Thursday, December 31, 2009

Three Actions to Ponder in the New Year

This is a wonderful articel by my friend, Al Baker, a Presbyterian pastor in New England and the man who introdiced Maryanne and me. It's good food for thought as we enter a new year.

***

Sometime ago the Pugh Foundation ran a survey of people who lived to be at least one hundred years old, asking if given the chance to live their lives over again, would they do anything differently? Those conducting the interviews gathered the data and discovered three neglected activities people said they would do if given another life to live.

These follow the words of Proverbs 21:21 where the writer is laying down worthy pursuits. He says that one who pursues, one who makes his life goal to live in obedience to God’s word (that’s what righteousness is), and who also consequently acts with loyalty or fidelity toward those in his life, to those with whom he has some kind of covenant relationship—marriage, parent-child relationship, employer-employee relationship, church membership, etc.—finds a long, fulfilling life; experiences God’s smile on his life, and is esteemed by friend and foe alike.

What are these three neglected activities? The first mentioned is setting aside large chunks of time to be alone, to read, to pray, and to think deeply about important things. The second is to invest one’s life in people, especially those in great need. And the third is to take risks. They were not talking about financial risks in the stock market. Instead they meant not playing it safe, venturing into uncharted waters, attempting things with a huge “upside” and “downside.”

The longer I live, the more I read about the great saints of the past, and the more I observe the ravages of modernity on our psyche and spiritual state of mind, soul, and body, the more convinced I am of the need to slow down, intentionally to set time aside daily to cultivate the inner spiritual life of heartfelt devotion to Christ. Indeed, Jesus is your glorious Savior and Lord but He ought also to be your greatest and best friend (John 15:14, Proverbs 18:24). The Biblical discipline of solitude is almost non-existent in today’s western Christian, and surely this is to our detriment.

And many of you who work in the corporate world and face the stresses commensurate with it, knowing that your company expects you to make the “bottom line” profitable for the shareholders, need to understand that if this is your reason for being, then you will sooner or later succumb to the popular notion of “burn out.” Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it,” (Luke 9:24). In a business context where it is “all about the money” it is vital that you develop the ability to give your life to other things—to the poor and needy, to inner city children, to people of developing nations. I have long suggested to my sons and others that they give at least one week per year of service to the poor here or abroad. Such has a wonderful ability to refocus us on what really is important.

And as you grow older the natural tendency to “play it safe”, to draw back, to not venture into new relationships or new projects, simply to maintain the status quo, makes it vital that you invest your time, money, and experience in projects and people beyond your comfort zone. Upon your retirement, until your health deteriorates, you ought to give yourself to things much bigger than taking walks on the beach, traveling extensively for personal pleasure, or spending all your time and money on yourself. You were created by God to serve Him, to number your days (Psalm 90:12) which literally means to add them up carefully like an accountant doing an audit. After all you will give an accounting at the judgment seat of Christ, being recompensed for your deeds in the body, according to what you have done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). Our great Judge will not be impressed with our selfish pre-occupation.

Practically speaking, as we begin a new year, I challenge you to ponder these three actions. Why not purpose, by God’s grace, daily to spend private time, solitude, with the great lover of your soul! Don’t let anything get in the way of it. Picture the Lord Jesus sitting in a chair in your den, waiting to commune with you. Don’t disappoint Him. The moment you arise in the morning do what I learned from John Stott many years ago—greet God by saying, “Good morning, Father. Good morning, Jesus my Lord. Good morning, Holy Spirit.” Read His word, worship Him, confess your sin to Him, thank Him for all He has done for you, and humbly make requests of Him. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you one thing from your Scripture reading that day. Two or three things may be hard to remember, but as one thought grips your soul, you can easily remember it and meditate on it at various times during your busy day. Rekindle the first love you once knew many years ago when He opened your eyes to show you your need and His sufficiency. Start with fifteen minutes. Discipline yourself with this, and before long you will find a desire to go longer with God. To be sure, your times with God, like mine, will ebb and flow. Nonetheless you can begin to see a growing love and purposefulness in your communion with Christ.

Second, why not give a few hours each week, or a week each year, to the poor and needy in your community and world! Why not give time to mentor inner city teens or adolescents. Why not give an hour each week to help young children learn to read. Why not serve meals once per month at a homeless shelter. The opportunities are endless. We all have an innate desire to be selfish, to hoard our time, money, and affections; and the longer we live we can become cynical if we are not careful. We can prejudge all people of various ethnicities as lazy or worse. Instead of grouping everyone in the same category, instead of allowing your innate selfishness and cynicism to dominate you, why not give yourself to others in need, especially children in poor communities. After all, they did not ask for their circumstances.

And third, why not hold your money and time more loosely. Ask God to give you the grace to engage in “sanctified foolishness”. If you are not tithing to your church, begin immediately. If you are already tithing, why not increase your giving one percent per year. If you are not giving a Faith Promise to your church for world missions or if you have resisted pledging money to a Christian worker, go ahead, take a risk, forgo your next vacation, and invest in Christ’s kingdom. Your money will do you no good when you die, and probably the worst thing you can do is leave too much of it to your children. Unless they are very unusual, they will probably squander it anyway. We all must come to the place where we take seriously the promise of the Lord Jesus when He said, “Give, and it will be given to you, full measure, shaken down, pouring into your laps,” (Luke 6:36).

Now is the time to make changes. Will you more purposefully and intentionally live for others! Practice solitude, give yourself to something bigger than yourself, and take risks. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Advent Conspiracy 2.0 Generosity



Here's what CVCers have given to date for Advent Conspiracy 2.0.

Providing wells for needy people in Ghana, West Africa: $14,154.95. This should be enough for 2 more wells.

Providing funds to put a roof on a church we helped plant in Ghana: $12,550.00.

Providing tuition for school for children at the Love & Hope Orphanage in El Salvador: $15,781.25.

Providing funds for Christmas presents for the children of Love & Hope: $1,185.00.

In addition, we also provided funds and gifts for needy CVC Families, for needy Appalachia Families, for some women and children being ministered to by the Cleveland Pregnancy Center, for the Yuletide Program of Brecksville, and for the Angel Tree Prison Ministry.

I praise God for the generosity of CVCers. God loves it when we care for His poor.

When is revival needed? (2)

Answer: When backsliding has happened.

Richard Owen Roberts writes, “A backslider is a person who was once emptied of his own ways and filled with the ways of God, but gradually allowed his own ways to seep back in until he is all but empty of God and full of himself again.”

Yesterday, we looked at 10 signs from Richard Owen Roberts in his book "Revival" that backsliding has happened in our lives and that signal that revival is needed. Here are eight more signs. More tomorrow.

11. When you can mouth religious songs and words without heart, be sure backsliding is present.

12. When you can hear the Lord’s name taken in vain, spiritual concerns mocked, and eternal issues flippantly treated and are not moved to indignation and action, you are backslidden.

13. When you can watch degrading movies and television and read morally debilitating literature, you can be sure you have backslidden.

14. When breaches of peace in the brotherhood are of no concern to you, that is proof of backsliding.

15. When the slightest excuse seems sufficient to keep you from spiritual duty and opportunity, you are backslidden.

16. When you become content with your lack of spiritual power and no longer seek repeated enduements of power from on high, you have backslidden.

17. When you pardon your own sin and sloth by saying the Lord understands and remembers that we are dust, you may have spoken gospel truth but you have also revealed your backslidden condition.

18. When there is no music in your soul or song in your heart, the silence testifies to your backsliding.

***

If any of this is true about us, it is time for us to pray the Psalmist's and Habakkuk’s words:

Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?
Ps 85:6 (ESV)


O Lord, I have heard the report of You, and Your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.
Habakkuk 3:2 (ESV)

Revive: Read the New Testament in 2010

Since it’s the time of the year that many of us make New Year’s resolutions, how about this one: Reading through the New Testament in 2010. This is an important discipline for experiencing personal spiritual revival.

At CVC, we are asking everyone to read through the New Testament using the New Testament readings of the One Year Bible reading plan. Imagine the kinds of conversations we can have throughout our church family if we are all reading through the same scripture passages together, encouraging and teaching each other toward revival along the way.

You can access the New Testament portion of the One Year Bible in several different ways:

You can buy a Loving God Journal at CVC’s Information Desk ($10) and use the reading plan outlined in the journal.

You can purchase a One Year Bible at: http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product?item_no=34709X&netp_id=381696 and follow along with the daily readings.

