiritual riches of a true believer: 'All is yours--ministers of all ranks, ordinary and extraordinary.'"

John Gill's Commentary on I Corinthians says, "All the ministers, and all they are endowed with... were all for [the] use and service [of the church], for their benefit and advantage; wherefore it was very wrong to set up one above, or against another, or for any party to engross anyone minister, when he belonged to them all; and [it is a] great weakness to reject others, when they had a common right and property in them."

To be sure, we should not blindly follow anyone/everyone who claims to speak for God. Jesus warned us about false prophets in Matthew 7. Paul named names in I Timothy 1 when he wrote to tell Timothy that Hymenaeus and Alexander were not to be followed or honored. So, we are to be like the Berean believers who "received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (Acts 17:11).

But if leaders are Christ-centered, Bible-based, and God-honoring then we can and should learn from them. We should celebrate the role that God has given to them. We should never idolize anyone or become a one-teacher-follower. But we should allow the multi-facted influence of many leaders to promote unity in the Church rather than division. Why? All things - including various faithful teachers/leaders - are ours.

So, I for one, do not want to destroy the unity of the Body of Christ as I appreciate the influence of many leaders in my life. I'm tired of the conflicts caused by self-appointed watchdogs who seek to tear down the work that God has done through various Christian leaders. These watchdogs take the non-essentials where they have disagreements with others and make them essentials. It's just not honoring to the work the the Spirit has done through the people with whom they might disagree in some minor theological point.

I want to be true to Jesus, to His word, to who God has called me to be, to what God has called me to do. And in the process, I remember that "all things [including many different faithful leaders and teachers] are mine" to learn from. I appreciate what God has done in, with, thorugh, and for others and I take what's helpful from a wide variety of leaders and teachers and leave the rest.

I think such an attitude fits with Paul's admonition in Romans 14. "Do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding" (Romans 14:16-19).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

China and persecution

The start of the Summer Olympics in Beijing is on Friday. We’re going to be hearing a lot about China. And China will be putting their best foot forward. But we need to understand that the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ is still happening.

China is permitting the printing of 90,000 gospel booklets and Bibles for Olympic athletes and visitors. They are allowing places of worship to be set up inside the Olympic village to provide religious services to the athletes. But they are continuing their crackdown on house churches.

One of China's most respected and well-loved house church leaders was removed from his home less than a month ago. The China Aid Association reported that Pastor Bike Zhang and his wife were forced from their home by the Beijing Public Security Bureau officials. They found shelter at a friend’s house, but were again forced from this home when officials found out where they were living. They then moved into a hotel, but Public Security Bureau officials ordered the owner of the hotel to either evict the couple or face jail time.

Out of concern for the hotel owner, the Christian couple decided to voluntarily leave for another town but on their way to find new shelter, PSB officials allegedly arrested the couple and took them to the town government office where they were interrogated without food, drink or rest. Police interrogated the couple rotating them on a one on one basis. At 6:00 AM, Pastor Zhang’s wife collapsed due to the stress of the torture but was not taken to the hospital until 11:00 AM.

As far as we know, both Zhang and his wife are now living on the streets and are unable to find shelter. Officials say that the couple are being expelled from Beijing because “Bike Zhang met [with some Americans a few weeks ago], and destroyed the harmony of the Beijing Olympic Games.”

This is unjust. And Pastor Zhang is just one of the many Christians who are being persecuted by the Chinese officials.

If you want to express your protest, then here’s where you can write.

Chinese Embassy in Washington DC
2201 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.
Washington D.C. 20007

Attn: Chinese Ambassador to the US, Mr. Zhou Wenzhong

Spiritual Olympics

I am always motivated by the dedication of the Olympic athletes.

The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius, which is Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger". According to Wikipedia, the motto was proposed by Pierre de Coubertin on the creation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894. De Coubertin borrowed it from his friend Henri Didon, a Dominican priest who, amongst other things, was an athletics enthusiast. The motto was introduced in 1924 at the Olympic Games in Paris.

I wonder what would happen if I approached my own spiritual growth with the same passion.

