Friday, April 23, 2010

Alive - Living Like There Is a Resurrection - Raised Up Relationships (2)

Here are three more things we must do in order to experience the power of the resurrection in our relationships. There are things we must...put to death.

…put away. v. 8

Paul lists five more sinful behaviors that we need to put away. All five have a negative impact on our relationships.

8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

There are things to put away. This tells me that there are many of us who are not putting the right things away. Now, this list of five hits a little closer to home. Literally.

Put away anger. This is a smoldering, seething resentment. Nothing pleases you at home or in the church. You’re just ticked off. If you are living with a seething resentment in your heart, then you are guilty of great sin. You are living in the flesh. You are not living like a person who is alive in Christ.

Put away wrath. This is describing sudden outbursts of anger. It might be translated indignation. And indignation has as a root word “dignity.” As soon as a person sees his dignity is being touched, he becomes indignant. Put it away. See, if you are setting your mind on things above – if you are consumed with your union with Christ, it doesn’t bother you too much if someone violates your dignity. If you know what God thinks about you, you’re not too worried with what a person thinks about you.

Put away malice. Malice is an evil purpose to cause hurt or harm. This word describes someone who thinks they’ve been hurt and then decides to do some hurting in return. Some people seem like they love to hurt especially if they think they’ve been slighted somehow.

Put away slander. This refers to any kind of evil speaking against anyone. With your tongue we can bless God and make much of Jesus Christ and then with that very same tongue, you can use it to vilify, slander, and gossip about God’s people. Put away slander. It’s destructive to the unity and blessing of the church of Christ.

Put away obscene talk. This is describing abusive speech. If you are abusing one another with your speech, then you are in sin.

Maybe for you there’s this one person who just really ticks you off at work, in your extended family, or at church; you just don’t see eye-to-eye. You know he or she doesn’t like or respect you and, frankly, the feeling is mutual. So, you’re just staying mad. When you talk about the conflict, you position yourself in the best possible light and you position the other person in the worst possible light and the relationship continues to deteriorate. Now, you are sucking other people in the vortex of your conflict. And now, today, Jesus is saying, “You have died and you’re alive. You don’t have to do this anymore. Put this all away! You can have raised up relationships.”

See, Christ is all and in all.

To experience the power of the resurrection in my relationships, there are things to put to death, put away.

…put off. v. 9

9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices

This is not a command to keep but a truth to claim. It’s already been done; we are exhorted to stop doing certain things because we can stop. We are different, therefore, we can act differently.

Jesus once raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus came out with his grave clothes on. Jesus told the people to unwrap him and let him go. I don’t imagine Lazarus a few days later went back and tried to put the grave clothes back on. When we go back to our sin, we’re going back to grave clothes – to what leads to spiritual death and decay. Put off!

To experience the power of the resurrection in my relationships, there are things to put to death, put away, put off.

…put on. v. 10

Now, in some families and in some churches all you hear is put to death, put away, put off. And all that is true. It’s right here in the text. But there’s something more and it’s different. It’s put on! Putting to death, putting away, and putting off isn’t enough. We are encouraged to replace the negative with a positive.

10 and have put on the new self…

The idea here is “taking off” and “putting on” clothes. Again, the idea is that this has already taken place. We have had a change of identity. It’s already happened. Now, we bring our behavior into line with our new identity. Put off. Put on. We do outwardly what’s happened inwardly.

And as this happens, we are being renewed. Our transformation is an ongoing process.

…which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

The new self has been put on. And now it’s “being renewed.” We were created in the image of God but because of our sin, that image has been messed up. God is restoring His image in us. We were formed in God’s image by the Creator; we've been deformed from God’s image by our sin; now, we’re being transformed to God’s image by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

You aren’t renewing yourself, He’s doing it. God is restoring. You can’t just put off and sit around and hope to live your best life now. No, we put on compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, patience, and love (Colossians 3:12-14).

This is not a "fake it until you make it" approach. No. You are raised with Christ; now act like it. Jesus really is living in you; now act like it. You are loving; now act like it! This is living out who God has remade you to be. And as you do this on an ongoing basis, you’ll understand it to be true. We may not see it in ourselves. We may be tempted to not even believe it to be true. But we walk by faith.

There are things to put to death, put away, put off, and put on.

A new, thinner, healthier, stronger you is in you. But if you eat junk food, no one will see it. God has put that new you in you, but you have to put off the junk food. You have to start exercising and eating right. When you put on the right stuff, then everyone can see the new you. If this is true physically, how much more true is it spiritually? Put off and put on so the world can see the new resurrected you. And this will impact your relationships. You can have raised up relationships.

How do I know? Verse 11…

Colossians 3:11a (ESV)

The word “here” means “in the realm of these truths.” It means “when we put to death, put away, put off, and put on.” Certain things will follow – certain things about our relationships – will be true if we live here… in these truths. And when that happens, here means… here – in this church, in your family, in your ministry.

No national, no racial, no educational, no social, no economic, no gender, no power divisions. The death and resurrection of Jesus and our share in His death and resurrection breaks down walls. This passage gives us four divisions that need to dissolve.

Here there is not Greek and Jew…Colossians 3:11b (ESV)

Because we are raised with Christ, there are to be no racial divisions. The prestige of the Greek culture made the Greeks proud and look down on Jews. The Jews thought the Gentiles were pagans. But in Christ, they come together. Here there is not Greek and Jew.

Here there is not… circumcised and uncircumcised…Colossians 3:11c (ESV)

Because we are raised with Christ, there are to be no religious divisions. The circumcised were the religious legalists, the rule keepers. The uncircumcised were the people who wanted to be religiously free. But in Christ, they come together. Here there is not circumcised and uncircumcised.

Here there is not… barbarian, Scythian…Colossians 3:11d (ESV)

Because we are raised with Christ, there are to be no cultural divisions. The Greeks considered any non-Greek to be a barbarian. The Scythians were a people group located along the northern coast of the Black Sea. To the Greeks, the Scythians were a violent, uneducated, uncivilized, and little better than beasts. But in Christ, they come together. Here there is not barbarian and Scythian.

Here there is not… slave, free…Colossians 3:11e (ESV)

Because we are raised with Christ, there are to be no economic divisions. There was a huge financial chasm between slaves and those who were free. All of these human barriers belong to the “old man” and not the new one.

… but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3:11f (ESV)

Jesus binds all believers together in equality. Differences and divisions disappear in Christ. God doesn't play favorites; God saves us all in the same way and for the same end. In Christ we are all equal. In God’s family, we are all equal. We are all sinners who can be forgiven through Christ alone, through His death and burial and resurrection. He lives in us. And that works its way out into the relationships around us.

Since Christ dwells in all believers, regardless of background or social status, we must make sure we are not allowing any division or prejudice to take root in our lives. The stigma of being different must be loved away as we strive for unity within diversity. Christ is all and is in all. Verse 11 is giving us the results of the resurrection. This is revolutionary. These are raised up relationships.

We violate loving relationships because we don’t put to death, put away, put off, and put on. Sin divides us, but Jesus unites us. And this is a good way to tell if Christ is at work in us or not. Are we being divided or united as a people?

What about you?

I pray that you will be able to say, "here in my home/at my work/in my church there is not male and female, my way and your way, me vs. you; but Christ is all and in all. And if possible, as far as it depends on me (Romans 12;18), I will live with raised up relationships."

Take time to pray and ask Jesus, “What’s one thing you want me to put off that will make the biggest difference in my relationships?” Listen to Him. And ask Jesus, “What’s one thing you want me to put on that will make the biggest difference in my relationships?” Listen to Him. And then ask Jesus, “Would you give me the grace to do it?”

Ask God to help you live like the resurrection is real in your relationships – that Christ will be all and in all in your relationships – especially in your family.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Alive - Living Like There Is a Resurrection - Raised Up Relationships (1)

Is the power of God on display in your relationships? A great leader once said that his goal in life was to “know [Jesus] and the power of His resurrection...Philippians 3:10, ESV.

