Thursday, March 31, 2011

Yes! Dead bones can live.

Someone said, "Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." I have a friend who has been fighting a great battle for his faith in God.

Recently, he responded to God's question to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 37:4, "Can what is dead and dry live again?"

My friend's words are poetic, powerful, and profound. He graciously is allowing me to share them with you here. As you read, pray for yourself. And pray for my friend, too.

Can these bones live?

***

I believe they can. I was walking in the park today & found a large dry bone. It looked like a human thigh bone but it must have been a deer's bone or at least I hope that it was.

When I had looked at it I thought about Ezekiel 37. I thought about the message given in this chapter. Verse 13 especially.

"Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them."

What a day that will be when the dead will rise. In part with this verse it reminds me of a Johnny Cash song I have been listening to in which one of the lyrics is that "ain't no grave can hold my body down. Meet me Jesus meet me, meet me in the middle of the air."

My hope is that even as a sinner saved by grace, beaten by the world, distracted by the enemy who prowls around like a roaring Lion looking to devour the sheep that we are..... To hold on to faith in the midst of persecution, lonieness, friends that leave us, family that passes away..... Hold onto what He promises, hold onto what one day in Heaven would be like, one second in Heaven would be like. I clasp onto what faith I have left in hopes that no man, no child, no Heretic, no Pagan, no witch, no warlock, no false prophet, no living being on this earth will be able to take that away from me.

You know when sometimes all we can see is darkness around us it is comforting to know that there is a marvelous light that still shines in that place we have access to. I've asked myself what it means to enter into the Holy of Holies, that place where no man can enter.

God humbles all men. He is the Alpha & Omega. He has the power to cut us down or lift us up. I've experienced his Mercy and his dicipline in life. He has spared me from destruction & delivered me on multiple occassions. Man has no power over what God wants to do in one's life. What little control we really have over our lives. Just when we think we can do things out of our own strength, that is when He shows us we can't.

Every time I try to do things out of my own ambition & strength it seems to fail. A friend said to me recently "People would be great if they weren't human." I kind of just laughed at it & realized that it is true. We are human; we do stumble; we are selfish; we are prideful; we are vengeful; we are desperate. I am desperate.

On this note I am going to call it a night... & thank God that I am still alive, thank God the Sun will rise. Thank God there is Hope. Thank God He forgives. Thank God that when the end comes in which it does for all mortal men that on our deathbed we will pray to God... setting our minds to Heaven, a place not often spoken about. A place that is incomprehensible to our minds.

Deep inside we have had glimpses of both realms. Heaven & Hell. We have read about both places in scripture & I can say first hand I have experienced both. My hope lies in Christ who strengthens me.

It is up to us as Brethren, Men of faith, disciples, (The Royal Priesthood) to stand up against what sometimes seems to be a whirling band of Gargoyles hovering above our heads, laughing and mocking us like Vultures awaiting us to become Dry Bones. Dry bones we will be, but He has the power to bring them back to life. Amen.

Father in Heaven, forgive us this day & each day hereafter, for each day is Yours & Yours alone. This is the prayer of Sinner saved by grace.

Believing (3)

We've taken a look at two principles for us to apply to our lives, our families, our church, our community, our world if we want revival

...see what's dead, speak God’s Word.

Let's take a look at one last principle...

...pray God’s Breath. Ezekiel 37:9-10

Ezekiel speaks the Word and that results in rebuilt bodies, but they aren’t breathing. Not yet. We have corpses. But something more is needed. First, Ezekiel is told to speak to the bones themselves. Now, Ezekiel is commanded to do something different, something more.

9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live."  Ezekiel 37:9 (ESV)

See the words “breath” and “winds” in this verse? It’s the Hebrew word “ruach.” And that word is a word that’s used for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.

So, Ezekiel is being commanded to prophesy to the Holy Spirit. Most commentators say that this is reference to prayer. Pray to the Holy Spirit to come and bring His life to these corpses.

Usually, we address God the Father in prayer. We pray to God the Father through God the Son in the power of God the Spirit. But there are exceptions. Here we have an exception. Here we are seeing Ezekiel being commanded to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to come and do what only He can do.

It’s long been said that the Holy Spirit is the most neglected Person of the Trinity. I want to know God the Father more. And I want to know God the Son more. But if we want revival – if we want life in the dead zones – we must see a mighty moving of God the Spirit more and more. Unless the Spirit of God breathes His breath into those who have heard His Word, there will be no revival.

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.  Zechariah 4:6 (ESV)

When the Breath of God – the Holy Spirit – is asked to come, is welcomed, is un-grieved, is unquenched, and sovereignly blows into the dead bones, then God’s people will be revived – will be enabled to live. This is the hope we hold out to a desperate, despairing family, ministry, city.

Nothing impossible when God’s Spirit comes with power. God the Holy Spirit is a specialist in doing what no other can do. Will you pray? Will you ask the Spirit to show up with power in your dead zones? When He comes, amazing things can happen.

Leonard Ravenhill wrote a book  "Why Revival Tarries" . He encouraged prayer on pp. 25-26 of his book.

10 So I prophesied [prayed] as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.  Ezekiel 37:10 (ESV)

Before? No breath. Ezekiel first saw bones. Then he saw corpses with no life. Only one thing makes the dead live. It is the Spirit of God. God does the impossible.

Sometimes, it’s so easy for us to disbelieve. “Times are different.” “Things are too far gone.” “It's too late.” “The good old days are gone forever.” “We're too old and over the hill.” “Our generation is too much into post-modernism and relativism and entertainment.” Revival is impossible. We can get cynical and bitter. We don’t believe.

But look at what God says He will do. Look at His promises. Look at the “I wills.”

12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.
13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.

14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD."
Ezekiel 37:12-14 (ESV)

I will do it. I will do it. I will do it. That’s what God says. We can’t I can't bring revival. But God can. When He shows up what happens?

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  Ezekiel 36:26, 27 (ESV)

Lukewarm and cold hearts will be warmed, on fire. We’re ignited! And you and your family members and your co-workers and your neighbors will be obeying God, not because you have to but because you want to.

Now, look at what happens when the Spirit comes and brings His life.

10b … and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.  Ezekiel 37:10 (ESV)

We engage in spiritual warfare. And we win! We storm the gates of hell and take back ground that the enemy has wrongfully sought to steal from our Commander in chief. We fight for our king Jesus. We become soldiers of the cross. I love the way one pastor put this, “The Spirit of God takes us from the boneyard to the battlefield.” He suits us up in the armor of God. We’re armored.

And notice. This is an exceedingly great army. What we have seen in ones and twos we start to see in 1,000s and 10,000s. We get up on our feet and we become a force for God.

This ought to really encourage us. What’s dead for you? You should live in expectation of revival.

Principle #3 for us to apply to our lives, our families, our church, our community, our world if we want revival:

...pray God’s Breath.

See what’s dead. Speak God’s Word. Pray God’s Breath.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Believing (2)

We saw in Believing (1) that principle #1 for us to apply to our lives, our families, our church, our community, our world if we want revival:

see what’s dead.

Let's look at principle #2 for us to apply to our lives, our families, our church, our community, and our world if we want revival:

speak God’s word.   Ezekiel 37:4-8
God commands Ezekiel to do something that seems futile.

4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.  Ezekiel 37:4 (ESV)

“Talk to dead bones? What’s the point? It’s hopeless, right? OK, Lord. If You say to talk to dead bones, I will. But what should I say?”

The Lord responds, “Don’t just say anything. Don’t just give them good ideas. Give them God ideas. Speak the Word of God.”

See, my words mean nothing. Your words mean nothing. But God’s Word means everything. The word of God changes things. Another prophet, Isaiah, once wrote:

My word… that goes out from My mouth… shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  Isaiah 55:11 (ESV)

The man of God has to speak the Word of God. Any strategy or tactic or program designed to bring life to what is dead that does not include the Word of God as a foundational core element is doomed. We must speak the Word of God to what’s dead!

What is Ezekiel supposed to say?

5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live…"

I love this. It’s not a message of condemnation. It’s not, “You dry bones you… What’s wrong with you? You once had life and now you’re dead? Condemned!”

No. It’s a message of grace and mercy. Justice says, “Collect the bones, pile them high, and burn, baby burn.” Mercy says, “There’s not going to be a fire.” Grace says, “Here’s My hope and here’s My life in the place of your death.” That’s the gospel. Life for death was purchased by Jesus on the cross.

