Monday, January 31, 2011

Joel Beeke: The Pastor's Prayer Life

Here are notes from the first session at the Desiring God Conference on prayer. We heard from Joel Beeke on the Pastor's Prayer Life.

Joel Beeke.

As I studied the reformers in regards to prayer, I became convicted. Tonight, I want you to know that I am preaching to myself.

We need to repent of prayerless praying.  My father said that the greatest problem in the church today is prayerless praying.

Tis is the difference between the reformers and us. This is why their times and ministries were more blessed than us.

Isaiah 64:6-9 says, "6We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in[218] the hand of our iniquities. 8But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people."

James 5:13-18 says, "13Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit."

Private prayerful prayer is what we need. 

Thomas Watson said, "Private prayerful praying is the soul's breathing itself into the bosom of the Father... and is heaven's greatest weapon."

According to acts 6, prayer is to be half of our ministry. But if today we pastors spend 5% of our time in prayer, we are among the most blessed.

When we have a lot to do, our prayer goes in like an accordion rather than out.  We regard prayer as an interruption of our personal ambition. 

Luther wanted to pray out loud because He said he wanted the devil himself to hear.

Prayer is harder than any other aspect of ministry.

Our three-fold enemy seeks to discourage us in prayer. Time, noise, busy-ness.

The goal isn't long periods of time, but quality.

Jesus comes to kiss me when I am engaged in private prayerful praying.

One pastor used to rise at 4 in the morning for prayer. When he heard others up working before him, he was distressed and asked, "Does not my Master deserve more than theirs?"

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses whose prayers rebuke us.

We call our prayerless praying prayerful praying. Prayerless praying freezes before it reaches heaven. Prayerful praying pierces praying. 

Prayer is to be one half of our ministry that gives the other half it's ultimate success.

All our excuses are obnoxious excuses in the sight of God.

We are unfriendly to God because our prayerlessness shows that we don't want to be with God.

Aggressively, dependently seek a more faithful prayer life.

This requires us to  do two things: take hold of ourselves and to take hold of God. 

I. Take hold of yourself. How? Seven ways...

1) Remember the value of prayer. We would rather die than to give up prayer. It is essential. It is essential for every duty we do in the gospel. Never engage in any activity of ministry without praying first. It is the most Christ-like thing we can engage in. What a blessing that we have been called to exercise this value of prayer.

Unanswered prayer is even a value. Just to have a place to go with every need is worth more than anything money can buy. 

In prayer, I will either receive what I ask or what I should have been asking for in the first place. Refuse to leave God alone.

2) Make and keep prayer a priority. 

How hard do you pray after the sermon is over? Get on your knees and pray, "O God, bring home the sermon."

Rate prayer above everything else.

When we don't pray, we lose our power and authority. 

Leave time in-between visits. This is so you can pray. Pray your way through the day.

3) Pray with sincerity. 

The way to pray is to tell the Lord everything about you while knowing that He knows everything about you. We can't settle for less than sincerity in our prayers. God loathed a divided heart. Sincerity in prayer requires integrity in our marriages. Avoid professionalism in our prayers.

4) Cultivate a continual spirit in prayer.

Pray without ceasing. When you are really close to God, you pray as a lifestyle. 

A minster needs much more grace than common men. I am a bird out of my nest when I don't pray. We feel something's wrong until we are back in the nest of prayer.

We have so few impulses to pray, we must take advantage of them.

5) Work toward organization in intercessory prayer.

Our church members deserve pastor who prays for them. The people ought to know 

3 lists. lose. Worldwide. Every day. Others, once a week.  Others, once a month.

Take a page from the church directory every day.

6) Read the Bible for prayer.

Listen to God and then talk to Him. Read verse by verse and pray. Pray your way through the scriptures.  Fill your mind with scripture and your prayers will have life. Pray to God in His own language.

The best books of prayer interweave the Bible

7) Keep biblical balance in your prayer.

Worship. Praise. Thanks. Intercession. Petition. Confession. 

Learn from others who pray.

II. Take hold of God in prayer. How? 3 principles. 

1) Plead God's promises in prayer. 

How much does God like to see a child plead His very own promises, His very own handwriting. He loves to be "sued upon His own bond." Prayer is nothing but the promise reversed. Beseech Him for blessing on His own Church, His own word, His own ministers.

2) Cling to the glorious Trinity in prayer. 

God dwells in our minds most when our prayers most dwell on God. Before we pray, we must pause and fixate our minds on this glorious God. Cling to each person of the Triune God. Our Father's hands are full of grace because our Savior's hands were pierced for us.

We are a bundle of needs. 

Run to Him; He runs to meet you. He will run to you with legs of mercy.

When we pray, "God, take hold of me" God will take hold of you.

We ought to labor in prayer to know each person of the Trinity one by one. The love of the Father, the fellowship of the Son, and the comfort of the Spirit.

3) Believe that God answers prayer.

Why are we so surprised that God answers our prayer? Faithless prayer is fruitless prayer.

If you want to humble a man, ask him about his prayer life.

There is more to know about God and prayer. Ask God to make you a praying Elijah. James presents Elijah as someone like you and me. What we need is to pray for our own prayer life. 

Pray to be a contemporary Elijah.

Mark Dever on Raising Up Leaders

Mark Dever Raising Up Leaders 1/30/2011

More pre-conference notes from the Desiring God conference on prayer.

Raising up leaders...

Look. We are not creating leaders. We have a stewardship for a season in the lives of others. A pastor in Australia calls these people "blokes worth watching." We should be opportunistic. Hang around. Membership directory. This keeps all the members on the radar screen.

Trust. It is your obligation to believe the best about people. Don't make people prove themselves first. A lot of leaders are too conservative. We try to help people use their gifts. Some people are too conservative and don't raise up leader.

Personal time. Give time personally. Mark 3:14-15. We need to be available. Don't build walls too much. They can't imitate you if they don't know you. Read Coleman's Master Plan of Evangelism. Go with someone to buy a belt! Think of applications for messages by using a grid for each point and ask people. My sermon is being made better and they are being discipled. Talk with each other. Internship program. 

Delegate. Part of what is going to need happen is that I realize that God can work through the lives of others. How does the congregation perceive how I treat others. Give others an opportunity to teach. I keep some quiet lists that no one sees. Create a culture of trusting delegation to others. Get a young man hire him when he's a cub, he'll chew things up for awhile, and then you'll have a lion who will love you for life. Be willing to give up your pulpit. People should want tp hear God's word preached, not hear you preach.