What if we tapped into resurrection power when it comes to our relationships? Think about the miracle-working power it took to raise Jesus from the dead. One of the most frustrating things about being a follower of Christ is that way, way, way too often the relationships between fellow followers of Jesus are so messed up.

Clearly, it’s possible to know Christ – to even serve Christ and be on the front lines in building His kingdom – and still miss out on resurrection power in relationships.

Where is there conflict in your relational world? Could it be that you have not yet learned how to tap into resurrection power? Could it be that you are not living like there’s a resurrection when it comes to your relationships?

Colossians 3:5-11 tells us how we can experience the power of the resurrection and have "raised up relationships."

Colossians 3 starts with these words: “Since you have been raised up with Christ…” So, how do we tap into resurrection power to live better? We look backward to our union with Christ. We died and rose with Jesus. We look forward to our union with Christ. He appears in glory and we appear with Him. We look upward. We keep our eyes on Jesus. We are Jesus people and He is our central focus. Set your mind on the things above. This is the secret of resurrection living. Worldly people set their minds on earthly things. Holy men people set their minds on heavenly things.

Think again about some messed up relationships in your world. Are you living like the resurrection impacts your relationships?

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.
8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices
10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Colossians 3:5-11 (ESV)

So, to experience the power of the resurrection in your relationships, there are things you must…

… put to death. vv. 5-7

Don't forget that the old you is dead. The old self has died with Christ.

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Colossians 3:3 (ESV)

Sin's rule was broken when we died with Christ. We are no longer enslaved to sin. We don’t “have to” sin. Now, nowhere does the Bible teach that we don’t sin at all (a view called sinless perfection). But the idea is that the tyranny, the domination, and the rule of sin has been defeated. We have died with Christ. So you may be saying, “OK, Rick. If that’s true, then why do I still struggle with sin?” Well, the old self – the old you, the B.C. (before Christ) you – is dead, but your flesh is not. The flesh describes what’s still fallen in us. We still have desires and passions that remain. It’s “what is earthly.” And that is what we are to put to death. Classic, old school theologians call this “mortifying the flesh.” We are to make the flesh impotent.

Look at verse 5 for a list of five inward, private sinful behaviors that destroy relationships.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Sexual immorality, impurity, passion, and evil desire refer to all kinds of sexual activity outside of marriage. Is the Bible against sexuality? No. God gave us sexuality. He invented it and at creation, He called it – along with everything else – good! It’s a wonderful gift. But remember, the worst is the corruption of the best. Because God seeks the best for us, He wants us to put to death anything that ruins relationships. He wants couples to use sex in a pure way to seal their love for one another.

Now, notice how the Bible links this sinful sexuality that we are to put to death with covetousness and idolatry. Why? When a person is guilty of sex sin, it’s greed and covetousness. That person is saying, “I want my own way. Give me. Give me. Give me. I want. I want. I want. I want satisfaction now.” And when you go there, it’s idolatry. You’ve made an idol out of yourself – out of your own desires.

This is an awful perversion of one of God’s best gifts. Instead of using the gift to glorify God and bless another person, namely your spouse if you have one or your future spouse if God is going to give you one, you feed yourself and your own passions. These are sins characteristic of our private lives. But they show up in our relationships. You think private sin doesn’t have a relational impact? Ask Elin Woods, wife of Tiger Woods. To view sin as an individual problem is missing the point. Everything about sin is relational.

Be careful about what you put into your mind. Get rid of pornography. Go to , , or Use an internet filter. Watch what you watch on TV and movies. Be careful about what you are reading. Put these things to death. Why?

6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.

We bring the wrath of God on ourselves. Galatians 6:7 says, “Whatever a man sows, that will he also reap. If you sow to the flesh, you’ll reap destruction.” What are you reaping in your relationships right now? If it’s not good, then it’s because you’ve been sowing the wrong stuff. You haven’t been living a resurrected life.

7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.

We need to put the past behind us and refuse to resort to a lifestyle that no longer reflects our true identity. Jesus told a woman caught in adultery that He didn’t condemn her, but that she should “go and sin no more.” There are things to put to death.

By the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body and you will live.
Romans 8:13 (ESV)

John Owen said, “Either you will be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” We take severe measures to put sin to death. We pray. We practice spiritual disciplines. We make ourselves accountable to others. We radically amputate anything that makes us stumble.

Maybe you’re a young woman who didn’t get what you should have gotten from your dad and you’ve spent pretty much your whole life looking for love – often in the wrong places, often in the arms of guys that end up using you and hurting you. Your life is a trail of wrecked relationships. Jesus is risen and He’s here and He’s saying, “You’ve died and you’re alive now in Me. Put to death sexual immorality. You can have raised up relationships.”

See, Christ is all and in all.

Check back for more of what you can do to experience the power of the resurrection in your relationships.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ryan Duncan

Please, Please, originally uploaded by Evan.Duncan..

Even took this photo and calls it "Please, Please".

Evan Duncan

The Golden Hour, originally uploaded by Evan.Duncan..

Our youngest son. He calls this picture "The golden hour".

Alan Duncan

First Class, originally uploaded by Evan.Duncan..

His little brother, Evan, took this at a wedding they were video taping. Nice.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Slaying your inward dragon

Several years ago, I found a story in one of John Piper's sermons. The story helped me understand how it is that a very real death in us has occured by the power of Christ's death and resurrection and also how we have to still put to death the flesh. In other words, if there's already been a death, then why do we still have to fight?


Think of an ugly, violent, scaly dragon living in a cave – in the cave of your soul. That dragon is the old you – the you that wants power, control, and pleasure. That dragon comes out and ruins your life, ruins your relationships.

Sometimes, you hate what that dragon is doing to you. But you have no control over that dragon. He breathes out fire and belches out smoke and makes a mess of things. Nothing you do can defeat this dragon – your nemesis.

And then someone tells you the story of a dragon-slayer. His name? Jesus.

Jesus comes to you and says, "I have come to take back what is mine. And you are mine. So, I can take possession of the cave and slay the dragon. Will you yield to Me? It will mean a whole new way of thinking and acting."

You say, "But I don’t know me without that dragon. That dragon is me. I will die."

He says, "Yes. You will die, but you will also rise to newness of life.”

You say, "What must I do?"

He answers, "Trust Me and do as I say. As long as you trust Me, we cannot lose."

You are overwhelmed by the beauty and the power and victory of Christ. So, you bow and declare eternal loyalty and trust to Jesus. And then Jesus puts a great sword in your hand and says, "Follow me." He leads you to the mouth of the cave and says, "Go in and slay the dragon."

But you look at Jesus with confusion. You say, "I can’t. I’ve tried to slay this dragon before.”

He smiles, "That’s so true. Give Me the sword and watch Me.”

Then you enter the cave together with Jesus. A horrible battle follows. And as you watch, Jesus just allows the dragon to have his way. Finally Jesus is there on the floor of the cave, bleeding and breathing His last. He dies. You can’t take it. The dragon-slayer is dead. And the dragon is still alive, gloating. You look away. You want to run.

But when you take one last look back at the dragon-slayer, Jesus is not there on the floor of the cave any more. You quickly look around and, suddenly, you see Him. Alive. Victorious. Resurrected.

And this time, the blows from Jesus at the dragon are swift, powerful, effective.

At last the dragon lies limp. You ask, "Is it dead?"

His answer is this: "Yes. I have died and risen and have given the dragon a mortal wound. It will surely die. That is certain. But the dragon has not yet bled to death. It may revive and seek to do much harm. Meanwhile, you must treat the dragon as dead and seal the opening of the cave with stones as a tomb. The Lord of darkness may cause earthquakes in your soul to shake the stones loose, but you build them up again. But know this: By My power, the dragon's doom is sure. He is finished. And your new life is secure."

