Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter 2011

Way to go CVC!

By God's grace and for God's glory, you did it. This past Easter Sunday we celebrated our Lord Jesus with 2,944 people in attendance over 4 services. It was a great weekend, including Good Friday (1,127 in attendance).

I've been celebrating a bunch of different things this week.

1. Decisions for Christ. We had 45 people check "B" indicating that they were believing in Christ for the first time on Easter Sunday 2011. That's 45 people moving from "the empty life" to "the abundant life." Pray for effective follow-up. We want to see fruit that remains.

2. Worship Services. I want to thank you for how many of you adjusted your schedule to attend the 8:00 and 12:30 services to make room for others. We needed those adjustments. The 9:30 and 11:00 hours had people in the 104/106 overflow rooms. And thanks for doing the extra things like welcoming newcomers.

3. Invites. A bunch of you brought friends. I hope you were blessed in sharing the weekend with your friends and family.

4. Volunteers. I can't believe how many of you I saw serving in multiple services as well as on both Friday and Sunday. By God's grace, you make it happen.

5. Changed lives stories. Walt's story is a story that reflects well on so many ministries at CVC. His story was filmed and edited beautifully by our arts team. Thelma's story also touched hearts. Join me in praying for that doctor who looked for fear in her eyes and could find none because she had "hope for the future" in her resurrected Savior. Thanks for your support of CVC to help make stories like these two stories possible.

Thank you all so much. I hope you know how much I love and appreciate each of you. I'd love to hear your story from the weekend if you have something exciting to share.

Were starting a new series called "Forgive" this weekend. We'll talk about lessons in Genesis from the life of Joseph. Everyone you know (including you!) has hurts. Don't hesitate to invite your friend to return with you.

See you soon.

Rejoicing in our risen Savior,

Rick 

Walt Broadbent's story shared Easter 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A prayer for those struggling with suicidal depression

Here is a scripture based prayer that I have encouraged the depressed to pray.

Dear Jesus, I walk in the valley of darkness. I suffer from depression. I feel unloved and rejected. I feel lost. At times, I want out. Lord, I believe that Your love is a transforming love. Jesus have mercy on me. Out of the depths, I cry to You. 

Lord, even though I feel deprived of hope, I still praise You for the wonder of my being. You have formed me in my mother's womb and watched over me to this moment. I am precious in Your eyes and You love me. On the Cross, You shed your blood for me. You have engraved my name in the palm of Your hand. For all this I give You thanks and praise. 

May You give new life to me and to all those who suffer as I do. Take each one of us and hug us close to Your heart. Through Your wounds may I be healed.

Through the prophet, Joel, You promise to restore the years that the locusts have eaten. I ask you to restore me.

Save me, Jesus. Be merciful to me, a sinner fearfully and wonderfully made.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Receiving (3)

For the Spirit to come in difference-making power, He must be un-resisted, un-grieved…

... He must be un-quenched.

When I think of grieving the Spirit, I often think of sins of commission. I did what He didn’t want me to do. When I think of quenching the Spirit, I often think of sins of omission. I didn’t do what He wanted me to do.

Do not quench the Spirit.  I Thessalonians 5:19 (ESV)

When you see “quench” here, think fire. One of the images for the Holy Spirit is fire. The Holy Spirit is a fire dwelling in each believer.

What does the Holy Spirit want to do in me that I can quench? Very simply stated, He wants to move you along a path to ever increasing holiness.

What does holiness mean? Separate. He wants to separate you further and further from sin and the further you get away from sin the closer you get to God.

The Holy Spirit wants to produce in you...

...a decreasing frequency of sin,
...a decreasing power of temptation,
...a decreasing preoccupation with the world, and
...a decreasing victimization to the flesh.

And He wants to produce in you an increasing of your longings for God.

That's the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s a movement toward holiness. That is His work. Don’t quench His work

The Bible says that God’s Spirit speaks in a still, small voice. “Your ears will hear a word behind you, this is the way, walk in it whenever you turn to the right or the left. "You're going to have a voice saying, “Do this. Go there. Say that.” It’s not going to be an audible voice, but a strong voice. As you're in the Word and in prayer, the Spirit of God is whispering to your conscience, whispering to your mind, “Do this, go this way, this is what I want.” He guides you. He stirs your heart. But that voice, the work of the Spirit in your heart can be quenched. Don’t quench the Spirit.