Feedback. Give godly honesty. Get the bad stuff up front. Then I will know where you stand. Prov 16:13, 23:23, 24:26. Invite honest feedback. Give godly encouragement. Give it and receive it. Demand that people chew on you. Submit yourself regularly to criticism. 

Authority. A clear teaching of complementarianism helps the men step forward.

Clarity. The more you explain, there you have leaders being attracted.

Humility. Conta-envy. You cannot envy other's gifts. Be careful about you humor and about personal illustrations. Get texts from me and little else. This gives space for others to grow up. Pray about others by name. Be more tender-hearted and thick-skinned.

Mark Dever on A Healthy Church

Mark Dever The Healthy Church... 1/30/2011

Here are some notes from the pre-conference sessions at the Desiring God prayer conference. Mark Dever is a pastor in DC. He wrote 9 Marks.

The Healthy Church...

What is the church like? 
It is to be one, holy, universal apostolic church. The church is like God - to reflect Hs nature and character. "One" because God is one. Unity of Christians reflect the nature of God. Are we strangely and in explicitly untied. "Holy" because God is holy. Are we in our congregations marked by holiness. We've spent more time thinking about being relevant. "Universal" because God is universal. We are not limited to one location. Universality marks all true Christian churches. Continuity of the church across space and time. In what ways are our concerns about contextualizing the gospel making us more or less. "Apostolic" Is our teaching the same teaching as the apostles? The apostles teaching should be taught, not ours. 

What makes a church good?
2 marks of the church. 1) The right preaching of the word and 2) the right administration of the sacraments of the church, including church discipline and membership. Look for faithful preaching. A distorted church often corresponds with distorted preaching. Teach them about the importance of the preaching of the word. See Ezekiel 37. Jesus gave us this by example and command. This means that those who are baptized and who partake of the Lord's Supper should be born again Christians. We aren't told how often or how to partake of the Lord's Supper. How is never talked about so that how doesn't overtake the who. Who is the most important aspect of baptism and the Lords supper. A credible profession of faith must be in our lives before the Lord's Supper.

Who should regularly partake of the Lord's Supper at a church? 
Members of the assembly. Some say membership is not there in the NT. But Acts 6:9. There were the Pharisees and Sadducees. Our bodies has members. The idea of a clearly defined people is central. Duty to attend regular gatherings. Psalm 84. Acts 2:42. It is the local congregation that we regularly assemble with. Heb 10:24-25. Jewish Christians met in the z1st day of the week to celebrate the resurrection. There are duties: Love one another. I Cor 12. Seek peace and unity with each other. Carry each other's burdens. Look at responsibilities to other Christians and to pastors. 

What should be at the center of the church? 
Expose God's word to God's people. If some sermons had the smallpox, the text would never catch it. Psalm 119. Delight in God's word. Follow in the footsteps of Josiah and Ezra. The synagogue movement. Exposition w in Luke 4. Jesus began his ministry with it. It is good to preach the truth and to do it in a way where people can see where they can get the truth.

Should we ever put anyone out of the church? 
It is an honor to belong to God's people. In NT, the church exercises discipline because we are to be holy. I Cor 5. You cannot take the Lord's Supper here any more.  You love your sin more than the Savior. A true church is only for sinners. A true church is only for repenting sinners.

What is a church for? Why have a church? 
Worship of God, edification of His people, and salvation of the lost. It brings God glory. Through the church the manifold wisdom of God is seen. Charles Bridges - The Christian Ministry. The little imperfect churches that you and I pastor reflect the eternal glory of God. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Witnessing to the ends of the earth b/c He's with us to the end of the age

Someone asked a question tonight that stumped me at our 5:30 "UpClose" service. I said that I would try to answer it on my blog.  So, here goes.

I taught from Acts 1:8, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (ESV).

Here is the question: "Some translations read 'to the ends of the age' (a time) vs. 'to the ends of the earth' (a place). What is in the Greek?"

The Greek in Acts 1:8 is "kai heos eschatos ge." Kai is translated as "and."  Heos is translated as "until, till, unto, to." Eschatos is translated as "the last, referring to either time or place."  Ge is translated as "of the ground or earth."

I guess it is possible for someone to take the word eschatos as a reference to time. That conclusion might cause a translator to emphasize the idea of "to the end of the age."  However, the references to specific places like Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria prior to the use of ge have caused the best translators to think of eschatos ge as being best translated "to the end of the earth."

I also am wondering if the questioner has not confused the ending of Acts 1:8 with the ending of a similar passage, Matthew 28:20.  There, the Greek reads "heos synteleia aion." Heos, again, is translated as "until, till, unto, to." Synteleia is translated as "completion, consumation, end." Aion is translated as "of the period of time, of the age, of the world."  Clearly, Matthew 28:20 ends by saying, "to the end of the age."

Bottom line? Acts 1:8 is best rendered "to the end of the earth" while Matthew 28:20 is best rendered "to the end of the age."

Combine the two thoughts?  We are to be witnesses who make disciples even to the ends of the earth.  We can have confidence in doing this because we know Jesus will be with us always even to the end of the age.

For what it's worth, I went ahead and did a little more research on Acts 1:8.  Note that no major translation below renders Acts 1:8 as "to the end of the age."

The NASB says, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

The NIV says, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The Amplified says, "You shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth."

The NKJV says, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The NLT says, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The CEV says, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power. Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world."

The HCSB says, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

The NCV says, "When the Holy Spirit comes to you, you will receive power. You will be my witnesses—in Jerusalem, in all of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world."

The WYC says, "Ye shall take the virtue of the Holy Ghost coming from above into you, and ye shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and Samaria, and to the utmost of the earth."

The GW says, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you. Then you will be my witnesses to testify about me in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

When it seems like God is not working...

1/30/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

22 Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” exodus 5:22-23

Observe

Sometimes when we obey the call of God, we will not see immediate results. In fact, things sometimes can seem worse, not better. 

Moses was being perfectly obedient in going to ask for the release of the people, yet Pharaoh made life harder for the people. And that confused Moses. The ESV Study Bible says, "Although the Lord had promised that he would deliver his people (3:8) and that Pharaoh would resist letting them go (3:19–20; 4:21), the shape and time frame of the events about to unfold were unknown to Moses. His first encounter with Pharaoh seemed to have brought evil (Hb. ra‘a‘, the same word translated 'trouble' in 5:19) by making Israel's situation and Pharaoh's disposition worse than it had been."

