Friday, February 27, 2009

Things to think about this weekend

Want to get a feel for the temple in Jerusalem in Jesus's day might have looked like? Check out what a retired farmer has spent 33,000 hours building.

Did you know that you are a theologian even if you don't know what one is? So, we all should be studying theology. Why not keep reading the One Year Bible and while you do so, read the notes in the ESV Study Bible?

I have a friend, David Wayne, who is fighting cancer. He's a pastor in Baltimore. As he fights his fight with cancer, he is determined to get God's joy. He writes, "I believe that I have been given a calling, and a unique opportunity, to demonstrate the joy that is ours in Christ and I am determined to take joy and happiness very seriously in the future ;-) I'm also committed to reminding my fellow Christians of their duty and opportunity to be joyful in Christ." I say, "Thanks, David, for inspiring us."
Do you have hope?

In the One Year Bible reading for today in Psalm 43, we see a soul that is "cast down" and semmingly hopeless. But the Psalm ends with the Psalmist finding hope.

1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!
2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
3 Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!

4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,my salvation and my God.


So, how can you, like the Psalmist, find hope in seemingly hopeless trials? Check out verses 3 and 4. There's good direction here.

1) Let the light and truth of God lead you (see v. 3a).
2) Come close to God in repentance and a resulting holiness (see v. 3b-4a).
3) Find joy not in circumstances, but in God and your relationship with Him (see v. 4b).
4) Sing songs of praise to God (see v. 4c).
5) Make sure you cultivate an intimate personal relationship with God (see v. 4d).
A pastoral RX from Rick Duncan

Recently I’ve been in conversations with some people at CVC who are experiencing pain, sadness, emptiness, and loneliness. My heart hurts with them.

In my conversations, I tried to give some encouragement and some ideas on how to fight the tendency to be hopeless. One of my friends said, “If God loved me….” I had to stop my friend right at that point. I said, “I’m not going to listen to the rest of what you are going to say because that’s a lie. ‘If God loved me’ is a lie. You have to fight lies with the truth.”

So, here is a prescription I gave to a couple of friends that might help you or that might help you help someone else.

***

1. Believe that you are in a spiritual battle.
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12, ESV).

2. Believe that the devil seeks to win this battle by lying to you.

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44, ESV).

3. Believe that the battle is fought in your mind.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (II Corinthians 10:4-5, ESV).

4. When thoughts are flying around in your mind, ask yourself, “Is this a thought from the Holy Spirit or from the father of lies, the devil?”
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:13-14, ESV).

5. Replace the lies with the truth – especially the truths about you from the Word of God.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, ESV).

6. Read, memorize, and meditate on key sections of scripture like Psalm 23, Romans 8:31-39, Ephesians 1:3-14 and believe them to be true about you.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8, ESV).

7. Pray fervently for spiritual victory and ask others to pray for you.
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16, ESV).

8. Look for others to serve because you have been blessed to be a blessing.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace” (I Peter 4:8-10).
CVCer Keith Back leads a Chinese girl to Christ in France

Keith and Natalie Back are missionaries through Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) in Nantes, France. Keith grew up in Cleveland at CVC and is the son of CVCers, Doug and Sue Back. Natalie grew up going to Stonybrook United Methodist Church in Columbus. Keith and Natalie are working with CCC's Agape Europe, seeking primarily to lead college students to Jesus. You can learn more about their ministry here.

CVC is honored to be able to support their missionary work through our operating budget. And we just received an email today that is very encouraging and exciting. Natalie wrote:

***

Dear Friends,

We just wanted to pass on some great news to you that someone Keith shared with yesterday became a Christian!

She was a Chinese girl who he met on Monday and had a great conversation with, but after an hour conversation she had to go to class. She asked if he could meet again, and we found that Thursday at lunch worked well.

He met with her and continued their conversation. Her biggest sticking point was why God allowed that big earthquake in China last year. He tried to explain this the best he could, and then went through the 4 spiritual laws with her, just a tool that explains the gospel, and we got to the end to an example of the prayer you can pray to receive Christ, so he asked her if she wanted to do this, or if she wanted to take some time and think about it. She said, "I'm ready right now!"

She repeated the prayer after he read it. It was so incredible. He told her that the angels were having a party in heaven right now, and she responded with "Congratulations to me!"

Thanks for your constant prayers!

In Christ,

Keith & Natalie Back

***

I praise Jesus for using Keith and Natalie!

It is a real privilege for us at CVC to partner with them and support them financially in their ministry.

So, thanks to all you who pray for them and to all you who give financially to support CVC. Your giving helps to make victories like this possible!

Now, who needs to hear the gospel from you?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

APPLICATION FOR PERMISSION TO DATE MY DAUGHTER

***

I was talking with two dads of teenage girls this week and I was reminded of this application in my files. I gave it to them. If I had a daughter, I would use this!

***

NOTE: This application will be incomplete and rejected unless accompanied by a complete financial statement, job history, linage, and current medical report from your doctor. Please be prepared to submit additional information (like psychological profile and polygraph test) as required.

Name:
Address:
City:
State:
Zip:
Home Phone:
Cell Phone:
Email address:
Boy Scout rank:
IQ:

Do you own A) a van? _____ B) a truck with oversized tires? _____ C) a waterbed? _____
Do you have an earring, nose ring, or belly button ring? _____
Do you have a tatoo? _____
NOTE: If you answered YES to any part of this question, discontinue the application process and leave the premises!

In 50 words or less, what does "LATE" mean to you?

In 50 words or less, what does "DON'T TOUCH MY DAUGHTER" mean to you?

In 50 words or less, what does "ABSTINENCE" mean to you?

Answer by filling in the blank. Please answer freely. All answers are confidential.

1. When I first meet a girl, the first thing I notice about her is her_________________.

NOTE: If your answer begins with a "B", discontinue the application process and leave the premises. Keeping your head low and running in a zig/zag fashion is advised.

2. What do you want to be "IF" you grow up?

I SWEAR THAT ALL INFORMATION SUPPLIED ABOVE IS TRUE AND CORRECT, UNDER PENALTY OF DEATH, DISMEMBERMENT, NATIVE AMERICAN ANT TORTURE, ELECTROCUTION, CHINESE WATER TORTURE AND/OR HOT POKERS.

Signature_________________________________________________

Thank you for your interest.

Please allow anywhere from 5 to 25 years for processing. You will be contacted in writing if you are approved. Please do not try to call or write. (It could cause disqualification and injury to your body.)
Another 700 word story at CVC

What follows is the story of an angry young woman whose life was headed in the wrong direction. But "His story" intersected "her story" and she became part of "our story." And everything changed. Now, she's a single mom who is meeting life's challenges as a follower of Jesus. I shared a portion of her story last weekend. This is the 700 word version.

I'm so grateful to be part of a church that God is using in the lives of hurting people. Thanks to every person who gives to support CVC. Your giving is being used by God to change lives and give hope. Thanks for helping us help people grow to be passionate followers of Christ.

Enjoy the story.

***

I was raised in church. So I knew about God. I talked to God often. At a young age, He was my best friend. At night, I would walk the streets feeling safe because of the presence of Jesus. I felt an amazing, childhood love for God.

But I was raised in an abusive household. Through all the years of abuse, I became rebellious and scared. I had no respect for older people. I would stay out all night and sometimes wouldn’t come home. I never did well in school because I just didn’t care.

As my brother and I grew up with the abuse, I lost that love for God. I started getting into trouble, drinking, smoking, cutting school, and lying to my mom. I did other things I’m not proud of. I fought with my mom, actually hitting her a couple of times. I was mean and resentful to all adults. My abuser actually became afraid of me. I hated him with all my heart for hurting my brother and me. I resented my mom for not protecting us.

