Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The top 8 blogs I liked to read in '08

This is a tough assignment. To make it a little easier, I'm going to exclude those blogs of my good personal friends and colleagues.

Here goes my list in no particular order.

Craig Groeschel
Ed Stetzer
John Piper
Josh Harris
Mark Batterson
Perry Noble
Tim Challies
Tim Stevens
Atheist/Theist debate

On October 3rd of 2007 in Birmingham, Alabama, Professor Richard Dawkins and his Oxford University colleague Dr. John Lennox engaged in a lively debate over what is arguably the most critical question of our time: the existence of God. The debate centered on Dawkins' views as expressed in his best-seller, The God Delusion, and their validity over and against the Christian faith. Both presenters agreed to the format and topics of discussion.

I viewed the debate today with Evan, our 15 year old son. It will take you some time (90 minutes) to view the whole debate, but it's good. As believers, we need to be equipped to answer the arguments against the existence of God. We need to be aware of what people like Dawkins are saying and thinking. We need to know how to respond to such arguments. Sit down with a cup of coffee or tea. Watch the debate. And be prepared to think.

Watch the debate here on http://www.dawkinslennoxdebate.com/.

In recent months, Christianity Today reported that there has been a nationwide "resurgence in apologetics" among evangelicals. Lee Strobel has written "The Case for Christ," "The Case for Faith," and "The Case for Creation." Tim Keller's "The Reason for God" and the "Apologetics Study Bible," whose contributors include Chuck Colson and former Southern Baptist Seminary president Albert Mohler are also in the news.
Cleveland's Domestic Partnership Registry

Below is a letter from the CVC elders to CVCers who live in the city of Cleveland. It's a response to the domestic partner registry legislation passed by Cleveland's City Council. What happens in the suburbs affects the city and vice versa. While I do not believe that the church should attempt to legislate morality (that should come from a transformed heart where old things become new), I do believe that the role of government is to encourage what is seen by God as "good" - to “praise those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:14).

When a government sets policies in place that may lead to behavior that does not conform to the will of God, believers who are citizens under that government have a responsibility to act “not [as] a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (Rom. 13:3). Biblical examples would be when Moses stood up against Pharaoh (Exodus 1–14) and some of the judges (Judg. 2:14–16; cf. Heb. 11:33).

Since the moral standards of the Bible come from the God of all creation, who holds all people in all societies accountable to him, Christians should act upon opportunities given them to influence government to make laws consistent with the Bible's moral standards (cf. Dan. 4:27; Luke 3:18–19; Acts 24:24–25. Influencing a government to make good laws is one way of obeying Jesus' command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39), for good laws bring many benefits to people.

We believe that sexual intimacy is to be confined to marriage, and marriage is to be only between one man and one woman, following the pattern established by God in creation. As a church, we also believe that CVC should always act with love and compassion toward those who do not share our view, yet never affirm that sex outside marriage is ever morally right.

(Note: I am indebted to the great notes from the ESV Study Bible for much of the doctrinal/ethical statements above.)

***

Dear members and attenders of CVC who live in the City of Cleveland,

"The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths" (II Timothy 4:3-4, ESV).

We as elders of CVC, recognize that there are unique challenges for our members and attenders who live in the City of Cleveland. As shepherds of the flock at CVC, we want to encourage you and stand with you in light of the City of Cleveland’s domestic partner registry (Ordinance 1745-08).

Through our relationships with pastors and other Christian leaders in Cleveland, we have become aware that the legislation mentioned above has passed. And we are sympathetic to a group of concerned residents who oppose this ordinance. The group represents citizens from both east and west of Cleveland and suburban communities who are concerned.

This proposed domestic partner registry would mean that any 2 people, regardless of gender and no matter where they live, could come to Cleveland and attest that they are committed to one another in an intimate relationship. When they do this, they will receive a legal document from the City of Cleveland.

With the Mayor of Cleveland planning to sign the ordinance into law, the only recourse the residents of Cleveland have is to petition for a general election of this issue.

As an attendee of CVC who lives in Cleveland, we would like to provide you with an opportunity at CVC to sign a petition calling for a vote on this issue at a general election. This referendum with 10,000 signatures needs to be returned to the City of Cleveland by January 5. So, [next Sunday], we will have a place for you to sign this petition at our information desk in the church foyer. We will make sure that it gets to the concerned spiritual leaders who will present the petition in a loving and respectful manner.

Along with other spiritual leaders in NE Ohio, we are concerned about the slippery slope found in Chapter 109, Sections 109.01 through 109.07, relating to domestic partnership registry of Ordinance No. 1745.08.

To be fair, the ordinance, in its preamble, does states the following: “Whereas, a registry for these unmarried couples will acknowledge the existence of their committed relationships without affecting the definition of marriage and without creating or recognizing any legal status that intends to approximate marriage.” The ordinance purports to “remove the administrative burden on hospitals, universities, employers, and other businesses to define and verify the existence of these committed non-marital relationships.” However, we believe that deciding these kinds of issues by a vote of all the people rather than by a handful of politicians will provide a much more fair representation of what the public wants.

State-wide votes on these issues have already taken place. The majority of Ohioan's voted not to allow a marriage or a civil union of same sex partners. Again, to be fair, the ordinance does not confine itself to same sex situations, stating that “many unmarried residents of Cleveland have formed lasting, committed, caring, and faithful relationships with a person of the same sex or different sex” allowing for a heterosexual situation in the ordinance.

But again, in reading through the ordinance, there are many places that it appears to be internally inconsistent, claiming not to alter the definition of marriage but defining a "domestic relationship" in terms traditionally used to describe the marriage relationship [see section 109.01(1)] and giving status to many "family" activities like rearing children. The ordinance claims not to recognize any legal status that approximates marriage but comes very close to doing that. Our question: If there is no legal implication to this ordinance, then why have it to begin with? We believe that this ordinance is, at the very least, a beginning of the redefinition of a traditional God-ordained marriage.

So, please make plans to sign a petition to call for a vote on this issue at a general election in the City of Cleveland. Acquiring 10,000 signatures on such a short notice will be a challenge. Let’s play our part at CVC. As you know, what happens in the City of Cleveland has great impact on the suburbs. On [next Sunday morning], look for a place in the foyer to sign the petition.
Thanks for standing in Truth with Love,

The Elders of CVC

Monday, December 29, 2008

Change in 2009

Much of this post comes from Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. It's so good, that I want to reproduce it here with a few additional suggestions.

***

In the 1960’s, a study was done on the campus of Yale University. The subjects were Yale seniors who were educated about and encouraged to get a tetanus shot. Most of the students were convinced by the lecture that they needed to get the shot. But only 3% actually went and got the shot.

Another group of students were given the same lecture, but they were also given a copy of the campus map with the location of the health center circled. Then they were asked to look at their weekly schedules, make a plan for when they would go and take the shot, and look at the map and decide what route they would take. 28% of that control group got the shot. That is nine times as many! Why the radical increase? Because they identified how, when, and where?

I'm guessing all of us need to make a change going into the New Year. You need to stop doing something or start doing something. You need to do something less or do something more. But I'm guessing about 3% of us will make the change because we never identify how, when, and where!

So here's a plan. It's as simple as 1,2,3.

#1 Look at the calendar and schedule an hour between now and January 1st. Put it on your calendar. Make an appointment with yourself. It may be in the morning or in the evening. It may be at your house or a coffeehouse. It may be on New Years Eve or New Years Day. Just set aside one hour.

#2 Spend an hour reflecting and praying. And here’s a suggestion. Think in categories. I think it helpful to think in these five categories: spiritual, relational, intellectual, emotional and physical. Do an honest self-assessment. And ask God to reveal the answer to this question: what changes do I most need to make?