So, Moses prays in light of his confusion.  He's just honest in his prayer. "Lord, here I am seeking to obey You and nothing is changing. Things are worse. What are You doing? Why even send me? You haven't kept Your end of the deal, Lord."

We know the rest of this story. God does come through and sets His people free. But He waits. He does things in a way that shows His glory and power and might in an even greater way.

Value

Talk and trust. 1) Talk to God when you are confused about His plan and His timing, 2) Trust God will work through you for His glory in the salvation of His people at just the right time. My response has to be to stay obedient in light of what might appear to be an inactive or long overdue action of God.

Express

Lord, Your mighty plan is perfect. You are always seeking to rescue Your people. You often do not do things my way or in my time. Yet You never forget and You never fail. I am sorry that my impatience with Your plan causes me to doubt, to disobey, to run ahead, or to try to take things into my own hands. Thank You for the cleansing blood of Jesus that saves me and forgives me from these sins. Give me the capacity to trust You when I am tempted. You know I want to see revival here in NE Ohio. You know I want to see hundreds and hundreds of new churches planted in NE Ohio. I ask You for this.  And I wait. I yield to Your plan for my life and ministry.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

All Together (5)

Awe-inspiring relationships. “All together.” We need each other. None of us is as strong as all of us.

I remember that our son, Alan, once said, “You know one reason why I think my friend, Brian, is such a good friend? No matter what, he finds a way to get excited about what’s going on in other people’s lives. He’s so encouraging!” God is looking for that in his family, too.

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.  Hebrews 10:24-25a (ESV)

The classic illustration is simple. Logs burning together in a bonfire keep each other burning. But take a log out of the bonfire, set it by itself, and watch the fire go out.

And that is exactly what has happened to some of you. You are isolated. You are not on fire any more. And maybe it’s because you are not connected. You are out there all by yourself. And the fire has gone out! You’re not ignited because you’re isolated. None of us can make it alone. We weren't meant to. We need to belong to a small group of believers to help keep us ignited – “on fire” for God.

Don’t miss this: We can’t really experience the kind of fellowship Acts 2 is talking about in a crowd. We can only truly fellowship in a small group. Or one on one.

Think about it: We’re not going to do much fellowshipping when we come to a Sunday service. We can worship and learn together. But you will probably walk out of a service not really knowing anybody better than you did when you walked in here. This kind of fellowship takes place best in small groups.

In the first years of our faith, church buildings didn’t exist. Church meetings were held in homes. That’s why we’re so excited about our Community Groups. Our Community Groups get us back in touch with what the church is really meant to be.

How many of you are in a Community Group?  Many of you would say, “The first time I went to a group, I was nervous.” But you pushed through it and I’m betting that you are finding that living out God’s purpose of fellowship is fun and fulfilling!

One of the purposes of a group is to encourage each other – to ignite each other, to fan the flame. God is saying, “Don’t give up the habit of meeting together.” God uses us in each other’s lives to ignite us, to fan the flame.
 
Go back to Acts 2:43. I think the key to understanding this passage is found in the phrase, “everyone kept feeling a sense of awe” – a joyful, trembling sense of awe of God. You see, this is not as much about us as it is about God. His reputation is at stake!

Our relationships are rooted in Him! Is He committed to community? Yes! Look to the cross and what Jesus did there to bring us into a relationship with Himself! Does He open up his hands? He who was rich became poor so that we could become rich! Does He open up His home? He is in heaven right now preparing a place for us! Does He open up His heart? He’s longing for relationship with each of us!

When we relate in awe-inspiring ways, we are really reflecting Him – the God who had perfect relationship within the Trinity between Father, Son, and Spirit. He invites us into what He enjoyed from eternity past.

Sometimes I’ll hear people say something like, “I’m a follower of Christ, but I don’t want to belong to a small group or to a church.” That’s too bad because the church and the groups in a church are where we learn to live out what it means to be a Christ-follower. You wouldn’t say, “I’m a football player, but I don’t want to be a part of any team.” God meant us to join a church family. God wants believers to become belongers.

A few weeks ago, I brought my mom back from Florida to our snowiest day of the year here in Cleveland. We’ve turned our dining room into a bedroom for her. We’re still trying to figure out what’s next and how all this can work. Our friends from this church Scott and Jeannie have been invaluable with their advice and their help in securing some in home care. And Donna, a nurse who is also from this church, has been over many times to bathe mom for us.
 
They are the hands and the feet of Jesus. I’m glad we’re connected. Their love for Jesus is showing up in their love for us and for my mom. And it ignites our love for Jesus and for them even more.

Stay together; stay ignited.

Life in light of God's promises

1/25/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Genesis 50:24

Observe

The leader, Joseph, the protector of and provider for the family, is about to die. Yet he does not lose hope. His trust is not in his own leadership nor in his own ability, but in the Lord. 

He points his family to God. I see three things about the Lord God here.

God visits; God brings; Because God promises.

God visits His people in His time. He allowed Israel to become a great nation while in Egypt those 400 years. He created a scenario that would allow Him to bring the people out of slavery in a way that would bring Him great glory. And He does all this because of promises that had been given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would make their descendants a great nation that would be a blessing to the world.

Joseph had a great trust in the promises of God. Obviously, the promises that had been given to his forefathers Had been noted and rehearsed.

Value

Have a long term view of what God is doing, not a short term view. As I lead CVC, I must realize that it ultimately is God at work. I must reengage with the promises of God. I must note them and rehearse them with family.

Express

Lord God, my Father in heaven, You are a Promise-maker, a covenant-keeping God. too often, I fail to rest on and trust in Your promises. I ask You for grace to claim Your promises for my family and church and for grace to believe in and to act on them. Today, I yield my life to You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

All Together (4)

In the prior post, the first ingredient we looked at that will help to ignite our lives was open hands. Let's look at a few more

Ingredients that will ignite our lives...

2. …open homes
 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food…  Acts 2:46a (ESV)

The believers in the early church spent much time together. You can go to some churches where they believe all the right stuff but there is no true fellowship. People come together, have Sunday services and go home. But you see no love or life in the church.

The members of this first church loved one another. They helped each other, shared the gospel with each other, prayed for each other, found out the needs of each other, spent time with each other and ate with each other.