Some of us have been quenching and quenching and quenching the Spirit a lot lately. Maybe you’ve been led to make that call, write that note, read your Bible, go to serve in that ministry, stop and help that person. But you’ve said “no” or “not now.” And you wonder why something is missing in your life. You’ve been quenching the Holy Spirit.

The missing something is the Someone missing. And so we pray, “Spirit, forgive me for quenching You. Come from the four winds, O breath of God, and breathe on me. Breath on the deadness in my life, my family, my church, my career, my city, these slain, that we may live."

For the Spirit to come in difference-making power, He must be un-resisted, un-grieved, and un-quenched.

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.

When the Breath of God comes with power, then He will be doing things that we know are not of us and that cannot be faked or accounted for by human reason.

We don’t want to live in a way that makes sense from the world’s perspective, in a way that we can manage or manipulate. God is calling on us to live in a way that cannot be explained apart from the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit.

That taxi driver in Chicago said, “I see no difference between Christians and anyone else.” May no one be able to say that about you, about me.

Has anyone ever been amazed by your peace? Your love? Your joy? Have they ever envied your patience? When was the last time you prayed that God would so fill you with the Spirit that people would know the change could only be empowered by the Spirit?

We have to be bothered if it’s true that God living in us has not made much of a noticeable difference.

God has sent His Spirit to do more than just “help out” a little bit. The Holy Spirit seeks to completely transform us so that people will know that something supernatural has taken place, that life change has happened in us that is just as miraculous as dead bones being brought to life by the breath of God.

Here is a prayer you can pray...

O God, Give us time after time in our lives where we have been empowered by You in a way that no one could convince us that it was a coincidence. We don’t want to simply talk about the Holy Spirit. We want to experience His life in us in profound ways. We want to be that mighty army. We want to be an unstoppable force. Amy the gates of hell not prevail against us. May we not only be indwelt by the Spirit, but may we be empowered by the Spirit. May Your Spirit work so mightily in us that it would make for an amazing biographies – biographies that speak of lives so supernatural that no one even consider giving us the glory, biographies that display the power of the Spirit and lifts up the name of Jesus to the glory of God the Father. So, come from the four winds, O breath of God, and breathe on me. Breath on the deadness in my life, my family, my church, my career, my city, these slain, that we may live.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Finding resources for your ministry

4/26/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

Then rose up the heads of the fathers' houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem. And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered.
Ezra 1:5-6

Observe

It is God who stirs up the spirits of leaders to rise up and to rebuild the house of the Lord (Ezra 1:5). It is God who stirs up the generosity of "all who are about them" to aid the rebuilders with gold, goods, costly wares, and offerings (Ezra 1:6).

One version says, "All their neighbors assisted by giving" (NLT). Another says, "Their neighbors rallied behind them enthusiastically" (Msg).

This is encouragement for those who are seeking to build or rebuild the work of the Lord in an area. We can trust God to stir up the hearts of the builders/rebuilders AND the hearts of the givers. 

So, once again, we find ourselves dependent on the Lord, the only One who can stir hearts. Therefore, let us pray to Him to move in the hearts of both the builders and the givers. 

Value

Our trust for the work of the Lord is in the Lord of the work.

Express

Lord, You are the Great heart-stirrer. Only when You work in the hearts of Your people will they give up what's comfortable to go do Your work or to give to support Your work. Forgive me for worrying about Your provision. You have always provided the laborers and the funding for them. Now, I cry out to You for more laborers for CVC and for all NE Ohio. And I cry out to You for more givers for CVC and for all NE Ohio. Help us, Lord. I want to be Your rebuilder and Your giver. It's Your work, Lord. please do it. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Receiving (2)

Think. How do you feel when you see a “No Trespassing” sign? Not wanted! Stay out! Stay away! How do you feel when you see a welcome sign, a welcome mat. Wanted! Come on in! Make yourself at home!

Well, the Holy Spirit is looking for a “welcome Holy Spirit” sign on your heart, in your life.

For the Spirit to come in (difference-making) power...

... He must be un-resisted.

Now this is what un-believers, outsiders do when it comes to the work of Spirit.

In Acts 7, one of Jesus’ followers named Stephen is on trial for his life. The religious leaders in Jerusalem wanted to stop him from pointing people to Jesus. In his own defense, Stephen was sharing the history of how God had worked through the Jewish people to prepare them for the coming of Jesus. He recognized that his prosecutors had been resisting the work of God’s Spirit.