Download a printable One Year Bible Reading Plan to keep with your Bible at:
http://www.oneyearbibleonline.com/readingplan.asp

You can read the One Year Bible Online at: http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/devotions/one.year.bible/

You can read the One Year Bible on your mobile device at:
http://www.oneyearbibleonline.com/oybomobile.asp

You can listen online as The One Year Bible is read for you at:
http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/devotions/one.year.bible/

You can download The One Year Bible as a podcast onto your iPod at:
http://feeds.feedburner.com/dailyaudiobible

You can follow The One Year Bible Blog at:
http://www.oneyearbibleblog.com/

Since you can access the One Year Bible in so many different ways, all this makes Bible intake extremely convenient. There are really no excuses to not be reading through the New Testament for someone who aims to be a passionate follower of Christ. Those who wish to add the Old Testament readings can do so easily.

If you make it through the readings for a day, you can make it through a week. If you can make it through a week, you can make it through a year. And if you make it through a year, at the end of 2010 you won’t be looking at the same person in the mirror. Jesus can revive you. And as He revives more and more of us at CVC in 2010, our church will be revived, too. We'll be more and more pleasing to Him.

Let’s join together in reading through the New Testament using The One Year Bible plan this year, looking to see how God will speak to all of us through His Word in 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When is revival needed?

Answer: When backsliding has happened.

Richard Owen Roberts in his book Revival writes, “A backslider is a person who was once emptied of his own ways and filled with the ways of God, but gradually allowed his own ways to seep back in until he is all but empty of God and full of himself again.”

He goes on to list 25 signs of a backslidden state. Today, I will list his first ten. Evaluate your life in light of these statements.

1. When prayer ceases to be a vital part of a professing Christian’s life, backsliding is present.

2. When the quest for biblical truth ceases and one grows content with the knowledge of eternal things already acquired, there can be no mistaking the presence of backsliding.

3. When the biblical knowledge possessed or acquired is treated as external fact and not applied inwardly, backsliding is present.

4. When earnest thoughts about eternal things cease to be regular and gripping, it should be like a warning light to backsliders.

5. When the services of the church lose their delights, a backslidden condition probably exists.

6. When pointed spiritual discussions are an embarrassment, that is certain evidence of backsliding.

7. When sports, recreation, and entertainment are a large and necessary part of your lifestyle, you may assume backsliding is in force.

8. When sins of the body and of the mind can be indulged in without an uproar in your conscience, your backslidden condition is certain.

9. When aspirations for Christlike holiness cease to be dominant in your life and thinking, backsliding is there.

10. When the acquisition of money and goods becomes a dominant part of your thinking, you have clear confirmation of backsliding.

***

If any of this is true about us, it is time for us to pray Habakkuk’s words:

O Lord, I have heard the report of You, and Your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.
Habakkuk 3:2 (ESV)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Encouragement for a pastor

I just received an incredibly encouraging note from a teen at CVC. I wanted to post it to keep it available for me to read during those times when I feel discouraged.

***

I wish I could thank you in person, but I'm naturally not very good with saying my thoughts outloud. ironic that God has given me an alternative ability to write. I know lame excuse. But I also couldn't wait to tell you until next week.

I wanted to thank you a thousand times over for allowing God to use you and speak through you in your sermon today [December 27, 2009].

I don't struggle as much in the counsel of the wicked part, but in Embracing God, and everything he wants to show me through his word. I've been very frustrated with not being able to write lately, or think for that matter. But in your sermon you said that it's hard to meditate on God when your life is moving at a hundred miles an hour. Point well taken. :)

I've been struggling with a lot of things lately. And your sermon was a wonderful combination of love and reprimand. It had the fingerprints of God all over it. And I wanted to thank you.

God has given you an amazing gift, and I wanted to thank you for listening to His voice and living out what God has taught you to the best of your ability. I know and understand how hard following God's voice can be.

Thank you again. God really spoke to me through your sermon. And I appreciate it more than words can say.

A found (stinkin' stupid stubborn) sheep.

***

All I can say to that note is wow! I thanked this precious sister in Christ. And let her know that this was an incredibly encouraging note. I will treasure these thoughts. And I prayed that this teen would be able to slow down to hear God's still, small voice. I prayed that God will keep this teen small and use this teen big - to be humble and fruitful. I know He will.

***

Another person also wrote to me about yesterday's message: Not to be gross, but yesterday's sermon felt great and painful all at once... Sort of like when you have an old crusty wound that was never correctly tended to and you have to go through the refreshing yet painful process of wetting it, cutting away dead flesh and cleaning it up all over again.... Sigh... Something like that. Really looking forward to the next few weeks' sermons and the ripple effect.

***

Well, that's an interesting analogy. I'm taking it as a compliment. I think...

Go Deeper

Here's a question from a CVCer who wants to grow and experience revival in 2010.

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Hi Pastor Rick -
I have been doing the One Year Bible reading this year and have really enjoyed developing a habit of being in the word every day. However, in 2010, I want to go deeper in my understanding of the Bible. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for good resources that will help me to learn more about the cultural, historical, geographical, and spiritual implications of passages - kind of putting them into context for me and explaining hard-to-understand sections so that I can get even more out of what I'm reading. I've been searching for books online, but I just can't seem to find the right level of detail (verse-by-verse commentaries can be too overwhelming and overviews only skim the surface). Thanks for any help you can give me!

***

Here's my response:

***

Wow. Thanks for your question. You want to “go deeper.” I’m inspired and encouraged by your question.

I would highly recommend 2 resources if you don't already have them.

1. The ESV Study Bible. The ESV Study Bible (It’s fairly comprehensive, yet succinct. Plus, the theology and the articles are wonderful! The book summaries, the verse notes, the theology section, the ethics section, the world religion section, and the color maps placed strategically all throughout the text really make the need for a one volume commentary less of a necessity.)

2. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology . The scripture index in the back can help you see things in verses that you might otherwise miss. This is a useful reference tool for doctrinal questions

If you can only afford one, then get the ESV Study Bible.

And may God help you grow more and more in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ in 2010.

***

Now, what tools do you need to find to help you go deeper?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What is revival?

Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?
Ps 85:6 (ESV)


From the book Revival, by Richard Owen Roberts

Revival is an extraordinary movement of the Holy Spirit producing extraordinary results. Our concern has been with what we can do for God rather than with what He can do for us. No amount of human effort can produce true revival.

Here are the extraordinary results produced by true revival:

intense sense conviction of sin comes,
conduct previously appearing acceptable seems wicked,
prejudices are seen as grievous sins,
private indulgences are seen as deserving of God’s wrath,
prayerlessness is no longer defended,
ignorance of scripture is no longer defended,
sins of omission are no longer defended,
failure in good works is no longer defended,
pride is not excused,
self-centered living is not excused,
words carelessly spoken will cease,
long forgotten sins will be remembered and confessed,
the cross appears truly precious,
the fear of man will be subdued by the desire to serve Christ,
God’s timing and plan and purpose will rule supreme,
peoples and pastors will be gloriously remade,
the people will be broken and pliant,
people are enabled to do God’s will,
love of money is defeated,
delight in ease and pleasure goes away,
long overdue debts are paid,
restitution is made,
believers go and confess to those they have sinned against,
interest in the Word of God increases,
prayer becomes a delight,
believers long to be with the Lord,
agony for lost souls increases,
only true and lasting conversions will satisfy,
holiness becomes a prime goal in life,
fervor and excitement is real,
believers make Jesus Lord,
believers march like a conquering army,
new converts are made without arm-twisting,
social concerns take on new meaning, and
causes that lacked funding have needs met through believers’ generosity.

The Pursuit of Happy-ness

I’m sure that I’m not the only American who would like to be in better shape a the end of 2010. The unanswered question is this: Will I do anything about it?

I have a friend, Brian Lebo, who recently taught me an exercise routine that might help. I call it “The Body Weight Fitness Matrix.” It consists of 36 prisoner squats, 36 lunges, 36 lunge jumps, 36 squat jumps, 36 push-ups, and 36 dips. Then you do it again. It’s a beast of a workout. Hopefully, doing that and some other routines will help me end 2010 in better shape than I’m in now. And I’ll be happier.

But physical fitness is not nearly as important as spiritual fitness.

And the truth of the matter is that you’ll be the same person at the end of 2010 as you are today (or worse) except for the growth in your thinking, your relationships, and your habits.

But if your thinking, your relationships, and your habits change for the better, then you will be happier at the end of 2010 than you are today.