[And during that one hour, here are 15 questions from me:
How will you grow in your love for God?
How will you grow in your love for others?
How will you grow in your love for the world - the people who do not yet know Christ?
In what area of your life do you need to grow to be more like Jesus?
Which fruit of the Spirit needs most development in your life?
What will you read in scripture this year?
What sections of scripture will you memorize?
How will you grow in your prayer life this year?
What music will help you worship more?
What books will you read and/or reread?
With whom do you need to build a relationship/friendship with this year?
What CDs or podcasts do you need to listen to?
What seminars/conferences do you need to go to?
What new disciplines do you need to develop?
Who will hold you accountable?]

#3 Make the changes. Call it a goal. Call it a New Year's Resolution. Call it whatever you want. The goal is to make changes that honor God. Here's a suggestion. Don't make ten resolutions! If you make lots of resolutions you'll probably keep none of them. In my experience, you need to make three or less. And I'd start with the spiritual category.

Once you come up with your resolution you need to write it down. Then you need to keep it visible. Put it on a screen saver. Put it on your bathroom mirror. If it's diet related, put it on the refrigerator. You might even want to find an accountability partner who will make the same resolution. It helps to have someone hold you accountable.
The top 8 in ‘08:
CVC messages that I had the privilege to preach

When I prepare to preach, I start by asking, "How does this text apply to my own life?" I don't feel it is right to preach to others unless I preach to myself first. So, God uses the messages in my own life.

Today, as I reflect back on 2008, I'm thinking about the messages that God allowed me to preach in that He used the most in my life.

Here’s my list. You can find the audio of the messages here and here.

8. Give more (Advent Conspiracy) – December 14
7. The Way (Incomparable series) – April 27
6. Pity Party (Life of Jonah series) – March 2
5. Light (Incomparable series) – April 6
4. Blessings (Wait gain series) – June 22
3. Connect (Incomparable series) – May 4
2. Winners… plus (Romans 8) – August 3
1. Home (Well done series) – October 5

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Civility

Rick Warren has been asked to pray at the President-elect's inaugural ceremony. He agreed to pray. And he's been taking heat about it.

So, he felt the need to answer some of the questions people are asking. He talks to his congregation in an online video called news and views. In it, he says some really great things about civility.

In light of I Timothy 2:1-4, I'm not sure why any believer would object to any other believer praying for our President. It says, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:1-4, ESV). If it pleases the Lord when we pray for political leaders privately, then why would it not please the Lord to pray for them publicly? Should we only pray for those we agree with?

God, please save us from mean-spirited Pharisaism! And grant us grace to love all people.
Randy's funeral

Maryanne and I went to Jackson, Michigan yesterday to Randy Shafer's funeral service. Four other CVCers went together with us in one van.

It was an emotional experience for me. Randy picked the music for his servce - some traditional and some very not traditional. Two of his brothers spoke. The pastor at Westwinds Church spoke. Randy and Beth's kids, Jennifer, Ian, and Emma sang Randy's favorite hymn, Be Thou My Vision. That, for sure, brought out the tears for Maryanne and me and many others. Four people who were mentored by Randy spoke.

And Randy had vidoetaped a personal message, sharing his testimony and encouraging everyone to receive and share the love of God in Christ. He closed with these words: "See you soon." Amazing.

The main message given at the funeral about Randy's life was that he really and truly modeled loving God and loving people. He connected to Christ and allowed Jesus to love through him. He took the time to listen well and called people to be more, to dream more, to connect to God and others more.

I experienced this love first-hand when I visited him in November. He always challenged your paradigms. He wanted me to think more about "proxemics" or "spaces." He wondered if he "rode that horse" too long when I was there visiting. But he said that thinking about these things flipped his paradigm for the church and for community in the church. In his usual humble way, he said, "Of course, you know I'm much better at theorizing than at implementation." The author Randy wanted me to read is Joseph Myers. The Search to Belong was Meyer's first book. His second is Organic Community.

After our visit, Randy took the time to write to me some words that were filled with grace and encouragement.

***

It was great seeing you. I did get the sense, however, that you've been beating yourself up over things you think you didn't do well when we worked together. I understand that. But whatever didn't happen was just as much my fault as anyone's... probably more. Looking back, I can't believe how screwed up I was. But I'm thankful I'm giving myself the same grace I'm giving others... So do me and yourself a favor and bury whatever it is that you wish had been different... and live in the grace of what God did in each of us, as well as through us. We both have so much for which to be thankful.

Stay strong & humble... and may God give you wisdom as you continue to pursue him and the ministry he's calling you to for this next run.


***

I'm glad God put Randy in my life. I'm looking forward to experiencing heaven with him. And let's pray for Beth, Jennifer, Ian, and Emma as well as the Westwinds Church family.

Friday, December 26, 2008

AC - not only giving more meaningful gifts, but getting them, too
The stories about how the Advent Conspiracy impacted people are still coming. Here's another story about someone who entered the story.

***

I felt led to share with my friends, believers and non-believers, my desire to spend less on gifts that we don’t really need and try to do something more meaningful instead. I asked if it would be OK to set limits to what we would spend and committed to donate any savings. Most everyone said “yes.”

Consequently, I was able to spend about 35% less than usual and was blessed to give not only to the AC causes, but was also able to donate money to a family faced with steep medical bills. I thought that this would be the success story to my participation in the Advent Conspiracy, but as only He can do, God blessed me in ways I wasn’t expecting.

I was just glad that my friends had agreed to spend less money on gifts and wasn’t expecting much from them. However, from my talking about the messages from the AC series, my friends had really picked up on what would be meaningful for me. I was truly surprised and touched by some of the Christmas presents I had gotten today:

My best friend’s mom gave me two boxes of my favorite teas to be drunk during “mommie and son chats” like we used to have years ago.

A Jewish friend of mine gave me a gas gift card to give to someone in need at CVC.

A friend gave me the recipe, along with all of the ingredients, for a dinner that we can make together in the near future.

A non-believing friend gave me money to give to “one of those good causes at church” I keep talking about.

A couple invited me and my girlfriend over to their house for a Sunday brunch to get to know one another better.

This Christmas has been wonderful. I’m so thankful to God for using your sermons and the Advent Conspiracy to give me an opportunity to witness and to support the work of the Kingdom. Thank you for all you do and for inspiring such good works.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Presence, not presents

Merry Christmas!

I just love it when the people of CVC really listen and seek to apply the truths they are learning.

Here's another Advent Conspiracy story from a woman at CVC. Nice.

***

I got my Christmas moment! I always pray that God will open my eyes so I can see when I can help someone.

Sometimes I miss His cues, and sometimes I lack the courage to step up and risk being rejected or getting too enmeshed for the time and resources I have.

But, on Tuesday, I got my chance!

I used up the last of [our] toner printing last minute Christmas letters and my daughter needed to print her last minute paper for English class. I rushed to the store, and was a little irritated with a middle aged lady walking in the street, since I was in a hurry and had to be careful of her. I parked my car and went in the store just behind her.

I was just a little irritated because I was in a hurry and she was a little slower than me. She asked me what time it was, and I was just a little irritated because I had to find my cell phone deep in my coat pocket. 11:13 am.

She went back outside and stood on the corner. I made my purchase and was ready to rush home. I stopped at the corner and asked if she was waiting for a ride. She replied that she was waiting for a bus to Garfield, the opposite direction I was going. It was cold that day and she had probably been waiting a long time.

I headed home, then suddenly turned around in the next drive. An impatient driver honked honked at me, throwing her hands up in the air, like "what are you doing?' I just put up my index finger and mouthed, "wait just a minute".

I stopped for the woman, she got in, and we exchanged stories. Her name was Ronnie, and she had come from the doctor's. Her mom lived in Garfield and her mom wanted her to come over after her doctor's appointment to tell her the result.