And then John Piper explains, “Christ has taken possession of our soul. Our old self has been dealt a mortal wound and stripped of its power to have dominion. The Christian life, the fruit of the Spirit, is a constant reckoning of the flesh as dead (piling stones on its tomb) and a constant relying on the present Spirit of Christ to produce love, joy, and peace within.”

Jesus' view on sustitutionary atonement

Maybe you have been unaware that there is some controvery in the church about the gospel according to Jesus vs. the gospel according to Paul.

Some are saying that Paul's theology about the substitutionary atonement of Christ is a misrepresentation of the gospel that Jesus preached.

Piper does a great job in this message showing that Jesus preached substitutionary atonement.

CVCers who are reading through the One Year Bible may especially find this helpful since we just finished reading Luke 18, the text for this message.

Check it out. It's one of Piper's last messages before taking his sabbatical from May through December.

T4G 2010 -- Session 6 -- John Piper from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A few random thoughts about house churches

I recently had a stimulating conversation with a friend who is active in the house church movement. I was encouraged with the work that God is doing in my friend's life. And I let him know that I am very, very, very much a fan of house churches. We need hundreds and hundreds more house churches in NE Ohio.

But I saw some growth opportunities for this leader and the house church fellowship he's a part of. There doesn't seem to be much evangelism, multiplication, and kingdom-building. If that's the case, then it's not really a house church, but a house fellowship.

And there doesn't seem to be much really thought given to accountability. And that can be dangerous for lots of reasons, especially when it comes of doctrinal integrity and relational viability. The NT is full of structure and accountability. When asked, my friend listed 8-10 people that he said his house church was informally accountable to. Come on. If you're accountable to everybody, you're really accountable to nobody.

So, here are a few of my observations and challenges to my friend that I hope will help his house church be even more biblical.


Remember to evaluate your house church experience in light of the purposes that the NT gives to the church. Just like every church, a house church has to go 5 for 5. Most believers would agree that the purposes of the church are as follows:

1. Worship. We are to make bringing glory to God our priority (Romans 11:36, Romans 12:1, I Corinthians 6:20).
2. Evangelism. We are to reach new people for Christ (Matthew 4:19, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8).
3. Edification. We are to help believers grow in the faith (Colossians 1:28-29, II Timothy 2:2, I Peter 2:2).
4. Love. We are to demonstrate our discipleship by our love to God and to each other (Matthew 22:36-40, John 13:34-35, I John 4:7-8).
5. Service. We are to demonstrate our discipleship by following Jesus’ command and example in caring for the hurting and the needy (Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 4:18-19, I John 3:17-18).

Leaders of the house church should be regularly evaluating effectiveness of the house church based on these five purposes. Perhaps a series of questions could be written to help you evaluate your effectiveness in each area.

If you are using I Corinthians 14:26 as a guide for ministry (“When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up”) to be consistent, you also have to use I Corinthians 14:24 as a guide (“if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all”). In other words in the NT church, unbelievers and outsiders do show up at times. If house churches are not seeing unbelievers and outsiders show up, then they seem to be missing the biblical mark. Therefore, a legitimate question seems to me to be: Who has been saved recently through the efforts of this house church and has that person been incorporated into the life of the house church?

Also, the whole idea of multiplication is important. One house church should become two. Two should become four. And on and on. What we are seeking to establish is kingdom advancing churches. If there is no reproduction, then it’s not a house church, but a house fellowship.

Who is the leader of each house church? I think you can still accomplish I Corinthians 14:26 while having a leader. Churches in the NT had clearly defined leaders. For example, in Philippians 1 we see that Paul’s letter was addressed to overseers and deacons. In Titus 1, we see that Paul appoints elders. There was clearly a leadership structure in the NT church. So, house churches (to be NT churches) should have some kind of leadership structure. And let’s be realistic, in any group, someone is the leader where he or she is called the leader or not. So, it seems to me that house churches should just go ahead and call the leader what the NT calls the leader: a pastor (shepherd). Now, let’s take this a step further, pastors in the NT were under the authority of others (Paul, for example). So, it seems to me that house church pastors should be shepherded by someone (an overseer?). I would strongly encourage you to formalize some kind of connection to someone for the purposes of loving accountability to a recognized spiritual authority.

Finally, house churches should produce passionate followers of Christ who are generous to build the kingdom. Somehow, priority/proportionate giving should be encouraged. If someone (an overseer) is teaching you, mentoring you, and encouraging you, then as Galatians 6:6 says (“One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches”) the house church ought to give resources to support the teaching/mentoring/encouraging overseer.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A house church movement in NE Ohio?

Henry Blackaby says that we should see what God is doing and then join Him.

It seems clear that some leaders are gifted for, passionate about, and effective in coaching and leading young leaders – particularly those who are attracted to a house church approach to kingdom building.

What if we identified, equipped, empowered, and released people God has raised up as coaches/mentors/overseers/bishops/teachers for a cluster of house churches? What if these leaders in NE Ohio stepped up their role of teaching these young leaders in a more formal way? What if these leaders in NE Ohio met with the house church pastors weekly (live or video or audio) to teach them so they could teach others in their house church according to the principles of II Timothy 2:2 where the things the leaders have learned from the scriptures they share with faithful men who are able to teach others?

What if 3 house churches became 4, then 5, then 7, then 10, and then 12? Jesus had 12 disciples. To follow that pattern, each leader could lead 12 house church pastors. And who knows where it could go from there? We could see the establishment of many, many clusters of house churches.

Imagine a house church movement that in 3 years would have 120-150 people committed to being absolutely, sold-out Christ-followers. This could become a modern-day expression of the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Imagine the impact that an Acts 2 experience could have on those 120-150. Imagine the impact that those 120-150 could have on NE Ohio. Imagine the spiritual power unleashed. Imagine living in a 21st century version of the book of Acts right here in NE Ohio. Imagine 3,000 saved; then 5,000. Imagine missionaries like Paul and Barnabas and Silas being sent out all over the world. Just think about all this gets me fired up.

How can this happen? How could this be realized? How could this be funded?

As we know, the Bible says in Galatians 6:6, “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.” And Paul says in I Corinthians 9:11, “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?”

What if each house church contributed $5,000 annually to a leader’s support? If each house church had 5 wage earners, that would amount to just $1,000 per wage earner in the house church. With 12 house churches, that amounts to $60,000 annually.

House church attenders often don’t typically want to support building costs, administrative overhead, or non-essential pastoral staff. Rather, they want their dollars to be used as much as possible for missional causes. If the people in the house churches are giving generously in their house churches, then even if they give $5,000 annually to support an overall leader, they will still have plenty of money for missional projects both locally and globally.

If 5 families are in a house church and have an average income of $30,000 a year, then the collected tithe would amount to $15,000 a year. Supporting their coach/mentor/leader/teacher/pastor would only amount to 1/3 of the contributions. The house churches would still have $10,000 plus to give to missional causes of their own choosing.

Some might say, “Well, you can’t really expect house churches to generate $15,000 a year.” If that’s the case, then we ought to wonder about the commitment of the people in the churches. Shouldn’t the house churches produce people who will be more committed to follow Jesus with time, talent, and treasure? Surely the house church movement is not populated with people looking for excuses not to give! The $15,000 a year per house church should be a very conservative estimate of dollars available for ministry.

Often the house churches want to experience periodic corporate worship and teaching. All the house churches in the network could gather once a month on a Friday night (at a larger church venue?) for worship and teaching from their leader. If the meeting was announced, it’s likely that people outside the house church movement might come. And an additional offering could be taken at that meeting. Let’s say 200 people come and they give $5 a person. That amounts to an extra $1,000 a month or $12,000 annually. (Again, I think this could be a very conservative estimate.)

This is a very real possibility of a modern-day book of Acts movement right here in NE Ohio.

For church planters: Planning your preaching (2)

Reasons for planning a preaching calendar

Here are eight reasons why planning your preaching is a good idea for church planters.

1. … enables your creative thinking.