So, Ezekiel gives them the Word of God – words of grace and mercy – to give hope and build faith.

What’s that dead place for you? You need to get into the Book and find specific words from the Word that will give hope and build faith. Write them down. Speak them into the deadness. Talk about how the Lord can transform dead things to life. Tell yourself and others that the Lord can bring them back to life again.

Why do this?

6b … and you shall know that I am the LORD."

Speak the Word of God so that everyone will know that Ezekiel is a great preacher and did a good job? No. “You shall know that I am the Lord.” It’s the glory of the Lord that is at stake here. We don’t want people to say, “Wow. Look at CVC.” It’s not about filling a church or transforming a life or a family or even a city. God will never bring revival if we want one for the wrong reason. It’s not about your parenting, your family, your ministry.

We cry out, “For Your great name’s sake, Lord, do something.” It's about God and His glory.

God says, “Prophesy to the bones.” Ezekiel could have said, "What good is preaching to these people?" What will Ezekiel do? He obeys.

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.  Ezekiel 37:5-8 (ESV)

When Ezekiel spoke the Word of God, something happened. God was working. A noise. A shaking. Bones coming together. Whenever the Word is spoken obediently and accurately, things change.

Sometimes, we get discouraged with the progress being made in our lives, homes, churches, communities. We think, “People are not responding.” But that betrays a lack of trust in God and his Word. Notice the step-by-step, methodical workings of God. Bone to bone. Sinews. Flesh. Skin. Often there is a gradual working of God to bring renewal and revival.

You speak the Word of God. Then, believe that He’s working step-by-step in your son’s life, in your marriage, in your ministry, in our city.

Revival is not magical. It’s a series of progressive spiritual movements one step at a time until it pleases God to bring the bones back to life. Be encouraged by small advances, by every little rustling of the bones. Even if they still seem to be dead, believe that God is at work through His Word.

Speak the Word accurately. Speak the Word systematically. Speak the Word faithfully. Speak the Word hopefully. O that God would give us the leaders today who speak His Word into the dead zones.

What is your plan to get grace-and-mercy-filled promises from this Book so that you can speak them into dead zones?

Principle #2 for us to apply to our lives, our families, our church, our community, our world if we want revival:

...speak God’s Word.

3/30/2011 Wednesday 6:00 AM Prayer notes

We are here to worship You. You are holy, righteous, pure. You are mighty and strong. We do not understand the immenseness of Your rule. And You are also loving, kind, and merciful. We approach Your throne. What a privilege. Reveal to us who we are and how You want us to live this day. Help us understand what You want us to understand.

We ask that we would seek for more time with You. David was not at the right place at the right time when he fell into sin with Bathsheba. He was letting others do the battle. May we be at the right place at the right time. Let us do things in Your name. 

May we pause and reflect and see where we are indignant at the sins of others and not at our own sin. May we see the sin in our own lives. May we confess it.

Show us our sins. The ones of omission as well as commission. Help us not to just confess the big sins, but the little sins. Help us to see people as You see people. 

May the story of David and Bathsheba cause us to have a holy fear of sinning. We, too, could fall. We are all 2-3 bad decisions away from bring reproach to Your name and devastation to our lives and family. As Charles Wesley prayed in song, "I want a principe within of watchful, godly fear. a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near. Teach me at first glance to feel of pride and wrong desire, to catch the wandering of my will and quench the kindling fire."

Forgive us for judging the sin of others and not seeing our own sin. We yearn for revival in Cleveland. We judge public officials and their sin. It is clear in scripture, in II Chronicles 7:14, that it's Your people who need confession and healing. 

It's so easy to see someone else's even minor sin. Help us in our thoughts. Help us to hear Your voice. Your sheep hear Your voice. We want to see the broken areas in our lives. Help us to see with Your eyes. We desperately need You in our lives. 

Show us how to challenge and admonish. We don't want to fall into the ditch of judgementalism or in the ditch of "looking the other way." Help us to know how, like Nathan, to lovingly confront, admonish, warn, encourage. 

Help our people see themselves as Your missionaries at work and in our communities. May Your Holy Spirit come and change NE Ohio. Teach us Your ways. 

Our culture is so polluted. In our culture, our young people get such a wrong message from TV and media. May we teach the younger generation Your ways and Your design for sex and marriage. We can and should be a part of teaching our kids to counteract the culture they are in. They need to see Your ways, O Lord. 

Break our hearts over what's broken. Break our hearts over what breaks Yours. May tears fall and knees bend. 

Speak through us. Make us beacons of light that will lead people out of darkness. Help a student just diagnosed with cancer to see that there is more than just this world. May those with terminal illnesses seek You and Your healing. 

We lift up all the mothers and fathers who have children who are lost. We lift up all those who ave children struggling with alcoholism. Bless and heal these families. 

May the children's ministry, youth ministry, and YA ministry at CVC feel Your hand of blessing. May the generations coming after us be more faithful and more fruitful and more righteous than we have been. Increase our holiness, Lord. May we see a revival. May businesses flourish. May foreclosures stop. May churches grow. May marriages be restored. May people be saved. And do all this in a way that grows Your fame. Hallowed by Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, O Lord. 

Give us divine appointments with people. May we not miss opportunities. We open ourselves up to You, God. 

Bless our work around the world. Bless Your work in El Salvador, in Ghana, in Ukraine. Help Helen in Ukraine with her pregnancy. Save her husband, Zoltan. Help us with our church planting: Church of the Hills, Mosaic, The Village Chapel, Renew, Alive, Fredricktown, Rockpoint, Forest City, Gateway West.

As we go into our respective places, may we never forget You are with us. Transformation comes from a change of mind and change of heart and then a change of actions. So, help us plant a seed that will change a thought in the lives if those we live and work with.

Only You can change a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Change us to be people who will make it through the refining fire into eternity. We need You. Without You, we have absolutely nothing. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Believing (1)

A year or so ago, God really got my attention. He led me to think about my life and compare my passion and my risk-taking now with my passion and risk-taking when Maryanne and I came to NE Ohio 24 years ago.

All was not well. I saw some dead zones in my life. Some things that were vibrant had grown dry like my passion for people far from God, my passion for promise-claiming prayer, my passion for discipling my family, and my passion to reach NE Ohio and the world for Christ. My vitality was just not what it was.

So, I thought of what Revelation says to do when you’ve lost something you once had: Do the deeds you did at first. When I first came to NE Ohio, I engaged in early morning prayer once a week. That had not been my practice recently. So, I began to engage in 6:00 Am prayer on Wednesdays in our prayer room. And now, I am seeing more life, more zeal, more passion.

Question: What’s a dead zone for you? Where was there once life and passion and vitality and there is now dryness? Is it in your heart, your home, your career, your ministry, your church? ... Would you, right now, close your eyes and ask God to show you a dead zone in your life?

We are going to be taking a look at Ezekiel 37 for the next few weeks.

Ezekiel was a spiritual leader, a prophet. A prophet is someone who speaks God’s Word to God’s people. Ezekiel lived about 600 years before the time of Christ.

When the nation of Israel was in its infancy, the people had been told by God, “If you obey, you’ll be blessed. If you disobey and follow after other gods, you’ll be cursed. You’ll lose your land. You’ll be carried away to serve another country.”

And that’s what happened. Because they followed after other gods, the Lord lifted His hand of protection and the nation was overrun by the Babylonians. The Jews were forced from their home and taken to the land we now know as Iraq. They were a people who were oppressed. Their situation looked hopeless.

That’s when Ezekiel spoke up. He said, “A restoration – a revival – is coming. God promises his people a new heart and a new spirit and a return to the land” (Ezekiel 36:26–27). But that left some questions hanging. “Why would God restore us?” “How will we be revived?” “Can a renewal really happen?”

Ezekiel Chapter 37 answers these questions.

1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.
2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.
3 And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know."
4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.
5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD."
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live."
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.  Ezekiel 37:1-10 (ESV)

There is so much here in this chapter. I just want to mention three simple principles for us to apply to our lives, our families, our church, our community, our world if we want revival.  Today, the first is this...

1. see what’s dead. vv. 1-2

We’ll never be revived unless we are willing to survey the scene and see what’s dead.

1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.

The landscape is filled with bones. Bleached, brittle bones. This is a picture of death. At one point, there was life. The bones were once covered with muscles and tendons and skin. These once were vibrant people. But now? Dead.