Today, we’re going to look at a chapter in the Bible that begins with the word “blessed.” It can also be translated “happy.” God really wants us to be happy – biblically happy. But His path to happiness is different from the worlds path to happiness.

As you know, it’s now the 21st century. You would think that men and women would have mastered the art of happiness. But the evidence points in the opposite direction.

Lily Allen is a young rock star/British artist. She’s selling millions of records. She has power and fame. You’d think she would be happy. But she recorded a song called “The Fear.” Look at the words to the chorus and see if you think she’s happy.

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear?
‘Cause I’m being taken over by the fear

Happiness is in short supply. Bars around town have what’s called “The happy hour.” But look at the people and you’d have to conclude that there aren’t really very many happy people hanging out there.

Most of us got some pretty nice presents on Friday, but they didn’t really make us much happier.

So, what is the picture of a happy man, a happy woman?

Psalm 1 shows us the gateway to happiness. If we are going to have a happy relationship with God, then we must live in a certain way.

We’re going to see that the pursuit of happy-ness is the pursuit of revival.

Today, we’re not going to see a superficial, emotional approach to find happy-ness. We are going to be introduced to a choice.

There are really only two ways to live. And if you want to pursue happy-ness, then you have to make a radical, sober decision.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.
Psalm 1:1 (ESV)


Did you notice the progression in the life of this unhappy person? First, he walks with the ungodly. Then, he stands with the ungodly. Finally, he sits with the ungodly. Some scholars way that there is an increasing level of sinfulness in the terms “wicked-sinners-scoffers” and that there is an increasing downward fall into sin in the terms “walk-stand-sit.”

Where are you? The longer you walk with the ungodly, the easier it is to stand with them. And the longer your stand with them, the easier it is to sit with them.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalm 1:2 (ESV)


The pursuit of happy-ness is not a some-time thing, this is a 24/7 thing. It’s a day and night thing.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
Psalm 1:3


This is the picture of revival. There is life in this person even when everyone else is drying up.

The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Psalm 1:4 (ESV)


Chaff are the husks and the straw removed by threshing the wheat. Chaff is lighter than the kernels of wheat. So, when a farmer tosses the wheat into the air, the wind drives away the chaff. The idea here is that those who do not pursue happiness God’s way are like chaff. They blow away.

Now, Psalm 1:5-6 are verses that are contrasting the outcomes of two kinds of lives. These two verses lead us to reflect on where these two kinds of life are headed – where our lives are headed.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
Psalm 1:5-6a (ESV)


He knows means that He has affection for the righteous. He prefers the person who is pursuing happy-ness, His way.

But the way of the wicked will perish.
Psalm 1:1-6 (ESV)


So, how about you? Are you pursuing happy-ness?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The gift of grace from my friend set me free

I can be hard on myself. And sometimes I am tempted to think that maybe God is, too. As a leader of Cuyahoga Valley Church, I so much want to do everything right. But I don’t. I can’t. And it’s easy for me to think God is always kind of ticked at me.

I often have regrets about my shortcomings as a leader. Oh, I’m not stealing money or partying hard or running around on my wife. My sins and shortcomings are more subtle than that. Let me give you an example.

Over a decade ago, a friend at CVC asked me to love him better – to give him more in our relationship than I felt I was able to give. And I said to him, “I’m sorry. I don't think I can give you what you’re looking for.” I hurt him and he later left the church. I always regretted his leaving. I felt responsible. And over the years, I’ve beat myself up for it.

I know that I’m not the only person to beat myself up over things I did do I wish I didn’t do and things I didn’t do that I wish I did do.

Maybe you’re thinking, “If only you knew. My life is filled with failure. My failures certainly outnumber my successes. I look at all the pretty people at church with their pretty smiles and I feel so inadequate.”

Maybe you’re scared a little when you come to church. Or maybe you are really kind of terrified by religious people. Maybe you’re the guy who accidently lets a cuss word slip out sometimes while on the way to church. Maybe you think you don't really measure up. Maybe you feel dirty. Maybe you feel like if you got what you deserved from God, you’d be zapped on the spot.

If that’s you, you need the message of Christmas. Because it’s a message of grace. Grace is unmerited favor. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. I hope that we can all really come to know God’s grace.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you [who are poor] by his poverty might become rich (II Corinthians 8:9, ESV).

Look as His birth, life, and death and you can see Jesus went from riches to rags so we could go from rags to riches. That's grace. When we really believe that the birth of Jesus and his death on the cross paid the price that we should have paid for all our wrongdoing, then we’re rich - rich in freedom from guilt, forgiveness from sin, purpose for living, and hope for heaven. We get all that and more in spite of all our sin and our wrongdoing.

Grace is for messed-up people, sin-scarred people who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God.

Some people misuse grace as an excuse so they can continue sinning without repenting. They say, “Well, God will forgive me later.” But that’s cheap grace – a false grace.

When you really understand the price that was paid for grace, you don’t abuse it. You cherish it and treasure it.

I began this blog post telling a story about my friend – the one who wanted me to love him better and I said I couldn’t do it. He later left our church. And moved out of the state of Ohio. I have felt guilty about that. I have beat myself up over it.

Well, last year we sat down together in his home in another state for several hours and talked about old times. We ate together, laughed together, shared some ideas. I didn’t want to leave. But I had to get back to Cleveland. I sent him a thank you note for the visit. I later received a note back from him.

In his note, he gave me grace. Here's part of what he wrote:

Rick... It was great seeing you too.

I did get the sense, however, that you've been beating yourself up over things you think you didn't do well when we were 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.

And I want to encourage you that I truly have nothing but good thoughts and feelings when I think of you... and of your family... and of our time in Cleveland.

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.


When I received that note, I felt not only grace from my friend, but grace from Christ Himself. You see, Jesus can communicate His grace to us through others.

I received a gift that I didn’t deserve. And that made me rich. That’s grace.

Because I got that gift of grace from my friend, I understood more about God’s gift of grace to me.

Yes, I mess up as a leader here at the church. I sin. I fail. But in my heart, I know now more than ever that if I ever got a note from God, I sense it would read like this:

Rick... It’s always great spending time with you.

I know that you've been beating yourself up over things you think you didn't do well for Me. I understand that. But whatever didn't happen wasn’t the first time a Christian leader messed up.

Please receive for yourself the same grace you say that I give to others.

And I want to encourage you that I truly have good thoughts and feelings when I think of you.

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 I have done in you as well as through you. You have so much for which to be thankful.


I need to remember this. All day. Every day.

The grace of God through the person of Jesus Christ. When you get Jesus, you get grace. And His grace sets us free. Grace. What an amzing Christmas present.

The Body Weight Fitness Matrix

Looking for a challenging exercise routine that requires no equipment? Try what my friend Brian Lebo of the Athletic Performance Training Center taught me. It's a series of 6 exercises that will elevate your heart rate and create some really good muscle burn. It's a "beast" of a workout (particularly if you do it with a minimum of rest between sets) with no real equipment needed.

1. 36 squats.

Squats are one of the most effective lower body exercises that you can do since they activate almost all lower body muscles including major ones such as the hamstrings, gluteus and quadriceps. So, this routine begins with some good old fashioned squats. Remember that form is key. Stand with feet straight and shoulder-width apart, knees bent, hands behind ears. Squat, bending knees and keeping feet straight. Keep your chest up; squeeze your butt muscles and press through your heels to return to start, fully extending your legs.

2. 36 lunges - 18 with each leg.

The lunge strengths and activates the gluteus, hamstring and quadriceps. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and then step forward, landing with the heel first. The knee should be at 90 degrees and directly above the toes, not further (taking a shorter step can put added pressure on the knee). The motion is continued until the back knee is nearly touching the ground. Then return to your starting position by driving upward with the front leg.

3. 36 jump lunges.

Stand straight up, with your feet shoulder-width apart, but with one stationed about a foot and a half in front of the other. Your back leg should stand directly under your body, and your forward knee should sit at a ninety degree angle. Hold your arms straight out in front of you. Jump up off the ground slightly, and quickly switch the position of your feet in mid-air. Keep your torso straight, now and throughout the exercise. Land in the mirror-image of your original position - your forward leg bent at ninety degrees at the knee and hip, and your back leg directly underneath your body. Bend your knees to absorb the impact - but keep your feet and knees facing straight forward. Jump back off the ground, switching your feet to your original position.

4. 36 jump squats.