“Breaking bread” probably refers to the Lord's Supper – to communion. But “taking their meals together” shows that togetherness was a precious thing to the believers in the early church. They loved to be together at meals. It seems like they were together with each other in this way almost every day. That was the kind of love the early Christians had for each other when they stood in awe of God.

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.   Romans 12:13 (ESV)

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.   I Peter 4:9 (ESV)

Will you open your home? Will you invite some friend at church to share a meal with you? Will you host a small group in your home? If we want people to be impressed with our relationships and ultimately our God, then we have to stop saying, “My home isn’t nice enough; my home isn’t clean enough; I don’t have enough money; my kids aren’t well-behaved enough…”

Stay together; stay ignited.

Ingredients that will ignite our lives: open hands, open homes…

3. …open hearts

… breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…
Acts 2:46b (ESV)

Not joyless, hard hearts, but glad, soft hearts. Not closed, stingy hearts, but open, generous hearts. Because these followers of Jesus were open to each other, they were one. Later in Acts, there hearts were described this way:

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.  Acts 4:32 (ESV)

I am sure there were disagreements. In fact, the book of Acts is full of them. But these Christians refused to let those disagreements divide them. Together they loved and served the Lord. Together they did the Lord's work. Together they prayed and worshiped and participated in the Lord's Supper (2:46). Together they were devoted to the Lord. They were one in heart and mind.

Do you realize what this means? This means that a congregation of believers that fights and divides is not and cannot be awe-inspiring. Even if you are right on the issues you are wrong because you have allowed the spirit of Satan rather than the Spirit of Christ to prevail – you see, Satan encourages disunity and fights and quarrels, but Christ encourages unity and love and tolerance (John 17).

Stay together; stay ignited.

ingredients that will ignite our lives: open hands, open homes, open hearts.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A lost and found adventure in New York

I just really like the thoughtfulness behind this adventure. Creative generosity.

All Together (3)

Remember in the prior blog that verse 42 in Acts 2 says that the believers were devoted – seriously persistent in – four things: 1) the apostle’s teaching, 2) the fellowship, 3) the breaking of bread, and 4) the prayers.

Let’s focus on the commitment to fellowship. It’s koinonia – an association, a community, a joint participation, a sharing, an intimacy.

Questions:

What attracts your devotion? What are some non-negotiable commitments in your life? Are you devoted to filling your mind and heart with God’s word? Are you devoted to hanging out with the sold out? Are you devoted to celebrating the Lord’s Supper with other friends in Christ? Are you devoted to prayer?

You might say, “Frankly, Rick, I’m not that devoted. I’m not on fire that much. But I know I should be. I want my life to be ignited. How can I ignite my passion for Jesus and for His people?”

You know that if you put oxygen and wood and heat together, you get fire. These are ingredients that are combustible – that ignite. Well, in this passage, you see some combustible ingredients to ignite our passion for Jesus and for each other.

ingredients that will ignite our lives:

. . . open hands

44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  
Acts 2:44-45 (ESV)

Generosity is an important part of true Christian community. Believers were so much “all together” that if anyone was in need, the others met the need. Believers who had more than they needed shared with those who had less than they needed. They would sell their possessions and use the money to meet the needs of the poor in their group.

Now, this isn’t promoting communism. The right to private property is implicit in the Ten Commandments when the Lord says, “You shall not steal.” There is no coercion here. Selling property and giving generously in Acts is voluntary.

But make no mistake about it. Generosity pleases Jesus. “All together” means that the last and the least among us are not overlooked.

The man who wrote this book, Acts, was a follower of Jesus named Luke. And generosity was one of Luke's great passions. He taught that true followers of Jesus really do use their possessions to meet the needs of others. They really have open hands.

Luke records a story Jesus told about a rich fool who would not open his hands (12:15-21).

15 And [Jesus] said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
16 And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully,
17 and He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’
18 And He said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Luke 12:15-21 (ESV)

How can we make sure we don’t lose it all, that we don’t lay up treasure for ourselves, but that we’re rich toward God? We live out the generosity of Acts 2:44-45. All who believe are together and have all things in common. All who believe are selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any have need.

Is my love on fire? Are my hands open? Do I use my stuff to meet those needs? Do I ask God to show me the needs of the people around me? Am I willing to go out of my way to make sure that, as far as I am able, there will be no needy people among us?

If we are not on fire to meet needs, then why not? Part of what it means for us to awe-inspiring relationships is that we are willing to share our resources to meet the needs of people in our midst.

Stay together; stay ignited.




All Together (2)

Last weekend at CVC, Chad Allen spoke about igniting our love for God – about public worship, about how important it is for us to arrive to worship week after week so we can thrive. Arrive to thrive!

And for a lot of you, coming to church every weekend has been a huge step in your life. Some of you haven’t gone to church in years until you found CVC. Now, you love coming on weekends. That’s a really big step. And I want to encourage you for where you are in your spiritual journey. "Way to go!" Weekend worship is a huge commitment to ignite your love for God.

But don’t stop there. When your love for God is ignited, your love for God’s people will be ignited, too. We want God to ignite our love for Him so that we grow deeper. But there’s more. We want God to ignite our love for His people so we grow warmer.

Acts 2 gives us a description of how those first followers of Jesus had an ignited love for each other. And God still wants to produce this kind of love today. It’s why my mom’s friends from her church showed up in her life in big ways a few weeks ago week. And God wants you to experience this.

Stay together; stay ignited.

As you read Acts 2:42-47, notice how many times the words “together” and “all” occur.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)

Did you see how many times the words "together" and "all" were used?

“All” – verse 44.
“Together” – verse 44.
“All” again – verse 44.
“All” – verse 45.
“Together” – verse 46.
“All” – verse 47.

“All” – 4 times. “Together” – 2 times.

These believers were “altogether all together” – completely connected. They spent time meeting and sharing together. And what did they do together? Look again at verse 42.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Acts 2:42 (ESV)

Devoted. It’s proskartereo. It means to be constant in, to persevere in, to give yourself continually to.

A key word we would use to describe this kind of devotion – this kind of persistence – is commitment. You’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as in between. Are you devoted? You say, “Devoted to what?”

Verse 42 says that the believers were devoted – seriously persistent in – four things: 1) the apostle’s teaching, 2) the fellowship, 3) the breaking of bread, and 4) the prayers.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

All Together (1)

Two weeks ago, I tried to love my mom well.