I think the apostle Paul wanted us to view spiritual growth like the Olympic athletes view their athletic pursuits.

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (I Corinthians 9:24-27).

Citius. Altius. Fortius. How will you grow faster, higher, stronger... for God... today?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Simply sanctification

Whatever it may be called – edification, a changed life, transformation, growth in godliness, the pursuit of holiness, spiritual maturity, spiritual formation, spiritual growth, or discipleship – the sanctification of believers must be the goal of every church.

It is the will of God that every believer pursues sanctification. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (I Thessalonians 4:3).

So that sanctification can occur, God has given leaders to the church to edify believers. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Sanctification includes challenging believers to forsake worldliness and be transformed into the likeness of Christ. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2a).

Everything every believer needs to be sanctified has been given to them at salvation. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (II Peter 1:3).

Since each believer has been given all things by God that enables them to be sanctified, they are to strive for the holiness which is the evidence of true salvation. “Strive for… the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

Sanctification means that churches must challenge believers to leave spiritual childhood behind and become mature believers in Christ. “Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).

True spiritual leaders are passionate about the sanctification – the spiritual formation of those they are leading. “I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19).

Churches must challenge all believers to be concerned about their sanctification – their level of spiritual growth. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).

Sanctification, in fact, is what Jesus commands the church to do in the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

As churches seek to make disciples, including CVC, may we keep in front of us our high calling to help all believers become truly sanctified.

FYI: My sources for the recent posts about sanctification include:

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology.
Lloyd-Jones, Martin, Preaching and Preachers.
MacArthur, John, The Sufficiency of Christ.
Ryle, J. C., Holiness.
Wegter, Jay, A Critique of the Higher Life Movement.
Whitney, Donald, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life.
Wilkinson, Bruce. Secrets of the Vine.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Sanctification and unity

In some cases, the pursuit of sanctification results in division in the life of a local church. This can happen when church members begin to model their pattern of discipleship solely on a select group of leaders, pastors, teachers, churches, conferences, seminars, experiences, or ministries. Believers who have been powerfully helped in their walk with Christ by a particular teacher or ministry can become enamored with that particular expression of the Christian faith. And they can then desire, even demandingly at times, that other believers share in the same experience.

This tendency to follow favorite leaders and teachers was evidently a problem in Corinth. “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (I Corinthians 1:10-13). One purpose of this passage is to warn believers about aligning themselves too tightly to any one leader or teacher.

God works in differing ways in the lives of believers. Some believers will respond better to certain types of leaders and teachers than others. We should never evaluate someone’s level of spiritual maturity based on whether or not they respond to one of our favorite leaders or ministries. God uses different leaders to accomplish different things in the lives of believers.

In the body of Christ, we can point to examples of people who are deeply spiritually mature who approach spirituality in many different ways. Some like liturgy. Some prefer a traditional approach with the classic hymns of the faith. Some like contemporary expressions of faith. Some desire spiritual environments that are loud. Some have a preference for settings that are more sedate. God does not work in only one way in the lives of His people.

Sometimes, people will read a certain book or attend a particular conference or find a specific truth that God uses in a transformational way in their lives. And that is to be affirmed. But when they become promoters of the book or conference or truth as if it was “the” key to everyone else’s spiritual need, then their promotion becomes a serious problem that can destroy unity.

It is important for believers to give to other believers freedom to pursue holiness in differing, but biblically appropriate ways that fit who God made them to be. These differing ways will in no way by-pass the biblical means of sanctification but may be impacted by such things as a variety of life situations, personalities, and responsibilities.

Not every mature believer will express their discipleship in the same way. Believers must seek to be conformed to the truth as it is revealed in scripture, but this does not mean that they will look the same way, say the same things, teach in the same fashion, pray in the same style, or do the same things. There is great variety in the body of Christ. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (I Corinthians 12:4-6).

The most spiritually mature will keep in mind Paul’s words to the Ephesians as he encouraged their sanctification. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Therefore, I believe that the Bible teaches that biblical sanctification produces greater unity in the life of a local church. I do not believe that the Bible teaches that any kind of spiritual growth that results in disunity is true sanctification.

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