And things have been dead for awhile. You used to know life. Now, what remains are the bones.

Again, let me ask you, “What is dead in your life?”

• Your walk with Christ once was lively, but now it’s not.
• Your marriage had passion and romance, but now it’s gone.
• You once had fun as a family, but now the conversations and activities are forced.
• Your job once was a calling, but now you’re going through the motions.
• You once cared about reaching a lost world for Jesus, but it’s been a long, long time since you really cared and really prayed about anybody on the other side of the world.
• You once couldn’t wait to get up and read your Bible and pray, but now that’s a distant memory.

What is dead in your life? See what’s dead. God wants us to look carefully at what’s dead.

2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.
Ezekiel 37:1-2 (ESV)

I take this to mean that there may be very many dead things in our lives and families and businesses and ministries and nation and world. And I take this to mean that things are desperate and have been for a long time. These bones are dry. Very dry.

Bones do nothing. They just lay there. Doomed. They don’t reproduce.

Is that our church? I pray not. Are we a “come-as-you-are-and-leave-as-you-were” church? I pray not. I see signs of life here. But not enough.

Is NE Ohio a valley of dry bones? I pray not, but I’m afraid so. Is America a valley of dry bones? I pray not, but I think so. We are in dry days. We are just as dry as Israel was.

And as we survey the scene, we can sink into hopelessness like Israel did if we are not careful. Skip down to verse 11.

11 Then he said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.'  Ezekiel 37:11 (ESV)

Open graves. Carcasses exposed. Bones bleached under a hot dessert sun. Can you think of a more unlikely place to look for life? It looked absolutely impossible that they could ever be restored. This is a humanly impossible situation. They live in despair that nothing is going to change. They are dried up, hopeless, and cut off.

And maybe that’s the way you feel about the dead zones in your life. You feel cut off from hope. But that’s when a question comes. And it’s the Lord who asks the question.

3 And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know."
Ezekiel 37:3 (ESV)

God is asking, “Do you believe? Do you believe that what’s dead can come back to life? Can your family be saved? Can that rebellious daughter who was once so sweet ever be sweet again? Can that husband and wife who once looked admiringly into each other’s eyes ever fall in love again? Can you return to that first kind of love you had for Christ? Can that young man or woman who felt called into ministry or missions feel a renewed calling? Can God send a revival to CVC or to NE Ohio?

Principle #1 for us to apply to our lives, our families, our church, our community, our world if we want revival:

...see what’s dead.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Preaching the gospel to yourself everyday

TULLIAN TCHIVIDJIAN, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, tells us "What To Preach To Yourself Everyday."

Because we are so naturally prone to look at ourselves and our performance more than we do to Christ and his performance, we need constant reminders of the gospel.

If we’re supposed to preach the gospel to ourselves everyday—what’s the actual content of that message? What is it exactly that I need to keep reminding myself of?

If God has saved you—if he’s given you the faith to believe, and you’re now a Christian; if you’ve transferred trust from your own accomplishments and abilities to Christ’s accomplishment on behalf of sinners—then here’s the good news. In the phraseology of Colossians 1, it’s simply this: You’ve already been qualified, you’ve already been delivered, you’ve already been transferred, you’ve already been redeemed, you’ve already been forgiven.

It’s been widely accepted that in the original language of Greek, Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence. Paul becomes so overwhelmed by the sheer greatness and immensity and size and sweetness of God’s amazing grace, that he doesn’t even take a breath. He writes in a state of controlled ecstasy. And at the heart of his elation is the idea of “union with Christ.” We have been blessed, he writes, “in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (1:3): we’ve been chosen (v. 4), graced (v. 6), redeemed (v. 7), reconciled (v. 10), destined (v. 11), and sealed forever (v. 13). The everything we need and long for, Paul says, we already possess if we are in Christ. He has already sweepingly secured all that our hearts deeply crave.

We no longer need to rely, therefore, on the position, the prosperity, the promotions, the preeminence, the power, the praise, the passing pleasures, or the popularity that we’ve so desperately pursued for so long.

Day by day, what we must do practically can be experienced only as we come to a deeper understanding of what we are positionally—a deeper understanding of what’s already ours in Christ.

I used to think that growing as a Christian meant I had to somehow go out and obtain the qualities and attitudes I was lacking. To really mature, I needed to find a way to get more joy, more patience, more faithfulness, and so on.

Then I came to the shattering realization that this isn’t what the Bible teaches, and it isn’t the gospel. What the Bible teaches is that we mature as we come to a greater realization of what we already have in Christ. The gospel, in fact, transforms us precisely because it’s not itself a message about our internal transformation, but Christ’s external substitution. We desperately need an Advocate, Mediator, and Friend. But what we need most is a Substitute. Someone who has done for us and secured for us what we could never do and secure for ourselves.

The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of me and my performance and more of Jesus and his performance for me. Ironically, when we focus mostly on our need to get better we actually get worse. We become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with my effort over God’s effort for me makes me increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective.

You could state it this way: Sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to the reality of our justification–receiving Christ’s words, “It is finished” into new and deeper parts of our being every day, into our rebellious regions of unbelief.  It’s going back to the certainty of our objectively secured pardon in Christ and hitting the refresh button a thousand times a day. Or, as Martin Luther so aptly put it in his Lectures on Romans, “To progress is always to begin again.” Real spiritual progress,  in other words, requires a daily going backwards.

In her book Because He Loves Me, Elyse Fitzpatrick writes about how important remembrance is in Christian growth:

One reason we don’t grow in ordinary, grateful obedience as we should is that we’ve got amnesia; we’ve forgotten that we are cleansed from our sins. In other words, ongoing failure in sanctification (the slow process of change into Christlikeness) is the direct result of failing to remember God’s love for us in the gospel. If we lack the comfort and assurance that his love and cleansing are meant to supply, our failures will handcuff us to yesterday’s sins, and we won’t have faith or courage to fight against them, or the love for God that’s meant to empower this war. If we fail to remember our justification, redemption, and reconciliation, we’ll struggle in our sanctification.

Christian growth, in other words, does not happen first by behaving better, but believing better–believing in bigger, deeper, brighter ways what Christ has already secured for sinners.

Preach that to yourself everyday and you’ll increasingly experience the scandalous freedom that Jesus paid so dearly to secure for you.

Motivation for evangelism

I need encouragement and motivation for evangelism. I am guessing you do, too.

Last week, I read Rob Bell's book "Love Wins." I have to say that I was not personally moved by Bell's words to have a greater sense of urgency to help people come know Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Then I read the words of an American pastor of another era. Check out this quote from Edward Payson:

I can not, must not, however, conclude, with out addressing a word, my pro­fessing friends, to you.  And I hope you will bear with me, if, in view of such a subject as this, I address you with obvious severity.

We all deserve damnation, a thousand times, for our stupid insensibility to the situation of those, who are perishing around us.  We profess to believe the word of God; but can you prove that you believe it?  Do you act, as if you believed it?  Do you believe that many of your acquaintances, your chil­dren, are in danger of the fate, which has been so vividly described in the bible?

Dare you go to God, and say, Lord, I believe thy word, I believe that all your warnings and threats will be fulfilled… and then, as if I believed nothing… turn away, and coolly pursue my worldly business, with out uttering one agonizing cry for those, who are exposed to this danger?  Dare you go and claim relationship to Christ, and profess to have his Spirit, and then make no effort, or only a few faint efforts, to save those, for whom he shed not tears only, but blood?

Here is what I have to say to you…  go, inconsistent, cruel, hard-hearted professors; go, slumber over the ruin of immortal souls; wrap your self up in your selfish temporal interests, and say, I have no time to spare for res­cuing others from everlasting burnings.  Go, wear out your life in acquiring property for your children, and leave their souls to perish in the fire that never shall be quenched.  Go, adorn their bodies, and banish from their minds if possible… the knowledge of such a wicked disease… .and leave in their chest that immortal worm, which will gnaw them forever.  And when God asks, where is thy child? you brother? you friend? Reply, with the irreverant Cain, I know not, I care not: am I his keeper?

Say, then, Christian, do you believe that Christ died to save you from the misery, which I have so imperfectly  described?  Dost thou believe, that if he had not loved you and given himself for you, the gnawing worm and the unquenchable fire would have been your portion for ever? 

O then, where is thy gratitude, thy love?

It is expressed in the act of becoming a witness of Jesus Christ to those who are melting into hell around you.