Eventually, I ran away to where my dad lived, leaving my mom with my financial obligations and leaving my grandmother and my brother with a broken heart. When I got to [my dad's house], I drove my dad crazy. I slept around, got pregnant and miscarried my baby. In less than 8 months, I destroyed my self-worth. I even left my father with a huge debt on an apartment I abandoned.

After messing up things down there, I came home and got married at 20 and got divorced at 21. I married again at 24 and divorced at 25. The people who loved me were paying for my mistakes. I continued sleeping around and finally got pregnant again. It was then that I finally broke down.

One night after being abused again, I went outside in the dark and kneeled in the grass and begged God to forgive me and to come into my life. I knew Jesus had died on the cross to pay for my sins and forgive me. I cried and agonized for hours. I begged Him to never leave me and to forgive me for my corrupted life. I asked Him to help me be a good mom and to come into my heart and lead my life. I knew I was powerless without Him.

At that moment, I felt an amazing freedom. I can't completely comprehend what happened. But I felt that innocent childhood love for God again. I know now that God never left me, I left Him.

I tried to make things better with my son’s father. But he wouldn’t stop drinking and being abusive. So, I took my infant boy and went out on my own.

Jesus had changed me. I didn’t desire drinking and sex outside marriage anymore. I worked hard and went to school. As my son grew, I taught him about Jesus. God provided. I was even able to place my son in a Christian school. I met someone there who introduced me to CVC. I started going to church every week, not by force or guilt, but because I desire to. I was baptized and became a member. This year I started reading the bible every day. I can’t go to sleep without reading God’s Word.

Don’t get me wrong, things are not always perfect. But I’m not afraid to face life anymore. In Matthew 6, Jesus says it best, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

I am so grateful that God changed my life and gave me my amazing son. I finally know how to love and to be loved. Jesus is working on me, right now. I can truly feel Him in my life. Jesus truly is my best friend,

Monday, February 23, 2009

What to do about Lent?

On Saturday nights at our 5:30 "Up Close" service, we have a time for Q and A after the message. Someone asked this past week what we believe about Lent at CVC.

Traditionally, Lent is a time for soul-searching and repentance. The word "Lent" initially simply meant "spring." It comes from a German root word that means "long" because in the spring the days visibly lengthen.

Lent started in the early days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter. During Lent, Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, and spiritual discipline.

Lent occurs over a period of 40 days prior to Easter. Sundays are not counted in the 40 days. Believers rededicate themselves during Lent and new Christ-followers are instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism.

The 40 days were instituted as a way to follow the example of Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-2).

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. During Ash Wednesday services, church leaders in the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Catholic traditions lightly rub the sign of the cross with ashes onto the foreheads of members of the parish. Traditionally, the ashes for the Ash Wednesday service are created by burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service. The ashes are a symbol of mourning and repentance.

The Bible itself does not mention Ash Wednesday or the custom of Lent. But repentance and mourning (with ashes) cane be found in passages like II Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.

So, why don't all churches celebrate Ash Wednesday or Lent?

In the 16th century, many Protestants (the Calvinists and Anabaptists) rejected all Christian holy days like Ash Wednesday and Lent, on the belief that they were rules and regulations instituted by the Catholic Church. (Research has shown, though, that recognizing various holy days had begun very early in the history of the church in the first century.) The Anabaptists were forefathers of present day groups like the Mennonites, Baptists, and Plymouth Brethren. The Puritans, who were Calvinists, had similar views on ridding the church of various rituals and regulations in worship. So, some Christian traditions today still do not celebrate holy days like Ash Wednesday and Lent.

What about CVC?

While we do not celebrate Ash Wednesday and Lent in a formal way at CVC, many believers at CVC (including me) have come to appreciate the special nature of this season. As we prepare to celebrate Good Friday and Easter, I have found it to be helpful to use the Lenten season as a time for spiritual cleansing - for repentance and confession.

In the past, we at CVC have celebrated Lent through messages that focused on repentance and cleansing. "Spring Cleaning" was a series in 2006 that encouraged us to confess sins of attitudes, actions, relationships, words, thoughts, and self-rule as well as sins of omission and commission. "Seven" was a series during Lent in 2006 that encouraged repentance from the “seven deadly sins” - pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust. "Win" was a series during Lent in 2007 that was designed to help us overcome our internal battles with wrong attitudes, ugly thoughts, and cutting words.

This year, "Route 51" will be a series through Psalm 51 and is designed to help us to ask God to search our hearts so we can confess our sins and be clean before Him.

So, we are asking CVCers to join with other believers around the world to use the Lenten season to focus less on our physical appetites and more on our spiritual cleansing. This focus will hopefully cause us to appreciate the cost of grace and the victory of the empty tomb.

One of the Community Group leaders at CVC, Mike Medved (a man I have the privilege to be in a mentoring relationship with), recently challenged his group to do some fasting during Lent - which starts this week on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday.

Here's what he sent them. It's good. So, I asked him if I could pass it along.

***

Dudes and Ladies -

As you may or may not know, Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. The Lenten season is a 40 day period of time many Christians spend in contemplation of Christ's sacrificial death for us, as well as our own areas of sin, seeking the gift of repentance.

You've probably heard of people giving things up for Lent, and I think that in general it is a good thing to do.

A few things to consider fasting: TV, movies, non-Christian books, food, alcohol, the internet (except as needed for work), etc. Certainly things you think can get in the way of your relationship with God are good things to put aside for a season.

A fast is usually only good if you replace it with something better - so if you ditch the TV, replace that hour with Bible reading and prayer. If you fast food for certain days, use the tummy rumblings as a reminder throughout the day to throw up prayers for yourself and others. Be serious about it - if you're going to not watch TV, for example, unplug the stupid things in your house and turn 'em backwards if you have to.

Just throwing my $.02 out there about Lent/fasting.

Take it or leave it. :)

***

Thanks Mike. He said, "Take it or leave it." I think we at CVC should take it! Take his advice.

So, how will you fast during Lent and, if you give up something, what will you replace it with?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sharing the good news (7)

You Tube has a 4 minute presentation of the "our story" approach to sharing the gospel.



It was inspired by James Choung’s approach. Choung emphasizes the "reconciliation" aspect of the atonement. We felt it was important to emphasize "substitution" as well as "reconciliation."

Check it out.

Sharing the good news (6)


Below is the first page of the brochure that was designed by our 707 worship pastor, Bryan Karas. Andy Sikora, our 707 lead pastor, helped to write this piece as well as Bryan. Bill Gunsalus, Senior at Mt. Vernon Nazarene College and Dan Fries, Community Groups Pastor at CVC, helped us with the scriptural support for the piece.


Here at Cuyahoga Valley Church we’ve been saying that we are wanting our people to go 3 for 3 in Living God, Loving One Another, and Loving the World. We’ve been trying to equip our people to be better witnesses when we go on mission.

I think we’re better at the doing good deeds and we're not doing as well at sharing the good news. So, I’ve been working together with our young adult leaders in putting together a communal/missional approach to sharing the gospel.

We’ve tried to incorporate some things we’ve learned from “Simple Church,” from James Choung, and from Scot McKnight.

Especially over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with Andy and Bryan to develop this approach. We feel it is a fresh way of sharing the gospel. We're not being critical of approaches like "The Bridge to Life," “Steps to Peace with God” or “The Four Spiritual Laws.”

But this approach may just resonate with this post-modern world we live in because it emphasizes mission and community in a way most gospel presentations don’t.

This approach to sharing the story seems to be less individualistic and more community-oriented than the commonly-used presentations that the church has used over the last 60 years.

This approach also seems to more consistently flow with the theological storyline of the Bible – Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Mission. It also concludes by inviting people into the mission of the church rather than just focusing on how to avoid hell and gain heaven.