My dad died back in 1989. She remarried 15 years ago. 11 years ago she had a stroke and is paralyzed on her left side. And her 2nd husband, Howard, has been her caregiver. About 2 weeks ago, my mom woke up to find that Howard had died in the night.

So, I flew down to Florida be with her – to love on her and care for her. I was scrambling down there trying to help her in her loss, feed and clothe her, visit with her doctor, pack up some of her things, close up the house, and make travel arrangements to bring her back her to be with us in NE Ohio. It was tough.

But I had help. See, my mom was connected to community. Without even being asked, David and Jim came to the house to be with her the morning after Howard died. Carol visited and gave us the names of some real estate agents. Richard and Lucille dropped by and then had us over to eat one night. Deloris sat with mom for several hours one day to free me up so I could run some important errands. Charlie came by to say, “I’m going to miss you.” The phone rang over and over and the people would say to her, “I love you. I’m praying for you.” It all helped. A lot. It was amazing to watch.

Why did that happen? Down through the years, my mom had been connected to groups in her church. And during her time of great need, they showed up strong in her life. She had been there for them. Now, they were there for her. God was pleased. I was blown away and so thankful.

Her friends were the hands and the feet of Jesus. I’m glad she had been connected. Their love for Jesus showed up in their love for my mom. And it ignited her love for Jesus and for them even more.

When believers stay together, they stay ignited.

Questions: If a tragedy happened to you, would a small platoon of people rally around you? Can you name the people you would serve without even being asked if a tragedy happened to them?

When that kind of stuff happens with God’s people, a watching world is blown away.

Jesus wants outsiders to look at our relationships with friends and say, “I’m awed by your love. I’m stunned when I think about the way you relate. I’m amazed at your care for one another.”

Perspective

1/18/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

The LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. Genesis 39:3

And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. Genesis 39:20

Observe

Our definition of "the Lord being with us" and the Lord's definition of "the Lord being with us" is often quite different.

Joseph resisted the advances of an adulterous woman and then was falsely accused by Potiphar's wife. Potiphar bought her lie and had Joseph thrown into jail. How's that for "the Lord being with you"?

I can imagine Joseph thinking, "So, this is what I get for seeking to be righteous? Where is God?"

Yet this would be a short-sighted view of God's being "with Joseph." God had bigger and better things in store for Joseph. God's plan was that he would be imprisoned for a time and then emerge as second in command in all of Egypt.

We simply must develop a long-term perspective on the plan of God for our lives. 

Value

Embrace the wise, benevolent, sovereign plan of God for your life. Sometimes, you will have to believe in spite of what you see. No matter what comes, embrace it. He is working to build His kingdom and wants to use you to do it. When you cannot trace His hand, trust His heart.

Express

You, Lord, are wise. Everything You do is good, even if what comes my way hurts. My discomfort that results in greater glory to You and greater good for Your people is something I want to embrace. Cleanse me of my whining and my short-sightedness. Help me with perspective, Lord. Help me trust. I need Your grace, Jesus, to live this way. Today, I want to abide in You and bear fruit for Your glory. Amen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Serve (4)

Let's take a look at two more things that can help you get connected in serving the Bride.

3. Join the team. 

These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.  Acts 6:6

I’m so glad that many people have decided to serve the Bride…right here at CVC.  Many of you are Christ-followers today or have come back to Christ recently because of the joint efforts of hundreds of people who coordinate their gifts strategically every week at CVC. Many of you are growing through small group involvement because of dozens of hosts, leaders, coaches, and staffers.

This isn’t about volunteering for something. This is about strategically connecting with your Savior and His purposes in this world. This isn’t about being on a list – but on a mission.

Sometimes, people will come to me and say, “Rick, I feel like you’re talking just to me. It’s like you know everything I’m going through.” And deep inside, these people know that this is the result of God’s Spirit at work in their lives. But what happens if during a service I am standing up front and the sound goes off, the lights go down, the screens go black...

People say, “Rick, I’ve learned so much…” You wouldn’t have learned nearly as much if you couldn’t see or if you had to strain to hear or if you had to sit through a service surrounded by screaming babies or if your children hated Sunday school.” So much hangs in the balance of the coordinated, gifted efforts of everyone.

 4. Watch God work.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.  Acts 6:7

We also hear lots of excuses here at CVC.  Excuses that keep people from being available to serve God and others.

Excuse #1: “I’m new. I just started following Jesus.”  We love new followers of Christ around here. Your fresh perspective helps us stay on task.

Excuse #2: “I don’t have time. I’m too busy.” Let’s get real. What you mean is, “I really don’t want to make a commitment.” If you are not strategically using your gift in cooperation with other believers, then you have to realize that this is a spiritual issue. And it leaves you in an awkward place with God. Because you have to pray like this:

Heavenly Father, in my desire to be in control of my life and time I don’t have time to serve You and serve others. But would You please bless me financially and would You please bless my family so I can keep on living for my own agenda? Thank You for giving Your Son and forgiving me my sin. I wish I could help… But as You know, thanks to your blessings in my life, I’m too busy. Amen.

Here’s how I am forced to pray for you: “Lord, would You strip away all the things that keep Your people from serving You?”

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:4 (ESV)

Excuse #3:  "I’m not good enough.” God doesn’t use perfect people. There aren’t any. God uses normal people. We have over 1,000 people in small groups at CVC who are being encouraged and helped to grow. Why? Because normal, ordinary, average people said, “My house isn’t perfect and I’m not perfect and my schedule isn’t perfect. I don’t perfectly know the Bible, but I think I could facilitate a conversation about the Bible.” And guess what? God is blessing.

Excuse #4: “A church this size doesn’t really need my help.” Are you kidding? Spend a day with me… or any of our staff. We can show you hundreds of unmet needs in one single day. There are always more needs to be met than people willing to get off their seats and say, “There’s a niche for me. I must serve Jesus. So, let me loose!”

Why do we want to eliminate your excuses? It’s because we want something for you. God will get glory and you will get a sense of significance. Remember: Nothing compares with the feeling that God is using you.

God knows you have something to give. He gives you opportunity to serve. And He knows that you have something – background, talent, skill, ability, contact, network, interest, hobby – that He will leverage so you can serve Him and others.

Dream with me. What if every Christ-follower in this church leveraged their gifts for the sake of God’s kingdom? What if the teachers got busy teaching? What if the leaders led, the administrators administrated, and the servers served? What if the mercy-givers cared and the encouragers encouraged? What if it was synchronized – a coordinated effort? What if we were all fully engaged in the serving Jesus?