Stand with your feet at least hip width apart and place your weight on your heels with your toes pointed forward. Bend your knees and lean forward slightly to keep your knees over your ankles. Hold your hands together in front of your face to minimize the assistance they will provide in this exercise. Lower your upper body to a slight squatting position and jump. Come down lower than you did while practicing so that your buttocks are almost to the level of your knees. Lift up hard with an explosive movement, and as your weight comes onto your toes, use your calf muscles to push your feet off the floor and get as much height as possible. Land on your toes before coming back down on your heels.

5. 36 push-ups.

The classic push-up is one of the best upper body exercise that you can do. It strengths you chest, triceps, shoulders and even your core. Make sure you don’t put your hips up too high, that’s cheating and you’ll be losing the benefit of the exercise.

6. 36 dips.

Sit on a chair with your hands palm down and gripping the edge of the chair. Slide forward just far enough that your behind clears the edge of the chair and lower yourself so your elbows are at 90 degrees.

The first time I did this routine, Brian had me follow the 6 sets of 36 by repeating each of the 6 sets with 18 repetitions. My goal is to be able to do two circuits of 36 reps.

Now, what's your fitness goal?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A personal plan for revival

Developing a personal spiritual growth plan

We all need to make changes if we are going to experience revival in 2010. Yes, revival is a sovereign gift of God. But He has provided us with what theologians have called “the means of grace.” We all need to stop doing some things that limit revival and to start doing some things that will enhance the possibility of God granting revival. We need to do some things less and do other things more. We must clearly answer the “who, what, why, when, where, and how” questions when it comes to making changes. It can be 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 for yourself to be alone with God. 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. It may be helpful for you 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 in order to experience true revival?

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. Write down your plan. Call them goals. Call them “Resolutions for Revival.” Call them whatever you want. The idea is to seek to make changes that honor God – that put you in a spiritually receptive place for God to grant you a revival in your life. Be realistic. Don’t set the bar so high that you end up discouraged if you should fail. Once you come up with your plan, write it down. Keep it visible. Put it on a screen saver. Put it on your bathroom mirror. Put it in your Bible. Put it in your journal. Put it in your daily planner. Share your plan with your family and with your Community Group. Find an accountability partner who will make some of the same resolutions. And beg God for personal and corporate revival in 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Word of God and prayer

Here are some words from John Piper about the importance of keeping prayer and the Word together. You really can't be effective in one without the other. I saw this material in my study for the message this coming weekend from Psalm 1. It's good stuff that I thought would be important to share.

***

What are the psalms? Many of them are prayers. In fact, the Psalter is the prayer book of the Bible. Millions of Christians go to the Psalms to find words for the cry of their hearts in the worst of times and the best of times.

Prayer and the Word are connected in such a way that if you disconnect them, both die. Let me sum up the connection between prayer and the Word in three ways. The Word of God inspires prayer, it informs prayer and it incarnates prayer.

The Word of God inspires prayer.

This means that the Word commands us to pray, and makes promises to us of what God will do if we pray, and tells us stories of great men and women of prayer. The Word inspires prayer by telling us to do it (like a doctor telling us what's good for us) and promising us good things if we will do it, and telling us stories to encourage us in our weakness.

Second, the Word of God informs prayer.

This means that the Word tells us what to pray and becomes itself the content of our prayer. When you know the mind of God in his Word, you pray the mind of God in your prayers. This is the way powerful saints have prayed throughout history. O may the Lord fill our payers with the great purposes and promises of God that we learn from his Word. The Word informs prayer.

Third, the Word incarnates prayer.

This means that prayers are often invisible and concealed in the soul and in the closet and in the church. But their effect is to be in the open in the lives of other people and among the nations. How does that happen? God usually advances his purposes in world evangelization and personal transformation and cultural reformation by direct encounters with the truth of his Word. The Word incarnates our prayers. Prayers become effective through the truth getting into people's ears and minds and hearts.
People don't just start believing on Jesus because you pray for them. They need to hear about Jesus. "How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14). "Pray for us that the Word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you" (2 Thessalonians 3:1). Prayer empowers the Word and the Word incarnates prayer. Saints don't just become more holy because someone prays that they will. They need to see the truth: "Sanctify them in the truth. Thy Word is truth" (John 17:17). Cultural slavery to injustice and greed and dishonesty and sexual immorality does not just change because we pray for it. The agent of reformation is the truth: "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32). Prayer must be incarnated in declarations and demonstrations of the truth.

The Word inspires, informs and incarnates prayer. They go together, because Word and Spirit go together. Word without Spirit is intellectualism. Spirit without Word is emotionalism at best, and probably syncretism. But the Word and the Spirit are kept together when we depend on the Spirit for help in all our dealing with the Word, and express that dependence in prayer.

Christmas and justice

On behalf of our family, I just want to say “Thanks.” Many of you know that my brother died a few weeks ago and that Maryanne and I were at his funeral in Little Rock. Thanks for the calls, the cards, the food, the flowers, the warm thoughts, the hugs, the prayers. You have made and are making a difference.

During the last months of his life, my brother had a friend who called him everyday. His friend, Sam, spent some time with me at the wake. He says that my brother was an unselfish man. I asked, “What do you mean?”

My brother was in the food distribution business. When there was a food show, Bill would be responsible to dispose of the food that was on display. After the food show, he didn’t want the food to go to waste. So, he’d go over and above the call of duty to fill out all the necessary paperwork and make phone calls to make sure the food was distributed to various recue missions. He used his influence to help the poor. He made a difference.

I didn’t know that about my brother. It wasn’t something he talked about. But when I heard that about Bill, I felt proud. Why?

We all know that there’s just something right about doing things like that. Using your influence to bless the last, the least, and the lost is right. It’s something we all know we ought to do.

We all have influence. What are we doing with it? Are we, like my brother, using our influence in our little corner of the world to help battle some form of injustice that’s out there?

If you think about it, we are all “governors” over some realm. You might run a business. Or you might be a manager in a business. You might be a ministry leader or the leader of a community organization or team. Certainly, you can have influence in your family and over your own spending. We are all “governors” over some realm.

Question: Are you using your influence to help battle some form of injustice?

It’s what the Christ of Christmas is all about. So, your Christmas won’t be complete until you use your governorship to help see that all oppressions shall cease.

The word “Advent” refers to the coming of Christ. We are to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

And the word “Conspiracy” is an agreement of two or more people to perform together a subversive act. The world says, “Stuff yourself with stuff at Christmas and you’ll be happy.” But we want to turn the world upside down. So, we’re coming together to say, “Buy less and give more to the poor, the needy, the last, the least, the lost.”

And if enough of us join this Advent Conspiracy that is against consumerism and that stands for justice, then we can help change the world. And we’ll be true to the reason Jesus came.

Isaiah was a spiritual leader, a prophet, for God’s people in ancient Israel. He led at a time when an oppressive, unjust foreign power from Assyria was on the rise.

We’re going to see that as Isaiah stood on tiptoe and looked into the future, he predicted the Advent Conspiracy. He predicted that a Messiah would come to counter the culture. Check this out. See if can find the connection between the coming of Christ and the cry for justice.

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:6, 7 (ESV)


I love this about Jesus, don’t you? There is a cry for justice that is in our hearts. It’s not only there when we’ve been wronged. It’s there when we learn of others that have been wronged. Bullies should not win.

That’s why we ought to be concerned about our government and the governments of other nations. Because God cares about the weak and the poor, He sets up governments and laws that will keep in check people who are greedy and abusive. We cannot sit by while people are being exploited.

There is evil in this world and we take evil seriously. That’s why we take up the cry for justice. We wave the flag for social reform, for clean water for as many people as possible, for the end to spousal abuse, for religious freedom and the end to religious persecution.

This is the a big part of the message of Christmas.

We live in between the first advent and the last advent. We live between the first coming of Christ and the second coming of Christ.

And just what is our job? What is our task?

It’s to work for the increase of His government. It’s to work for His justice. It’s to join Him to help end oppression. That means we must use our influence to fight injustice.

Read the stories of Jesus in the Bible and you see the beginnings of a government of justice and peace righteousness. You can see all this in His earthly ministry. But His ministry on the earth took place only for about three years. How does He bring about justice and peace and righteousness long term?

Just before Jesus died on the cross in our place for our sins, He gathered His followers and told them He was going away. He said, “I’m going to die. But then I’ll rise and leave You. You’ll stay here to do My work. But I won’t leave you alone. I’ll send My Holy Spirit to live in You. And one day, I’m coming again – a second time. And this time, I will set up My kingdom forever. But in the meantime, you have My work to do. You have My government to live out and live under. See to it that people begin to live more and more under My rule.”