With a calendar laid out you can spend time ahead with creative thinking. You can add other elements in your message.

Developing a creative team might just be one of the most highly underused as well as underrated ways to enhance preaching. To save yourself time, enhance your creativity, and have messages that are highly packed with content it is a must that you begin creating your preaching calendar with a team.

Why is that? Maybe it's pride. Some pastors are afraid to share the spotlight. Maybe it’s control. Some pastors just can’t let go. Maybe it's a lack of ability. Some pastors may not understand or can handle leading a creative process like this.

A creative team saves time. When you have several people working on the same task you can save more time. Let's say you give everyone a month to come up with all the ideas for messages and series over the coming year. Not only will you come into the planning meeting with a ton of ideas but laying out the year will be even faster.

A creative team enhances creativity. When others are working off each other, ideas are tweaked and improved until the original product has much greater quality.

A creative team results in better content. Having the team organizing and creating brings more minds to the final product. The ideas will be greater. The theology will be tighter. In all things the final product content will be much higher than you doing it alone.

2. … enhances your preparation.

Knowing where you are going allows much more time to prepare. Planning reduces the weekly stress. With a plan laid out, you can go to work in advance searching for illustrations and scriptures as the Holy Spirit leads you through the days, weeks, and months prior to the start of a new series.

Planning gives you time to purchase books, listen to the messages of others, or surf the web with purpose. When the time comes to craft the message, fresh, relevant, insightful material will be accessible.

Once you have a good idea about what you will be preaching over the next 12 months, a computer file can be created for each topic.

Sermon planning helps a church planter by saving time on preparation. Planning ahead can allow the entire church and its various ministries to be studying the same text and/or topics.

Planning can engage others in the process of preparation so that even a church planter can have a team helping to create weekly messages.

3. … sharpens your theology.

When you don't have to spend time figuring out what topic you are going to speak on each week, you can spend your time on real study. You will find more time to read and research things from a theological perspective. You will be able to focus on the thing that matters most: the content of the Scripture.

A preaching plan help you objectively review the next year’s preaching for variety, theological breadth, and church health. It will keep you from covering the same topics over and over again.

4. … encourages your spending time with God.

Since your quiet time is one of the key times God speaks to you, it makes sense that God would speak to you during your quiet time about future messages through His word and through inner promptings. If you knew that from time to time God would be speaking to you about a direction to take in your preaching, would it encourage you not to miss your time with God? Having a sense of expectation that God will speak to you about future preaching points will encourage you to spend regular, unhurried time with God.

5. … allows others to be involved.

With a plan you can add others into creating content and other elements. With others involved you create more community among your team or staff. God is a relational God and when you develop our messages with others you get a message that relates to a wider audience. Many pastors have seen the benefit of adding a creative team to add more elements to the message.

6. … lowers your team’s frustration.

Often times pastors are so single minded on what "they" want that they forget the time and effort their staff or volunteer put or need to put into a weekend experience.

7. … focuses your thoughts.

Whenever you know what your upcoming messages are going to be, your mind can go to work on looking for illustrations and scripture. You can see this as partnering with the Holy Spirit through life as a communicator. Often times you can find an illustration to an upcoming message when you’re watching a movie or reading a magazine/newspaper. If you know you got a certain series coming up on a certain topic, you can spend some extra time reading through all the Scriptures references for that topic.

8. … saves preparation time.

How much time is wasted trying to figure out "what" you’re going to preach? With a plan you can streamline right into your preparation with the necessary tools.

Alive - Living Like There Is a Resurrection - Your Life Now (2)

There are three ways we can tap into resurrection power for daily living...

...look backward.

Theologians talk about something called our “union with Christ.” Over and over the Bible says that we are “in Christ.” What happened to Him happened to us. This is positional truth. His life now is my life now.

we have died.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3 (ESV)

We have died with Christ. The old us is dead. That old us that loved sin? It’s dead. When we become Christ-followers, we don’t get a cosmetic makeover or add a Christian veneer to our lives. The old us is actually put to death. This is the way God sees us, and if He sees us that way, nothing could be more true about us. How He sees us is more true about us than how anybody else sees us, including how we see ourselves.

When we walk around in the neighborhood or in the park or in the mall, people can’t clearly see what matters most about us. They can’t see our connection with Christ. The union between us and Jesus is heavenly. It’s hidden from human observation.

We have died, but that’s not all.

we have risen.

If then you have been raised with Christ... Colossians 3:1a (ESV)

The “if” here doesn’t indicate doubt. In the Greek, this is a first class conditional sentence. It means that the condition is true; it’s a fact. So, a good translation is “since.” Since then you have been raised with Christ. It’s happened! When God sees you, He sees this to be true about you. It’s true.

Baptism perfectly pictures these truths.

Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as He did Christ. Colossians 2:12 (Msg)

The old you – the Before Christ you – is dead. Now, there’s a new you. There has been a resurrection. Let’s live like it!

Do's and don’ts – rules and regulations – are of no real value against the indulgence of the flesh. The remedy for sin comes from our union with Christ. We died with Him and we rose with Him. And when we live in light of these facts, a power is released into our lives that can set us free from sin.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (ESV)

Maybe you’ve been struggling with some sinful habit. You’ve been hanging out with the girls and talking about other people with a judgmental, gossiping attitude. Somehow it makes you feel better about yourself to drag others down. Or you’ve been looking at internet porn. Or you’ve been trying to fill up a hole in your life with shopping or overeating. The don’ts haven’t been working. Jesus is here telling you to look backward. See yourself as having died and having risen. Live out the reality of what has happened to you in the past. He says, “My life now is your life now.”

Look backward...

...look forward

Christ appears in glory.

When Christ who is your life appears... Colossians 3:4a (ESV)

A day is coming when our resurrected Jesus will return to this earth. He will amaze everyone on that day. Everyone will see His beauty, His glory, His majesty, His sovereignty, His perfection. We will worship!

Christ appears in glory. But that’s not all…

we appear in glory.

... then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:4b (ESV)

The verb, “appear” means “to make visible what is invisible.” When Christ returns, the glory of the believer, which has been hidden to the world, will be made known. Lots of us believe lies about ourselves. Our parents or brothers/sisters or coaches/teachers did a number on us. We see ourselves as losers, as nobodies, as “less-than,” as despised. No more. We should see ourselves as we will be in the future – sharing in His glory.

We are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. I John 3:2 (ESV)

Our union with Christ is the foundational principle for victorious Christian living.

Someone here might not be too happy at home. But at work there’s this co-worker who laughs at all your jokes, who’s not draining to talk to. You find yourself looking forward to going to work to see him or her. You find yourself dreading to come home. You might not call it this, but deep down inside you’re flirting. And you are one, two or three decisions away from wrecking your family and losing your kids. The don’ts haven’t been working. Jesus is here telling you to look forward. See yourself clothed in the righteousness of Christ and sharing in His glory. And that will be a great motivation for you to say live out the reality of what will happen to you in the future. He says, “My life now is your life now.”

Look backward. Look forward.

...look upward.


... seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Colossians 3:1b (ESV)

Jesus is alive and as our resurrected Lord, He is in a position of authority where He prays for us, where He makes intercession with the Father. We are to seek Him there.

The verb seek here speaks of a persevering effort. It’s a present tense verb. “Be constantly seeking” is a good translation. And it’s more than seeking to discover. It’s seeking to get. This word seek is used to describe how a shepherd looks for a lost sheep (Matthew 18:12) and how a woman searches for a lost coin (Luke 15:8). It’s a diligent, single-minded investigation.

Matthew 13:45 uses the word “seek” when Jesus talks about a businessman looking for – seeking for - pearls. When the businessman finds the best pearl in the world, he sells everything to get it. That’s the kind of seeking talked about here. “Keep on seeking to get the things that are above.” It’s not just a one-time decision, but is to be a daily activity.