The church would no longer be marginalized. It would be central. Non-believers would say wow! I don’t believe what you believe, but obviously you do. I have never seen so many people working together for one purpose.

That’s how a handful of Jewish Christians turned the world up-side-down. What if it started here? I think it may be a beginning. And remember: Nothing compares with the feeling that God is using you.

One day, you’re going to stand before God and He’s going to ask you, “What did you do with what I gave you – the talents, the abilities, the background, the experiences, the freedom, the education, the family experiences? What did you do with your “NICHE?” “Well, God, I was a little busy with my ambitions and plans. I never got around to serving You.” And God’s going to say, “What were you thinking? I didn’t put you on earth to live for yourself. I put you on the earth to serve Me by serving others.”

Maryanne and I moved 1,000 miles away from what was familiar, away from family, away from friends. Why? We have dedicated our lives so that when you stand before God one day, God will look you in the eyes and say to you, “Good job. Well done. You did what I put you on the earth to do. You worshipped. You fellowshipped. You became like My Son. You served Me the way I shaped you. Well done! Great job. Come on into My heaven and enjoy eternity and all the rewards I’ve planned for you.”

What is God nudging you to do? You have something to offer. Why do I stress serving? Nothing compares with the feeling that God is using you.

There is a guy at a local restaurant reading the newspaper who thinks church is for losers. But who knows? Two years from now his eternal address will be changed forever because of what we do together at CVC.

There’s a single gal trying to feel better about herself who woke up one morning next to a stranger. Somebody’s going to invite her to CVC. And it’s going to change her life forever.

There’s a wife who’s dying to get her family in church and her husband refuses. In a couple of years she is going to walk into this worship center on this campus and think… he would like it here. And he’s going to give her one chance. And his life… and his children’s lives… will be changed.

These are the kinds of stories we hear here over and over. If you will allow God to ignite your passion for Jesus through service, you can be a part of seeing lives changed.

It’s said that one day Napoleon pointed at a map of China and said, “There lies a sleeping giant. If it ever wakes up, it will shake the world.” I’m sure our elders, our staff, our leaders would agree with me as I look out at the CVC family and say, “Here is a sleeping giant. If everybody who came here served here, what kind of enormous, spiritual power would be unleashed here in NE Ohio and in the world?”

Father, I realize that I’ve been shaped to serve You by serving others. Forgive me for the times when I’ve put a “Do not disturb” sign on my heart. You’ve been so good to me. I want to give something back. I want to serve Your freely, gratefully, and faithfully so that when I come to heaven one day, I can hear You say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

Serve (3)

The victory experienced in Acts 6 over a problem, resulted in a new breakthrough in outreach.  Now, even priests, who had been so hostile in Acts 4, are responding to the word of God. The church had been tested.  The church had passed the test by caring for the widows and guarding the word.  And God honored this triumph with new power and fruitfulness.

Let's take a look at four things that will help you get connected in serving the bride.  For now, we will look at the first two:

1. See a need.  

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.  Acts 6:1.

The church was growing and people were coming to Christ and it produced a logistical need.

The Jewish people coming to faith in Christ fell into two groups: 1) Hebrew/native Jews from Palestine.  (These people usually could read and speak Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.) and 2) Hellenistic Jews. These people were from outside Palestine, raised in Hellenistic culture and usually spoke only Greek.  They read the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT.)

Widows, didn’t get an inheritance.  They relied on their husbands or family members. 

As the church saw these people coming to Christ, the Hellenistic Jewish widows were not receiving the same amount of care as the native Jewish widows.  This was probably unintentional, but it produced a need.

2. Find your niche.  

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.
But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.  Acts 6:2-5.

Let’s be clear on this: our goal is not to fill slots.  It really goes much further than that.  God is at work.  Ephesians 4:15 gives us a picture of what God is doing.

We are to grow up and be more like Christ. He is the leader of the church. Christ has put each part of the church in its right place. Each part helps other parts. This is what is needed to keep the whole body together. In this way, the whole body grows strong in love.  Ephesians 4:15b-16 (NLV)

It is time to come out of the stands and get in the game.  God wants you to get in the game.  He doesn’t want you to sit on the sidelines.  Here are four questions that can help you find your ministry – that can help you find out how you are shaped to serve.

God wants a kind of a “one-for-all, all-for-one” deal to happen here.

N             - Nature (How did God make me?  How am I wired?)
 I              - Interests (What am I drawn to?)
C              - Concerns (What problems in the world do I want to solve?)
            - Heart (What makes me mad or makes me cry?)
E              - Experiences (What are my life hurts?)

Have I discovered my niche – my unique giftedness?  You might be thinking, “Me?  Gifted?”  “Yes, you!”

He has given each one of us a special gift according to the generosity of Christ.  Ephesians 4:7 (NLT)

Lots of people think that if some service in the church is very visible or prominent, then it’s the most important.  No, that’s not true.  In fact, the stuff that’s behind the scenes has to happen.  The parts that you don’t see are more important than the parts you do see. 

Some of the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessary.
I Corinthians 12:22 (NLT)

We have no idea of the significance of small acts.  Never belittle the little.  It’s all important.  Real servants perform every service with equal dedication because they know it all matters.  Some do something important that’s well known.  Some do something important that’s not well known.  Don’t mistake anonymous with insignificant… or even unnecessary. 

It all matters.  Even the little stuff.  Why? Because in God’s book, there is no little service.  He said, “Even if you give a cup of cold water in My name, that counts.  It’s giving a cup of cold water to Me.”  In God’s eyes, there is no little service.

Am I playing my role?

We’ve seen that Jesus gives gifted leaders to the church.  Question: Why?

Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.  Ephesians 4:12 (NLT)

This verse exposes the myth that ministry is for professionals.  Ministry is for everyone. The Bible says that church leaders are to empower and train and give away ministry.  I’m so glad people call me Rick and not Rev. Duncan or some other nonsense… like Dr. Duncan.  I’m not even a nurse!  I’m like you.  I’m a patient.

Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Ephesians 4:16 (NLT)

Using our gifts is essential to the success of the body.  Notice what the verse says, “As each part does its own special work…”

I know you are trying to live a good life.  You pray.  You may even read your Bible.  You listen.  You show up to services.  You are reading The Purpose Driven Life.  You may even be in a small group.  You try to be a good example in the market place.