And in John 14:12, He said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12, ESV).

What are some of these great works that we are supposed to do?

See, the point of Christianity isn’t simply that we go to heaven when we die. We are to be “little governors” here. We are supposed to help bring the whole of creation under His government.

We don’t abandon this world. We pray and work so that more and more people are under His authority.

We rule with Him and for Him and by Him. Christmas and justice. We smily must never forget to connect the dots.

I started this blog post by writing about my brother who was a kind of “governor” in the food distribution business and how he would give the food that was on display in the food shows to various recue missions. He used his influence to help the poor. He made a difference. He was keeping the spirit of Christmas.

And I wrotethat when I heard that about Bill, I felt proud. But whether or not I feel pride doesn’t matter nearly as much as whether Jesus feels pride.

Jesus is pleased when His people as “little governors” of some realm of influence join Him in helping to put an end to injustice. What are you doing about that? When Jesus looks at how you keep Christmas (not only now, but all year long), what does Jesus feel about you... and me?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Imprecatory praying

Today, we read Plsam 140 in the One Year Bible reading plan.

Christians who are seeking to use the Psalms as a guide to their own prayers can be confused when reading a Psalm like Psalm 140. Why?

It's called an Imprecatory Psalm. That means that it's a prayer asking God to judge the "bad guys."

For example, Psalm 140:9-11 records David's prayer. "As for the head of those who surround me,let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall upon them!Let them be cast into fire,into miry pits, no more to rise! Let not the slanderer be established in the land;let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!" (Psalm 140:9-11, ESV).

It's hard for people who've been told to love their enemies to pray like this. So, should we? How should we? Why should we?

Martin Luther once pointed out that when we pray, “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” then we are also asking that all those who oppose God's kingdom be silenced and brought to nothing. We are praying “curses, maledictions and disgrace upon every other name and every other kingdom. May they be ruined and torn apart and may all their schemes and wisdom and plans run aground” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, St. Louis: Concordia, 1956, 21:101.1).

Think about it. To pray for the extension of God’s kingdom is to ask God for the destruction of all other kingdoms. We must cry out to God for His blessings upon His church and for His curses upon the kingdom of the evil one. Victory for the Church means defeat for anyone and everyone who opposes the world of the Church.

So, let's pray for the conversion of the lost so that God may be glorified. Let's pray for the advancement of the kingdom of God. Let's pray for the destruction of the kingdom of evil. And let's pray that all who are committed to the kingdom of evil, oppression, and injustice will be stopped.

We do not know who are permanently identified with the kingdom of evil. Our prayers, unlike the Psalms, are not inspired by God as the infallible and inerrent Word of God. So, we dare not pray for the eternal destruction of anyone. Instead, we show love to all people, even God's enemies.

But our prayer for the conversion of others can be followed by prayer for the overthrow of Satan’s kingdom, a kingdom has been encouraged by actual people in this world.

So today, why not try praying all of Psalm 140 in your own words? Imprecatory praying is appropriate for Jesus followers.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walk the Talk

The man who introduced Maryanne and me, Al Baker, shares some important biblical truths on holiness. Al is now pastor of Christ Community Church (PCA) in West Hartford, Connecticut. May his insights from God's word encoruage, strengthen, and challenge you. Al has recently written a book you might want to purchase and read called Seeking a Revival Culture.

***

A certain beauty queen has been in the news quite a bit lately because of her vocal opposition to gay marriage. Her stance cost her dearly and she is regularly maligned by the press.

Recently it was discovered that lewd photographs and videos of an unmentionable nature have surfaced. She calls herself a Christian.

I know nothing of her faith, nor do I know when she claims to have become a follower of Jesus. Perhaps her conversion was after the lewd photographs and videos. If so, then while the consequences of her sin are still with her, she ought to be seen like the Apostle Paul, John Bunyan, or any other saved sinner, “The old things have passed away and the new things have come,” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 2 Corinthians 5:17).

If, however, she claims to have been a Christian before these photographs, then surely her life is not one that is blameless and innocent, above reproach. She also has said that her goal is to become a Victoria Secret model, hardly a calling to which any God-fearing woman ought to aspire.

Can any of us fall into grievous sin that compromises our profession of faith and brings shame to Christ and His church? Of course we can, but this young woman’s plight needs to be a sober warning for all of us.

What is particularly troubling is the seeming indifference of so many Christians to the incongruent message she is sending to a watching world. As I have often said, “If you going to cheat people in business, steal from your company, or use foul language, then please by all means hide any outward reference to your supposed profession of faith (Jesus T shirts, coffee mugs, and scripture signs in your office or home). You are doing the Kingdom of God far more harm than good. You are shaming Christ!

With this ubiquitous disconnect between regeneration, justification, and sanctification many professing Christians, like the beauty queen, are causing the world to blaspheme God (1 Timothy 6:1). These people mock Christianity when they find gross inconsistencies in us, and well they should. Every person, no matter his morality or lack of morality, hates hypocrisy.

How then can we “walk the talk,” bring societal impact to a skeptical world? I stated last time that the ground of godly character (being blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach) is regeneration, justification, and sanctification. I will not define these again. We must always begin here, but this is simply not enough. We must also engage in two more disciplines, all under the grace of God.

First, there should be nothing in your character or behavior that impugns the name of Christ and His church. You must ruthlessly and vigilantly guard your speech and actions, running from anything that is ungodly.

Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt promotes thirst (people ought to thirst after righteousness as they observe our lifestyles) and prevents putrefaction (salt is still rubbed into meat in developing nations without refrigeration in order to preserve it); and so your lifestyle and behavior, both at work and in your community, ought to cause people to want Christ. It ought to serve as a preservative, motivating people to turn away from wickedness.

And Jesus says that our light ought to shine in such a way, like a lamp in a darkened house gives light to all in the room, that people will see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven. Failure here means that we are good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. Jesus puts it another way when He says that leaving our first love provokes Him to removing our witness to the world, causing Him to vomit us out of His mouth, as it were (Revelation 2:5, 3:16).

And if you are to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach, then you must also deal ruthlessly with your sin. This means four things—confession, contrition, repentance, and restitution.

You see this played out powerfully by King David when confronted by Nathan concerning his adultery and murder (Psalm 32, 51). Own up to your sin. Call it what it is. It is not a mistake, poor judgment, or a bad decision. It is heinous sedition against the lover of your soul who gave Himself for you. Nothing less than specific confession of specific sin will do.

And with this there must also be heartfelt contrition, a deep grieving over your sin. The prophet Hosea laments the hypocrisy of Israel and Judah when he says that they do not cry to God from their hearts when they wail upon their beds (Hosea 7:14). James commands us to be miserable, mourn, and weep, to let our laughter be turned into mourning and our joy into gloom (James 4:9).

Then there must be what Richard Owen Roberts [1] calls evangelical repentance. Biblical repentance is not merely confessing sin to God or those whom we have offended. It means a change of mind and heart, resulting in a change of behavior. Joel calls us to rend our hearts and not our garments, to return to the Lord our God (Joel 2:13), while John the Baptist tells us to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). Repentance means you quit doing your sinful deeds. True repentance is born from true contrition and confession; and this always brings a desire for restitution—an earnest desire to right the wrongs we have done to others. If you have stolen, then you must repay it. If you have destroyed another’s reputation with your words, then you must do all you can to vindicate that person’s name.

Dealing ruthlessly with your sin, while a Biblical principle we must follow, is not easy. Mere morality, trying to do better, will never last. It must flow from a renewed sense of God’s love for you. Oh, what a glorious theme!

As one traces the love of God through Scripture (see Deuteronomy 7:7, Jeremiah 31:3, John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:10 as only a few examples) it becomes clear that the love of God is tied to His redemptive work. He manifests His favor in the salvation of His people, offering up His Son on our behalf, bestowing His full orbed and glorious electing, calling, regenerating, justifying, converting, adopting, sanctifying, reconciling, expiating, propitiating, and glorifying love at Calvary’s cross.

My dear friend—the only way to walk blamelessly and innocently in this world, the only way to live above reproach as children of light in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation—is to feel, experience, drink from the unfathomable, immutable, immeasurable love of God.