Before reading your Bible...

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:2

from John Piper...

I.O.U.S is one prayer that helps us to humble ourselves before reading God's Word. You might consider printing it out and sticking it in your Bible.

Here's a way to pray:

Incline my heart to You, not to money or fame or power (Psalm 119:36),

Open  my eyes to see wonderful things in Your Word (Psalm 119:18),

Unite my heart in the fear of God rather than let them be fragmented over a dozen concerns (Psalm 86:11),

Satisfy me with Your steadfast love (Psalm 90:14).

Friday, March 25, 2011

Restored (5)

God doesn’t wait until we are all cleaned up to love us. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners.

Jesus knew that Peter was going to fail. But Jesus still says, “Peter, you are not disqualified. You are restored. You don't have to go back to your old life.”

What happened to Peter after this?

Later in the Bible, we see Peter boldly proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God. He’s willing to go to jail for his faith. He does go to jail. He has so much spiritual authority that people just wanted to be touched by his shadow because they believed that touching his shadow could heal them. Peter goes on to write scripture – to lead the church. Jesus offered Peter new opportunity. He forgave Him and sent Him on to new responsibility.

Jesus can take your old life and give you a new one. Perhaps, you need a fresh start. Jesus is here to make you a new creation, old things will pass away, all things become new. He is pursuing you. He is out to restore you.

Everybody fails Jesus. We are going to let Jesus down. We shouldn’t. And most of the time, we don’t want to. But we will fail Him.

We have to stop beating ourselves up. We have to stop punishing ourselves for the sins we commit that are no surprise to Jesus.

We hear, "You need to be holy before God can use you." Who is as holy as he ought to be? Yes, we must pursue holiness. It’s a sign that you really know Christ. But never forget that apart from Christ, we are not holy. In Christ, we’ve been rescued, redeemed, and restored. Jesus lived and died and rose again. In spite of our sin, He died to forgive us. In spite of our sin, His righteousness is ours. It’s all about His performance for us, not our performance for Him. Grace. And mercy.

A few weeks back, Pastor Chad said, “We don’t just need grace and mercy to get in, we need it to get by.” We mess up again and again and again and Jesus gives more grace and more mercy again and again and again.

And that doesn’t lead you to more sin. It gives you more power to be holy.

It’s what Peter later wrote…

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  II Peter 3:18 (ESV)

The grace and mercy of Jesus are way more radical, way more liberating, and way more counterintuitive than most of us realize.

We have to learn to press deeper into the life-changing, scandalous nature of grace and mercy.Some of us believe that the more guilt we feel the more holy we are. So, we confess our sins but we feel likes it’s never enough. No matter what you unveil, you’re always looking for you to uncover something deeper, darker, and more embarrassing than what you’ve already confessed.

That’s a “Do more, try harder” approach. But that robs us of joy and freedom. When we focus our need to get better we actually get worse. We become self-absorbed. Preoccupation with my guilt makes me increasingly self-centered.

Following Jesus is not first about our getting better. It’s first about Jesus. We are justified–and sanctified–by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone.

I need daily reminders of the grace and mercy that I already have in Christ. This is not about my work for Jesus, but it’s about Jesus’ work for me. Holiness happens, not by looking at ourselves but by looking at Jesus.

Our growth, in other words, does not happen first by behaving better, but believing better. Jesus lived, died, and rose again for people like me--people who could never, and will never, get their act together.

It's the work of Jesus that gets us in and keeps us in.

“Quit making your goodness the issue! This isn’t about you and me; it’s about Jesus." Steve Brown

Jesus says to me, “By My grace and mercy, I’ve rescued you. I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more. By My grace and mercy, I’ve redeemed you. You will be with me in paradise. By My grace and mercy, I’ve restored you. Do you love Me? Go feed My sheep.”

Jesus still believes in me.

On that day I was busted when my dad walked through those doors at Vanderbilt I wondered what he would say. The deacons had backed out of the room into the hall.

"Hi guys. We were just in the area for a church meeting and wanted to stop by and congratulate you." We talked about the game. And then he left.

He never said a word about the partying. He didn't have to. I had disappointed him. I could see it in his eyes. I made it awkward for him with his church leaders. And I had hurt my testimony for Christ. I felt guilt and shame. How could I be a light for Christ on that team again? I didn't get a lecture. What I got was grace and mercy from my dad. And in the days ahead, I could feel grace and mercy flowing to me from Jesus.

It was grace and mercy that caused me to renew my surrender to Jesus. Not only did Jesus not condemn me, but later that summer, I was asked to go on a mission trip to Central America. And it was there on that trip that my roommate told me about this beautiful girl from Alabama, meaning Maryanne, that he wanted to introduce me to. That next season I started a Bible study on my team at Vandy. Jesus used me to lead some of the guys to Christ.

I got grace and mercy when I should have received justice. And it changed everything.

How can God's Word be used to bring life to my deadness?

3/24/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD." Ezekiel 37:4

Observe

After Ezekiel surveys the scene and sees the very many, very dry dead bones in the valley, the Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy. Ezekiel is to preach over the bones. He is to preach to the bones.

And what is he to prophesy, to preach, to say? He is to speak the word of the Lord. 

And there are specific things that he is to say. In the next verses, he is going to be told what to say to the bones. 

This tells us that after we identify what is dead and dry, we need to hear from God about what He wants us to say. There are specific words to be preached over and to the bones. 

The only way to hear what God wants said is to spend regular, unhurried time with Him in listening prayer with an open Bible in front of you, on your lap.

Then we will have to have the faith and the courage to speak the word of truth to what is dead. 

Value

To see God bring life to deadness, I must hear the word of the Lord and then speak the word of the Lord.

Express

Lord, it is Your word that has power. You spoke and the world came into existence. Your word is truth. Your word accomplishes that for which You send it. I praise You for Your light and truth. Please cleanse me from treating Your word so lightly at times. Please cleanse me from depending on my words, my ideas, my wisdom. Thank You that the blood of Jesus was shed for my cleansing. May Your grace and mercy be transforming for me so that I actually do depend on Your word more and more. So, wherever there is deadness, give to me the grace to bring specific words from Your word into that valley of dryness and deadness. Today, I yield to You. You are my King. I am Your servant. Use me to bring life to the dead zones in my heart, in my home, in my city and world. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Restored (4)

In His grace and mercy, Jesus restores us. He gives to us.

...He deals with us. John 21:15-17

Jesus still loves Peter. He is still his friend. From Christ’s point of view, the relationship is intact but the fellowship was damaged. It was strained. And the damage to that fellowship had to be dealt with. Jesus graciously and mercifully confronts Peter.

Now, watch how Jesus transforms Peter’s 3 denials into 3 declarations of devotion.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"

More than what? More than the boats and the nets? More than fishing? No. I think this is a reference to Peter’s boast when he said that even if every other disciple ran he never would. Jesus is saying, “Simon, I remember all of that stuff you said – how you would always stick by me – how you would never fall away – how you would die for Me. Do you still think you love me more than all of these other guys?”

He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you."
16 He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you."
17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."

Jesus is dealing with Peter! Three times Peter denied Jesus. Three times Peter is asked, “Do you love Me?” Those three questions reminded Peter of his three failures. No wonder he was grieved. Jesus confronts Peter’s failures head on.

Jesus meets Peter where he is. 3 denials? Jesus gives him 3 opportunities to express his devotion, his love.

It’s the love of Christ that motivates our service. And nothing causes us to love Christ more than knowing that we have been given infinite, eternal, and unchangeable grace and mercy.

Jesus is restoring Peter here. How? Grace and mercy. Peter never forgot it. Later in life, he wrote…

The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  I Peter 5:10 (ESV)

Jesus still believes in me.

In His grace and mercy, Jesus restores us. He deals with us.

...He works through us. John 21:15b, 16b, 17b, 18-19

Some of us think, “Well, Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins. So, I’m thinking that I’m forgiven. That means that God isn't mad at me. But I know He can't use me. Jesus loves to send the ones He restores on a mission.

I skipped over some key commands after the Q and A between Jesus and Peter.

15 He said to him, "Feed my lambs."
16 He said to him, "Tend my sheep."
17 Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.

Just in case Peter wondered, “Can I ever be trusted again to serve Jesus?” Jesus calls Peter to ministry. Peter, the failure. Peter, the coward. Three denials. Three commands. Jesus lets Peter know that he is still valuable to the cause. He is still useful. Peter has a purpose. In fact, Peter would still be a great leader. Jesus says, “I don’t want you to miss this Peter. I have a job for you to do.”