There’s a seeking and there’s a…


Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Colossians 3:2 (ESV)

This is a seeking that involves thinking. We give heavenly things a large place in our thought life. We see everything against the background of eternity. What are the things that “are on earth” that we should avoid – that we should not set our minds on? Power, prestige, pleasure, and profit. Those are not our focus; they are not our priority.

Is he saying that earthly things get zero attention? No. That doesn’t make sense. Later in this chapter, Paul writes about how to better wives, husbands, children, parents, employers, employees…

Prepare your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. I Peter 1:13 (ESV)

C. S. Lewis once said, “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next... It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in:’ aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

So, how do we set our minds on things above? We read our Bibles. We pray. We sing. We worship. We hang out with the sold out in community groups. We memorize scripture.

From "Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health" by Donald Whitney, p. 130: "Resolving to devote some time on a regular basis to reflect upon the coming world and the coming One would encourage, embolden, strengthen, invigorate, illumine, ravish, and de-stress us. And anyone who cannot find time to meditate on Jesus and Heaven is either wasting time or busier than God intends."

So, our feet are on earth, but our minds are in heaven.

Next week, Ron Cleveland and I are headed to Ghana to check on some of our missionary work there. We’re going to explore opening a medical clinic, make plans to drill more water wells, and see how we can better help the new churches and pastors. So, we’ll be gone for 10 days. But we’ll be thinking about our families and we’ll be looking forward to being back with our families soon.

That’s the idea here. We are traveling through this world. We have important stuff to do here. But our home is in heaven. And while we’re living here, we’re thinking about being there.

Look backward. Look forward. Look upward.

Here is a prayer you can pray based on Colossians 3:1-4...

Thank You, Jesus, for Your death and resurrection for me. Thank You that my sins have been forgiven and that I can share in Your resurrected life. As I look backward, I now believe that the old me has died with You and that the new me has been raised with You. As I look forward, I anticipate the day when You will be revealed in glory and I will share in that glory. Now, as I live each day, help me to look upward to where You are, seated at the right hand of the Father. I now live in You, with You, for You, and through You. Give me the grace to seek the things above. Help me to set my heart on the things that last forever in heaven rather than on the things on the earth. And as I do this, may Your resurrected life show up in me in practical ways day after day. Amen.

This ought to impact our everyday lives. Your spouse ought to get a new you. What if wives started to say to husbands, “Who are you and what have you done to my husband? My husband would never act anything like this!” What if husbands replied, “That old husband is dead. I’m the resurrected, new and improved husband. Enjoy!” (See Colossians 3:18-19).

See, the resurrection is practical for everyday living. Teens, the resurrection means that you can give your parents a new obedient you (See Colossians 3:20). Parents, the resurrection means that you can give your children patience and encouragement (See Colossians 3:21). Employees, the resurrection means that you can give your boss trustworthy, valuable service (See Colossians 3:22-25). Bosses, the resurrection means that your employees get a generous, good-to-work-for employer (See Colossians 4:1).

This isn’t religion. It’s not a system of rules, regulations, rituals, do's and don’ts. This is a relationship with the resurrected Christ who is at the Father’s right hand. We are those who look upward constantly. We draw near to the throne of grace.

Remember Victor, the orphan. After 6 months on the streets – surviving a couple of drive-by shootings, narrowing escaping being arrested – he looked up. He saw the office building where his dad, Rob, worked. He looked backward and thought, “I’m not an orphan anymore. I have a new life now. He looked forward and thought, “I will go to my dad and share in His glory. His life now is my life now.” So, he didn’t stay on the streets. He looked upward and he finally began to live out the privileges of his new life.

It frustrating that we aren’t better. What’s wrong with us? Maybe it’s because we aren’t tapping into resurrection power. We are not living like there’s a resurrection.

Be that orphan who had all the potential to lead a great life and found himself selling drugs on a street corner, but didn’t stay there. Be looking backward, forward, upward. We don’t have to live down. We can live up.

Jesus says, “My life now is your life now.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alive - Living Like There Is a Resurrection - Your Life Now (1)

One of the most frustrating things for me as a follower of Jesus is that I’m not better at it. Fear, sloth, worry, selfishness, and more still drag me down and hurt the people around me. I’m not nearly as much like Jesus as I ought to be after being a serious Christ-follower for over 30 years.

I know many of you, if not most of you, feel the same way about yourselves. We act selfishly when we know we should be generous. We fight back when we know we should yield. We stretch the truth to make ourselves look good when we know we shouldn’t. We lose our cool with the boss, the spouse, the kids when we know we should be patient. We hurt the people in our own homes while trying to maintain a good reputation outside the home.

What’s wrong with us? Why can’t we live our best lives now? We could answer that question in lots of ways. But one answer is this: we live like the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t really matter much in our everyday lives.

A great leader once said that his goal in life was to “know [Jesus] and the power of His resurrection…(Philippians 3:10, ESV).

Do you know that power of the resurrection and is it changing your life now? Are you ALIVE! Like Jesus and living like there is a resurrection?

Take a look at Colossians 3:1-4

Colossae was a city in the country we now know as Turkey. A church had been started there and a spiritual leader, Paul, had heard about some false teaching taking place in the church. So, he writes this letter.

Someone in the church was saying, “If you really want to be the best you can be, you have to say ‘don’t.’ Don’t touch this. Don’t taste that. Don’t go there. Don’t; don’t; don’t.”

Paul says that, humanly speaking, this may sound good – that this has the appearance of producing a holy life. But focusing on the “don’ts” doesn’t really work. He says in Colossians 2:23, “They are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (ESV).

And if you think about it, you know that’s true. If you tell your kids, “Don’t watch that on TV!” you might just be awakening in them a desire to watch something that they previously didn’t even know existed. The “don’t” did just the opposite of what you wanted it to do.

We know something’s wrong if a church or spiritual leader is constantly saying “don’t; don’t; don’t.” Don’t doesn’t work. Pastors who want to help people in their struggle against immorality or pornography would probably be better off not preaching a series of messages on how bad immorality and pornography are. Sure, we call sin sin. But going into all the sordid details is not really the best way to fight sin. If a pastor does that, his messages might do more harm than good. Saying “don’t; don’t; don’t” might actually be creating an appetite for the sin.

So, if “don’t” doesn’t work to help us be the best we can be, what does? Colossians 3 tells us. We can live like there’s a resurrection.

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (ESV)

When we read verses like these, we can think that the passage is really about some other day in some other place – that someday we’ll appear in glory with Jesus. This is true. But what if that’s not the main point? What if in addition to these being verses about some other day in some other place, they’re about the here and now? What if this passage is about living like there’s a resurrection today? This is not only about someday. It’s about today, here, now. It’s about how the resurrection of Jesus can help us now. It’s about your life now. It’s about living like there’s a resurrection.


Now, to help us understand and apply the meaning of these verses, I’m going to tell a little story.

Victor was about 30. His blue eyes were hard to read. Pain was there, along with potential.

Until he turned six, Victor had been raised in an orphanage in the Ukraine, about 3 hours west of Kiev. Nobody seemed to know what had happened to his mom and dad. And as far as he knew, he had no brothers or sisters.

The prospects for any kid growing up at that orphanage were bleak. The food was OK. The care was OK. The education was OK. But there just were too many kids in the orphanage for the number of workers at the orphanage. So, no one got the kind of focused attention they needed and since the economy was so bad and the jobs were so scarce, lots of the young men who left the orphanage at 18 ended up pushing drugs. So, that was likely to be Victor’s future, too.

But when Victor was six, a businessman named Rob had traveled to the Ukraine from America. Rob was a highly successful financial advisor and worked for one of the big brokerage firms. He had grown up on a farm in Ohio and never dreamed he would be as financially successful as he was. He wanted somehow to bless others in a needy part of the world who were less fortunate. So, Rob decided to invest in farming in the Ukraine. It combined his childhood upbringing with his expertise in finance. While Rob was there in the Ukraine, he visited the orphanage.