Could you share this? I think you can. 4 circles. The same three words in each circle. You talk about creation, fall, redemption, mission. You can share it in about four minutes on a piece of paper in a coffee shop.

Practice sharing this with your friends, your spouse. Practice sharing this with your kids. Get them to practice sharing it with you. Do this in your CGs.

And then ask God, “Who do I know who doesn’t know Jesus who needs to hear this story?”

We need to be like Paul who said in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…"

Sharing the good news (5)


So... where are you in this story?

What are the problems in the world that most concern you?

What questions or concerns do you have about this story?

Would you like to receive the forgiveness and healing Jesus offers?

Would you like to be a part of the mission of Jesus?

Prayer can be the first step to changing your story.

Dear God,
Thank You for the way You’ve entered our story and for the invitation to join in Yours. I recognize that part of the reason the world is this way is because of my sin. I know that my sin has broken my relationship with You and with others. No matter how hard I try I can’t fix this problem. I believe that You sent Your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sins and for the sins of the whole world. I believe that through His resurrection everything has a chance to be made new. Right now I surrender to You. Help me to stop living my way and to follow Jesus and His way. Give me the power to live out my story as part of Yours.
In Jesus name, Amen.

Sharing the good news (4)




But for now, Jesus asks us to join with others in a community called the Church. We are sent together to heal - to love God, love one another, and serve the world. As God’s love works through us, we can point the world to Jesus so that others, too, can be restored to God (II Corinthians 5:18-21). Together, we can live in a way that gives God glory (Romans 11:36).

And although the world won’t be perfect until Christ returns, we can join Him in his mission to help rid the world of injustice, oppression and evil (Micah 6:8). Jesus is still looking for followers who want to be His agents of change in the world.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Community Group Questions
for the week of February 22

Message: our story

Series: Stories

Warm up:
How did you feel about making presentations or speeches in school or in the marketplace?
How did you do (or how do you do) when making a presentation or a speech?

Dig in:
Read Romans 1:13-17

Paul was probably in Greece leading the church in Corinth when he wrote this letter to the Roman Christians. What do you think kept Paul from doing any ministry in Rome (v. 13)?

Why did Paul want to go on mission to Rome (v. 13)?

Why did Paul, a Jew, feel obligated to the Greeks (v. 14)? (See also Acts 26:12-20.)

What was Paul’s attitude about sharing the gospel (v. 15)? (See also I Corinthians 9:19-23.)

Why do you think some Christians are sometimes ashamed of the gospel (v. 16)?

What is the gospel (v. 16)? (See also I Corinthians 15:3-4.)

In verses 16 and 17, what can we learn about the gospel?
Note: This story about Jesus – this gospel, this good news tells us how God makes us right in His sight. Sinful people who fall short of the glory of God – who cannot on their own stand before a holy God – are made right God through faith in what Jesus did on the cross when He died in our place and paid for our sin. From start to finish, we’re made righteous by faith in Jesus – by embracing His story. By faith we initially receive the gift of salvation. And by faith we live each day.

What are some evidences to you that the gospel is the power of God (v. 16)?

At this point, the leader can make sure everyone has a copy of the “napkin 4 circle presentation” called “our story” – the flyer that was handed out at CVC. The leader can simply read through the flyer with everyone or the leader may find it helpful to ask different members of the group to read different sections.
Note: We ask the CG leader to bring enough “our story” flyers to the CG so that every person has a copy.

The “our story” gospel presentation for CVC can also be found on You Tube. If technology allows, you can play it now for your Community Group. The presentation lasts 4 minutes. You can find it here.

Live out:
Now, have some fun with what comes next! Divide into smaller groups of two (no more than 3). Try to make sure that couples do not team up during this practice. On a sheet of paper, each person will practice sharing with the other the “our story” presentation. (The person with the birthday closest to the current date goes first.)
Note: You will need to make sure you have enough markers and paper for everyone.

Come back together as a group and ask, “How did that feel?” and “Do you think you could share this with a family member or a friend who doesn’t know Christ?”

Ask, “Did anyone check out CVC’s Mission Connect this past weekend?”

Ask, “How are you currently loving the world – the poor / hungry / needy / orphan / widow / prisoner / oppressed? What are your plans to go on mission (locally, regionally, globally)? What would be the logical next step for you?”

Ask, “Who will seek to share the good news with a friend or family member soon?”

End your time in prayer. Ask for prayer requests for the salvation of family members and friends who do not know Christ. Each person can pray briefly for the requests of person on your right. Pray that he or she would not be ashamed of the gospel and would grow more and more comfortable in sharing the gospel. Close the prayer time by thanking God that the gospel of Jesus is the power of God for salvation.

Sharing the good news (3)







The Bible tells the story about the God who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God loved the world too much to leave it broken so He entered into the darkness and pain of this world (John 3:16).

God sent His Son, Jesus, to show us how to live. Jesus lived a perfect life as the one who shows us how to love God, love one another, and love the world.

Jesus entered into the evil of this world and suffered with us. And then He died on a cross. He died in our place – paying for our sins, forgiving our personal failures to love God, love one another, and love the world (Romans 5:8).

As a result of His work on the cross for us, a miracle happens. We can be reconciled to God, to each other, and to the world. Change happens when we turn from our sin, trust in Jesus, and seek to follow Him (Acts 3:19-20, John 1:12). Our selfishness dies with Jesus, and through the resurrection of Jesus, we are restored.

We can have a new life and be the people we were originally created to be (II Corinthians 5:17). Jesus sends His Holy Spirit to live in us and empower us to love. God, love one another and love the world. Now we can. It can only happen through Jesus (John 14:6).

The Bible also tells us the end of the story. One day, Jesus is coming again to make all things right – perfectly and forever.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sharing the good news (2)



How about now? No one thinks that the world is perfect. We can all agree it’s broken. War. Famine. The AIDS pandemic. Sex trafficking. Poverty. Oppression. Injustice. Crime. Broken relationships. Clean water shortages. Lack of education. What happened?

When we decide that we are in control, instead of God, a cataclysmic collapse takes place. Because we have disobeyed God, we are separated from Him and hide from Him. We no longer love one another. We hurt and blame one another and live in shame. We no longer care for the world. And the whole world pays the price (Genesis 3:1-19).

The world is broken because of our sin; our failure to love and obey God. Each person on the planet contributes to the problem. We were designed to love and to give God glory, but we all tend to seek our own good above the good of others (Romans 3:10, 23).

We know things have to change. We hunger for a better world. So we try and fix it. We try to be good and do good. We try to care about justice, the environment, the poor... We try religion.

People think, “If we can only do enough good things – enough religious things – then maybe we can get right with God and we can fix our world.” But nothing works. Religion often disappoints and always divides.

The problem is we can’t fix the problem (Romans 3:20).


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sharing the good news (1)



We are excited about a fresh approach to sharing the good news of Jesus. You can share it on the back of a napkin. I will be talking about how to use this approach in all services this weekend. It all begins in Genesis 1 and 2.

Our story starts with creation. At creation, all was well. Adam and Eve were on mission. God loved them and they loved God. There was no fear of God and no shame before Him. They loved one another. They had no secrets. They didn’t hurt each other. They helped each other live fully and abundantly. They loved the world. They cared for God’s creation with respect and lived in harmony with everything (Genesis 1:27-31). They lived in a way that gave God glory.

More to come later...
Discipleship at CVC (16)

Since we are encouraging people to actually go 3 for 3 when it come to Loving God, Loving One Another, and Loving the World, what if people aren’t ready for this kind of commitment?

Our desire is to leave no one behind.

So, if our Community Group leaders are at a 3 on the scale of 1-10, we want the Spirit of God to move them to a 5. If they are at a 7 we want the Spirit of God to move them to an 8.