There is work for all of us to do. And if you are a true follower of Jesus, there is no failure in your life past, present, or future that puts you on the shelf permanently.

Jesus is saying, “You don't have to return to the mundane life. Here’s grace and mercy. You can still follow Me. Come. Do something meaningful with your life.”

What are you doing to help people – to serve in the church – to tend the little lambs – to feed the flock? You say, “You don’t know how bad I’ve been. I’m not qualified. I’m too much of a failure.” Not true. Jesus seeks to work through you!

No matter how you have failed, no matter how you have allowed sin to infect your life, Jesus died for all your sinning. He wants to restore His fellowship with you. He’s forgiven you. He’s seeking to restore you and use you in big ways to make a difference in His kingdom.

Peter never forgot to connect the dots from grace to usefulness.

Each of you has received a gift to use to serve others. Be good servants of God's various gifts of grace.  I Peter 4:10 (NCV)

Sometimes, after a failure in our lives, we are tempted to think that we could never stand up to a similar test again. Jesus predicts that Peter will be given the ultimate test – that one day someone will say to Him, “Deny Christ or die.”

18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go."
19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, "Follow me."

Tradition tells us that at the end of his life, Peter was persecuted for being a Christ-follower. He was to be executed for his faith. Execution by crucifixion. And Peter said, “I am not worthy to die like my Lord. If you are going to crucify me, turn me upside down.”

Jesus believed that the next time Peter had the opportunity to deny Christ, he would stand firm.

Jesus is still believing that His people will stand up for Him. And no matter what your past failures, He’s believing that you will stand up for Him, too. Will you? Are you willing to suffer in order to follow Jesus?

Jesus uses ordinary, flawed people. That’s amazing grace. He sends ordinary flawed people, He commissions flawed people.

Jesus still believes in me.

In His grace and mercy, Jesus restores us. He works through us.



Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Can what's dead and dry in you live?

3/23/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Ezekiel 37:3

Observe

Can these bones live? Why would the Lord ask this question? Maybe He's testing Ezekiel's faith. Maybe He's helping Ezekiel to reflect on his own personal powerlessness. 

Can these bones live? Humanly speaking, the answer has to be "no." the bones have no life in themselves. And Ezekiel has no power to make dead things live. 

But, still, can these bones live? Ezekiel's answer is not "no"or "yes." He has too much faith to give a "no." But he doesn't have enough faith to give a resounding "yes." He does what's wise. He defers to God. "Lord, You know." 

And what does God know? He knows that these dry bones can and will live. 

Perhaps the question is designed to stretch Ezekiel's imagination. "Wow. What would it be like if these bones were to live again?"

God's fame will grow. The desert will be cleaned up. All things become new. Lives are changed. God has a new army.

Value

When it comes to seeing if there can be life where there was once just dry bones, see what God sees.

Express

You, Lord, know everything. And since You know Yourself as the infinite, eternal, unchangeable Life-Giver, You know that You can bring life to what's dead. Now, help me to know that, too. Build my faith. Help me dream about what could be. Cleanse me of doubt and fear. Thank You for Your grace and mercy through Jesus that cleanse me from my unbelief. Give me dreams and visions that come straight from Your throne. And let me watch You do more abundantly than I can ask or think. For Your name's sake, Amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Restored (3)

No matter how dark and ugly your past might be, Jesus stands not only ready to rescue you and redeem you, but also to restore you. How does He do it? Let's look at two ideas for now...

He comes for us. John 21:1-7

Jesus comes looking for the ones who need to be restored. He takes the initiative.

1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way.
2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together.
3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Peter and 6 other followers go fishing. Maybe he needs to make some money for his family. Maybe he just wants to get back to something familiar. We don’t know exactly why Peter went fishing. But Peter has gone back to his old job. “I am going back to what I know. My denial has disqualified me from a life of service.” He’s fishing. But he’s not catching.

4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
5 Jesus said to them, "Children, do you have any fish?" They answered him, "No."
6 He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.

Early on when Jesus called Peter to be His follower, the call took place on this same sea. Peter was fishing then. And He couldn’t catch a thing then. Jesus told him to throw his nets into the water again then. There is a miraculous catch then.

Jesus is taking Peter back to where it all began. There’s a miraculous catch.

7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.

It may sound strange to us that Peter put on clothes to swim to shore. But in those days, you wouldn’t want to greet a VIP in your underwear – especially One who has risen from the dead! Peter swims to shore. Why? Jesus shows up unexpectedly! And when you fail Jesus, you can expect Him to still show up – to come for you.

You think He’s done with you – that you’re disqualified. So, you go back to something familiar. You keep returning back to what you know. When you fail God, you go back to where you were before.

And then, there He is. He can come for you in a song, in a verse from the Bible, in a friend’s phone call, in a still, small voice whispering in your soul, in a note, in an email. Like this miraculous catch of fish, something happens that you can’t explain. A blessing surprises you. What is it? It’s Jesus coming for you in spite of your failure. He takes the initiative and comes to you. He wants you. He calls you.

This same Peter wrote two letters in our Bible. I and II Peter. And the mercy that he received from the One who came for him moved him to write…

You are a chosen race… that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light… once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.   I Peter 2:9-10 (ESV)

Because of His mercy, Jesus chooses us, calls us, and comes for us even after we fail. Do you see Him? Do you sense Him? Look for Jesus. When you sense His presence, stop what you are doing, jump out of your boat, and swim to Him? Don’t just go back to what you know. Go forward to Jesus. He has come for you.

There is a husband out there, a dad. And you have not lived up to your vows you took on your wedding day. You know it. Your wife knows it. Jesus knows it. Or you have not been the dad you promised yourself you would be when you brought your babies home from the hospital. You’ve been absent. You are filled with shame and guilt and unworthiness. You think it’s all over. But Jesus is here. He has come for you. For you. Even you. He wants you to be thinking, “Jesus still believes in me.”

In His grace and mercy, Jesus restores us. He comes for us...

He gives to us. John 21:8-14

I love this. Jesus specializes in serving the ones who need to be restored.

8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread.

Jesus has started a fire. He’s already caught some fish. He’s prepared a meal. He’s serving it. Notice that it’s a “charcoal fire.” When Peter denied Jesus, he was warming Himself by a charcoal fire. On the night of his greatest failure, Peter warmed himself in the darkness by a charcoal fire. Now he finds himself warmed by a charcoal fire at sunrise with Jesus. Jesus is taking Peter back to his failure, not to shame him, but to restore him. Jesus meets him back at square one.

10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught."
11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.
12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord.
13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.
14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

If Peter thought “Jesus has written me off and doesn’t really want a relationship with me anymore” then this meal blew up that theory. Peter had denied Jesus when it counted. Yet the risen Jesus cooks breakfast for Peter. He invites him to sit down and eat.

The truth that Jesus gives took root in Peter’s heart. Later, he would write…

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  I Peter 5:5 (ESV)

No matter what your failures, Jesus still longs to be your friend. The Savior who died for you still loves you. And He still wants you to sit down with Him, talk with Him, be with Him, and receive from Him.

Jesus still believes in me.

In His grace and mercy, Jesus restores us. He gives to us.

Show me what's dead

3/22/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. Ezekiel 37:2

Observe

The Lord led Ezekiel around and among the dry bones. The idea seems to be that it is a good thing to survey the scene. God wants us to really, truly look at the dryness. Look at the deadness. 

Ezekiel saw "very many" bones on the surface of the valley. The idea seems to be that that things are desperate. There is not just a little dryness. There is a lot of dryness. Many things/people/situations are dead. 

The bones were "very dry." The idea seems to be that life and hope are far, far gone. Things/people/situations have been dead for a long, long time.

It does us no good to pretend there is life and hope when there is none. When things are dead, we must say so. That is when we will become desperate for God's intervention. 

We must know a brokenness over the fact that there was once life, but now there is death. Brokenness precedes blessedness. But we cannot short-circuit the brokenness. 

So, let us ask the Lord to show us the deadness and the dryness in our hearts, our homes, our churches, our cities, our nation, our world.

Value

I must spend time - regular, unhurried time - asking the Lord to show me what's dead.