Ronnie's doctor didn't like the color and shape of her liver and wanted her to have an MRI, but it was enclosed, and Ronnie didn't want to go through that test.

We talked about our mutual fear of picking up/getting into cars with strangers. I told her I didn't have any money and later she said she would like to offer me money for the ride, but she didn't have any either.

For just a moment, we shared the true meaning of Christmas, presence not presents. I dropped her off at her mother's and came back the way I went. I saw the bus going down the road. 11:30am.

I'm praying for your good health, Ronnie. I know you can get through the test. And thank you for allowing me to give you a ride! You made me slow down, back track, go out of my way, and I thank you. You are the highlight of my holiday!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

CVC in the PD... again

Check out Regina Brett's Christmas Eve article for today, "May you, too, find your Christmas moment." It's a story about Sue Wagner, posted first on this blog.

And join us today at our Christmas Eve services. We'll learn about "The Best Gift Ever."

Services are at 2:30, 4:00, 5:30, and 11:00.

I'm praying that we'll be moved as we sing together about our great Savior who has come to save us from our sins and to redeem us from the law. I'm praying we'll be awed as we gain insight into Christmas truths from God's Word together. I'm praying we'll connect more deeply with Jesus as we pray. I'm praying we'll be encouraged to move to action - to give the best gift ever in allowing Jesus to live through us day-by-day. And I'm praying that our community of faith will grow closer to each other as we celebrate Christ's birth together.

Will you pray all this and more with me?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My friend lives

I just received a very, very sad email today from Beth Shafer. Her husband, Randy, served on staff at CVC and also served as an elder at CVC back in the 90s. Since he's been gone, I've missed him as a friend and fellow teammate. He's been fighting a heroic fight with cancer for a long time. Cancer didn't win. Jesus did.

Randy wrote a blog called fogparty. It's rich with insight. His last post read included these words, "it's true that i never know what's waiting around the corner. but it's also true that almost every face plant has been preceded by a warning shot of sorts... signally me to brace myself for the intruders about to cross the moat.

maybe i'm just desperate... but i began to view those alerts as slivers of G*D's love & kindness... tidbits of his mercy... proof that i was not alone or abandoned... and that he was/is there to take care of me.

so... i can't say that i was completely caught off guard by how the summer ended and these new subway stops at which i find myself exiting only to stand on dark & unfamiliar platform in some distant part of town. of course... to suggest that i was prepared to hear the cancer had spread would be terribly inaccurate as well.

but the slivers, the hints, the clues... they all expose the many threads the sutures buried over the years. threads that now bind me to The-One-Who-Sews-Me-Up-Every-Time. when i turn my head, his rod & staff are always there in the corner of my room.

and i'm not alone...

...unless i choose to be."


Today, Beth, Randy's wife, wrote,"Our dear sweet Randy passed away quietly last evening [Friday night] at 7:15 p.m. We know that he is with the Lord and at peace....no more struggle.

He loved each of you in a special way and we are so grateful for your love and prayers for us throughout this difficult journey. It has had a strange beauty as well and we are in awe of what God can do.

Friends and family have been gathering here to love on each of us. The kids and I feel so peaceful...and it all is a bit surreal as well.

We look forward to the celebration of Randy's life planned for Saturday, December 27th @ 3 p.m. at Westwinds Community Church. There will be visitation on Friday, December 26th in the evening also @ Westwinds.

Due to the holidays, weather, etc, the service will also be livestreamed on the web @ 3 p.m. on the 27th www.westwinds.org"


***

I was able to see Randy a few weeks ago. He was full of energy. We had a very stimulating conversation. He always was able to give me new ways of looking at things. He did so again.

I called my wife, Maryanne, and gave her the news. Our hearts truly go out to the Shafer family. We are all stunned.

The memories of Randy are thick in our minds and heart right now. He was a vintage man – a passionate husband, a remarkable dad, a loyal friend, a gracious giver, a thoughtful leader, a constant learner, a genuine worshipper, an artistic vocalist, a creative innovator, a clear thinker, an insightful writer, a challenging mentor, a true discipler, a faithful encourager, a courageous risk-taker… I could go on and on.

I take comfort in the fact that he’s alive now more than ever. So, he’s still loving Beth and his three great children. In fact, he’s waiting for them in heaven. And now he’s seen Jesus face to face – the one He now loves perfectly just as he always wanted to do.

I miss Randy.

He had a chance to go skydiving with his son, Ian, when Ian turned 18. This is one way I want to remember him. A man in love with his God, his family, his life.

A Christmas prayer

Our oldest son, Alan, works for American Policy Roundtable. Dave Zanotti, president of APR, wrote a thought-provoking Christmas prayer and asked his staff to produce a video to accompany his prayer. Alan stayed late today to finish to project. It's good work. It's worth your time.

Your personal spiritual growth plan for 2009

Paul told Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself" (I Timothy 4:16a). Growth is not automatic; it does not necessarily come with experience, nor simply as a result of gathering information.

What we need is transformation. The word “transformed” in Romans 12:1-2 is metamorphoo in the Greek. We learned the word in grade school. Metamorphosis. A caterpillar “morphs” into a butterfly. That’s what God intends for us. We are to change, to morph, to grow! Staying the same isn’t an option. Don’t you want your life to be different at the end of this year than it is today?

1. Ask God to help you grow.

What should you ask God? Ask Him to give you the grace to implement the classic spiritual disciplines in our life. Ask Him to motivate and guide you to the activities, experiences, and relationships that have been used by God down through the centuries to change believers to actually become more like Jesus. Ask Him to show you where you need to grow.

So, begin with prayer - asking God for specific things that you want to see changed in your life! Be specific. How would you like to see God change you this coming year? Write the things down that come to your mind and then add them to a prayer list that you will keep handy over the next few months.

2. Develop a plan for growth.

You've been alone with God. You've asked Him to help you develop a plan. So, listen to Him! And write down what He says.

You may want to answer the following questions.

15 questions to help you develop a plan:

How will you grow in your love for God?
How will you grow in your love for others?
How will you grow in your love for the world - the people who do not yet know Christ?
In what area of your life do you need to grow to be more like Jesus?
Which fruit of the Spirit needs most development in your life?
What will you read in scripture this year?
What sections of scripture will you memorize?
How will you grow in your prayer life this year?
What music will help you worship more?
What books will you read and/or reread?
With whom do you need to build a relationship/friendship with this year?
What CDs or podcasts do you need to listen to?
What seminars/conferences do you need to go to?
What new disciplines do you need to develop?
Who will hold you accountable?

3. Grow with someone.

It’s been said, "People don’t do what’s expected, they do what’s inspected." So, find someone to inspect you! When you share what you are learning with others, it increases your insights, builds your relationships, gives you a common vision, and holds you accountable. At CVC, we highly value accountability, especially in your community group. Get connected with another growing person or group!

Remember: There is no perfect growth plan. Your plan should be dynamic. It should change as the year develops and God shows you new things to learn and new areas of growth. Persevere. A good plan from a persistent person will produce better results than a great plan from an inconsistent person.

Remember, the growth of our souls takes time. Start making your plan today! Develop a plan and stick to it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

CVC in the PD

In case you missed the article, Regina Brett wrote a nice article about CVC and how the Advent Conspiracy can take back Christmas with faith, charity, and love.

What a great Christmas gift to CVC!

Thanks to all at CVC who participated in the Advent Conspiracy. Jesus is using us to make a difference. All the glory to Him!
Conversation (4)

My friend is now thinking about - are you ready for this? - predestination. He wrote, "From what I understand, scholars have debated both for and against Predestination. I can’t seem to wrap my mind around it. Why would God make believing tougher by throwing predestination into the mix? If scholars haven’t been able to agree on predestination, what chance do I have knowing if it is true? How is it that you are able to believe it is true when there are scholars who say we are not predestined?"