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Acts 7:51 (ESV)

He’s saying, “The Holy Spirit has been working to convince you that Jesus is the Messiah and that you should be His follower. But you are resisting the work of the Holy Spirit. And that is what is keeping you from following Jesus.”

People are still resisting the work of the Holy Spirit today.

The Holy Spirit convicts (John 16:8-11).
The Holy Spirit awakens (Ephesians 2:1-10).
The Holy Spirit gives life (John 3:6).

Maybe you’ve known for awhile now that there’s something missing in your life. And lately, there’s been a tug on your heart and you’ve been thinking, “This is true. This is right. I should give my heart to Jesus” but you’ve been resisting. Maybe someone has given you a booklet or a book about Jesus or a Bible and you’ve been drawn to open it and read it but you’ve been resisting. Maybe someone gave you a CD or a link on the web and you’ve been drawn to check it out but you’ve been resisting. Could it be that you aren’t really resisting your friend. You’re really resisting the work of the Holy Spirit to bring your to repentance and faith in Jesus.

The missing something is the Someone missing. And so we pray, “Forgive me for resisting You. Come from the four winds, O breath of God, and breathe on me. Breath on the deadness in my life, my family, my church, my career, my city, these slain, that we may live."

For the Spirit to come in difference-making power, He must be un-resisted...

... He must be un-grieved.

These next two points are what believers, what insiders do when it comes to the work of the Spirit.

For the believer, the Holy Spirit reveals (I Corinthians 2:10), indwells, fills, empowers, guides, and teaches. And often we grieve Him as He does His work in our lives.

The Spirit is a Person. Only a person can have the emotion of grief.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30 (ESV)

Think about what makes you sad. Parents know what this is. Parents often say, “I love you, but that makes me sad.” Imagine the Spirit of God saying the same thing to you.

In the Bible, one of the images of the Holy Spirit is a dove. It doesn’t take much to scare a dove away. Now, we can never fully and finally scare away the Holy Spirit. We are sealed with the Spirit of God. But His influence and power can be limited in our lives. His influence and power can “fly away” when we grieve the Spirit.

In Ephesians 4, we see that we can grieve the Spirit by lying (4:25), by being sinfully angry (4:26-27), by stealing (4:28), by using unwholesome words (4:29), by being bitter and unforgiving (4:32), and by being sexually immoral (5:3-5).

Some of us have been grieving and grieving and grieving the Spirit a lot lately. Maybe you’ve been watching those flickering images on the internet that feed your lust. Maybe you won’t forgive the hurt. Maybe you are using cutting, sarcastic words. Maybe you’ve been displaying outbursts of anger. And you wonder what something is missing in your life? You’ve been grieving the Holy Spirit of God.

The missing something is the Someone missing. And so we pray, “Spirit, forgive me for grieving You. Come from the four winds, O breath of God, and breathe on me. Breath on the deadness in my life, my family, my church, my career, my city, these slain, that we may live."

For the Spirit to come in difference-making power, He must be un-resisted, un-grieved…

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Receiving (1)

Something’s missing in our lives. . .

I was in Chicago with our three sons last week. We went to the Christ/City conference with Tim Keller. Lecrae and friends followed it up with a rap concert. While we were there, we wanted to get some great deep dish Chicago pizza, so we took a taxi. We tried to engage the drivers in spiritual conversation. One driver was about 25 yrs. old and from India.

I asked him, “What do you think about Christians?” He said, “I don’t see any difference between Christians and Muslims and Hindus.”  (I think part of what He was trying to say was that he didn’t see anyone of any faith any differently than anyone else. He wanted us to know that he was tolerant.)

But when he said, “I don’t see any difference between Christians and Muslims and Hindus,” I said, “That makes me sad.”  He asked, “Why does that make you sad?” And I said, “I’m sad because Christians have the Spirit of God living in them. And He has come to live in us to produce us love, joy, peace, and power in our lives. We ought to be living noticeably different lives. And if you can’t tell the difference between us and everybody else, it’s like the Spirit of God isn’t even living in us. And that make me sad.”

If you claim to know Christ, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit lives in you, right? Would somebody think about you, “I don’t see any difference between him or her and the guy down the street or in the next office who doesn’t even claim to know Christ”?