And we will have to teach our Community Group leaders to treat the members of the group this way. We are counting on them to help their people get to the next level of discipleship.

This will take time. But we will be patient. And we will watch God change lives.

But we realize that even after repeated encouragement some members and attenders may not respond. They may only want to go 1 for 3 or 2 for 3. But we will not allow the "nay-sayers" to water-down our passion to join with Jesus in making fully devoted followers of Christ.

In such cases, we will focus on those who actually want to grow and be all that Jesus created them to be.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nancy Broadbent's story

Here is another story that was told this past weekend at CVC. When God's story intersects our story, it changes everything.

***

I have been a spiritual seeker for many years. I looked in strange places, like Native American sweat lodges, Hindu goddess ceremonies, and a Spiritualist community. I had an idea about God being a cross between a big, mellow hippie with an “anything goes” attitude and a cosmic butler whose job it was to give me anything I wanted.

I was sexually abused as a child, which resulted in a lack of trust, bad relationships and broken marriages. I had explored paths for the healing of my mind but I was still struggling. My heart was still broken. I came to believe that only God could heal my heart.

In the past few years, we had some financial set-backs and health challenges. My husband and I realized that we would never be able to retire unless we made some big changes. We began exploring and wound up getting into business with a Christian couple, Dave & Megan. Through them, we met other Christian couples, and although we didn’t know it at the time, the business itself is based on Christian principles. We began learning and applying those principles. Our relationships improved.

Based on my past, I had a 30 second commercial in my head about Christians as self-righteous Bible thumpers. But these new friends were different. They were humble servants. They didn’t judge. They loved. They simply walked their Christian walk and let us watch. I started wanting to be more like them and to have what they had.

Last summer, my husband was having a rough time. I asked Dave if he could help. Dave suggested that we come to church with them that Sunday at CVC.

God really rolled out the welcome mat that day. The music and message were exactly what we needed to make us want to come back. Someone suggested some books to read. The people of the church were welcoming. We kept coming back. I read the Bible and the books that were suggested.

I saw how all of the things that I had tried before had failed to satisfy the longing I had for a closer relationship with God. I also saw how, over time, God had brought me to a crossroad.

God showed me how I sinned daily – how, despite my best intentions, I still fell far short of the mark. But Christ had died for my sins. I needed to receive this incredible, beautiful, generous gift. I didn’t even have to understand it fully; which is good, because, honestly, I still don’t. In a weird way, the fact that I don’t understand fully it is proof to me that it’s truth. Only God could write a story this incredible and incomprehensible.

So, I prayed to Jesus, “I don’t really get this fully. But I know I want to be close with You now and for eternity. I am just knocked out that You love me so much. I receive You as my Savior.”

Since then, Jesus has been healing my heart. This hasn’t been easy. One day, I will be set free. Recently, I woke up hoping that one of my abusers found Christ before she died. So, I am moving toward forgiveness.

I am moving from a Me-centered world to a God-centered world. My desires for pleasure, to be safe, to feel important, and to look good have been my motivators. Those things fail to satisfy and get me into trouble. When I put God first I am freed from all of the chatter in my head about how I can impress you, and it’s such a relief.

This isn’t MY story, this is GOD’S story. I get to be a part of it and watch what God does. Instead of feeling like a victim, I feel humbled that He would want to use me. I know now that He has a plan and a purpose for me in His story.

Sometimes I say to Him, “You know, does it really have to be about YOU all the time?” The answer is, “Yes. It does.” When it’s about Him, my fear goes away, and I feel finally safe. It’s way better than I could have imagined.
Discipleship at CVC (15)

As we grow in discipleship at CVC, are we raising the bar for our Community Group leaders?

Well, think about it this way: The bar has already been raised by Jesus. He’s the One who gave us the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Most churches simply do not expect members and attenders to actually live the way Jesus has called us to live. But we must call all our people up higher, including Community Group leaders.

The kind of discipleship we are talking about is not optional, it’s essential. What better way to spend your life than seeking to help people truly follow Jesus?

Therefore, we want Community Group leaders to see to it that each member of their group is growing and moving forward in Loving God, Loving One Another, and Loving the World. The content of the Community Group meetings must be oriented around the kind of discipleship training that will point our people towards going 3 for 3.

When it comes to Loving God, Loving One Another, and Loving The World, our Community Group leaders, just like our staff, must be “tour guides” rather than “travel agents.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Praying for your family

Recently, someone sent to me a very encouraging story about the importance of prevailing in prayer for your loved ones.

***

When [my husband] & I were first married, his grandfather... was not a Christian. Every time I tried to witness to him I was met with "the wall" of silence even though his grandfather was very fond of me. Anytime I brought up anything about God, Christ, the Bible, etc. I was shut down.

For 11 years I prayed for him, regularly. I prayed that God would open his heart and that I would be able to lead him to Christ.

About 9 months before he died, God spoke to my heart. He revealed to me that "Poppa" would never let me lead him to Christ; it was a matter of pride in Poppa's heart (and probably in mine as well.)

So I began to pray fervently that God would send someone to him to witness to him and to lead him to Christ. I prayed regularly and with many tears from Grandma's death in September until Poppa's death in May.


In February we [had received] a voice message on our phone from Poppa. He sounded like a frightened, tormented man; his voice haunted me.

On the flight to his funeral [in May] I prayed, "Lord, I have to know. I have to know if Poppa came to Christ. Even if the answer is no, I have to know."

That night I was helping [my husband's] mom... wash the dinner dishes. She turned to me and said, "There's something I think you should know." I almost dropped the dish I was drying. She & I never spoke about things of faith but somehow I knew we were going to do that now.

I looked at her and she continued. "In the last month, Poppa was visited by the minister that spoke at Grandma's funeral. While he was there, Poppa made a confession of faith. From that moment on, he changed. He called all of us together and told us how sorry he was for the way he had treated us. He told us he loved us and asked for our forgiveness. He was a new person."

At this point, the tears were welling up in my eyes but she wasn't done yet. "When Poppa was in his last days his legs were paralyzed and he couldn't walk. But right before he died he started yelling for us to take off his covers. We pulled them back and he started to move his legs, as if he was running in his bed. He was full of joy. We believe that he ran to Jesus and then he died."

That night you can be sure that I spent a lot of time on my knees, crying with joy that Poppa had met Christ. The next day was the funeral. I walked into the funeral home and immediately I saw a man lock eyes with me. He strode across the room, took my hand and said, "You're the one." To which I said, "Yes." No other words were needed; he was the minister that led Poppa to Christ. He told me that he knew someone was praying because God was pushing him to go and see Poppa. With tears flowing down my face I thanked him for being faithful to God's leading.

***

What a story! What a faithful woman of prayer! She ended this story with a challenge.

***

I encourage you to pray for God to send his people to minister to your [family]; to share the gospel with [them] and for [their hearts] to be open. Ask Him to send an army of Christians if that's what it takes. And pray for God to make them bold; for them to share, for them to be willing to listen to [them] and for [them] to listen with [their] heart.

***

So, who will you be praying for in this way?
Brian Pacetti’s story

Here's a written version of one of the stories told at the services this weekend. The "Alan" mentioned in this story happens to be my oldest son. Very cool.

***

For a long time I was confused about spiritual truth and what it meant to be a real Christian. I was baptized as a baby, but my family didn’t go to church much. I remember believing in God and that Jesus rose from the grave, so once I got my driver’s license I started going to church on my own. But I didn’t really understand the way to get to heaven.

My best friend from my high school wrestling team, Alan, would invite me to CVC. Every time I went to church with him I actually had fun. Soon, I realized that if I was having fun at church then God must have a reason for it. By the time I reached my upper-teens I was going to CVC regularly.

I realized the truth that Jesus’ death on the cross was payment for my sins and how personally accepting Jesus as my Savior was the only path to heaven. But I wasn’t ready to give my life to Him.