***

My answer: Predestination is a difficult doctrine. People used to argue about it a lot at seminary. I want to enjoy it and not debate about it.

You asked why I choose to believe in predestination when there are scholars who say we are not predestined. My “short answer” is that God’s word teaches it to be true. I do not pretend to understand it fully. There are many things in the Bible that do not understand.

Psalm 131:1 says, “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” I’m also reminded of Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

The doctrine of predestination is closely related to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. Sovereignty means that God has absolute rule over creation as King and total control and determination over all that happens.

I would recommend that you read and consider the verses (and their context) that deal with the subject rather than what men say about the verses.

The Greek word is proorizo. The definition in the Thayer’s Greek lexicon is 1) to predetermine, decide beforehand; 2) in the NT of God decreeing from eternity; 3) to foreordain, appoint beforehand. The word is only used 6 times in 5 passages in the New Testament. Most of the time, the word proorizo is translated “predestined.” Once it is translated “decreed before.”

Here are the passages:

Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. Acts 4:27-28

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:28-30

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:3-6

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:11-12

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. I Corinthians 2:6-8

The 1689 Confession of Faith says this about predestination: “The high mystery of predestination needs to be handled with special prudence and caution, so that men, being directed to the will of God revealed in His Word and obeying the same, may become assured of their eternal election through the certainty of their effectual calling. By this means predestination will promote the praise of God, and reverential awe and wonder. It will encourage humility and diligence, and bring much comfort to all who sincerely obey the gospel.” (Luke 10:20; Romans 11:5-6, 20, 33; Ephesians 1:6; I Thessalonians 1:4-5; II Peter 1:10)

This section of the confession gives some possible reasons why God might have “thrown predestination into the mix.”

One, to promote the praise of God.
Two, to increase our reverential awe and wonder.
Three, to encourage our humility and diligence.
Four, to bring much comfort to all who sincerely obey the gospel.

You can read more about related topics from the 1689 Confession here and here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Things to think about this weekend

Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary teaches us How to use a Study Bible.

Would you offer the invocation at the President-elect’s inaugural ceremonies ? Rick Warren is scheduled to pray. Al Mohler says he would not do it. Would you?

John Piper gives us some insights about sex within a godly marriage. And once again, we see that men and women are very different.

May God raise up more 13 year old girls like this one.

And please join us at CVC this weekend for our wrap-up to the series Advent Conspiracy's as we learn more about "loving all." From the AC website: "When Jesus loved, He loved in ways never imagined. Though rich, he became poor to love the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick. He played to the margins. By spending less at Christmas we have the opportunity to join Him in giving resources to those who need help the most. When Advent Conspiracy first began four churches challenged this simple concept to its congregations. The result raised more than a half million dollars to aid those in need. One less gift. One unbelievable present in the name of Christ."
Abby Tuckerman's Advent Conspiracy story

Several weeks ago, we recorded and played at a weekend service how Abby Tuckerman decided to enter the AC story. Here are her words. Thanks, Abby... and all the Tuckermans!

***

My name is Abby I am in 7th grade.

A couple weeks back, my parents sat our family down and showed us the Advent Conspiracy video. Then they asked us kids what we thought about receiving just one present each this Christmas. All 4 of us kids -- Spencer, Jane, myself and Noah (who’s just 9 years old) agreed.

I thought it was great; but for me, it was more than just giving up presents. It was about redirecting Christmas to show Gods love to people who don’t know it.

When my mom and dad asked us what our family should do with the money that we wouldn’t spend on presents, my sister Jane, who is in eighth grade, wanted to go back to West Virginia to a small coal mining town with a very different life than we know here. My parents had already made the decision not to go this year; but Jane said it was a place that needed help and the decision was made without hearing from the kids. So, my dad asked for a show of hands from those that wanted to go back to Appalachia for Christmas. All of us raised our hands – we wanted to go!

I thought about the struggles that I know from being in Middle School, and I couldn’t imagine growing up in a home where my parents didn’t love me or care about me or have enough money to feed me. I thought how hard it would be to wake up one morning with no food, no house, or anybody to tell me that they love me.

Many girls in this town look to teen pregnancy as a way to get that love. I decided that I wanted to work with these girls, so I wrote to a teen magazine that I love to read every month called Brio, by Focus on the Family. I told them about the Advent Conspiracy and our family wanting to be a part of it. I asked for any extra magazines or recommendations on devotionals.

I prayed over the e-mail, and just a few short days later they wrote me back saying that they were thrilled to send me free magazines and some devotional resources. This was news that made my day! It made me think that maybe God was going to give me something big and something that would help my faith and the faith of others.

I am more than thrilled to go to Appalachia for Christmas and give up my presents to see the bigger picture that God has for us.
Check out Sunday's Plain Dealer

Regina Brett of the Plain Dealer called CVC yesterday to say that she is working on an article about CVC and our involvement in the Advent Conspiracy. She said it should be in this Sunday’s paper.

She was listening to Christmas music on 95.5 FM. She heard the spot produced by Brian Howell that featured Andy and Meri Sikora. It intrigued her. So, she went to the CVC website and listened to the first 3 Advent Conspiracy messages online. She then went to the Advent Conspiracy website to learn more. Yesterday she called the office to speak with me. I talked a little about what “love all” means. And I was able to email her our electronic church newsletter along with a couple of AC stories from this blog. She really liked the stories and wants more stories to possibly do a follow-up article in the future.

So, if you have AC stories/testimonies, send them to me and I will compile them and send them to her.

Please pray that God will use Sunday’s PD article to create some curiosity in the hearts and minds of the lost and that people will come to CVC, hear about Jesus, and join us in building the Kingdom – the ongoing conspiracy.

And thanks to everyone. This reminds me that it’s a team effort. Thanks to Andy Sikora for the original idea. Thanks to the Leadership Team for deciding to run with it. Thanks to the Arts team for the ad on the Fish. Thanks to Missions for all the opportunities and ornaments in the Advent Tree. Thanks to every department for promoting and participating in the AC. Thanks to the many volunteers who worked hard to make this happen. And thanks to our entire church family for their generosity and for taking the AC seriously by spending less, giving more, loving all, and worshipping fully.

This is a great example of the kind of synergy that can happen when we get out of our silos and actually work together for a common cause. Someone said, “It’s amazing what good God can do through His people when we do not care who gets the credit.” The credit, of course, goes only to Jesus. It’s about lifting Jesus up – always, only, ever Jesus.

Praise Jesus.

Now, let’s be careful. The devil doesn’t like any of this. Let’s be on guard for attacks from the enemy against our unity as a church family. Let’s be on guard against any pride.

To God alone be the glory.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A letter to Santa

A young mom wrote a very encouraging and humbling email to me. Read about how a first grader is processing the Advent Conspiracy.

***

I’m very excited and wanted to share this. Joseph just got home from school and I went through his bag and found the following letter to Santa that he wrote in his first grade class:

“Deare santa can you not bring me any presents I do not want a present I only want to give away my presents I only want one or too presents Christmas is not about getting it is about giving.
love, Joe”

That letter is my favorite Christmas present this year. Thanks so much for all you guys are doing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Penn on witnessing

Penn (of Penn and Teller) is an atheist. But he believes that believers ought to witness. Penn says: "I don't respect people who don't proselytize. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, and you think, 'Well, it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward'... How much do you have to hate somebody not to proselytize?"

This is convicting and challenging. It's very much worth your time.



And thanks to Ed Stetzer for bringing this to our attention!
Are you called to vocational Christian ministry?

Today, a young man wondered if he was called to full-time vocational ministry.