And that’s where Rob had met the little six-year-old Victor. Out of all the children in that orphanage, Rob just couldn’t shake the sight of those piercing eyes and that innocent face. When he was back in the States, every time he prayed, he’d think of Victor. Finally, he shared his burden with his wife, Katie. They prayed together, they did some research, and then they took a trip to the orphanage together. One day, Katie said, “Honey, I think God wants us to adopt Victor.”

It was one of the happiest days in Rob and Katie’s life as a couple when they brought Victor home to America. His life in the orphanage was over. His life of privilege and opportunity had begun. Rob and Katie were careful not to spoil Victor. He had to work around the house. But somehow they made the chores fun.

Victor was living the life every kid in that orphanage dreamed about. He had no traces of anything like Fetal Alcohol Syndrome like some orphans do. Good schools, great healthcare, church activities, learning to play the cello, basketball, summer jobs, mission trips, and a college degree. Victor had all the tools to live the American dream and an invitation to join his dad, Rob, in the financial advisory firm.

Now, Victor was about 30 and those blue eyes were filled with pain and confusion. Nobody, especially Rob and Katie, could understand the choices he was making. He was on streets and just like some of the grown up kids from that orphanage in the Ukraine, he was using and selling drugs.

There he was in a dirty, dilapidated part of town wasting away. But just over the horizon, just over the rooftops of those run-down houses, you could see an office building. And on the top floor stood a father named Rob, looking out a window and longing for his son to look upward – longing for his son to begin to live out the privileged life that he had been given the opportunity to live.

Don’t you just want to grab a guy like Victor and shake some sense into him? What a knucklehead! You have all this privilege and opportunity and you’re throwing it all away! What would you say to this young man?

Listen carefully...we are like Victor. As followers of Jesus, we have incredible privileges and possibilities. We are no longer orphans and the old life is over. A new life has come and we are resurrected. But we fail to live out a resurrected life. We too often live in defeat.

And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Check back to see how we can tap into resurrection power for daily living.

For church planters: Planning your preaching

I once heard a pastor say about preaching, “You don’t have to hit a home run every time, but you better get a single!”

Your preaching will greatly influence the impact of your church plant. A church plant rarely has multiple ministry options, therefore the worship service must hit the mark each weekend. And an accurate, practical, relevant weekly message is key. Each week your congregation will be asking, “What is in this message for me?”

Hearing excellent communicators – both secular and Christian – is easy today. And that has made today’s church attendees more critical. Every day, believers at your church can turn on or tune in to the best of the best. Your congregation doesn’t know that those other guys may have entire teams helping them to put things together. And they don’t think about the fact that these pastors don’t have to negotiate rent, help do set up and tear down, handle problems in the preschool ministry, and do everything else that goes along with being a church-planting pastor. They just wonder, “Why can’t he preach like Mark or Andy or Ravi or Matt or Alistair or Rob or John or Tim or Louie?” And even the unchurched have very high expectations for communicators.

Mark Batterson of the National Community Church in Washington, D.C. says, “I feel like putting together a sermon strategy is one of my most difficult and most important responsibilities. Planning the spiritual diet of a congregation is weighty business.” Planning your preaching well is a way for you to aim for a well-balanced diet for each year’s preaching.

Are you reactive or proactive? This is one of the best leadership barometers. Either we let things happen to us or we make things happen. Planning your preaching definitely gets you in proactive mode.

Some people feel planning your preaching takes God out of the equation. Some pastors think that they must seek God this week for the "Word" He wants to speak to their church. They believe that they must walk by faith and hear from God.

But think about it this way: It takes bold faith to sit down with God and plan out a year or a half year with Him, seeking Him for what He wants you to speak about 6-12 months from now. Isn't it possible that God can work through one man or a team to lay it on their heart what He needs them to say in 6-12 months? Doesn't God see the 6-12 months from now and who is going to be listening and what they need to hear?

Of course, the answer is “yes.”

The reason some church planting pastors don’t plan ahead is because they are either unorganized or not disciplined enough to do it.

"But what if things change in the culture or at the church?” Then you call an audible. That’s when you adjust your plan and follow the leadership of the Lord.

So, see the plan as a guide to follow, not as a rulebook to keep. Always be sensitive to the Spirit. If another 9/11 happens, don’t be such a slave to the plan that there isn’t flexibility. A preaching plan is a good guide.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree
Originally uploaded by LinkinFreakPixar
Here's a picture taken by our son, Ryan. It's taken at Whipp's Ledges in Hinkley, Ohio. The young man in the picture is our son, Evan. This reminded Ryan of the story, The Giving Tree. The story is below. It's quite moving... at least to me.


The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Once there was a tree...and she loved a little boy.
And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples.
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.
And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree ... very much.
And the tree was happy.

But time went by.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.

Then one day the boy came to the tree and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy."

"I am too big to climb and play," said the boy.

"I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money. Can you give me some money?"

"I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy."

And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away.

And the tree was happy.

But the boy stayed away for a long time ...and the tree was sad.
And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy."

"I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy.

"I want a house to keep me warm," he said.

"I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?"

“I have no house," said the tree.
"The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy."

And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house.

And the tree was happy.

But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak.

"Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play."

"I am too old and sad to play," said the boy.

"I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?"

"Cut down my trunk and make a boat." said the tree. "Then you can sail away ... and be happy."

And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away.
And the tree was happy ... but not really.

And after a long time the boy came back again.
"I am sorry, Boy," said the tree, "but I have nothing left to give you, my apples are gone."

"My teeth are too weak for apples", said the boy.

"My branches are gone", said the tree. "You cannot swing on them -"

"I am too old to swing on branches," said the boy.

"My trunk is gone," said the tree. "You cannot climb -"

"I am too tired to climb," said the boy.

"I am sorry," sighed the tree. I wish that I could give you something...but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I am sorry...."

"I don't need very much now," said the boy,
"Just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired."

"Well," said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could,
"Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."

And the boy did.

And the tree was happy.

Easter 2010 recap

Thanks to everyone at CVC who helped make our 2010 Easter services so very, very wonderful. I am amazed at the amazing team of staff and volunteers that work so hard to put this weekend together.

Thank you to everyone who stepped up this past week and invited people to church. Thanks to everyone who passed out invite cards to their communities. CVC, you went all out and God’s Kingdom was enlarged this weekend because of it.

The tomb is empty and Jesus is alive. That means that we can be made right with God. This is a message that changes lives. So, be fearless: know peace, go serve, find strength, and give grace. If you were not able to be with us and want to hear and watch the Easter message, go here and click on the ALIVE: Fearless icon.

This weekend, we will continue the series we began on Easter by examining Colossians 3:1-4 and exploring how to live like there really was a resurrection. Invite your friends again.

Hey, Cuyahoga Valley Church! I want you to know that I am so grateful, humbled, and amazed that I have the privilege of serving as your pastor.

I can remember the first CVC Easter service at what is now the Lawrence School on Wallings Road. I remember standing in the hall of that building looking out at the parking lot and wondering if anyone would show up. We had sent 13,500 invitations to the community. 66 people came to that first service. No one then had any idea that 23 years later 3,005 people would be worshipping in a building of our own on one of the most strategic locations for a church in all of NE Ohio.

Our God does exceedingly beyond all that we can ask or think. He is a God who wants to use us more than we want to be used. Think about it: If THIS was Easter in 2010, then what will Easter in 2020 look like?

Highlights of the Easter services for me? 1) Celebrating our Risen Lord with the band and choir as they sang "Revelation Song" and Michael W. Smith's "Come Together Now." 2) Meeting several new guests in the special hospitality room. 3) Passing along a special $1,000 check from someone wanting to bless a couple from CVC who are in the process of adopting. 4) Preaching four times from John 20:19-23. 5) Sharing an afternoon Easter meal with our family and our daughter-in-law's family.

I was really, really tired after last weekend. And it took me several days to recover. But it was surely a "good tired."