Having fun was what dominated my life at the time. I wasn’t willing to give up the aspects of that lifestyle that don’t belong to a Christian.

I never thought, “God will forgive me no matter what I do,” or “If I’m a good person, I’ll go to heaven.” I knew I needed forgiveness – that I wasn’t good enough on my own. I was just never ready to receive Jesus. I thought that I was young and should be having fun – drinking, partying and chasing women.

That lifestyle got old extremely fast for a typical college sophomore. I really wasn’t getting anything from doing things that I once thought were so much fun. Looking back, God was showing me how empty that lifestyle was.

My attitude started changing. I stopped getting drunk and stopped trying to hook up with girls. I felt a stronger passion for the Lord than ever before and knew that He was influencing me. But I still wasn’t ready to give up my life.One day, some friends and I went up to a cottage in Sandusky to party. By this point, I was used to being the only sober person at a party. The next morning when everyone was trying to recover, I remember looking around at all of my friends and feeling very different than ever before. I felt like I didn’t belong and couldn’t relate.

God was detaching me both emotionally and spiritually from a sinful lifestyle and pulling me towards Him. While my buddies were trying to choke down some recovery food, I felt that nobody would even notice if I wasn’t there.

I took a walk to the doc. I watched the waves splash. My senses were being bombarded with God’s creations: how beautiful the sky looked, the sound of the waves, the feeling of the breeze on my face. God was overloading my mind with how perfect His creations are.

God seized me and at that moment I prayed to receive Christ. I confessed my sins, said that there is no way I can ever pay for my sins, and prayed for Jesus to take my sins. I wanted to live with Him forever.

My mind and heart are now completely different. Jesus actually changed the way that I live.

After receiving Jesus I was omitting the non-Christian aspects of my lifestyle, not because I was supposed to, but because I no longer wanted to. I started speaking up for God in my college classes whenever a controversial topic was brought up and started sharing with others what Jesus had done for me. I joined a Bible study, was baptized, and continue to serve in the children's ministry to this day.

I know that a verse from the Bible is true. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

I'm still far from perfect. But I know that I have a Savior who died so that my sins are forgiven. I’m asking God to use all of my abilities and talents to show as many other people as possible the path to receiving Jesus as their Savior.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cardboard Testimonies

This past weekend's services with the cardboard testimonies were amazing services that truly moved me. I'm so grateful that God is still the same yesterday, today, and forever - changing lives.

Our creative team asks God for grace to put services together each weekend. He helped us in an extraordinary way this past weekend.

We received a "thank you" email from a CVCer who participated with a cardboard testimony yesterday.

***

Gentlemen:

As I sit in a giant pool of emotions even at 5:30 p.m. this evening after what has been an incredible weekend at CVC, I felt the need to send this email to all of you. First I wanted to thank you for asking me to participate in the Cardboard Testimonies. I can't tell you the incredible feedback and emotion that I witnessed as people watched and then were walking out of services this weekend.

At first when I was asked, I thought I did not have anything to testify that would really affect anyone. Sure, many people go through life with struggles of alcohol abuse. But after one of the services a woman came up to me in tears, hugged me, and thanked me and shared with me that her son had just relapsed after being sober a year. It was at that moment that my insecurity and pride about getting up in front of people was lifted and I knew it was all God using me in His usual mighty ways. I was able to share and pray for this woman's son and give her some advice from my own experience with the addiction.

[My husband] and I are truly blessed and in awe of how CVC continues to use the people of its congregation to witness to the unsaved and unbelieving. It is a far cry different than how I was brought up and I thank God that he has brought me to this point.

So, it is with a grateful and very humbled heart that I thank you guys for putting this together and asking me to be a mighty witness for the Lord!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A prayer based on Psalm 34

Do you want to know how to pray when you're in trouble?

In my Bible reading today, I was prompted to rephrase Psalm 34 from the NLT. I'm sending it to my brother, Bill, as he faces and fights cancer.

He's doing much better. He's home from the hospital. His pain is greatly reduced. He's eating pretty well and he's taking some walks out to the end of their driveway. He sounds stronger and stronger on the phone.

Thanks for your prayers.

***

Lord, You deserve to be praised at all times. Help me to constantly speak Your praises. My boast is only in You, Lord. I am helpless without You. But in my helplessness, I take heart. I will tell of Your greatness; I will exalt Your name together with others who know and love You.

So, I pray to You, Lord. I trust You to answer me. You will free me from all my fears. I look to You for help and will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken my face. In my desperation I pray, and You, Lord, will listen; You will save me from all my troubles. For the angel of the Lord is my guard; You surround and defend all who fear You.

Give me grace to taste and see that you, Lord, are good. Give me joy because I take refuge in You! I will fear You, Lord. Make me one of Your godly people for those who fear You will have all they need. Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in you, Lord, will lack no good thing. Help me trust You.

Let me teach my children by the example of my life. May they listen to me as I teach them to fear the Lord. By Your grace and for Your glory, make my life long and prosperous. May You help me keep my tongue from speaking evil and my lips from telling lies! Give me grace to turn away from evil and do good – to search for peace and to work to maintain it.

Your, eyes, Lord, watch over those who do right; Your ears are open to their cries for help. Help me do right. Help me cry out to You. But You, Lord, are the God who turns Your face against those who do evil; You will erase their memory from the earth. So, Hear me, Lord, when I call to You for help.

Rescue me from all my troubles. Be close to me, Lord, for I am brokenhearted. I look to You for my rescue. My spirit is crushed. Make me righteous. I know that the righteous person faces many troubles, but You, Lord, come to the rescue each time. You protect the bones of the righteous; not one of them is broken!

Calamity will surely overtake the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be punished. But You, Lord, will redeem those who serve You. No one who takes refuge in You will be condemned. Let me be one of those righteous ones serve You, who take refuge in You.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Discipleship at CVC (14)

If developing the practice of Loving The World is so important for discipleship in our Community Groups, how will our Community Groups engage in Loving The World?

Each of our Community Groups must be actively engaged in Loving The World. If the place we grow and belong – our Community Group – becomes a place we live on mission then more people will be stepping into the Love The World category than ever before. In our Community Groups, we must Love The World as we Love God and Love One Another.

For those who are hesitant about being on mission, Loving The World with their Community Group will provide them a chance to do it with people they trust. We must model a relational / community approach as we seek to Love the World. We will leverage our Community Groups to walk with our people through easy first steps towards Loving The World.

This will mean that our Community Group leaders must be “tour guides” who are actually on mission themselves, not just “travel agents” who merely encourage others to Loving The World. Community Group leaders must lead the way.

This approach will broaden our outreach into the community. Instead of having one LARGE outreach effort, we will have 100s throughout the NE Ohio area. Community Groups that are in close proximity to one another can partner together to love their neighborhoods (either at the same time or at different times in the same place). This approach can also serve to bridge the generation gap by providing opportunities for various generations to serve alongside each other.

It is not good enough for us to tell our people about opportunities to Love The World. We do more than give our people one chance a year at a Mission Connect to get them moving in a Love The World direction. This means that being on mission should be a part of every Community Group so that it works itself into our DNA.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Community Group Study for the week of 2/15/2009

Title: Your story

Series: Stories

Many of us know from life experience that Jesus changes everything for the better. Yet if we’re honest, most of us feel uneasy talking to others about Jesus. We have the idea that helping someone come to know Him means trying to convert strangers with memorized tactics.

God is the One who changes lives. Our privilege is to develop friendships with others as we listen to, then tell stories that will guide them into a relationship with the God who transforms lives and destinies.

Let’s discover the stories of people around us, connecting our story with theirs, then sharing the story of Jesus in a way that leaves them wanting to know more.