Express

O Lord God, You are the One who can see the truth, the reality, of any and every life, family, ministry, city, nation, and world. All things are open and laid bare before You. Forgive me for not having the courage and the integrity to ask You often to show me my current reality. Show me what's dead and dry. And give to me a brokenness over those things/situations/people. By Your grace, cause me to repent. And then create in me a hunger for new life, for renewal, for revival. And do this so that You will gain much, much glory in, through, with my life, my family, and my ministry. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ingredients for fruitful ministry

3/21/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.
Ezekiel 37:1

Observe

What every spiritual leader should want are these three Graces from God.

   God's hand on me to bless.
   God's Spirit in me to fill.
   God's place for me to serve. (He brought me out and set me down.)

Is God's hand upon me to bless? In Ezra's life, the good hand of God was upon him. Why? Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord (investigation), to practice it (application), to teach it to others in Israel (explanation) (Ezra7:9-10). This is the way to experience the hand of God's blessing in your life and ministry.

Is God's Spirit within me in control? In Ephesians we learn to not get drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Spirit. In Galatians we learn not to walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. We are not to grieve the Spirit. We are not to quench the Spirit. 

Am I serving in the place God has sovereignly designed for me? Success in ministry is often tied to being a good fit for the ministry context. 

All these things were true for Ezekiel and God was able to use him in a profound way.

Value

Seek God - His hand for blessing, His Spirit for filling, and His Place for serving.

Express - 

Lord, You are absolutely the only Source for successful ministry. I seek repentance for all the times when I have sought to minister apart from Your hand of blessing, apart from Your Spirit filling me, and apart from a specific assignment from You. Give me grace to seek You, Lord, for all this. And as I do so, may your bring life to the dead bones in me and around me. in Jesus' name, Amen.

Making Ideas Happen

I am reading a book now about how to put your creative ideas into action/productivity.

It's "Making Ideas Happen" by Scott Belsky. He's researched many creative types who get things done and asked, "Why are some creative types productive and some are not?"

The book talks about Thomas Kincaid and mentions that most people who really know art say that he's really not all that creative. But he's very productive. Why? Organization.

The formula Belsky suggests we consider is:

Creativity x organization = productivity.

So, Kincaid might be (creativity) 2 x (organization) 50 = (productivity) 100

While another artist could be (creativity) 100 x (organization) 0 = (productivity) 0

It's an interesting concept. We have to be able to put creative intentions into meaningful actions. Or else the creativity will not impact as wide an audience as it could.

May God maximize your creativity and organization for an ever-increasing impact for His glory and the good of His people.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Restored (2)

Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus.
Jesus had 12 close followers.  3 of those 12 were even closer. Peter was one of those 3. For 3 years, Peter was up close and personal with Jesus. He was a fisherman when Jesus called Peter to follow Him. He said, “Follow Me and I will make you a fisher of men.”

  • He miraculously walked on water one time at the invitation of Jesus (Matthew 14:28).
  • He once saw Jesus transfigured, glowing in all His glory.
  • He actually heard the voice of God (Mark 9:2-7).
  • Peter is the guy who walked into a house with Jesus and watched Him raise a little girl from the dead (Luke 8:49-56).
  • Peter was the first follower of Jesus to proclaim Him as the Christ and Jesus said, “Your name is Peter (which means ‘rock’) and I will build My church upon this rock.”
  • Jesus even changed his name from Simon to Peter in effect saying, “You are no longer who you were. I have a purpose for you. Your life will be so radically different, I’m giving you a new name (Matthew 16).
  • This is the guy who promised in front of his friends, "Lord Jesus, others may abandon You, but I will lay down my life for You."
Jesus and Peter were tight. He was one of Jesus’ best friends, a constant companion. If anybody should stand strong spiritually, it's this guy.

On the night Jesus was arrested and tried, Peter had every opportunity to stand strong for his Lord. What happened?

Peter crumbles. Is it fear of the people, caving in to pressure? Is it fear that he will be arrested?

This had to be his worst moment ever. And his denial broke his heart. He had violated the trust of the One he said he loved the most.  Peter promised Jesus that he would never forsake Him, but when the going got tough, he caved. He broke his promise. He failed.  He wimped out. 

Now, Peter is living with a deep sense of shame and regret. He’s thinking, “I am flawed. I’m unusable. I’ve ruined everything.” He’s thinking, “I am no longer qualified to serve Jesus.”

He’s not alone. It’s happened to you, too.

3 days after Jesus died, He rose from the dead. And He appeared to Peter and other followers.

This morning, we’re going to take a look at a conversation between Peter and the risen Jesus. When Peter and Jesus talk one-on-one, what’s Jesus going to say?  “How could you? After all the time and training I've invested in you? We're done.”

In the next post, we'll learn some lessons about how Jesus treats us when we let Him down. 

In His grace and mercy, Jesus restores.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Restored (1)

When I was college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, we won the SEC championship. A party for our team took place in the suite of rooms where I lived. The next day, I was sitting with some teammates in our living room. Things looked bad and smelled worse. it was pretty obvious that we weren't in a prayer meeting the night before and Sunday School wasn't happening that morning.

You have to understand that I was active as a leader on campus in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Articles had been written in the paper about my faith. I was raised in the church. My dad was a pastor. But I had drifted. Baseball was more important to me than serving Jesus. And now I was sitting in a room with evidence of my spiritual compromise all around me.

We heard a knock on the door. We thought it was someone from school coming by to congratulate us. In walked my dad, the pastor, with about 5 deacons from the church right behind him. The deacons' eyes got big as they surveyed all the evidence of the party. And they just backed right out into the hallway.

I was busted. The deacons and my teammates wondered, "What would my dad say?" I wondered, too. I felt guilt and shame and regret.

How do you feel when you get busted?  Think about a time when you have failed Jesus. Now, you’re not really sure that you want to come too close to Jesus. What will He say to you? Is He going to “chew you out”? Is He going to put you on a shelf never to be used again? What will He do? How will He be?

For some of you, it was all you could do to even come to church this weekend. You had such a bad week or month that you really didn’t even want to show up today. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m just not worthy” or “What I did was so bad” or “I let the Lord down big time this time.” You’re thinking that maybe Jesus would forgive you, but that He couldn’t really like you or want you or do anything through you.

So, you didn’t really want to come to church this weekend. But there you were. Somehow, God got you there.

And maybe it’s because He wanted you to hear a story about a guy who failed God worse than you did. But Jesus still believed in Him. And He wants you to know He still believes in you. And because of this, God can use you to accomplish more in the future than you have in the past.

Because of the grace and mercy of Jesus, With Jesus, you can get a fresh start. You can be restored.

Justice – getting what you deserve.
Mercy – not getting what you deserve.
Grace – getting what you do not deserve.

In the past few weeks, we talked about how grace and mercy rescue us. We looked at John 8 where a woman caught in adultery was presented to Jesus. Jesus says to the woman "I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more." Grace and mercy rescue.

Last week, Chad taught us about how grace and mercy redeem. We looked at how a lifelong criminal with no apparent good deeds merit was hung on a cross next to Jesus. And without ever getting baptized or even attending church, Jesus says to the man, “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” Grace and mercy redeem.

Now, we’re going to look at how grace and mercy restore. And we’re going to look at a conversation between Jesus and a man named Peter.



Monday, March 14, 2011

Pray for Japan

Here is a plea from an International Mission Board missionary who has been in Japam
N for over 30 years. CVC supports the International Mission Board through our Cooperative Program giving.

***


FIRST PERSON: What can you do for Japan? Pray.
3/13/2011
By Carlton Walker

TOKYO — It is hard to believe that more than 48 hours have now passed since Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. In some ways it seems like the longest couple of days in our lives.

The government has upgraded the earthquake from 8.9 to 9.0 magnitude. News reports estimate the number of deaths and those who are missing could surpass 10,000.

Thousands are still trying to contact family, friends and loved ones caught in the sweep of the tsunami wave. They say that the “not knowing” is the hardest.

We hear that there will be rolling blackouts several hours at a time here in Tokyo to conserve power nationwide. Given that bottled water, toilet paper and batteries are scarce to non-existent in most places here, one can only imagine what things are like in the harder hit areas in the northeast.

Many gasoline stations are closed. If you are fortunate enough to get gas, it is a limited amount with lines stretching for blocks.

Watching news reports on television is overwhelming. It is not just one event … one place … one story. It is a vast collage of human suffering. Yet, even the pain you see on television is understated because the Japanese are stoic in nature.