Several years ago, I developed a Bible Study for people to use to see how God called various biblical characters into the ministry. I encouraged him to do the Bible Study and to ask God to show him His plan for his life as he studied God's word.

If God is calling you into vocational ministry and you do not follow His leading, then you will be miserable and unfulfilled. If God is not calling you into vocational ministry and you enter the ministry anyway, then you will be miserable and unfruitful.

***

Examining Your Call into Vocational Christian Ministry: A Study of the call of godly men in the Bible

1. The call of Noah. Read Genesis 6:1-21 and 7:1-6

2. The call of Abraham. Read Genesis 11:27-32 and 12:1-8

3. The call of Moses. Read Exodus 3:1-22 and 4:1-17

4. The call of Isaiah. Read Isaiah 6:1-13

5. The call of Jonah. Read Jonah 1, 2, and 3

6. The call of Peter. Read Matthew 4:18-20, John 1:35-42, John 21:15-23

7. The call of Paul. Read Acts 9:1-22

***

A Bible Study Worksheet on the call to vocational Christian Ministry

Biblical character: _____________________ Text: __________________

Use a separate set of worksheets for each Bible character. Begin your time of study with prayer. Ask God to show you His plan for your life as you study His word. After you read the verses, it should take you 30-45 minutes to answer the questions.

Take your time. Take this seriously. Ask others to be praying for you as you seek God’s will for your life. Claim Proverbs 3:5, 6 for yourself as you study.

1. What was happening in this man’s world and life when he was called? Is anything like that happening in your world and life today?

2. What was the occupation/lifestyle of the man when he was called?

3. How did God get this man’s attention? Has God tried to get your attention in a similar way?

4. What did God ask this man to do? Is God asking you to do anything similar?

5. What challenges or obstacles influenced the man’s initial response to the call? Are you facing similar challenges or obstacles? Has your response been similar?

6. How did God continue to deal with the man? Is God continuing to deal with you in a similar way?

7. How did the man eventually express his submission to God? Are you willing to express your submission to God in this way?

8. How did God use this man in ministry? Can you see God using you in a similar way?

9. What are lessons you can learn from this man’s relationship with God?

10. How is God speaking to you through this man’s story?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Prayer at a karate banquet?

A friend asked me to help with a prayer at a karate banquet. The owner of the karate school is a Christian. But many are not Christians. And many more are “non-practicing.” My friend said, "Man, I hate that term. I don’t know anyone who calls themselves a 'non-practicing golfer.' You either ARE or are NOT!"

At any rate, my friend wants to do more than just “bless this food, keep us safe, yada yada yada.” My friend wants to incorporate some scripture and thought maybe I would have a good idea of some verse or idea to use in such a circumstance.

So, this came to mind.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith
II Timothy 4:7


And here's a possible prayer:

Dear Lord, You are the Creator God. You made our bodies to be used for Your glory.

Thank You for giving us the privilege of using these bodies to learn karate. Help us to always use our skill for Your purposes.

There is evil in this fallen world. And one day, You will make all things right.

But meanwhile, help us to fight - body, mind, and soul – against anything contrary to Your wise and good purposes. Help us to help the helpless and to defend the defenseless.

Use the disciplines and skills we have learned to equip us to fight the good fight of faith. May we finish well. May we keep the faith.

And may we honor Jesus, the only One who perfectly fought the good fight of faith, who died and who rose again to save all who believe.

In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
Taking the Advent Conspiracy seriously

Truly, the people at CVC are making a difference as they apply the messages about the AC.

Sue Wagner writes, "Just wanted to thank you for the great message on Sunday. I went out and bought a box of different tea bags, wrapped them, and gave them to my 90 year old next door neighbor yesterday. I wrote a Christmas card that said, 'This tea is for you and me. Let's make some dates when I'll come over and we can have tea and get to know each other better. I really look forward to this.'

"So, I dropped it off at her front door yesterday and had Tom call her to say there was something for her on her front porch. I was running errands with Neal, but when I got home there was a message on my answering machine from her that I wish I could forward to you, but she said, 'This is the best gift I ever got and you don't need an invitation to come over, just come.'


"So last night at about 8:00 I called her and said, 'Hey, would you like to have a cup of tea and visit for a 1/2 hour or so?' She said. 'Yes, please come.' I went there and we had the nicest visit, she had my tea bags under her tree, she said, 'Should we open them.' And I said, 'Absolutely, this is our box and every time I come over we will try a new flavor.' She said she was so happy I came and that no one ever comes to visit her and that she spends 99% of her time by herself (also her 86 year old sister and best friend just passed away in November).

"Anyway, it was a wonderful evening and what a blessing to me it was. I ended up coming home at 9:45 (so much for a 30 minute visit). The time just flew. Thanks Rick for challenging us, I know this is what Christmas really means!"

***

Sue has entered the story by giving more "presence." She is being "Jesus with skin on." How about you? How will you enter the story?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Inviters and includers

Seth Godin is a prolific blogger - one of the most popular in the world. In a recent blog, he writes about why some businesses, restaurants, and websites fold.

He says, "When you find a service or establishment or product that gives you joy, it's tempting to keep it to yourself. Perhaps it's uncomfortable to recommend it to a friend (after all, you might seem silly) and even more uncomfortable to recommend it to a stranger (after all, you might seem like a shill). Plenty of people hesitate before spreading the word... We're worried that we'll look silly, or that the place will end up being too crowded and now we won't be able to get in. Or perhaps we're concerned about losing our uniqueness..."

As I thought about this, I wondered, "If God is using CVC to give CVCers joy, what do most CVCers do about that?"

If you think God is at work in and through the ministries of CVC, then please tell a friend, especially if that friend has not yet met Jesus. Why? At CVC we are all about helping the people you bring meet Jesus.

I once heard my friend Dr. Dave Collings, pastor of Christ Church in Strongsville, encourage the people of Christ Church to do two things when in a conversation with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members: 1) Say a good word about Jesus and 2) Say a good word about your church.

You don't have to go to seminary to do that! This is something we can all do.

Let's be inviters and includers. It's one way to Love The World.

Now, who should you tell about Jesus and about CVC?
Simple White Envelope

OK. After getting this story (which is an email favorite that gets passed around a lot at this time of year) from several people at CVC who said that it reminds them of the Advent Conspiracy and that it has inspried them to enter the story, I decided to post it. If you have four or five minutes to spare, read on. If you don't like reading stories that get passed around on the web, skip it.

***

It's just a small white envelope stuck among the branches of ourChristmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas -- oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it -- the overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma -- the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties, and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike.

The inspiration came in an unusual way. Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without head gear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And, as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out ofthem."

Mike loved kids -- all kids -- and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball, and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present came.

That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me.

His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition -- one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always thelast thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children, ignoringtheir new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn't end there.

You see, we lost Mike last year due to cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning it was joined by three more. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad.

The tradition has grown and someday will expand even furtherwith our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope.

Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us. May we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the true Christmas spirit this year and always.

***

A good story. It is an illustration of what the Advent Conspiracy is all about. But don't just let it warm your heart. Figure out how to enter the story yourself.

What will you do to bless someone else in need this Christmas? And every Christmas?
The Advent Conspiracy for a family in need

It's amazing to me that people who have more than they need often are ungrateful and often don't help people in need. And the people with the needs are actually the most grateful and the most generous people around.

Need proof? Here's a letter I received this past week.

***

Dear Pastor Rick:

My husband is laid off this Christmas and when we sat down and spoke with our children a few weeks ago about focusing on the real meaning this Christmas, one of our children thought we were going to have a baby. He said that is what parents always usually say when they say, "We have something we want to talk to you about." Thought that was precious.