Warm up:
What was one of your favorite stories your mom or dad told about their childhood?

Dig in:
Read Matthew 5:13-16
What Jesus is saying here?
What difference does Jesus say there will be between his followers and the rest of the world?

Read 1 Peter 3:13-17
Peter knows that when God’s Story intersects with our story it changes everything. If it really changes us then people will begin to notice. What is Peter telling them to be ready to do?

What are some of the descriptive words that Peter uses about how we are to respond? How are you at responding this way?

Peter is telling us to be ready to tell our story, but many of us aren’t telling our stories much. The question is why?

What are some areas of your life that are different than the way the rest of the world lives?

What are some areas of your life that should be changed by Jesus but are exactly the same as the rest of the world?

Take some time and ask God to change your heart so it changes your living.

Live out:
This is the time for your Community Group leader or for someone else in the group to share his or her story. (In 700 words!)

We must be ready to tell our story, so take some time to work yours out. Use the following questions to write your story in a way that could be told in two or three minutes.

Who were you before you met Jesus?
(examples: addictions, emotions, sinful behavior)

What did Jesus do for you?
(examples: freedom, forgiveness, hope)

Who are you now?
(examples: free, whole, new, on mission)

Next steps:
Over the next few weeks work through these things…

Put your story together in a way that you feel comfortable sharing when asked about it.

Take the time to tell another Christian your story and listen to their story as well.

Start praying for God to give you a chance to share your story. Maybe it’s just a general prayer or maybe it’s a prayer for a specific person or group of people.

Be ready. Your leader will be asking you if you will share your story with your Community Group over the next few weeks or months.
Rick Duncan's story

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a winner – to succeed. I was pretty good at baseball, a pretty good student, and, as a kid, a pretty good musician. Somehow, I started to believe that to get the approval and applause of important people in my life – parents, coaches, teachers – I had to perform at a pretty high level.

So, I became driven. For many years, I was able to keep up the fa├žade of competence. I received a scholarship to play baseball in college. After graduation, I spent a few years playing baseball professionally. I was seen as one of the good guys. I got married and started a family.

Then, I went into the ministry as a career. I thought, “I didn’t make it to the major leagues in baseball, but I’ll make it to the major leagues as a minister, as a husband, as a dad.” Deep inside, I felt like I didn’t quite measure up – like I didn’t quite do anything good enough.

The pressure to perform began to take it toll. Life wasn’t as enjoyable or restful as it should have been. I wasn’t truly life-giving for the people around me.

As a child, my parents made sure they took me to church. I learned that having a personal relationship with Jesus can give you peace and purpose as well as eternal life. I knew I had broken God’s laws and deserved to be separated from Him forever. I knew God sent His Son, Jesus, to live a perfect life and to die on the cross to forgive me. I knew that He rose and that if I confessed my sins and trusted Jesus, He would forgive me and send His Holy Spirit to live in me and change me.

So, one night, I told my dad I wanted to receive Jesus. He led me to pray, “Dear Jesus, I know I have sinned. I believe You came and died on the cross to forgive me. Come into my heart and change me. Help me be who You want me to be.”

I believe He changed me that night. But I unnecessarily carried that performance-based baggage for many years. No matter how well things went in my life or ministry, I wasn’t satisfied. I thought, “I’ll have to do better next time.” I wanted to be “big league” in everything. It wasn’t a good way to live.

God began to teach me more about what it means to be loved unconditionally by Him. Someone encouraged me to go to some counseling training. I thought that I was going to learn to help others. Instead, I gained a whole lot of insight about myself – how I was driven by a desire to be seen as competent. Later, I read what God has to say about how to find true significance in life and about how to live with the pressure off.

I still want to succeed and win. But I can honestly say that it’s becoming more and more about God and less and less about me.

Now I realize that I have great worth apart from my performance – apart from my success or lack of it – simply because Christ gave His life for me and imparted great value to me. No matter how badly I perform, I know that I am deeply loved and fully pleasing to God. The pressure is off. And I’m enjoying ministry and life more than ever.

There are times when I still fall into old patterns of life. Sometimes, my relationships and my career don’t go the way I want them to go. And I often blame myself for things I didn’t do or for things I did. The pressure to perform perfectly starts to mount.

But during those times, I often remind myself that Jesus is my friend, my Savior who says, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Guidelines for Writing “Your Story”

What to Do:
Ask God to give you wisdom.
Make your story sound conversational, not academic or formal.
Be warm and personal.
Keep to a 3 minute limit. (That’s about 650-700 words.)
Be realistic, don't exaggerate.

What Not to Do:
Avoid statements that reflect negatively on any church organization.
Avoid statements that reflect negatively on any individual.
Avoid religious-sounding words, denominations, or church names.
Avoid speaking writing in a preachy manner. Say, “I” and “me,” not “you.”
Avoid using vague terms like “joyful,” “peaceful,” or “changed” without explaining them.
Avoid using religious terms like “saved,” “sin,” or “convicted” without explaining them.
Avoid communicating that all your struggles and problems have now ended.

Writing Style:
Begin with an attention-getting sentence or incident.
Be positive, accurate and specific – sharing a few key details will help arouse interest.
Simplify – reduce the “clutter.” Mention a limited number of people and details.
Use Bible verses directly related to your experience. But do not use the references. For example, say, "One of Jesus' disciples said..." rather than writing "1 John 5:11-13 says..."
Write things just as you would share with someone one-on-one.

Remember: Effective communication is brief, to the point, and clear. Sharing your story should not take more than 3 minutes. All right, now you're ready to write! Just answer the following questions:

Before Christ: Who were you before you met Jesus?

Many people’s actions spring out of their unsatisfied deep inner needs. What were one or two of your unsatisfied deep inner needs before you came to know Jesus? What were your attitudes, needs, and problems before you received Christ?Examples: “I was seeking for…” “My life revolved around…” “I gained happiness and security from...” “My life was missing….” “My attitude was…” "My life was filled with problems I could not solve..." (Use an example from your personal life here. For instance, did your security come from money, your relationships, etc? Remember, avoid being overly sensational.)

Non-Christians are usually trying to satisfy their deep inner needs through unsatisfactory solutions. What unsatisfactory solutions did you use to attempt to meet those deep inner needs?

How did trying to meet your deep inner needs this way disappoint you? How was your life unfulfilling? How did you come to realize this? What were you struggling with (if anything) just before you received Christ?

Receiving Christ: How did Jesus change your life?

This part of your personal testimony is where you come to the transition in your life, where God's work begins to become evident in you. Remember to follow the same guidelines as before.

Describe the circumstances that caused you to consider Christ as the solution to your deep inner needs. When and how did you first hear about and truly understand the story about Jesus? What were your struggles just before you received Christ?

State specifically the steps you took to become a follower of Jesus. Share truths about the gospel – that you realized you have disobeyed God, that you realized you did not deserve His forgiveness, that you realized Christ died to forgive you, and that you realized your need to receive Jesus to be forgiven and to be changed forever. Remember that it's the gospel that has the power to change lives (see Romans 1:16). So, include how you came to understand that Jesus came, that He died on the cross in your place to save you, and that He rose again.

You likely cannot remember exactly what you prayed when you received Christ. But sharing a few words about how you prayed (shat you may have said) might encourage someone else to express their faith in a similar way.


After receiving Christ: Who are you now?

When giving a personal testimony, many people concentrate on the sin they had before they received Christ - even the sensationalism. However, an effective testimony focuses not on our sin, but on the work of the Holy Spirit in us, so that Jesus Christ takes center stage. It is at this point that your testimony really begins to shine the spotlight on Jesus.

State how Jesus filled or is filling your deep inner needs. In the before section, you express your needs and how you tried unsuccessfully to meet them. You now want to briefly show the difference that Jesus has made in your life.