But where are you strategically connected – how are you serving – so that your gifts are supporting the gifts of others and their gifts are supporting yours?  The question is not, “Are you being a good Christian?” but “Are you a functioning body part?”

Friday, January 14, 2011

Serve (2)

Some of you right now are very passionate for Jesus. Your fire is burning bright, and like a giant bonfire you are ablaze for your Lord. Some of you might be just smoldering – your passion for Jesus has lost its flame. Instead of being like a large bonfire, burning bright for God, you are a pile of cold, grey ashes.  No matter how cold and dead we may feel or appear from the outside… deep within, there are coals that are still hot… they just need to be “ignited” again.

It is our desire at CVC to be leading a church that is full of followers of Christ that are “on fire” – people that are constantly growing spiritually and that are passionate about Loving God, Loving one Another, and Loving the world. So, whether you are burning bright as a believer or barely smoldering, we are going to spend time trying to stoke your fire for personal spiritual growth in a series called “IGNITE.” We want your passion for loving God, loving each other and loving the world to “Ignite” beyond what it is right now.

There are many models in the Bible of people who are “on fire” for the Lord, but we’re going to look at some snapshots in the book of Acts for this series. Acts records the birth of the Christian church and gives us excellent examples of people and scenarios to help encourage us to “Ignite” our faith and passion. For now, we’re going to camp around the understanding of how "serving" Ignites our passion for the Lord.  Our goal is to get every adult and teenager who calls CVC their church home to join one of our ministry teams and serve – to do for others what has already been done for you.

We don’t want something from you. We want something for you. Some of you haven’t joined the team yet. It could be that you don’t know that you have a part to play.

I’ve noticed over the years that some people seem shocked when a school or a family or a team or, especially, a church has problems. But it happened in the early church. Take a look at verse 1 of Acts 6…

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Acts 6:1

The first New Testament church was truly amazing. It was full of supernatural power. But it wasn’t perfect. Don’t make the mistake of idealizing the early church. If you’re going say, I want to be a part of a true New Testament Church like the one in Acts, then be prepared for problems. What’s the problem here? Notice that it’s a conflict between the Hellenists (the Greek-speaking Jews) and the Hebrews (the Hebrew- or Aramaic-speaking Jews). The church was failing to take care of the widows of the Greek-speaking Jews.

There was ethnic tension in the Church in Jerusalem. In Acts 4, we see that a system had been developed to take care of the poor. But because of ethnic division, this system wasn’t working for the minority group in the church. And that’s a problem. Not only does it create disunity in the church, it hinders the advance of the gospel.

If you let racism and prejudice continue, then the people outside the church start to think, “Christians are no different from anyone else. And this Christ that they keep talking about – the One who is supposed to create love in their hearts – is a joke!” So, this is a serious issue. The glory of Christ is at stake. We don’t want His glory to be dimmed in the eyes of the world. That would give the church a serious setback. So, this is a serious problem.

O.K. then, we have a problem. Let’s roll up our sleeves and solve it. Look at verse 2…

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Acts 6:2

Maybe someone made a suggestion. “The apostles ought to solve this. Hands on!” But it’s a threat to the church when leaders who are called to the ministry of the word and prayer leave that calling. So, the twelve proposed a better solution.

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. Acts 6:3

We see here some qualifications for servants. Those who serve must demonstrate character and competence. The apostles were looking for gifted servants, not a board. It doesn’t look like theses servants had meetings and made decisions. They served in practical ways so the apostles would be free to focus on the ministry of the word and prayer.

But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. Acts 6:4

Wouldn’t it be good for the apostles to be humble enough to wait on the widows hands on? In fact, James, who was in the church in Jerusalem at that time, wrote in James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction… ”

It would have been a good thing for the apostles to manage the serving of the widows. But it wouldn’t have been the best thing. It would have been a mistake for the growth of the church and for the glory of God. The major threat to a church’s growth is whatever threatens the ministry of the word. In this case it would have been something very good that was threatening the ministry of the word, not something bad.

Question: Why did God give church leaders to the church? To do all the serving – to do all the ministry? No. To equip others to serve in the ministries that God has called them to.

He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.  Ephesians 4:11 (NLT)

What did the church think about this solution to the problem?

And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.  Acts 6:5

The apostles asked the church to pick out seven Greek leaders. How do we know they were Greek? Scholars tell us we can know they were Greeks from their Greek names. The apostles delegated. Remember that in verse 2 we saw that the apostles leaving “the word of God” would be a big mistake? Well, here in verses 6 and 7 we see the effect of not leaving the Word of God.  These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.  Acts 6:6-7 (ESV)

The word of God kept spreading and bearing fruit because the apostles did not make the strategic mistake of leaving their focus on the word to fix a pressing problem.  The widows' were cared for and the ministry of prayer and the word of God were not forsaken. Both were crucial. Either could have undermined the church and ended its amazing growth.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Serve (1)

When I was in my late 20s, I was in love for Christ, but I hadn’t found my niche in serving him. A friend named Bob Tebow encouraged me and challenged me. (Bob is the dad of Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy winner, former Florida Gators QB, and now the Denver Broncos QB.) Bob was the youth pastor at our church in Jax, FL and he said, I think you can preach. He set me up for a Sunday night service. I did it. And even though I was sacred to death, I got good feedback.

About that time, I was reading Ephesians 5 and noticed that the passage about husbands loving their wives also said something about Jesus and the church. “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the Church.” Jesus is the Groom and the church is the Bride.
If you love the Groom you will serve the Bride. And after I spoke that night at our church in FL, I began to see how I was supposed to serve the Bride of Christ. My life has never been the same. It’s been fulfilling, thrilling, challenging. But I have this sense that serving this Bride of Christ is an expression of my love for Jesus, the Groom, the One who died to save me. Preaching that night sparked a chain of events that eventually led us here.

My guess is that many are thinking, “OK. I know I’m supposed to follow Christ, but I still don’t feel quite right. Am I really doing what God made me to do?”

Thursday, January 06, 2011

War for Joy (4)

joy: once you get it, give it

But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.
Isaiah 65:18 (ESV)

We can be agents of joy. How do I give it?

I'm guessing you've waited in line at a store. The sales person had just checked out 25 ticked-off people. They were not happy and neither were  you because you have been standing in line. But can you be an agent of joy?