Anyway, we thought it was ironic and definitely a "God thing" that this is what your messages would be about this series. We have wanted to focus on the "real meaning" without gift giving and commercialism for years - and now we are going to.

We told them Christmas would be a little different this year with dad being laid off and we are going to really focus on the true meaning this year. Their response was very well and [they] only asked if their stockings could be filled.

[This] touched our hearts (and I'm sure Christ's) beyond compare. We thank God we have raised them with the knowledge, acceptance and understanding of what Christmas is really all about: JESUS!

We love our children dearly and this year will be hard. But thanks to Jesus and His eternal goodness. We will reflect on Him and not what we will get but on the true meaning of Christmas.

Thanks for the series! Keep up the good work!


***

I'm grateful that our current series is helping this family celebrate even with the dad's layoff. And I will be praying for this family. Will you? And will you look out for those who don't have enough this year?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas music



This moves me. Jesus entered our story. Praise His name.
Some thoughts about this weekend

I was honored to teach 5 times this weekend from John 1:9-14. Once on Saturday night. Three times on Sunday morning. And once again at 707 on Sunday night. What a privilege to communicate from God's Word to God's people!

The bell choir sounded great Saturday night and Sunday morning. We were led in worship by our new Worship Arts Assistant, Nate Green. And guest worship leader Britton Roberts led us at 707. And let's not forget all the behind-the-scenes servants who handle the lights, the sound, and the screens. It is an amazing privilege serving with such a passionate and gifted team. Truly, we are blessed at CVC with much, much talent. I pray I never, ever take that for granted.

And I pray that not one at CVC takes our staff and volunteers for granted, either. I sometimes hear people say that they appreciate our staff and volunteers so much more after they have been on vacation and visited other churches. They appreciate even more the dedication of our staff to provide a worship environment week after week that is engaging for people and, most importantly, honoring to God.

So, why not thank a staff member and some of the behind-the-scenes volunteers? And why not invite a friend you are seeking to win to Christ to CVC? You'll be glad you did.

This series, the Advent Conspiracy (AC), has been challenging to me, personally. I want to give more. I want to give more up, to give more presence, and to give more grace. That's what the text said that Jesus did in John 1:14. I want to be follow Him. Pray for me about this and I will pray for you.

And I want thank the people of CVC for your generosity. Jackie Tuckerman has been helping to provide leadership as our people have been taking ornaments describing giving opportunities from the Advent Tree.

Here's an update she sent to me in an email:

***

"It is overwhelming to report that despite a recession, the Advent Tree surpassed all of our expectations this year.

"We had more hurting families, more ministries that needed our help, [and] more ornaments than any other year.

"But, God is faithful and once again our church stepped up. We had more volunteers and more people taking more ornaments. You spoke and they listened!! Here is the breakdown of [the total number of] presents that each ministry received. Last year I think that we had 350 total!!

CVC families [in need] - 175 [ornaments taken]
The Yuletide [program to help needy families in our community] - 45 [ornaments taken]
[Helping needy families in] Appalachia - 80 [ornaments taken]
Cleveland Pregnancy Center to assist families in need - 100 [ornaments taken]
Ghana [to provide clean drinking water] - 300 [ornaments take] and counting (over $18, 000 raised so far)
Love and Hope Children's Home to provide gifts and scholarships for school - 250 [ornaments taken] and counting

"In addition we were able to send money to a missionary in the Philippines who bought presents for 200 street kids and feed 300 people with the money we sent him.


"Our CVC families will also receive a box of food as they pick up their gifts.

"I heard many families discussing with their kids how they were going to pick an ornament and buy the gifts this year for families in need.


"One man took a Ghana water ornament and split it with his son who was going to shovel snow to pay for his half.

"A girl talked about buying presents with her allowance.

"It has been a blessing to be involved with the Advent Conspiracy. Thank you again for saying yes to the Advent Conspiracy. It has been awesome to see how God has used this!"

***

So, thanks to all at CVC who have participated so far in the AC - Spending Less, Giving More, Loving All, and Worshipping Fully.

It's still not too late. There are a few ornaments left on the tree. Or you can send a gift for a project to CVC, 5055 Wallings Road, Broadview heights, Ohio 44133. Just put in the memo section where you would like the gift to be applied.

Thanks be to God and to God be the glory!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Community Group Study 12/14/2008

Warm up:
Where is the best place you’ve ever been?
Where is the worst place you’ve ever been?
In our family growing up, we didn’t think it was really Christmas unless…
a. We send Christmas cards to everyone in our extended family
b. We send cards to all our out-of-town friends.
c. We bake goodies for neighbors and co-workers.
d. We send out a family Christmas letter.
e. Other.

Which of the CVC Advent Tree Projects meant the most to you and why?

Dig in:
Read John 1:1-14.
How would you defend the deity of Christ from this passage? Why is it important that Jesus is God? (see verse 1)

What are some of the dark places in the world where you would like to see the light of Jesus shine brighter? (see verse 9)

How would you tell someone to receive Jesus and to believe in Jesus? (see verse 12)

How would you describe what it means to be born again? (see verse 13)

Read John 1:14. Which of these gifts inspire you to worship Jesus the most?
a. Give more up
b. Give more presence
c. Give more grace

Which of these do you think you are doing the best? The worst?
a. Give more up
b. Give more presence
c. Give more grace

What can you change this Christmas to give more up?

What can you change this Christmas to give more presence?

What can you change this Christmas to give more grace?

Wrap up:
Read the following story:
An English missionary was serving as a teacher in Africa. Soon, she was going to return to England on furlough.
An African boy listened carefully as his teacher explained why followers of Jesus ought to give more. The teacher said, “Jesus taught us that giving gifts is an expression of our love and friendship for Him and each other. Jesus said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).
This African boy wanted to give a gift to his teacher before she went home to England. The child had no money. His options were few.
One day, he disappeared. He was missing for days and days. But the day before the teacher was to leave, the little boy showed up. He had a gift for the missionary. His gift was a beautiful necklace, and at the end of the necklace was a gorgeous shell.
The missionary asked the boy where he could have found such a shell, “I have never seen a shell like this in my whole life.” The boy said, “I walked to the Great Sea. And it is only in the Great Sea that this shell is found.”
The teacher was speechless. She knew that it would have taken the boy days and days to get there and back. She finally said, “It’s gorgeous. But you shouldn’t have gone all that way to get the gift for me.”
His eyes shone as the boy answered, “The long walk was part of the gift.” I love that, don’t you? “The long walk was part of the gift.”

When Christmas is all over and the New Year stretches out in front of us, what will matter most will not be the cool stuff or the expensive stuff. What will matter most will be the gifts we either gave or received where the long walk was part of the gift.

Who will you tell someone this year, “To me, you’re worth the long walk”?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

With us God

In Isaiah and in Matthew, Jesus is called “Emmanuel.”

“Em” = with.

“Nu” = us.

“El” = God.

He’s the “with us God.” Jesus could have given stuff. He wanted to give Himself.

"God with us." Each word is so vital.

God with us. What if it said “man with us” or “girl with us” or “boss with us” or even “friend with us”? As nice as that might be, it’s not that great. No, it’s “God with us.” The most awesome, most powerful, most infinite, most amazing, most holy, most loving, most righteous Creator God who’s never surprised, never worried, never frustrated, never thwarted is with us. We should help people who don't know God come to know Him, too. That changes everything.

God with us. What if it said “God against us” or “God without us”? How safe would you feel then? No. It’s God with us. We don’t have to go through life alone. Jesus didn’t come to take us out of this world. He came to be with us in this world. We should be with each other, too. That changes everything.

God with us. What if it said “God with you”? That would mean He doesn’t care about me. What if it said “God with me”? That would mean that He doesn’t care about you. What if it said “God with them”? That would mean that He plays favorites. No, it’s God with us. We are in community together. He cares about us. All of us. And we should care about all of us , too. And that changes everything.