“If it’s true that the Spirit of God dwells in us and that our bodies are the Holy Spirit’s temple, then shouldn’t there be a huge difference between the person who has the Spirit of God living inside of him or her and the person who does not? When people outside the church see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, our sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them?” Francis Chan, The Forgotten God, p. 32.

I am tired of living with something missing in my life. I am tired of living in a way that looks exactly like people who do not have the Spirit of God living in them. I don’t want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want there to be something unexplainable about my life, something undeniable about my life, something supernatural about my life. For that to happen, I need to receive more of what’s missing in my life, more of what God has to offer me through the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.

The last few weeks, we have looked at ...

Believing... See what’s dead. Speak God’s Word. Pray God’s breath.
Grieving... Lord, help me be broken over what’s broken so that tears fall and knees bend.
Dreaming... We dream and claim the promises of God to renew, rebuild, and regroup us.
Seeking... It’s more than urban renewal and lives being put together again. It’s about people knowing God; it’s about His fame, His glory, His honor. He is the One we seek.

Now, we are ready to be receiving. Nothing lasting, nothing supernatural, none of this will happen without a mighty moving of God’s Spirit.

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.

Jesus picks up on this analogy in John 3. He describes the work of the Spirit as a wind. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where is comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:7-8, ESV).

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. Pray God’s Breath.

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.

Come from the four winds. What does that mean? Come with power. Come in Your fullness. Come in an unmistakable way. Be the breath of life in me. And don’t just come in small ways. Come in big ways. Show up with power in my life

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)

Nothing is 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.

10 So I prophesied [prayed] as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived…
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 not to receive all God has. We say things like, “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. So, we don’t receive.

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

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 37:14 (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? 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.” 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.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Teach us to pray

Below is is a wonderful example from Matthew Henry's "A Method of Prayer" that teaches how to pray scripture. 
 
As you know, Jesus taught us to pray "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Notice how Henry uses scripture to pray in the way Jesus taught us. 
 
We rejoice that your will is done in heaven; that the holy angels do your word and always obey the voice of your word; Psalm 103:20(ESV) that they always see the face of our Father. Matthew 18:10(ESV) And we lament that your will is so little done on earth, so many of the children of men being captured by Satan to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:26(ESV) O that this earth may be made more like heaven! And saints more like the holy angels! And that we who hope to be shortly like angels in heaven, Matthew 22:30(ESV) may now, like them, never cease from praising him;Revelation 4:8(ESV) may now, like them, resist and withstand Satan; Daniel10:13(ESV) may be as a flaming fire, Psalm 104:4(ESV) in swift flight, Daniel9:21(ESV) and may go straight forward, wherever the Spirit goes; Ezekiel1:12(ESV) may serve for the good of others, Hebrews 1:14(ESV) and thus may come into communion with the innumerable angels in festal gathering. Hebrews12:22(ESV)

Please pray this for yourself, your family, your team in ministry, and for CVC as a whole. 
 
And lets's learn from Henry how to weave scripture together for powerful prayer that intercedes in a I John 5:14-15 way.
 
If you would like to receive prayer reminders like this every day, sign up here:
 
http://www.matthewhenry.org/daily-devotional-emails/
 

Praying with pure motives

4/19/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone. I Kings 19:19

Observe

The Assyrians had come against Jerusalem, against the Jewish Southern Kingdom, Judah. They had already conquered the Jewish Northern Kingdom, Israel, along with other kingdoms in surrounding lands.

Things looked hopeless. The threat was real and overwhelming. 185,000 soldiers were amassed against Jerusalem and ready to strike. 

A letter from the Assyrian leader demanding surrender was sent. Hezekiah, the King of Judah, spread out the letter before the Lord and prayed for a rescue. He ended his prayer with the plea from I Kings 19:19. And God did defeat the Assyrian army and did protect His people.

Here I see the basis, the foundation for powerful prayer. It's about God and His glory, His fame, His renown, His honor. At the very foundation of our prayer must be for people to know that the Lord alone is God.

James says that we do not have what we pray for because we do not ask and then, when we ask, we ask from wrong motives. "You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (James 4:2b-3).

So, what is the greatest, the highest motive in prayer? Hezekiah gets it. "So, that all will know that You, O Lord, are God alone."

Now, how will we pray this way today?

Value

When troubles come, pray with the highest motive of all. Pray not so that you will be rescued (although that's an honest precipitating factor), but so that God will be known.