Below are a few comments from CVC staffers about our Easter services.

From Gregg Jacobsen:

Easter attendance was 3005... and it set a new “high water mark” for Easter attendance. 12:30 was probably the biggest surprise coming in at 729! People listened to not coming to “prime time services”. The lower level was really only used for the 9:30 service (65 people). There were 34 people who checked the "B" box to indicate that they were "Believing in Jesus for the first time" on Easter Sunday. There were 11 who checked the "C" box to indicate that they would "Consider the truths presented." There were 5 who checked the "D" box to indicate that they had "Doubts." Follow up letters have been mailed.

From Jane Rutti:

My personal experience this past weekend was just excellent—as an attender and as a working staff person. God’s blessings were all over the team efforts that were made to draw people to Himself for His glory. I know we share the hope that more people than we realize came into a relationship with Christ, and that many seeds were planted in the process for others to do the same.

From Jackie Puliafico:

I must say that God truly orchestrated that morning, and all the staff and volunteers did an amazing job! Everything went so smoothly. I loved serving all morning at the info table, ushering, socializing with guests and wherever else needed. A few people I spoke to at the info desk said that they felt so blessed by the service and the choir and they truly felt the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Some also commented on how impressed they were with the service, choir, worship, technical end, hospitality – every aspect of the morning, and they know it took a huge team of people working together to be able to deliver what was experienced that day and that’s the kind of church they want to belong to – one that works together – as one body, putting themselves aside, to serve others and draw people to Know Christ. I’m thankful to have been part of that team.

From Andrea Hayes:

I had a great Easter because of spending so much of it at church with my "Church Family." I felt very blessed by the whole thing. It really was a pleasure serving. Thanks you!!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Alive - Living Like There Is a Resurrection - Fearless (2)

Let's look at four things Jesus says to fearful people...

...know peace.

See, these followers of Jesus had failed Jesus. When He was arrested, they ran. When asked, one guy, Peter, denied that he even knew Jesus. So, they had this sense of shame that they had let Jesus down.

Jesus says, “It’s OK. Yes, you sinned against Me, but you can still have the peace of God.”

(John 20:21-23)
21a Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.

But not only can we have peace with God, but we can also have the peace of God. These followers of Jesus were afraid.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27 not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your rquests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

There is a young dad out there. You know more than most about how tough this economy has been. Maybe it’s been months since you had a decent job, or maybe you know some cut-backs are coming and you’re preparing to hear the worst. You’re wondering how you’re going to pay the bills and you wish your wife didn’t have to work outside the home. You don’t know how you’re going to get your kids through college. You’re worried, you’re stressed, your confidence is shaken, and you’re snapping at the people around you.

Jesus – ALIVE! – standing in the same room you are in right now and says to you, “Peace be with you. Know peace. Be fearless. You were made for My mission.”

So, the first thing He says then and now: know peace...

...go serve.

Fear kept those followers of Jesus behind locked doors, but they had been made for a mission. So, Jesus says to them…

21b "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

And how did the Father send Jesus? He sent Jesus to live among hurting and needy people. He sent Jesus to go about doing good. He sent Jesus to heal the brokenhearted. He sent Jesus to bring justice to the oppressed. He sent Jesus to sacrifice Himself so we could be saved. He sent Jesus to empower others to serve the last and the least.

Here’s what he said about Himself:

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Matthew 20:28 (ESV)

The One who’s sent becomes the One who sends. The Sent One has now become the Sender. Jesus commissions His followers to serve as his messengers and representatives.

At CVC we often talk about “Global Goliaths.” In the Bible was an enemy of God’s people named Goliath and God’s people were afraid of him. But one courageous young man who trusted in God defeated Goliath. We have lots of “Global Goliaths” in our world that are the enemies of God’s people: the AIDS pandemic, a lack of clean drinking water, the sexual slave industry, extreme poverty and hunger, and the need for hospitals and clinics and churches just to name a few, and we say, “Pick a ‘Global Goliath’ and go serve.”

Join Jesus in His mission. He rose from the grave to send. He’s alive and He’s sending you.

The church is called “the body of Christ” (Eph. 1:23, 1 Cor. 12:12). Jesus was going back to His Father and His Mission won’t be accomplished unless the church does it. We are the mouth to speak for Jesus, the feet to do His will, the hands to do His work.

You may be a single person trying to figure out what’s next. You could go the route of trying to find love in all the wrong places. You could go the route of trying to make money so you can live the American dream; that’s what your family says to do and that’s what all your friends are doing. But there’s something in you that knows you were made for more. You’re afraid to give your life to serve the last and the least.

Jesus – ALIVE! – standing in the room you are in right now and says to you, “As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you. Go serve. Be fearless. You were made for My mission.”

He says then and He says now: know peace, go serve...

...find strength.

You can’t go serve and expect to have maximum impact if you do it in your own energy. You have to find God’s strength; it’s the Spirit of the resurrected Christ who has to live His life in and through you.

22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit."

Most scholars say that Jesus is pointing forward to the time in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit would come with power to His followers. See, He knew that there is no way – no way – that we can do what we have been made to do apart from His power.

He breathes on them. He gives them His life – His Spirit.

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses..." Acts 1:8 (ESV)

We don’t get this power without seeking it, without asking for it…frequently. One of my most frequent prayers goes like this: “Jesus, I have nothing to offer as a husband, as a dad, as a pastor without You. I need Your strength. I need your power. So, fill me with Your Holy Spirit.”

We do not generate spiritual life and power but receive them from God as we expend them.

You may be a mom here who’s really tired. You’ve been distracted all morning because you’re thinking about the Easter dinner you’re preparing, and that makes you exhausted. You’re trying to keep your husband happy, trying to take care of the kids, and trying to do a good job at are out of gas.

Jesus – ALIVE! – standing in the room you are in right now and breathes on you, “Find strength. Receive the Holy Spirit. Be fearless. You were made for My mission.”

He says then and He says now: know peace, go serve, find strength...

...give grace.

23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Who can forgive sins but God? The answer is no one, so it can’t be teaching that. You say, “Well, what is Jesus saying?” He is obviously saying that you have the right to say someone’s sins are forgiven and someone else’s are not forgiven. You say, “Can I go up to somebody and say, “Your sins are forgiven?”

Absolutely. You say, “Can I go up to someone and say, “Sorry, your sins are not forgiven?” Yes, you can. You say, “How can I ever do that?”

To anyone who is conscious of his sin, and who repents toward God and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, you can say, “Your sins are forgiven.” To anyone who willfully rejects and does not believe, and refuses Christ, you can say, “Your sins are retained.” We have the right to tell someone whether or not God has forgiven his sins based on what he or she has done with Jesus Christ. is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations.
Luke 24:46-47 (ESV)

We declare what God has done through Jesus. The resurrection gives the ability to forgive. We have this idea that we do good and we do bad and if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds, then we’ll get to heaven.

Tiger Woods has met the media. He knows he needs forgiveness. How is He going to get it? In a recent interview, Woods was wearing a bracelet that he said reminded him of his Buddhism.

“In the Buddhist religion you have to work for it yourself, internally, in order to achieve anything in life and set up the next life. It is all about what you do, and you get out of life what you put into it. So you are going to have to work [hard] in every aspect of your life.”

If we could get forgiveness by working hard, we’d take credit for it.

Recently, my wife was in a local card shop looking for a present for someone and she saw a little cross with the word “grace” on top and then a Bible verse, “God saved you by His special favor when you believed, and you can take credit for this; it is a gift from God…" (Ephesians 2:8,9, ESV).

Can anybody see what’s wrong with that verse? We can’t take credit for this! It’s grace that saves us.

I'd like to share a prayer with you. You don’t have to say these exact words, but what matters is what’s in your heart. So, if this prayer expresses the desire of your heart, just pray it in your heart, silently, right now:

Jesus, I know that my fear and my sin have kept me from being all You want me to be. I am truly sorry for my sin. I want to be a servant like You. I need your peace, Your strength, and Your grace. I believe You died on the cross to pay for my sins and that You rose to give me life. Help me to join You in Your mission to change the world. Forgive me. Change me. Live in me. Amen.