Have you praised Jesus for being a “with us God”? That's something to be merry about this Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Things to think about this weekend

Do you ever wonder why God wants to be glorified? John Piper really makes me think. And I think he’s right about this. Read "Why God is not a meglomaniac in demanding to be worshipped."

Ever wonder why God commanded Israel to wipe out the Canaanites in the OT? God often gets a bad reputation because of this. Scot McKnight posts a good blog on this difficult issue. He references Christopher Wright’s book, The God I Don’t Understand. One way to seek some understanding is to think about God's sovereign justice. God acts against injustice both with Canaan and with Israel. He often uses nations to judge other nations. Israel was used to judge the Canaanites. (Wright points to OT texts that speak of Canaan's sinfulness like Lev 18:24-25; 20:22-24; Deut 9:5; 12:29-31). And don’t forget that Babylon was later used to judge Israel. This is part of God's sovereign control of history. And don’t forget that God is still writing history. One day we will see how every event – even the judgment of the Canaanites- fits into God’s big plan to restore all things to Himself. He will ultimately bless all nations. Our problem is that we want to judge God’s activity before He’s finished with His plan.

Scrooge lives? Yes and he lives in our churches. We’re not as generous as we should be.

I found something that will no doubt yield some very rich rewards as I seek to grow as a communicator of the Word. Want to learn more about preaching?

How do you think a pastor should handle it when people want to leave the church? Here’s how one pastor, Steven Furtick, says we should handle it. He says, “Let’em walk.” Sometimes, I wish I could be more the way he describes. But when people leave CVC, it rips out my heart.

This is at once a funny, sad, and all-to-familiar reflection on how guys get into the doghouse. It’s an ad for JC Penny’s jewelry department that basically says you can buy your way out of the doghouse. I’m not quite sure all that it’s saying about men/women relationships in our culture. But I’m pretty sure it’s not saying something good. Still, it’s funny, sad, and all-to-familiar.

While we’re on the male/female topic, check out How To Talk To Girls. Sound advice from a 9 year old. I wish I knew this stuff.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sola Deo Gloria

A little background and then a little story.

1) I have a team of people who serve on what we are calling "The PIT crew." P.I.T. = Pastor's Intercessory Team. It's a term from Carol Sachs' book The Prayer Saturated Church.

2) Many people at CVC use The Valley of Vision as a guide and encouragement for their praying.

3) I was looking at someone's blog the other day and discovered a prayer for pastors.

4) I edited and then posted the prayer on my blog on December 8 and then sent it to the PIT crew to encourage them in their praying for me and for CVC.

5) Then I received this email from a member of the PIT crew:

Rick, this is amazing! This [prayer] is in Valley of Vision, “A Minister’s Preaching” and I was praying this for you during the 8:15 service on 12/7! I also emailed [others on the PIT crew] about it this on Monday... and promised to email it to [them] — and you saved me from having to type it out! It is great to know that we are being led on the right path of prayer for you.

... I try to make it a habit to pray during the first Sunday service... This past Sunday, I just felt a dryness—nothing new was in me and I didn’t want to be repetitious. So I asked God to lead me and then I felt led to go to Valley of Vision and started with another good one, “A Minister’s Praises” but it didn’t seem right for that day.

“A Minister’s Preaching” grabbed me and that was the focus of the prayer time. Having never read this section of the book before, it was a great surprise to me. I was so excited about it, I wanted the others to know about it, too.

Then when you sent it to us, it was a great encouragement to all of us because we don’t want to pray of our own ability or try to pray into you or CVC what we want or how we think things should be.

It is overwhelming that Absolute God would lead us in this way and completely humbling. To Him all the glory that He deserves!

***

There are no coincidences in God's kingdom. Two people independently coming across the same prayer that moved them both deeply (so deeply that they simply had to share it) in differing environments? That's God. So, I wrote back: Praise Jesus. Thanks for praying. We had 9 people who prayed to receive Christ this weekend. It’s truly the Lord’s working. Let’s beg Him to work more. Thanks so, so, so, so much!

***

I think this story is so amazing. God is a God who delights when His people pray. And this is an encouragement for us to pray!

Are you a pastor or a staff member at a church? Ask God for a PIT crew. You likely have people who would love to pray for you. I'm sure that when I get to heaven, I will find out that any fruit that has comes through me has come because of the faithful prayer of His people. And encourage them to use this prayer as a guide for thier praying.

Thanks be to God for prayer and for His people who pray.

Oh, yeah. Soli Deo Gloria? To God alone be the glory!
Your giving is making a difference at... 707

When you give to CVC, you are impacting lives. At our fall business meeting, we shared some highlights for 2009 in our ministries.

We truly have an amazing young adult ministry called 707.

Here's just some of what happened in 707 in 2008.

· 707 baptized 20 people.
· 707 kicked off a Trimester LifeGroup system to make it easier for young adults to connect in community.
· 707 presently has 20 young adult LifeGroups throughout the Cleveland area.
· 707 started a strategic partnership with the CampusLink organization. And with CampusLink, Sarah Wood is representing 707 as a missionary on both the CSU and Baldwin Wallace Campuses.
· 707 has strong campus LifeGroups at BW, CSU, Kent & Akron.
· 707 participated in multiple missional opportunities including events at New City Church, Village Chapel & Fresh Coat Cleveland.
· Over 80 volunteers from 707 engaged in serving in our young adult ministry.
· 707 was able to raise $1,000 to support a mission’s trip to El Salvador.

In addition to all this ministry, each weekend at 7:07 on Sunday nights, you can hear a biblical message from a gifted teacher, Andy Sikora, and participate in real worship with our 707 band led by Bryan Karas. Check it out here.

Thanks to Andy Sikora, Bryan Karas, Dean Siley, Amber Holmes, and Sarah Wood for leading 707. I am honored to be serving Jesus with them.

And a special thanks to all you CVCers for financially supporting the overall ministry of CVC. Your gifts are making a difference in the lives of young adults here in NE Ohio.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Are you ready for spiritual growth in 2009?

In December, in conjunction with promoting the One Year Bible reading plan, I am planning on promoting 4 books.

1. The Loving God Journal (available at the CVC front desk)
2. The ESV Study Bible (the book summaries, the verse notes, the theology section, the ethics section, the world religion section, and the color maps placed atrategically all throughout the text really make the need for a one volume commentary less of a necessity)
3. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology – a useful reference tool for doctrinal questions
4. The Valley of Vision – to teach you how to frame and shape your prayers

On the weekend of December 27 and 28, we'll be talking about the importance of daily Bible reading and a part of a Spiritual Growth plan for 2009.

I will be referencing the One Year Bible reading plan this month, too, (starting this weekend) in order to prepare our people to hit the ground running in their devotional lives on Jan 1, 2009.

Before builders start to build, they have to have the right tools. These four books will serve you well in 2009 and beyond. They are tools. Get them! Use them. You won't regret it if you do.
Juri

I have a young adult friend who is part of a Pastor Support group that I meet with every other Monday morning at the North Coast Family Foundation. Juri is a church planter who planted and pastors Metro Alliance Church.

This week, he and some other urban pastors had an opportunity to represent Biblical values in a Cleveland City Council meeting. In an room filled with supporters of the homosexual agenda, Juri respectfully upheld the traditional view of marriage. It's becoming increasingly unpopular in our culture to do so.

You can read about the meeting (and a portion of the interview with Juri) in the Plain Dealer article, Cleveland council votes to enact domestic partner registry for gay, straight couples.

Pray for my friend, Juri, and the other pastors. I pray that they and their churches will not become targets of vitriolic rhetoric. Or maybe even something worse.