If you are in Christ, then God really does love you. Many of you know me well enough to know that I am not one given to sentimentality. The love of God in Christ Jesus for His people is true, profound, deep, abiding, eternal, and irrepressible. Ask God to meet you powerfully and persuasively in your personal times of communion with Him. When you have a fresh experience of His love, then the thought of sin will be repulsive to you. You will lose that experience soon enough but repentance and drinking afresh and anew from the well of grace will bring it back again and again.

Remaining centered this Christmas

I saw this article recently and thought it was incredibly insightful for anyone in any kind of ministry - vocational or volunteer. It's especially important at this time of year, the Advent season.

Please take the time to read and reflect on this article. We will all benefit from applying its truths not only at Christmas-time, but throughout the year.

Pete Scazzero is senior pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York City, and author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Nelson, 2006) and The Emotionally Healthy Church (Zondervan, 2003). To learn more about Pete’s ministry, visit www.emotionallyhealthy.org.

Remaining centered this Christmas

By Pete Scazzero

It is ironic that Christmas is often the time we as pastors find ourselves least centered on Jesus. With the emergence of social media and new technologies, this problem has reached new proportions.

The following is an adaption of my top 10 lessons for leadership applied to this Advent season.

1. Be yourself.
You and I are uniquely crafted by God to lead. That means we cannot do what others can. You may be able to do more or less. The great challenge of leadership is to calmly differentiate your “true self” from the demands and voices around you. Discern the desires, vision, pace, and mission the Father has given as you lead. Take off Saul’s armor. How much activity can you sustain without losing your soul? And remember, “to live unfaithfully to yourself is to cause others great damage."

2. Your first work is to be contemplative before God (to be with him).
Our goal during this season is to lead people to Jesus and help them center on him. But you cannot bring people where you have not gone in God. We are not CEOs or even preachers first. We are called to be contemplatives first (Psalm 27:4). Above all else, cultivate a pure heart before God, loving him. I like what Thomas Merton once wrote: “Untie my hands and deliver me from sloth. Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not demanded of me and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded in order to escape sacrifice.”

3. Practice Sabbath.
Take a 24-hour period each week to Sabbath – to stop, rest, and contemplate God. You are not God. This essential spiritual formation practice is not something to drop during the celebration of Christ’s coming. I take from 6:00 p.m. Friday to 6:00 p.m. Saturday at a minimum. Large spiritual issues are at stake, especially with regard to trusting God to be in control. Relinquish the ministry to Jesus.

4. Embrace the gift of your limits.
Remember that “a man can receive only what is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). You will be present to your spouse and children in proportion to what you’ve received from being in God’s presence. It takes time and effort to think through thoughtful gifts with meaning for your family and key leaders. I encourage you to make sure you have the margin in your life to do that.

5. Wait on the Lord.
This is your life. You will finish the end of your days waiting on the Lord. This is the most important work there is if you are to allow your soul to grow up and be what God wants you to be. Be sure to carve out time for this.

6. Don’t neglect ministry to yourself.
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).Investing in your development is your first ministry. This includes monthly and quarterly retreats, utilizing the gift of therapy along the way, finding a good spiritual director, and seeking mentors at different stages of the journey. It is the most loving gift you can give your church. What does this mean for Christmas? Take a few moments now to ask God what you need to remain connected to him over the next few weeks.

7. Lead out of your vow of marriage.
Scripture is clear about marriage between one male and one female as a taste of Christ’s free love for his bride, the church. And central to this marriage vision is the sexual relationship. It is essential, not peripheral, to your spiritual formation and discipleship as a Christ-follower.

8. Live what you preach.
Good sermons take a lot of time to gestate. If the sermons aren’t changing you, they will not transform anyone else. This is both a joy and an agony if fresh revelation from Scripture is going to come through the unique prism of your life. This never changes, whether you have been preaching for six months or 30 years.

9. All the work of pastoring is holy and sacred.
It took me 19 years to learn this hard lesson, and I am still learning it. Preparing budgets and job descriptions, hiring, firing, planning a good meeting, handing in reports, confronting conflicts, etc. is every part as holy as prayer and Bible study. Be sure to fight against the sacred/secular split first in your own life and then in the life of the church. Recover a biblical theology of work and spirituality.

10. Things are not as they appear.
So often what looks like a blessing is not. What looks terrible in the short run is, very often, a rich gift. When you think you are going forward, you may be actually going backwards. What appears as success, oftentimes ends up being a failure and setback. Failures will teach you much more than success every time.

The pressures of Christmas can distract us from what’s most important. I hope these 10 lessons will help you focus on Christ and enjoy this holiday season.

This article can be found at pastors.com.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Old Testament Prophecies fulfilled by Jesus

Fulfilled Prophecy - Hebrew Scripture - New Testament fulfillment

His pre-existence - Micah 5:2 - John 1:1, 14
Born of the seed of a woman - Genesis 3:15 - Matthew 1:18
Of the seed of Abraham - Genesis 12:3 - Matthew 1:1-16
All nations blessed by Abraham's seed - Genesis 12:3 - Matthew 8:5, 10
God would provide Himself a Lamb as an offering - Genesis 22:8 - John 1:29
From the tribe of Judah - Genesis 49:10 - Matthew 1:1-3
Heir to the throne of David - Isaiah 9:6-7 - Matthew 1:1
Called "The mighty God, The everlasting Father" - Isaiah 9:6 - Matthew 1:23
Born in Bethlehem - Micah 5:2 - Matthew 2:1
Born of a virgin - Isaiah 7:14 - Matthew 1:18
His name called Immanuel, "God with us" - Isaiah 7:14 - Matthew 1:23
Declared to be the Son of God - Psalm 2:7 - Matthew 3:17
His messenger before Him in spirit of Elijah - Malachi 4:5-6 - Luke 1:17
Preceded by a messenger to prepare His way - Malachi 3:1 - Matthew 11:7-11
Messenger crying "Prepare ye the way of the Lord" - Isaiah 40:3 - Matthew 3:3
Would be a Prophet of the children of Israel - Deuteronomy 18:15 - Matthew 2:15
Called out of Egypt - Hosea 11:1 - Matthew 2:15
Slaughter of the children - Jeremiah 31:15 - Matthew2:18
Would be a Nazarene - Judges 13:5 - Matthew 2:23
Brought light to Zabulon & Nephthalm, Galilee of the Gentiles - Isaiah 9:1-2 - Matthew 4:15
Presented with gifts - Psalm 72:10 - Matthew 2:1, 11
Rejected by His own - Isaiah 53:3 - Matthew 21:42
Rejected by the builders nut became the headstone - Psalm 118:22-23 - I Peter 2:7
A stone of stumbling to Israel - Isaiah 8:14-15 - I Peter 2:8
Entered Jerusalem as a king riding on a donkey - Zechariah 9:9 - Matthew 21:5
Betrayed by a friend - Psalms 41:9 - John 13:21
Sold for 30 pieces of silver - Zechariah 11:12 - Matthew 26:15
30 pieces of silver given for the potter's field - Zechariah 11:12 - Matthew 27:9-10
30 pieces of silver thrown in the temple - Zechariah 11:13 - Matthew 27:5
Forsaken by His disciples - Zechariah 13:7 - Matthew 26:56
Accused by false witnesses - Psalm 35:11 - Matthew 26:60
Silent to accusations - Isaiah 53:7 - Matthew 27:14
Heal blind/deaf/lame/dumb - Isaiah 35:5-6 - Matthew 11:5
Preached to the poor/brokenhearted/captives Isaiah 61:1 Matthew 11:5
Came to bring a sword, not peace - Micah 7:6 - Matthew 10:34-35
He bore our sickness - Isaiah 53:4 - Matthew 8:16-17
Spat upon, smitten and scourged - Isaiah 50:6 - Matthew 27:26, 30
Smitten on the cheek - Micah 5:1 - Matthew 27:30
Hated without a cause - Psalm 35:19 - Matthew 27:23
The sacrificial lamb - Isaiah 53:5 - John 1:29
Given for a covenant - Isaiah 42:6 - Romans 11:27
Would not strive or cry - Isaiah 42:2-3 - Mark 7:36
People would hear not and see not - Isaiah 6:9-10 - Matthew 13:14-15
People trust in traditions of men - Isaiah 29:13 - Matthew 15:9
People give God lip service - Isaiah 29:13 - Matthew 15:8
God delights in Him - Isaiah 42:1 - Matthew 3:17, 17:5
Wounded for our sins - Isaiah 53:5 - John 6:51
He bore the sins of many - Isaiah 53:10-12 - Mark 10:45
Messiah not killed for Himself - Daniel 9:26 - Matthew 20:28
Gentiles flock to Him - Isaiah 55:5 - Matthew 8:10
Crucified with criminals - Isaiah 53:12 - Matthew 27:35
His body was pierced - Zechariah 12:10 - John 20:25, 27
Thirsty during execution - Psalm 22:16 - John 19:28
Given vinegar and gall for thirst - Psalm 69:21 - Matthew 27:34
Soldiers gambled for his garment - Psalm 22:18 - Matthew 27:35
People mocked, "He trusted in God, let Him deliver him!" - Psalm 22:7-8 - Matthew 27:43
People sat there looking at Him - Psalm 22:17 - Matthew 27:36
Cried, "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?" - Psalm 22:1 - Matthew 27:46
Darkness over the land - Amos 8:9 - Matthew 27:45
No bones broken - Psalm 34:20 - John 19:33-36
Side pierced - Zechariah 12:10 - John 19:34
Buried with the rich - Isaiah 53:9 - Matthew 27:57, 60
Resurrected from the dead - Psalm 16:10-11 - Mark 16:6
Priest after the order of Melchizedek - Psalm 110:4 - Hebrews 5:5-6
Ascended to right hand of God - Psalm 68:18 - Luke 24:51
LORD said unto Him, "Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool - Psalm 110:1 - Matt 22:44
His coming glory - Malachi 3:2-3 - Luke 3:17