What if we all focused on random acts of kindness? What if we prayed, “Jesus, since You have given me so much joy, I will follow You to give joy to the broken, the poor, the needy”? See, for the joy of it, Jesus came and lived among the weak, the weary, the least. He’s supplied all our needs. When we were dead, He gave us life. When we were in despair, He gave us joy. How could we not give it away so freely?

Be agents of joy, spend less, give more. Your need for joy has been met in Christ. That frees you up to meet the tangible needs of others. It is more than just cutting a check.

When we help people our problems seem smaller. And we get more joy.

Get God. Come close. Stay filled.

When God remembers us

1/6/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

But God dremembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.  Genesis 8:1

Observe

The ESV Study Bible says, "This marks the turning point in the flood story. When the Bible says that God “remembers” someone or his covenant with someone, it indicates that he is about to take action for that person's welfare (cf. 9:15; 19:29; 30:22; Ex. 2:24; 32:13; Ps. 25:6–7; 74:2)."

"I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh" (Genesis 9:15).

"When God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived" (Genesis 19:29).

"Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb" (Genesis 30:22).

"And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob" (Exodus 2:24).

"Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever'" (Exodus 32:13).

"Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!" (Psalm 25:6-7).

"Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old,
which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage! Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt" (Psalm 74:2).

What I am led to do is to ask God to remember me, to remember my family, to remember my church, to remember all our missionaries and church planters, to remember NE Ohio.  

This is an encouragement to us. In His wrath, he does remember mercy.

Value

Express

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

War for Joy (3)


how we war to take back our joy: we get God.

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a story that makes this point.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Matthew 13:44 (ESV)

Colossians 2 says that in Jesus are hidden all the treasures. He is the treasure. So, you do whatever you have to do to get that treasure – to get Jesus.

This man sold everything he had, and, notice, he did it with joy. “In his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The treasure is so valuable that losing everything on earth, but getting the treasure, is a happy trade-off. That’s the main point.

We can lose everything with joy if we gain Christ. Don’t miss the word “joy” in this verse: “In his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The loss of all things is not sad if we get God – if we gain Christ.

A pastor tells the story of his sister who lost her husband to cancer earlier in the year. This husband was in his fifties. He had been a faithful follower of Christ. The wife was sitting by his special bed set up for him at home, wiping his forehead in his last hours. She seemed steady and joyful. One visitor became irritated and asked, “How can you be so [joyful] when something so evil is happening? She answered, “My husband [is a sinner who] deserves to go to hell (like you and me). [But] because… Christ [is his treasure], in a few hours, my husband will be with God in heaven. Is that not worth rejoicing about?”

When I get God – when I get Jesus – I get joy! Even if the presents under the tree aren’t piled very high. Jesus gives me what money can’t buy and what death can’t take away. Forgiveness. Hope. Freedom. Purpose. Meaning. Worth. Heaven.

Sometimes, when things are going badly, we can too easily forget what all we have in Jesus. And sometimes, when things are going well and the presents are piled high under the tree, we can too easily forget that we have only one sure, immovable, dependable source of joy: Jesus.

May our decorations, gifts, and festivities—or lack of them—never block our view of our treasure in Jesus, but always point us to Him. Get God and get joy. Jesus is your joy. He is not the means to the end. He is the end and the means. You gotta connect the dots from Jesus to joy. It’s why we are told:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Philippians 4:4 (ESV)

Notice the phrase “in the Lord.” We rejoice “in the Lord.”

Don’t fake it. Whether you have lost someone you love and you are going to be alone for the very first time this Christmas or whether you are going to be alone for the 45th time because you haven’t yet found the man or the woman of your dreams, you can still be joyful in Jesus. God is saying, “Christ has come so you can war for more joy. Get God.”

how we war to take back our joy: we come close.

Some of us have Jesus as our treasure. We got God. But we are still like that ranting George Bailey. What’s wrong? We are far from the God we got!

In Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16:11b (ESV)

It’s when you are in His presence that you experience His joy. If the devil can’t keep you from God, he will try to keep you far from God. Are you close or are you far… right now, today?

You say, “What’s the big deal about being close to God? How will that increase my joy?” Think about it. The character – the nature – of a person you hang out with will impact you, will “rub off” on you. Hang around a miserable person and you will be more miserable. Misery loves company, right? Hang around a joyful person and you will be more joyful.

Now, maybe you’ve never thought about this before, but Jesus is the most joyous Person in the universe. You may have come out of a religious background that has taught you that God is ticked, that He’s always just waiting to zap us with lightning bolts. God does hate sin because it hurts people and he loves people. That’s why the Bible says that He’s angry with the wicked every day.

But I want you to see something in Hebrews that maybe you’ve not noticed before. It describes an anointing that God the Father has given to Jesus, God the Son.

God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness beyond Your companions.
Hebrews 1:9 (ESV)

“The oil of gladness beyond Your companions.” I looked this phrase up in a few other versions. God has…

… made You happier than any of Your friends (CEV).
… [poured] out the oil of joy on You more than on anyone else (NLT).

… poured out happiness on You, more than on those who are with You (WE).

Jesus is the most joyous Person in the universe. As Isaiah 53 says, He looks at what He has done to save His people and glorify His Father and He is satisfied.

Why wouldn’t we want to hang around the most joyous Person in the universe? He’s inviting you to come close. Read your Bible. Pray. Worship. Serve. Let His joy be contagious. Catch it.

Take worship. What if you came closer to God through worship? You will get more joy.

C.S. Lewis once wrote about the relationship between joy and praise – between joy and worship.

"I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise...

The world rings with praise-lovers praising their [partners], readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game-praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.

I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: "Isn't she lovely? Wasn't it glorious? Don't you think that magnificent?"

We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment."

Maybe you are reading this and you’ve been excited in the past about a family gathering over the holidays. But every year, someone misbehaves and it becomes a source of great pain. If your time with your family is awful, can you still find joy? It can if you come close to Jesus. God is saying, “Christ has come so you can war for more joy. Come close.” See, joy is not about your family, but it’s to be shared with your family.

How we war to take back our joy: we stay filled.

What is in you?

Be filled with the Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18b (ESV)

What does it mean when we are filled with the Spirit?

The fruit of the Spirit is… joy…
Galatians 5:22 (ESV)

Maybe this year you thought, “I already know that my Christmas this year won’t live up to my own past Christmases.” Or, “I already know that my Christmas this year won’t meet my hopes and dreams for what I thought it would be.” God is saying, “Christ has come so you can war for more joy. Stay filled.”

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