What happened when you received Christ? How and why did your attitudes and actions begin to change? What has happened since you received Christ? How has your life changed? When did you notice that change? How are you motivated differently now?

If there is a particular verse that applies, this would be a good place to use it.

***

If you received Christ at an early age...

Perhaps you grew up in a Christian home and you received Christ at a very early age. If so, you can use a slightly different approach to writing your story. 1) Before: State the deep inner needs you see the people around you trying to fill. Describe how you see people unsuccessfully trying to satisfy those needs. 2) How: Explain how Jesus has helped you avoid some of the struggles many people face. Refer back to your conversion experience and state how you trusted Christ as a child. Make sure you briefly include truths about the gospel. 3) After: Illustrate how Christ has met or is meeting your deep inner needs. Remember not to communicate that all your struggles and problems have now ended. End your story by sharing how Jesus is still changing your life.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A disciplined life

I like John Piper. He's a pastor in Minnesota who has written a number of books that have greatly influenced me.

Here's an interview that is insightful.
Discipleship at CVC (13)

What describes discipleship for Community Group members at CVC?

The following are the kinds of habits and practices we are hoping to see in our own lives and in the lives of our Community Group leaders and Group members. We are people who are…
… are worshipping regularly on weekends at CVC.
… are having regular quiet times.
… are growing in our prayer lives.
… are growing as stewards of their time, talent, and treasure.
… have developed and are working an annual Spiritual Growth Plan.
… are growing to maturity in our closest relationships.
… have discovered, developed, and deployed our spiritual gifts.
… are serving in a ministry of the church on the basis of our giftedness.
… are able to share our testimony and the gospel message.
… are serving somehow in a Love The World capacity.

Think about it: Churches can’t change the world without the members and attenders being changed themselves. And it’s obvious that these practices listed above are the kinds of practices that end up in changed lives.

We must challenge ourselves to actually be followers of Jesus – to actually live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We’re not just seeking to follow a belief system. We are asking ourselves to learn the Way of living like Jesus.

How are you living out the Way?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pastor Rick Warren speaks about his wife’s cancer…

Someone in our church who is fighting cancer sent these words from Rick Warren to me. I'm going to pass it along to my brother, Bill.

***

This past year has been the greatest year of my life but also the toughest, with my wife, Kay, getting cancer.

I used to think that life was hills and valleys - you go through a dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth. I don't believe that anymore. Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it's kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life.

No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.

You can focus on your purposes, or you can focus on your problems. If you focus on your problems, you're going into self-centeredness, which is “my problem, my issues, my pain.” But one of the easiest ways to get rid of pain is to get your focus off yourself and onto God and others.

We discovered quickly that in spite of the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people, God was not going to heal Kay or make it easy for her. It has been very difficult for her, and yet God has strengthened her character, given her a ministry of helping other people, given her a testimony, drawn her closer to Him and to people. You have to learn to deal with both the good and the bad of life.

Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you're just coming out of one, or you're getting ready to go into another one. The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort; God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy.

We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that's not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness.

Sometimes, people ask me, “What is the purpose of life?” And I respond, “In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity. We were not made to last forever, and God wants us to be with Him in Heaven.”

One day my heart is going to stop, and that will be the end of my body-- but not the end of me. I may live 60 to 100 years on earth, but I am going to spend trillions of years in eternity. This is the warm-up act - the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity. We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life isn't going to make sense.

When I get up in the morning, I sit on the side of my bed and say, “God, if I don't get anything else done today, I want to know You more and love You better.”

God didn't put me on earth just to fulfill a to-do list. He's more interested in what I am than what I do. That's why we're called human beings, not human doings.

In happy moments, PRAISE GOD. In difficult moments, SEEK GOD. In quiet moments, WORSHIP GOD. In painful moments, TRUST GOD. In every moment, THANK GOD.

Monday, February 09, 2009

when bad things happen

A mom at CVC is concerned about how her child - a young adult - is processing some trials. She was doing something truly sacrificial to serve others and suffered some misfortune that required surgery. This kind of things have happened before. And to further complicate things, medicines sometimes cause negative reactions for this young adult.

Naturally, the family is praying for God for healing. They have asked God to use all of this for His purposes and to His glory. But this young adult is has been thinking about why God has allowed so many bad things to happen especially during times of service and helping others. This young adult asked, "Do you think He is trying to teach me something?"

The mom's answer was "Maybe, maybe not." Then she reminded her child about Paul in the Bible feeling that it was a privilege to suffer because it helped him become more like Christ. Now, she's not sure that was the right thing to say. She thinks her child's question is more of a heart issue of "Does God really love me?" along with a bit of "Is He punishing me for my sins?"

I was asked, "Do you have any thoughts on how I can help?"

These are difficult questions and situations for pastors. But I tried to offer some direction. I thought my response might help someone else. So, here it is below:

***

Wow. I’m sorry to hear of this [trial]. I pray that God will heal... quickly and fully.

I don’t have any easy answers to your... questions. I’m sure God is seeking to teach... “something.” Not because he’s ticked... but because He’s always seeking to teach us all something.

Of course, in the end, He’s all about using life’s experiences to conform us to the image of His Son as His Word tells us in Romans 8:28-30. But this fact sometimes is not as comforting as we might like it to be, especially when the “pile” of trials is pretty high – as they are in [this] case.

There are a couple of books that might be helpful...

Philip Yancey wrote a book a number of years ago called “Disappointment with God.” In the book, Yancey tackles questions caused in our hearts when God doesn't do what we think He's supposed to do. He asks, “Why, if God is so hungry for relationship with us, does he seem so distant? Why, if he cares for us, do bad things happen?” This book won an award, the Gold Medallion Award. It’s really good.

The second is a more of a booklet – 30 pages. It’s “Behind a Frowning Providence” by John Murray. The booklet focuses on the fact that sorrow and suffering are unavoidable facts of life. Sometimes we see people who show great faith in the face of severe trials. Often we don’t ask how that faith comes about. Behind a Frowning Providence talks openly about how. Through our faith in Him Christ is able to triumph in the face of all obstacles because through Him we can focus on God's character and His promises.

You can find the books
here and here.

I hope this helps a little.


***

I ended by offering myself to talk and pray.

Making sense of the providence of God in our lives is often difficult. But we are called to embrace His plan and to love Him - even, and especially, when life doesn't make sense.

How do you handle it when bad things happen?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Community Group Questions
for the week of February 8, 2009

Title: Their story
Series: Stories


Warm up:
When you were growing up, what were your habits, activities, or friendships that your parents appreciated or applauded? How did that impact you?

When you were growing up, what were your habits, activities, or friendships that your parents criticized or condemned? How did that impact you?

Dig in:
Read John 4:4-42

Going through Samaria was the usual route from Judea to Galilee. But strict Jews didn’t want to be contaminated by the Samaritans. So, they would bypass Samaria and cross over the Jordan River and travel on the east side. Why? The Samaritans were racially mixed – part Jew and part Gentile. Why do you think verse 4 says that Jesus “had to” go through Samaria?

Most women came to the well in the cool of the day (morning or late afternoon). This Samaritan woman came at noon (when “nice girls” did not come to the well). Why do you think Jesus risked His reputation to ask a favor of this woman? (See verse 7)

What do you learn from this woman’s response? (See verse 9)

When Jesus offers the woman “living water” in verse 10, what does He mean? (See John 7:37-39)

What voids do you see in this woman’s life that only “living water” can satisfy?

How does the woman respond when Jesus explains in verse 13-14, “… the water that I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life… “?
a. Puzzled: “Are you kidding me?”
b. Desirous: “I’d love to have it!”
c. Open: “I’m ready.”

Why do you think Jesus changes the topic so abruptly to her personal life in verse 16?