We’ve learned many things about this disaster:

- This is the biggest quake in all of Japan’s recorded history.

- Geophysicists have reported that the force of the quake was so strong that it moved the island of Honshu 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) to the east.

- There have been 164 aftershocks at the time of this writing (Sunday). Many people are having a hard time distinguishing between actual aftershocks and feeling like things are moving when they really aren’t.

Japan’s self-defense forces have been among the first on the scene. The problem is that there are so many scenes. A nationwide call to medical personnel, rescue workers, policemen and truck drivers to converge on the most affected areas has been issued. Rescue teams worldwide are either on the way or poised to come.

One colleague’s comment sums up how most of us living in Japan feel: “My heart is racing with emotions and thoughts that come. I want to fly to the hard-hit areas and minister. I just want to be their hands and feet for whatever they need right now.”

She concluded with the wisest advice of all — “What do you do in times like these but pray and ask for His guidance?”

All of us around the world can be there in prayer. Although it doesn’t make sense in human terms, perhaps the best way we can help right now is to pray, because the lives of others both physically and spiritually depend on that.

Join my colleagues and me in praying for Japan.

- IMB missionary Richard Oue asks that people continue to pray for survivors and families of victims; for the opportunities we have to minister in the name of Jesus, and for God to use this awesome disaster to soften the spiritually hard ground of Japan and open multitudes of hearts to Him. 

- Christian workers and local Christians are meeting to plan how to implement relief efforts. Pray that they will know how best to serve the Japanese during this time of crisis. IMB missionary Gary Fujino asks Southern Baptists to pray that these relief efforts will minister to the hearts of those in need.

- I ask that you pray that those who hurt will receive aid and comfort. Pray that all will recognize there is only one Rock who will never be shaken — and His name is Jesus.

War for joy

Blogger Mark Altrogge tells us how to war for joy. I liked this so much, I am just going tonshare the post with no edits.

***

God promises his children joy, and many times he fills us with it without our asking.  But at other times, especially when we go through trials, we must fight for it.  Much of the battle lies in fighting to believe God’s word.

For some the battle for joy is much harder than others.  Some must deal with their own tendencies to being downcast. Depression and hard, long, sad afflictions can make Jesus’ joy seem beyond reach.  Yet God’s word says it’s his intent to give us his joy both in this life and especially in the next.  So here are some ways to pursue joy in Christ:

1.    Praise God for the cross: for his mercy and grace in saving you.

2.    Thank him for all his spiritual benefits: forgiveness, adoption, the Word, spiritual gifts, the church.

3.    Ask Jesus to fill you with his own joy (JN 15:11).

4.    Thank him for his steadfast love that never ceases.

5.    Thank God for your temporal blessings: your spouse, kids, health, sight, food, strength, home, computer and coffee.

6.    Praise God for his attributes: his greatness, sovereignty, goodness, love, wisdom and power.

7.    Praise Jesus for being a compassionate high priest who intercedes for you.

8.    Thank him for all the specific good he is producing in you through trials: patience, perseverance, and faith.

9.    Thank God for his past faithfulness.

10.    Give to the kingdom.

11.    Give to the poor.

12.    Serve others (PHP 1:25).

13.    Don’t dwell on whether you are joyful or not.  Try to forget yourself.

14.    Thank the Lord that he is making you like Christ.

15.    Seek God’s presence in prayer (PS 16.11; PS 43.4).

16.    Read the Word – it produces joy (PS 119.111; JE 15:16).

17.    Thank God that he will never turn away from doing good to you (JE 32:40).

18.    Ask others to pray for God to fill you with joy.

19.    Ask the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of joy in you.

20.    Confess your sins to God and ask him to restore the joy of your salvation (PS 51:12).

21.    Memorize God’s promises to give you joy and ask him to fulfill them (JN 16:24; RO 14:17; 15:13; PS 4:7; 30:5; 68:3; 97:11; 126:6).

22.    Consider others who have it much worse than you.

23.    Pray for others who are suffering.

24.    Contemplate the joys of heaven and the world to come.

25.    Read John Piper’s book, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Who can we help?

Pray with me that God will open a door for us to be involved with reaching an unreached people group that will include providing the Word of God for pele who do not yet have it.

Since 1934, Wycliffe Bible Translators has helped millions of people receive God's Word in the language they understand best. Wycliffe personnel have helped translate the New Testament into 740 languages, and they are currently working with language groups representing 93 countries.

Yet the task is still far from finished.

More than 2,300 language groups are still without God's Word—and without a translation program. Before Vision 2025, statistics indicated the last of these groups would not even see a program started until the year 2150.

In 1999, however, Wycliffe challenged the worldwide Church to drastically change that date.

Since then, Wycliffe and its partner organizations have embraced Vision 2025:

The vision to see a Bible translation program in progress in every language still needing one by the year 2025.

Vision 2025 means that hundreds of language groups will see God’s Word translated into their own language decades earlier. Millions more people will be given the opportunity to read the Bible during their lifetime.

What if CVC could help make that happen? Where God might be pointing us in the future? Please pray!

Reaching the unreached

Wow. Watch the passion with which this people group in Indonesia receive the New Testament for the first time. O that we might have such a hunger for the Word of God. Would the Lord allow CVC to be a part of getting the word like this to a yet unreached people group?

The Kimyal People Receive the New Testament from UFM Worldwide on Vimeo.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Care through prayer

Thanks to all (especially the Groups and Care Teams) who made the Community Matters meetings this past weekend a great success!

We were so blessed to have Joe Abraham with us at CVC as he taught us and modeled prayer for us.

I made a few notes from Joe's teaching for myself to encourage my own heart. Maybe they might encourage you, too.

Remember, this is a year for CVCers to be passionate about praying for personal and corporate revival. 

Let's pray!

***

Joe Abraham notes at the Caring through Prayer Seminar

***

Care motivates prayer and prayer is solidified through care.

God will throw a match on our work and see if it's wood, hay, and stubble. And prayer makes the difference. 

Pray is one of the two main fundamentals of the Christian faith.

Prayer will go where you're not.

When it comes to prayer we say to God, "I'd love to but I don't have time. I have to do Your work!" And God says, "You just don't get it." 

Prayer is not a microwave, but a slow-cooker.

Spend time with God. Joe's people have told him, "We don't need you we need God. And the only way we are going to get God through you is if you spend time with God in prayer."

Prayer followed by care opens up the arms of Jesus.

For those couples who hold hands and pray together, the divorce rate goes down to 1 in 1,000.

God will honor the prayer of a blameless saint ( not a perfect saint).

If I cherish sin in my heart, the Lord will not listen. It's one thing to pray. It's another thing to pray to a Lord who is listening. 

Pray "God" prayers to get past Satan's mess. Help people to process prayer through God not Satan.

See God's perspective by reflecting on Psalm 73. 

Take time to listen. Prayer is a two way street. Quietness is necessary. Hear back from God.

Pray specific and pray with expectation.

Teach your people to journal.

Community group leaders should pray, "Show me the people who are hungry, who could be the next small group leaders."

Pray desperately.

We serve a God, according toPsalm 2, who knows what is going on and rules over all.

Look for "is" in the Psalms. Pray that back to God. God "is"our refuge and strength. Just stop and praise him for who He is. This will enlarge your heart. 

Write down your requests. 

Notice the Bible says "when" you fast. He's presuming we do.

Pray with an enlarged heart. 

As long as there are exams, there will be prayer in school. People can pray anywhere. Teach your kids to pray in school and for their friends.

Remember that you are saved by grace not by grades. Prayer brings us back to grace. He cares.

Preach the gospel to yourself everyday. This will take a nasty attitude and make you rejoice.

Prayer doesn't work. God works through our prayers. 

Internalize the teaching on prayer yourself. The tyranny of the urgent wipes out prayer more than anything else. If you don't apply it personally, you won't help others grow in prayer.

Pray always gets answered. Sometimes, it's no, wait, or a different answer that we want. What we want is yes. One day, we will thank God for non-yes answers to prayer.

Sent from my iPad

Transition planning

Just a thought. 

The Bible has a lot to say about Moses mentoring Joshua. The passing of the baton was careful and intentional. I want to study this more as we move forward with our transition at CVC.

After reading today in Joshua 24 and peeking ahead to Judges, I was struck with the idea that we hear nothing of Joshua passing the baton to someone else. 

And we know that chaos then came during the time of the Judges. Could that chaos have been avoided? We'll never know. But we do know that Joshua evidently did not pass the baton to a younger leader.