So, remember four things Jesus says to fearful people...know peace, go serve, find strength, give grace.

So, what room are you locked in – trying to play it safe? I mentioned in my prior post that there was a time when Maryanne and I had a dream. The dream? Starting a church right here in NE Ohio. But our fears almost kept us from even trying.

Jesus – ALIVE! – came to us and said, “Know peace. Go serve. Find strength. Give grace.” That’s the story of CVC. It’s His story. And this church has been filled with people who get this.

Don’t forget. Jesus says to you today, “Be fearless; you’re made for My mission.” There are businesses to be started; families to be begun; songs to be recorded; books to be written; art to be created; churches to be started; dreams to be fulfilled. How is He calling you to glorify Him?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Alive - Living Like There Is a Resurrection - Fearless (1)

You were made for more than what you’re experiencing. You have potential to be and do more. What does God want you to do that you haven’t yet done? There are businesses to be started; families to be begun; songs to be recorded; books to be written; art to be created; churches to be started; dreams to be fulfilled…

But maybe something is holding you back. Maybe it’s fear. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of…

We all struggle with fear. I know I do. I can remember a time when Maryanne and I had a big dream. And some members of our family didn’t want us to pursue the dream and didn’t really think we could fulfill the dream. And our fears were very real.

The Bible tells the story about some followers of Jesus whose fears were keeping them from being all that God made them to be. But they met Somebody and their lives were never the same. In fact, the world was never the same. They became fearless.

What does God want you to do that you haven’t yet done? He says to you and to me, “Be fearless. You’re made for My mission.”

We’re going to spend the next few weeks in this series at CVC: "Alive - Living Like There is a Resurrection" dealing with the implications of the resurrection of Jesus. We’re going to see that something that happened 2,000 years ago can really make a difference in our lives today.

Jesus came into this world – God in the flesh – and lived the life we could never live. He bent the will of humanity back toward God. He gathered followers and went around doing good, helping the sick, feeding the hungry, announcing that Kingdom of God was near. He showed us how to live.

But Jesus earned the wrath of the religious and political leaders. He called them out for their hypocrisy. The common people were drawn to Jesus more than to leaders. So, they decided that Jesus had to go. He was executed as a common criminal on a Friday. But that played right into God’s hands. He sent Jesus into this world to die on a cross in our place to pay for our sins.

It may have been Friday, but Sunday was coming. The word was that Jesus had appeared to some women and to some men. But the followers of Jesus didn’t know what to believe. They gathered in a room on that Sunday night almost 2,000 years ago to talk about what had happened and what would happen.

Take a look at John 20:19-23

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews...

Look at the phrase “that day.” What day is “that day?” It’s the day Jesus rose. A Sunday evening. On the evening of “that day,” the followers of Jesus were terrified. They weren’t expecting a resurrection. When it says that they were afraid “for fear of the Jews,” it’s not saying that were afraid of Jewish people in general. They were Jewish people. It’s referring to the fact that they were afraid of the Jewish political and religious leaders. Those leaders were the ones who arrested Jesus. And then He was falsely accused, unjustly tried, and brutally executed.

Now, the followers of Jesus were wondering, “Is that going to happen to us? Will we be the next to die?” So, they were meeting with a sense of dread, listening for every step on the stair and for every knock at the door. So, they are afraid. What happens next?

...Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

It’s a locked door. How did Jesus get into the room? The verse doesn’t really say. But there He was speaking peace. At first, this didn’t help with the fear factor. Luke says that when they saw Jesus they were scared to death (Luke 24:37).

They thought that He was a ghost. This does not sound like a group of people who are wanting to believe in a resurrection so much that they psychologically duped themselves into believing it was true. They were like we would have been: terrified! No wonder Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

This is one of about 12 post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Why show them His hands and His side? He wants them to know: “I’m not a ghost. This is no a hallucination. It’s really Me, Jesus. Look where the nails were. Look where I was pierced in my side. See the scars. I have a real body. It was not only the spirit of Christ that had arisen from the grave – but the body also! This was really a bodily resurrection.

A lot of you probably have doubts about the reality of the resurrection. In college, I had my doubts. I thought, “What’s important is that the spirit of Christ is alive, not that Jesus really rose from the dead.” But as I examined the historical evidence, I came to the conclusion that it’s more reasonable to believe in the resurrection of Jesus than it is to believe in some other explanation of the events that happened.

I encourage you to examine the evidence in a little book called “The Case for Easter.” The guy who wrote the book, Lee Strobel, was an atheist. As he began to evaluate the evidence, He encountered some really smart people like professors William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas.

In an interview, Strobel says, "If somebody could convince me the evidence against the bodily resurrection of Jesus outweighed the evidence for his resurrection; I would abandon the faith in a minute."

Has Jesus changed your life?

So, the followers of Christ are in a locked room trying to play it safe. Jesus appears. What does He say to help these fearful people become all God intended for them to be? Jesus is here today. Not physically. But He’s here. And He knows what’s keeping you locked up. What He says to them, He says to us.

Check back to see four things Jesus says to fearful people.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Duncan boys

Duncans, originally uploaded by Tom Sawyer Photography.

After recording a rap, taking it to the streets... of NE Ohio.

Ryan Duncan

Ryan, originally uploaded by Evan.Duncan..

Our middle son hanging out at CVC, ready to help with the tech side of things.

Alan Duncan

Alan C. Duncan, originally uploaded by Evan.Duncan..

Our oldest son, ready to rap.

Evan Duncan

Bubba, originally uploaded by Evan.Duncan..

Our baby boy blowing bubbles...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Five Vows for Spiritual Power (7)

Here is a summary of A.W. Tozer's "Five Vows for Spiritual Power" followed by his conclusion to the booklet.


1. Deal thoroughly with sin.
2. Never own anything.
3. Never defend yourself.
4. Never pass along anything about anybody that will hurt him.
5. Never accept any glory.

Now the easiest possible thing is to give a message like this. The hard thing is to make it work in one's own life. Remember that these five vows are not something you write in the back of your Bible and forget. They've got to be written in your own blood. They have to be made final, irrevocable. If it only comes off the surface it's no good. Much of our promises come off the surface. No, no. Let is come out of the depths of your heart, the deep depths of your spirit.

Theses vows cut against the old human nature. They introduce the cross into your life. And nobody ever walks back from carrying his cross--nobody, ever. When a man takes his cross he's already said goodbye. He's pulled the roll top shut on his desk and said farewell to his wife and children. He's not coming back. The man with the cross never comes back. When you make these vows, remember: They introduce the cross into your life, they strike at the heart of your self-life and there is never a place to go back to. And I say, “Woe to the triflers!”

In America--and maybe in other places, too--so many people are saying, “Try Jesus, try God!” Triflers, experimenters, tasters they are. Like a rabbit with a half dozen holes so if one is stopped up he can flee to another! No! From the cross there is no place to flee. You don't “try” Jesus. He's not there to be experimental with. Christ is not on trial. You are. I am. He's not! God raised Him from the dead and forever confirmed His deity and sealed Him and set Him at His own right hand as Lord and Christ. Turn everything over to Him and you'll find your life begin to lift. You'll blossom in a wonderful way.

Now, if you happen to be one of those on whom God has laid His hand for a deeper life, a more powerful life, a fuller life, then I wonder if you would be willing to pray this kind of prayer: “O God, glorify Thyself at my expense. Send me the bill--anything, Lord. I set no price. I will not dicker or bargain. Glorify Thyself. I'll take the consequence.”

This kind of praying is simple, but it's deep and wonderful and powerful. I believe, if you can pray a prayer like that, it will be the ramp from which you can take off into higher heights and bluer skies in the things of the Spirit.

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