Prophecies about the birth of Jesus and the reliability of the Bible

In our series of message called "The Advent Conspiracy 2.0", we are looking at just 3 passages from the Old Testament that are prophecies about the birth of the Messiah.

The Bible has many prophecies that ancient rabbis identified as being "Messianic," meaning that they speak about an "anointed one" - a special person anointed by God - to carry out work ordained by God. Personally, I am convinced that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Bible's Messianic promises.

Last weekend, we learned From Isaiah 11 that the Bible predicted that Messiah would come from the family of Jesse/from the house of David. This coming weekend, we are going to learn from Isaiah 9 that the Bible predicted that the Messiah would be born as a baby boy. And the following weekend, we will learn from Micah 5 that the Bible predicted that the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem.

Peter W. Stoner, a mathematician who wrote a book called Science Speaks, calculated the odds of Jesus fulfilling only 8 of the Messianic prophecies as 1 out of 10 to the 17th power (a 1 followed by 17 zeros). This is equivalent to covering the entire state of Texas with silver dollars 2 feet deep, marking one of them, mixing them all up and having a blind-folded person select the marked one at random the first time.

Fulfilled prophecy is powerful evidence that the Bible is divine rather than human in origin. The Bible is a truly trustworthy book. And fulfilled prophecy helps us see that.

Want to learn more about fulfilled Bible prophecies? Just click on the following links: Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, Faith Facts, Reasons to Believe, A Ready Defense, ProTheist, and About Bible Prophecy.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Alan C. Duncan at Momentum Church

Alan Duncan rapping at Momentum Church. Nice.

The Body Weight 200

My friend, Brian Lebo, of the Athletic Performance Training Center in North Royalton where typically I work out 2 days a week, turned me onto a physical training program that does not require weights or a gym.

It’s called The Body Weight 200. It addresses the problems of lack of time and equipment. You need only two items — a Swiss ball and a chinup bar — to perform this 20-minute, total-body routine. I was able to do most of these exercises in Little Rock when I was there for my brother's funeral.

A weight-free workout may sound easy, but The Body Weight 200 leaves me breathing hard. The 200 stands for the number of repetitions you do.

If you are not exercising, start today. Now that I have access to this workout, I'm all out of excuses. It's a 12-station, 200-rep program that burns fat and builds muscle in about 60 minutes a week.

The website where you can find directions says to do this workout 3 times a week — Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for example.

Perform the exercises as a circuit, doing 1 set of each movement for the prescribed number of repetitions. Complete them in the order shown, without resting between exercises.

Too easy? Rest 1 minute and repeat the circuit.

The Workout

1. Prisoner squats (30 reps)
2. Pushups (30 reps)
3. Jumps (10 reps)
4. Swiss-ball leg curls (10 reps)
5. Swiss-ball pikes (10 reps)
6. Stepups (20 reps)
7. Pullups or chinups (5 reps)
8. Forward lunges (30 reps)
9. Tucked-elbow pushups (20 reps)
10. Inverted rows (15 reps)
11. Prisoner squats (15 reps)
12. Chinups (5 reps)

Find out more here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Eulogy for my brother, Bill Duncan

Memorial Service
December 5, 2009

by Rick Duncan

On behalf of our family, thanks. Thanks for the calls, the cards, the food, the flowers, the warm thoughts, the hugs, the prayers. You have made and are making a difference.

This is difficult for all of us. This is truly hard. We miss Bill. But in spite of our sorrow, it’s still good to be here. The Bible says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, ESV).

For those of us who are left behind, this is a time to gain wisdom – to think about the brevity of life, the certainty of death, and the reality of the life to come.

On Wednesday morning, after we received the call from Robin that Bill had died, I took our youngest son, Evan, to school. I asked him to read Psalm 90. Verse 12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12, ESV).

How do we do that? How do we get a heart of wisdom? One way is to learn some lessons from the good lives of those who have gone before us.

My brother, Bill, lived a good life and his good life came from God. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift… is from above” (James 1:17, ESV). We are all made in the image of God. We all have good qualities that come to us and through us from God. Certainly, Bill had many good qualities in his life that came from God.

I asked several people to give me three words that describe Bill. I ended up with quite a long list:
Diligent
Loyal
Loving
Demanding
Thoughtful
Unselfish
Intense
Honest
Determined
Stubborn
Well-liked
Efficient
Well-respected
Effective
Persevering
Focused
Good man
Good son
Good brother
Good husband
Good father
Good grandfather
Good brother-in-law
Good uncle
Good friend

We’d be here a long, long time if we talked about all of what we could learn from Bill’s life. So, today, I’ll mention just five lessons we can all learn from his life.

1. Work hard.

For those of us who have known Bill for a long time, it really was no surprise to find out that he was the salesman of the year – not once, but twice – and to learn that he was the only person to win that award twice at Affiliated Foods.

At work, he was the kind of man who was the first one there and the last one to leave. That’s Bill. If he said he’d do something, he’d do it – even if it took 20 years to get it done. He simply wanted to be the best – to do the best. He didn’t like to waste time.

When he started his career, he became the youngest meat-cutter at Krogers. He liked business and he was business-like.

If you worked for him, you had to prove yourself to him. He worked hard and expected you to work hard, too. He could be hard to work for unless you did it like he wanted it done and when he wanted it done. He wanted you to do things right. And his way was the right way!

What are the lessons we can learn from his life? Work hard.

2. Play hard.

I wish I had been around when Bill and our brother, Jerry, were kids. They had some real adventures together.

When Bill was about 12 and Jerry was about 10, they decided to chase some skunks during the winter in Ohio. They got out on a frozen pond and got sprayed by a skunk. They came home to warm up and dry off. And the skunk smell get cooked into their clothes and wafted throughout the house. Our momma ended up having to bury their clothes. (Maybe that explains why he became so fastidious later in life!)

Bill and Jerry used to go frog-gigging in a nearby creek. They’d come home with 20 or so frogs and get momma to cook the frogs’ legs. (Perhaps this was his first experience in the meat industry!) She finally put an end to that because when she cooked them, the legs kept hopping out of the pan.

When they were about 14 and 12, Bill and Jerry would head to the woods when we would visit grandparents in Oneida, Tennessee. And Bill and Jerry would ride trees. They’d find a tree about 20-25 feet high and about 2-3 inches thick. They would climb to the top and start to make it wobble, bending it back and forth to give themselves a ride. One time, Jerry heard a shot. He looked over and saw Bill up in his tree with a scared look on his face. Jerry thought, “My brother’s been shot!” But the tree had snapped at the bottom. And Bill’s tree just toppled slowly and Bill hit the ground.

That playful spirit stayed with Bill throughout his life. When it was time to work, he worked. When it was time to play, he played. He played as hard as he worked.

I can remember Bill and Ruby’s boat and the fun times we had waterskiing. Bill was good at skiing. And on one ski. He took great delight in getting to the side of the boat and hitting people with the spray from his ski. Robin remembers her daddy heading toward the shore on a ski and watching him hop out of the ski as he hit the beach perfectly in stride.