Express

You, Lord God, are the Source, the Supply, the all in all. Everything good in my life has come from You. You have rescued me time and time again and again. You have answered prayer for Your glory in my life over and over. Now, cleanse me for all my praying with impure and selfish motives. Thank You for the grace and mercy that comes to me through the cross of Jesus. It's not about me. It's about You. Remind me to pray with the purest motives - that You will be known in the rescuing of my life, my family, my church, my city. Today, I yield my life, my prayer life to You. Make Yourself known through me, Lord God Almighty.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Background - Lecrae

At The Gospel Coalition post conference concert, my sons and I heard Lecrae perform "Background." it moved me. It's a John 3:30 kind of song. Lots of wisdom here for someone like me who stands in front of people a lot. And lots of fuel here for someone like me who is passing the baton of senior pastor leadership to the next generation. This one is going on my iPad.

Check out the lyric:

Background

Chorus. [C-Lite]
I could play the background.
I could play the background.
Cuz I know sometimes I get in the way.
So won't you take the lead, lead, lead.
So won't you take the lead, lead, lead.
And I can play the background, background.
And you can take the lead.

Verse 1 [Lecrae]
It's evident you run the show so let me back down.
You take the leading role, and I'll play the background.
I know I miss my cues, know I forget my lines
I'm sticking to your script, and I'm reading all your signs.
I don't need my name in lights.
I don't need a starring role.
And why gain the whole wide world, if I'm just gon' loose my soul.
And my ways ain't purified, I'll live according to your Word.
I can't endure this life without your wisdom being heard.
So word to every dancer for a pop star
Cuz we all play the background, but mine's a rock star.
Yeah. So if you need me I'll be stage right.
Prayin' the whole world will start embracing stage fright.
So let me fall back and stop giving my suggestions
Cuz when I follow my obsessions I end up confessing.
That I'm not that impressive, matter fact I'm
A trail of star dust leading to the superstar.

Chorus.

Verse 2 [Lecrae]
I had a dream that I was captain of my soul.
I was master of my fate, lost control, and then I sank.
So I don't want to take the lead
Cuz I'm prone to make mistakes.
All these folks that follow me gon' end up in the wrong place.
So, just let me shadow you. And just let me trace your lines.
Matter fact just take my pen.
Here, you create my rhymes.
Cuz if I do this by myself I'm scared that I'll succeed.
And no longer trust in You, cuz I only trust in me.
And see, that's how you end up headed to destruction.
Paving a road to nowhere. Pour your life out for nothing.
You pulled my card, I'm bluffing
You know what's in my hand.
Me I just roll to trust you to cause the dice to land.
I'm in control of nothing. Follow you at any cost.
Some call it sovereign will, all I know is you the boss.
And man I'm so at ease. I'm so content.
I play the background like it's an instrument.

Chorus.

Bridge. [Lecrae]
I know I'm safest when I'm in your will and trust your word.
And I know I'm dangerous when I trust myself; my vision blurred.
And I ain't got no time to play life's foolish games.
Got plenty aims but do they really glorify your name.
And its a shame the way I want to do these things for you, yeah.
Don't even cling to you. Take time to sit and glean from you.
And its seems that you are patient in my ignorance.
If ignorance is bliss, its cuz she never heard of this.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dreaming (5)

We are seeing the glimpses – the hints – of revival here at CVC. A few weeks ago, we held a night of prayer here. And at one point during the evening, I made my way across the room to pray with our children’s minister, Denise Petek, and someone I didn’t know. Her name? Evelyn.

Her story is a story of God bringing life into her dryness.

She told me, “I have been very bitter and angry toward God for a very long time.” Why? She has 3 children, 2 daughters and a son, Gabriel, who was diagnosed at about two months old with a terminal illness, cystic fibrosis. As you can imagine, they have experienced many hospitalizations, tests, Dr. visits, procedures. Gabriel is on more than twenty different medications daily and has a feeding tube and a medport for IV meds.

Evelyn says, “I always wondered how God could be so cruel. Why my son? Watching him suffer and my daughters hurt is something that hardened my heart for a very long time.”

One day Gabe asked, “When I die will I be allowed to go into heaven or will they make me wait because I won’t be old enough? That question broke Evelyn’s heart because Gabriel had realized he will die younger than most. And Evelyn said, “I have done [my son] a great disservice that he has to wonder about his acceptance to heaven.”