Juri sent to me an email. He wrote, "It would be appropriate for your members to (1) pray, (2) contact the mayor of Cleveland to ask him not to sign it into law and to oppose it before City Council, (3) ask any city of Cleveland residents they know to sign a referendum calling for a citywide vote on this issue to override the politicians."

I'm proud of my friend, Juri, for taking a stand.

Question: Are you willing to take an unpopular stand for Christ? Am I?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Don't Waste Your Life

I received a nice note from a Community Group leader. If you are in a group, maybe you can get some ideas for your group from this leader.

***

What a great advent message on Sunday! You are on fire for the Lord and our souls! Thanks so much we need the encouragement. We have been so blessed by this church family.

Our Community Group has been studying the John Piper book DON'T WASTE YOUR LIFE since you mentioned it in September. It has fit in to your messages so well.

We are trying to trim the fat off our lives and live for the Lord each and every day. If we can be of any help in the upcoming months please fell free to call on us.

I have made cards [which say,"Only one life, 'twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last"] for each of us. We carry them in our wallets.

We love you and praise you for the work you do!

***

If you haven't read Don't Waste Your Life, do it! And if you're leading a Community Group, I pray you'll be as passionate, intentional, focused, and thoughtful about it as this leader. Not only did they make "Dont' Waste Your Life" cards, but this leader has made CVC Community Group Business cards as well. Wow. This is the way to be a difference-maker.

As I get ready to go into the office today, what a great word from a leader to start the week. Tuesday,

Monday, December 08, 2008

Preachers need your prayer

Want to know how to pray for your pastor on the weekends when he is preaching? Here's my adaptation of a prayer for preachers and their preaching that can be found at Kingdom People.

If you go to CVC, please, please, please print this, put in your Bible, and pray this for me. At least once a week. Thanks!

***

Dear heavenly Father,

My pastor is expected to preach this weekend. But in his own energy, he will go weak and needy to his task. So, fill him with Your Spirit and let Him abide in the only True Vine, Jesus.

We ask that all Your people who hear the Word through his lips will be edified with divine truth and that an honest testimony will be given for You through his words.

So, give my pastor Your great and holy assistance in preaching and in prayer. May his heart be uplifted with grace and passion.

Help him to have insight into Your Word. Give him a fullness of truth and clarity of thought, proper expressions, fluency, fervency, a deep emotion to accompany the words he speaks, and grace to apply them to people’s consciences.

Keep him conscious all the while of his sins and weaknesses and let him never gloat in pride over his preaching.

As a result of his proclamation of the Word may sinners be left inexcusable in neglecting Your mercy. Please bring the lost to our church from the north, the south, the east and the west. And as our pastor preaches, awaken those who are dead in their trespasses. Release those who are bound by sin. Let them see their need for a Savior and let them see the beauty of Jesus as the only and sufficient Redeemer.

Give him freedom to see the sorrows of Your people and to set before them comforting consolations that are found in Your Word.

Give Your power to the truth preached and awaken the attention of any slothful listeners.

May Your people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted. And help him to use the strongest arguments drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings that Your people might be made holy.

He needs Your support, comfort, strength, holiness that he might be a pure channel of Your grace and that he might be able to do something great for You.

Give him refreshment among Your people. Help him not to treat Your excellent truths in a defective way. Help him not bear a broken testimony to so worthy a Redeemer. Help him never treat Christ’s death, its design and end, with a lack of warmth and fervency.

And keep him in tune with You as he does this work. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Conversation (3)

My friend is still emailing me and asking about "knowing" and "believing" issues.

***

Does one have to know that Jesus is really who he and others said he was/is to be saved? I often hear Christians say they know God exist and they know that Jesus is the son of God. I can understand how one may believe that God exist and that Jesus is the son of God; however, knowing and believing is not the same thing.

If one is to say they know there is a God and Jesus is his son because they read it in the bible, then they would first have to believe every word in the bible is true. I can’t understand how one can say for certain that every word in the bible is true. If one says that every word in the bible is true because the bible says so, then I believe that is flawed reasoning. It reminds me of an episode of “Happy Days” when Fonzie remarked to Cunningham that a certain girl is a virgin. Cunningham asked Fonzie how he knew and Fonzie replied, “She told me.” When Cunningham asked Fonzie how he knew the girl hadn’t lied. Fonzie replied, “Aaaaaa, Cunningham, virgins don’t lie!”

I understand that one can believe in God/Jesus and have faith in them. But believing and having faith isn’t the same as knowing. I believe my automobile will get me to the store. I show my faith that my automobile will get me to the store when I get in and start driving. However, I don’t know that my automobile will get me to the store. My automobile may break down, or get a flat tire before I reach the store. So again, does one have to know there is a God and that Jesus is his son as well as believe and have faith?

One can believe in something or someone and have faith in them without knowing they exist! Many religions have many Gods in which many followers believe and have faith in, but that doesn’t mean they all exist! Logic would tell one that only one God exist, or that no Gods exist.

***

My answer:

I was reading today in Jude. Verse 22 instructs Christ-followers to "have mercy on those who doubt." So, obviously God has a special place in His heart for those who have doubts. That means that he has a special concern for you. And it also means that He is calling for every Christ-follower to have mercy, not judgment, on others to whom faith comes with more difficulty. So, please know that I don't judge you.

I remember someone once told me, "The presence of doubt does not mean the absence of faith."

I like the story of the man who came to Jesus for a healing for his son. The man said to Jesus, "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:22-24). I think that's a good way to pray if one has doubts. Muster up the little faith that you might have and then say, "I believe, but help my unbelief."

So, I don't think it's necessarily appropriate to pit "knowing" (if by that you mean 100% certainty) vs. "believing." I think most followers of Christ, if they are honest, would have to admit to certain "pockets" and "times" of doubt.

I must be honest and say that I have awakened at night at times and thought to myself, "What if it's not real? What if I have given my life to a fantasy?" But there are many times for me when I've been reading the Bible or been in prayer or been in worship that I can feel His presence - that I have this inner sense that Jesus is more real than anything I've ever experienced.

I want to recommend a thinker and a book to you.

Daniel Taylor is professor of literature and writing at Bethel University, a contributing editor of Books & Culture, and co-founder of The Legacy Center. He is a popular teacher at writing conferences and is also a frequent speaker on issues related to religion and education. His books include Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories; The Myth of Certainty: the Reflective Christian & the Risk of Commitment; and In Search of Sacred Places: Looking for Wisdom on Celtic Holy Islands. He holds a doctorate from Emory University.

In September, Taylor spoke at the Desiring God National Conference. You can hear his talked entitled 12 Reasons Story Is the Best Way to Think of the Life of Faith.

I remember reading his book several years ago called The Myth of Certainty. It’s a book I think you might like. In it, he writes, "The reflective person is, first and foremost, a question asker - one who finds in every experience and assertion something that requires further investigation. He or she is a stone-turner, attracted to the creepy-crawly things that live under rocks and behind human pronouncements" (p. 16).

Taylor goes on to write, "I remember well my own early struggles with faith and doubt as a college student. What stands out most clearly is the paradoxical combination of constant motion and paralysis. My mind was constantly moving, but my will was paralyzed... Because my mind sought answers ceaselessly to the important questions in life but at the same time rejected all answers to those questions, and almost even the possibility of answers, I was a prime candidate for misery and cynicism" (p. 17).

In the book Taylor calls us to "throw off the paralysis of uncertainty and to risk commitment to God without forfeiting the God-given gift of an inquiring mind" (from the book cover).

I may not agree with everything in the book, but I like his approach.

God is not unnerved by questions. He's not afraid of doubts. In fact, I think He welcomes both the questions and the doubts.

Thanks for making me think. Let's keep the conversation going.

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