He had fun cooking. Spaghetti. Chili. Roast. But he took special pride in his grilling. This past summer, when Maryanne and I were able to get our mother here to see Bill, he was grilling steaks, pork chops, chicken, and, my favorite, ribs.

When it snowed, Chuck remembers building not snowmen, but snow women with his daddy. Well-endowed snow women!

And in the snow, a friend had a VW he’d use to pull not one or two, but three and four sleds. For Bill, the more dangerous and the wilder, the better.

And we can’t forget the golf. Left-handed. Some of you in this room played with Bill. Some of you played golf with him a lot. And you know there are a few extra dents in the state of Arkansas because Bill was angry that a shot didn’t go the way he wanted. But he kept coming back for more.

How should we see Bill? See him on Chuck’s four-wheeler. See Bill camping on the weekends. Robin says, “He was no daddy then. He was a kid – skiing, fishing, pestering people.

What are the lessons we can learn from his life? Work hard. Play hard.

3. Be strong.

You could see his personal strength early in life. Our momma says, “He was always truthful. If Bill and Jerry were in the backyard playing catch and a ball went through the window, Jerry would run. But Bill would stand there and take whatever was coming. Momma says, “Bill was a strong man.”

Our brother, Jerry, says, “Once he made his mind up, he was like his momma, “He didn’t change his mind. He kept focused on the ultimate goal.”

Bill didn’t fail at much. But it he ever did, he’d just be all the stronger for it.

And you could see his strength as he fought the cancer. He was a fighter to the end. He just wouldn’t quit fighting to live. He handled his sickness in a business-like way. He approached things this way: “Well, that's what happened – here’s what we’re facing, so this is what we’ll do next.”

He wasn’t scared. He showed great courage. He was optimistic, positive. In fact, he tried to keep everybody else encouraged. I would call to see how he was doing. He’d quickly turn the conversation to ask how our boys were doing, how Maryanne was doing, and, then, how we could better care for our mother. In spite of his illness, he had the strength to be a good son, a good brother, a good husband, a good dad.

You could see his strength of personality all the way to the end. Ruby was trying to get Bill to eat during his last stay at the hospital. He didn’t want the mashed potatoes. So, he reached out to hand the fork to her. Ruby said, “Oh, you want me to feed you?" He said, “No. You eat it!” He was still in charge all the way to the end.

The cancer pretty much shut down every part of his body. But his heart just kept on going. It wouldn’t stop because it was as big as this room.

What are the lessons we can learn from his life? Work hard. Play hard. Be strong.

4. Reach high.

I’ve always wanted my brothers to be proud of me When people have asked me to describe my brother, Bill, I’ve always said, “He’s a hard-working, very successful business leader.” And I knew that if I wanted him to be proud of me, I’d have to be a hard-working, fruitful pastoral leader. He’s helped me want to reach high.

Momma said, “He always advised me to do things. Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t.” And I said, “And when you didn’t, it made him mad.” Why did it make him mad when his mother didn’t do what he wanted her to do? It was because he wanted her to reach high – to be as happy as she could be and as healthy as she could be.

Bill hoped his work ethic would rub off on everybody. He’d say, “Don’t do anything halfway.” He was never really satisfied. He wanted Robin and Chuck to excel. He wanted everyone to be better than him.

Duncan says, “He wanted me to be the best I could be – to reach my full potential.” When Bill watched Duncan play baseball, he’d have to be right behind home plate. And he took it all in. A lot of times, Bill would say, “Well, you pitched a good game, but…” But if he said, “You did good [period]” mark it down. It was a big honor.

And why was he so cautious to give out the unqualified “you-did-good”? It’s because he was the kind of person who set the bar high for himself and wanted everyone around him to reach high, too.

His friend, Sam, says that Bill lifted people up through his unselfishness. When there was a food show, Bill would set the display up. He’d do his job, plus the job of 3 or 4 others. He’d make sure everybody looked good. And he didn’t care who got the credit. After the food show, he didn’t want the food to go to waste. So, he’d go over and above the call of duty to fill out paperwork and make calls to get the food to recue missions.

What are the lessons we can learn from his life? Work hard. Play hard. Be strong. Reach high.

5. Love family.

Our momma says, “He loved his daddy. He always did everything his daddy told him to do.” Now, I’m not so sure about that, but that’s what she said. She said, “He was such a loving child. He’d put his arms around my neck and rub the side of my face.”

Once our brother, Jerry, was playing in a cherry tree in Ohio. He had a rope. Bill was riding his bike when Jerry got hung up in the tree. Bill jumped off his bike and climbed up the tree and got Jerry down. Momma says, “He saved Jerry’s life.”

Jerry says, “We didn’t always get along. We were so close in age. But I always knew if I really needed something, he’d see if he could get it for me.”

Our mother introduced Bill and Ruby. She showed Ruby a picture of Bill. Ruby said, “He’s cute.” One day Ruby was working the cash register on her job when mother and Bill came through the line and mother introduced them. Bill came back later and asked Ruby if she wanted to get something to eat. He obviously liked what he saw! I asked Ruby what she liked about Bill. She said, “He was cute and feisty.” Little did she know…

Our mother wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of Bill and Ruby getting married. She said, “Bill had a temper and Ruby had a temper. They’ll never make it together.” Well, 50 plus years later, they’ve proved my momma can be wrong. That’s love.

I asked Wendell, Bill’s son-in-law, what three words came to him mind that describe Bill. He said, “Intense, thoughtful, and long-suffering.” I said, “Long-suffering?” He said, “Yeah. He put up with Ruby for 50 years! There should be a plaque for that!”

Ruby says, “He was a good husband. He was trustworthy. I never doubted him one time.”

Robin and Chuck felt Bill’s love in a very unique way. Robin says, “I hated to hear the words ‘tough love.’ But he could sure do it.” (Now that she’s a mom, she knows what it is!)

Bill would say, “You have to love your kids enough to tell them ‘no’ and mean it.” He loved his children enough to teach them right from wrong. He’d say, “If you tell the truth, you won’t have to remember your lie.”

But it wasn’t always “tough love.” Chuck remembers Bill taking him fishing with a cane pole in a creek in Chattanooga Valley. And one time Bill got him out of school to go to Weiss Lake to fish and let him drive the boat.

Duncan says that his granddaddy would always be there for him. Lots of times Bill would come home from work, grab two pieces of bread and a piece of cheese for a sandwich, and head to Texarkana to support Duncan.

Yes, he would get mad at somebody in the family and he could grit his teeth out of anger and frustration. But no matter how mad he might be at you, when you needed him, he was there.

20 years ago, when our daddy was dying, Bill came to see him. There at the side of the bed, daddy said, “You’ve been a good son.” Bill said, “I had a good teacher.”

Our momma knows she was loved by Bill. The worse her health became, the more Bill poured out his concern and care for her. Momma told me, “I miss him. He took care of me and loved me and wanted to do things for me.”

What are the lessons we can learn from his life? Work hard. Play hard. Be strong. Reach high. Love family.

Momma says that when Bill was little, he liked to preach. Jerry would be in the audience. He’d call on Jerry to pray. I asked her, “What would Bill preach?” She said, “He’d preach about Noah and the ark.” You know the story. Noah and his family were rescued out of a flood. They made it through safe and sound.

I think that’s appropriate for us to think about today. Bill has been rescued out of a flood – from danger. In spite of the cancer, he made it through the valley of the shadow of death safe and sound.

We have every reason to believe Bill made his peace with God, not because of Bill’s goodness even though he was a good man. Peace with God comes by grace through faith in Jesus. Genesis 6:8 says Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. That’s why Noah made it through the flood. We believe that’s true for Bill, too - that he found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

I asked my momma, “What made you proudest of Bill?’ She said, “He accepted Christ.” It’s trusting in Jesus and his death and resurrection for our sins that makes us right with God.

Mother read a poem to me that someone sent her after Bill died. It’s titled “My First Christmas in Heaven.” I’m going to read just a couple of verses. Think of Bill saying something like this:

I know how much you miss me,
I see the pain inside your heart.
But I am not so far away.
We really aren’t apart.

So be happy for me, dear ones,
You know I hold you dear.
And be glad I’m spending Christmas
With Jesus Christ this year.

So, choose to see Bill not as he was in his last days here, but as he is in his first days there – with Jesus, with his daddy, with other family and friends who’ve gone before.

How can we honor Bill’s life? Work hard. Play hard. Be strong. Reach high. Love family. And do it all by His grace and for His glory.

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