What strikes you about the way Jesus responds to her claim not to have a husband in verse 17?

Jesus appears not to be as much against the woman’s sexual sin as He is for her having living water (verses 13-14) and being a true worshipper (verses 23-24). How is this instructive to you as a witness for Jesus?

What does it mean to worship “in spirit”? What does it mean to worship “in truth”?

Jesus claims to be the Messiah (verses 25-26). What is significant about Jesus choosing this woman as the first person to whom He revealed Himself in this way? (See also verse 39-42)

Live out:
What aspects of Jesus’ conversation could you use as a model for your own discussions with searching friends?

Insiders (saved people) often fall to one of two extremes. We either come on too strong to outsiders or we fail to say anything to them. Where do you fall along that continuum? What is God saying to you about that?

What does it mean to be “in the world” but not “of the world”? How can we as Christians be more known for what we are for rather than what we are against?

In the book UnChristian, by Dave Kinnaman, one 25 year-old young adult named Jeff is quoted as saying, “Christians talk about hating sin and loving sinners, but the way they go about things, they might as well call it what it is. They hate the sin and the sinner.” How does that make you feel?

In this past weekend’s message, we learned five principles from the life of Jesus that can teach us how to relate to our friends and family members who are outsiders – to those who don’t yet know Christ. In which of the five would your non-Christian friends say you need to grow the most?
a. in, not of
b. persons, not projects
c. conversation, not condemnation
d. for, not against
e. Jesus, not judgment

Think about someone you know who doesn’t know Christ. How are you currently building bridges into his or her life? It’s been said that people don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. How will you show that you care to your friend who doesn’t yet know Christ? What’s the logical next step for you to be used by God to help reach that person?

Break up into groups of 3 for closing prayer. Share one name of a friend who doesn’t know Christ. Pray for the friend of the person on your left. Remember that people without Christ are blind (II Corinthians 4:4), bound (II Timothy 2:26), and buried (Ephesians 2:1). So, begin to pray this way: Lord, help (name of your friend) see; set __________ free; and raise __________ up.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Surgery is over

My brother, Bill, is out of surgery. The news is not good.

The surgeon met with the family and told us that he found two spots on Bill's liver. It was cancer. So, he did what he called a "probe" to destroy the two cancer spots.

Then, because he found some cancer outside the pancreas, the surgeon opted not to do the Whipple procedure. He said that the procedure would not be helpful in treating the kind of cancer Bill has and that the healing time needed after the procedure would actually delay the kind of treatment Bill now needs. That means the surgeon left intact the cancer that is at the head of Bill's pancreas. Using some of the small intestine, the surgeon by-passed the blockages around the bile duct.

The surgeon told us that the best way to deal with the cancer now was through chemotherapy. So, in about 3 weeks, Bill will start chemo to hopefully shrink the exiting tumor at the head of his pancreas and to kill any stray cancer cells in his body.

There is a 50/50 chance that Bill will respond well to the chemotherapy.

Bill's wife, Ruby, and his daughter, Robin, and his son, Chuck, took the news hard. There were lots of tears.

I was reminded of some truths about how to handle bad news in Psalm 112.

6 The righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. 7 He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. 8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
Psalm 112:6-8 (ESV)

Notice the characteristics of the righteous - those who do not fear when hearing bad news:

1. A prepared heart. v.7b
2. A proven trust. v. 7c
3. A visible triumph. v. 8c

Please pray for my brother. And please pray for me to have wisdom to know how best to help and minister here to my family.

Thanks.
Major surgery

My oldest brother, Bill, is in surgery right now at the University of Arkansas Medical Center.

It's called the Whipple Surgery or the pancreaticoduodenectomy. Please pray for him and for the surgeon who's doing the very involved procedure.

We gathered as a family this morning. I was able to read Psalm 121. We held hands and prayed together. We were in tears by the end of the prayer time.

My brother, Bill, is a strong, business-like problem-solver. But this illness is something that is showing all of us how dependent we all are on God and His grace. This is a problem that Bill can't solve. And it's good to be reminded of that.

Right now, we are trusting God to work through the physicians for a complete healing. I think that God has lots of things left for Bill to do for Him.

Thanks for your prayers.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Complaining and trusting

Here's a great question that someone asked me. The question came up from their One Year Bible reading. Following the question is my answer:

***

Dear Pastor Rick,

In yesterday's Bible reading, the passage of "water from the rock" caused me some confusion.

My main question is: what is the difference between expressing disappointment over God not meeting a deep need and "testing" God?

Are people who are starving or dying testing God when they get upset about not being fed or healed? Should we accept all unmet needs without expressing feelings of frustration?

My initial impression is that this is a heart issue with the Israelites not trusting God for provision, but when applying this lesson to today's world, the reality is that we can trust God for provision, and he doesn't always seem to meet our immediate needs with miracles like the Israelites received.

It's important for me to understand this because I don't want to be guilty of testing God when I express my feelings of disappointment and frustration to him. I really want to grow and learn how to trust him completely in all things.

I also want to understand the difference between deliberately putting yourself in a position to test God's faithfulness (as Satan tempted Jesus to do) and simply being in circumstances where you need God's help, like the Israelites needing water in the desert. Are both of those situations equally "testing/tempting God"?

I'd really appreciate your help as I pray over and wrestle with these questions!

***

Good morning... Great question.

First, God wants us to be totally honest with Him. Any relationship is unhealthy unless we speak the truth in love. So, God is looking for straight-up honesty from us. When life hurts, we are supposed to say, “Ouch!” Over and over in the Psalms we see the Psalmist “complaining” to God when life hurts.

Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
Psalm 55:2

Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.
Psalm 55:17

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.
Psalm 64:1

I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.
Psalm 142:2

Having said that, we must remember that gratitude, trust, and peace are marks of God’s people. Again, over and over, in the Psalms we see the Psalmist “trusting” in God when life hurts.

And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Psalm 9;10

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
Psalm 13:5

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
Psalm 28:7

For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.
Psalm 33:21

I think the problem with the Israelites was that they complained and did not trust. Indeed, they did not learn from the acts of God in their behalf – how He delivered them, protected them, and provided for them. They weren’t able to say, “God has rescued us in the past; therefore, He will do it for us in the future.” It was their lack of faith that displeased God. (See Hebrews 11:6 for the importance of how faith pleases Him.)

Hebrews 3 gives us some great insight about what God saw lacking in the Israelites.

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’ 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
Hebrews 3:7-19


So, pour out your heart. But do so in a context of trust and gratitude.

One last thought. I preached from Romans 8:31-39 this past weekend. Here is some of what I said: When God gives to His children, He doesn’t hold back. Why can I say that? Look at the cross.

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Romans 8:32

God gave us Christ to die in our place for our sin. He didn’t stumble in front of the divine bullet meant for you; he stepped in front of it. If that is true (and it is) – if God did not hesitate to put everything on the line for us by sending his own Son – is there anything else He wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? If He has already given us his best gift, why would He withhold anything else for me that would be good for you and for me?

God is not holding out on you. But you might be thinking, “I don’t have everything I need or want!” I really like the quote from John Newton: “Everything is necessary that He sends; nothing can be necessary that He withholds.”

If you want to listen to the message, you can do so here. Look for the Romans 8 series, “Winners… plus.”

http://www.cvconline.org/messages/messages_2008.html

So, it is with an unshakable trust in the love of God that we pour out our hearts before Him. We do what the Israelites did not do. We “complain” to God (not to man) and then we get up off our knees with gratitude and praise – no matter what. Father knows best (Romans 8:28, James 1:2-4). He will not allow us to be put to shame. Israel forgot that. They were a depressed, fearful, whining bunch of people who did not portray that they had a victorious, trustworthy Father.

May we never be like that!

Thanks for the question. Blessings to you today!

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