Why did Joshua evidently not pass the baton? Why no transition plan? Why wouldn't Joshua follow the example of his leader, Moses? This seems to be an oversight in his leadership. 

(Moses died at 120. Joshua at 110. Maybe Joshua thought he had more time!)

At any rate, I just wanted to plant the seed that when a leader approaches 60 or so, he or she will need to ask, "Who will be my successor?" When a leader hits 55, it will probably be time for him or her to start working intentionally toward a transition.

For now, it's not too early for any leader to pray and plan toward that end. There is no success without a successor.

I am excited to be on a team and in a family of faith with Chad Allen, our new co-teaching pastor at CVC. God has done, is doing, and is going to do great things through him as he prepares to be the future senior pastor of CVC.

Sent from my iPad

Saturday, March 05, 2011

A proud papa

Ethan Duncan. Will he play someday?

Leaders and a key to effective communication

I got "fired up" at a recent board meeting and encouraged the leader of a ministry to be much more clear in his communication style.

I followed that up with an email.

***

If my passion at the board meeting came across as over the top, I apologize. But I want to encourage you to continue to grow in your communication style. Think "story, simple, and succinct." Sometimes your passion for the vision takes you to a high level, future-oriented, theoretical communication style that actually can cause the listener's hearts and heads to disengage. 

So what should we do?

Tell us a story of just one life that has been changed through your ministry. Then, if your listener is a donor, after thanking your listener for helping to make that changed life possible, tell him or her simply what are one or two ways that he or she can continue to help. And try do do all this in less that five minutes. "Story. Simple. Succinct."

If you have to add "strategy" to the mix, then talk about multiplication using Navigators' founder Dawson Trotman's lingo regarding discipleship. "We are raising up leaders that are raising up leaders. 2 becomes 4. 4 becomes 8. 8 becomes 16. And so on. In 10 years we think we will have ___ leaders. This is a sustainable model."

***

Now, I need to put this to practice myself!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Thoughts from A God-Sized Vision: Revival stories that stretch and stir

I have just finished A God-Sized Vision Collin Hanson and John Woodbridge and have a few quotes and reflections on what I have read.

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We have become so content with the ordinary that we do not seek God for the extraordinary. We have seen small things. We need to ask God for big things. We must seek God in such a way that we are moved to attempt great things for God and expect great things from God. We need to ask God to give us a glimpse of the possibilities in the world from a more lofty perspective. We have been satisfied with getting small things from God and have lost our taste for seeking big things from Him. We must embrace a God-sized vision for our church and our world. Few of us are dreaming too big. We have embraced a vision that fits our past experience.
Before revival, the church must rediscover the great grandeur of the central truths of the Bible: justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; the authority and sufficiency of scripture; the substitutionary atonement of Jesus on the cross by His shed blood; the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; the intervention of God in this world; the Lordship of Jesus Christ; the need for dependency on the work of the Spirit in, through, with, and for us; and the reality of heaven, hell and of judgment to come.
We dare not be satisfied with incremental increases and small recoveries. Our present, massive problems demand a God-sized, God-authored intervention. No book, no church, no ministry, no conference, no strategy of human origin will stem the tide. We need a massive invasion of the Almighty from on high to set things straight.
We need pursue the God who can do more in a moment than all our organizing can do in a lifetime or in 10,000 lifetimes.
"We spend our lies in busy activism, instead of pausing to realize the possibilities, instead of realizing our own failure, and realize that we are not attracting anyone to Christ, and that they probably see nothing in us that makes them desiring to come to him." Martin Lloyd-Jones
We must be deeply grieved by a world that does not glorify God by obeying His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
We must be stirred to offer prayers that move God. We need nothing else and nothing less than the power of God to prevail in our lives to defeat our own complacency.
Stories of revivals in history are used by God to awaken our hearts to the possibility of God's granting revival today. We see the shortcomings and failures of our churches. But who knows the workers and names of the great victories? Let's recount the acts of God in past revivals and seek Him for greater activity in the future.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Ditch It (4)

A few weeks ago, I heard about a hurting, abused, guilt-burdened woman who lives in the Ukraine. Her name is Helen.

Helen is a member of a people group called the Roma people, what we might call the Gypsy people. She lives in a village in Western Ukraine called Gat that is filled with 2 room clay and wooden huts. About 500 other Roma people live there. They are considered an unreached people group in Ukraine.

Helen is married. Her husband, Zoltan, travels to find work in Kiev or Moscow and is gone several months at a time. When he’s home, he drinks and he’s abusive. Helen has been beaten many, many times. They have 3 children, two of them are teens. The money is tight. The pressure is high. Helen works a little as a cleaning lady for some local offices. It’s a hard life.

A few months ago, when Zoltan returned from working in the big city, Helen became pregnant. And Zoltan pushed her to have an abortion. Helen’s abused. Helen’s scared. Helen’s future is bleak. Helen feels guilty because of a past abortion. What’s going to happen to her? Who’s going to help her?

Remember the couple I mentioned in an earlier "Ditch It" post? Emery and Clara Lazslo? Who came here to NE Ohio from Hungary? Emery was working in Cleveland as a research chemical engineer. 5 kids. 5 grandkids. Living the American dream.

But they knew that the Kingdom dream was bigger and better than the American dream. So, they began to pursue the kingdom dream. They applied to the International Mission Board and just a little over two years ago were appointed as missionaries to the Ukraine. They took a 60% cut in pay and left behind a house, their kids and their grandkids.

Now, they are missionaries in Western Ukraine. They ditched the American dream for the kingdom dream.

Has it been worth it?

Emery and Clara are focused on a people group called the Roma people, what we might call the Gypsy people.

Clara decided that the best way to reach some of these Roma women in a little town called Gat was to start a women’s group and to teach knitting. She supplied the yarn and the lessons and the women and girls started showing up, “Come and see the American missionary from Hungary!”

You guessed it. A lady in that village named Helen started attending the knitting sessions and then the little church that the Lazslos had started. Emery and Clara found out that Helen’s heart was wounded, not only from the abuse, but from that abortion she’d had in the past. The guilt was great. She needed forgiveness. And when she heard about Jesus and His forgiveness, she decided to follow Jesus. Jesus set her free.

But remember, she’s pregnant. And Zoltan, her husband, is pushing Helen to have an abortion. But now, she’s following Jesus. And because Jesus has changed her life, she knows that Jesus wants her to keep the baby and she has the courage to do it. She said, “I told my husband, ‘You can do with me whatever you want. You can beat me and you can kill me, but you cannot grab God from my heart.’” She is so changed – so full of life and hope – that one day at church, Helen asked, “I have a desire to fall on my knees before God and pray. May I?”

That little congregation that Emery and Clara started in Gat has been praying for peace in her home. God is answering those prayers. Emery and Clara are here now in Cleveland on furlough. A few weeks ago they called a friend and asked about Helen. The friend there in the Ukraine said, “Helen is OK. Her husband has calmed down and they are waiting for the baby.”

In June, Emery and Clara are headed back to the Ukraine. Helen’s baby is due this spring. Would you hold your arms like you’re holding a baby? I want you to imagine that you are looking into the eyes of Helen’s new born baby. And I want you to think, “This baby is alive today because Emery and Clara ditched the American Dream for the Kingdom Dream and they reached this baby’s mother for Christ.”

If you are giving at CVC, then you helped to make that changed life happen. See, our church gives a portion of our mission dollars to the International Mission Board, the sending agency for Emery and Clara, our missionaries. We are playing our part in financially supporting transformed lives in the Ukraine.

I can’t wait to see a picture of Helen in church with that baby. I can’t wait to see Clara holding that baby. And I just believe that one day we will hear that Zoltan has come to Christ. I want to be in on what God is doing in the Ukraine. I don't want to be on the sidelines.

Look at that crowd. Look at the face in the middle. That’s Helen. She will be in heaven because missionaries went from this church to that village and when the Lazslos go back, Clara will hold Helen’s baby in her arms.

Your giving changes things. That’s why I am so proud of you – so proud to be a part of this church.

Today, you are faced with two big questions.

The first is simple. Am I going to believe Jesus? Am I going to embrace Jesus even though He said radical things?

The second question is more challenging. Am I going to obey Jesus? I hope your biggest fear is that you will hear Jesus’ words and walk away, content to settle for less than radical obedience to Him.

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