So, she knew she had to do something to find answers to these questions Gabe had. She was looking for a church where she could educate herself and her family. She wanted a church that would welcome them with open arms. Her boyfriend’s aunt attends CVC. So, she recommended our church to Evelyn.

Their experience here? They were welcomed and befriended. When Gabe was in the hospital, members of our staff visited. Evelyn began attending services regularly and began reading her Bible. And she says, “Something in me changed.”

She has experienced the grace of God. She met Jesus. Listen to her words: “Despite the hurt I feel because of my son’s illness [and] despite the worry I have [about our finances] I have an amazing sense of peace inside. My heart is no longer hardened, bitter, or angry towards God. It is exactly the opposite. My heart is open. It is warm and it is filled with God’s love and grace.”

In February, Evelyn was sitting at her computer desk. She had questions running thru her mind: “What is going to happen to my son? How do I explain things to my daughters? How will I pay the bills?” That’s when she heard God’s voice. “It’s going to be okay. Everything will be okay.”

Now she says, “I am so happy to be at CVC. I am looking forward to getting baptized. I am eager to bring my children on this journey of discovery with me.”

Evelyn is a dream come true. When I was 33 in 1986, I claimed the promises of God. And on promise on the list was from Isaiah 41:17…

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.  Isaiah 41:17 (ESV)

I asked the Lord then to use us as a church to help the poor and needy find their thirst quenched here at CVC. That’s why I say that Evelyn is an answer to prayer. She is the fulfillment of promises claimed in prayer by the people of God here at CVC. She was dead toward God and bitter toward God. But now? She’s alive to God.

What God is doing in ones and twos and threes and fours we want to see Him do in 10s and 100s and 1000s.

Will you dare to dream and claim the promises of God. More Evelyns are out there are hurting and waiting on you to dream and claim the promises of God for them. Will you do it?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dreaming (4)

In 1903, the Breath of God blew across Wales. Historians tell us that it began with a young man named, Evan. Evan Roberts.

They say he was an “unknown.” He left school at age 11 to help his father in the local coal mine. He worked there for 12 years and then became an apprentice to a blacksmith for a year. He battled with depression, which would prove a life-long struggle for him.

Evan Roberts had come to Christ as a teenager. His friends remembered that throughout his teen years he was a committed follower of Jesus in word and deed. His private spiritual life matched his public profession.

Evan Roberts had been dreaming about revival. He later wrote, “I said to myself: I will have the Spirit... For eleven years I [had] prayed for revival. I could sit up all night to read or talk about revivals. It was the Spirit who moved me to think about revival.”

One night when he was 24, Roberts was awakened from his sleep. He had heard a pastor preach that people should pray, “Bend us! Bend us!” Roberts was being confronted with God’s sovereign purpose for his life. Evan Roberts was a man of prayer. Later that night, Roberts cried out to the Lord, “Bend me! Bend me!” and fully surrendered to the will of God. He prayed, “Not my will but Thy will be done. Bend me, O Lord. Bend me!”

God gave Roberts a vision, a dream, for Wales. He told a friend, “I have wonderful news for you. I had a vision of all Wales being lifted up to heaven. We are going to see the mightiest revival that Wales has ever known – and the Holy Spirit is coming... We must get ready.”

About a month later, Roberts felt led to share a “Bend me! Bend me!” message with his home youth group in a series of small meetings. This grew into a localized revival that lasted two weeks.  Over 60 people responded. And then, Roberts started a whirl-wind tour of South Wales churches. During nine months of intense revival, 100,000 new believers were added to the Welsh Church.

Newspapers began covering the story because it was national news. Political meetings were cancelled. Theaters closed. Casinos lost customers. Doctrinal differences among churches didn’t matter. News reporters came to Christ. Bars closed. Sporting events were cancelled. Former prostitutes now held Bible studies. Bar-hopping husbands and dead-beat dads began to support their families. People paid their debts. The tunnels in the underground coal mines echoed with the sounds of prayer and hymns. Strained relationships were repaired. Stealing became less and less frequent so that often a judge would come to court and find there were no cases on the docket.

And I love this story. The men who delivered coal to homes drove wagons pulled by ponies. As a result of the revival, the ponies quit pulling the wagons. Why? They were used to being cussed out and sworn at. But the colliers weren’t swearing any more. And the ponies didn’t understand when the commands were given with wholesome words.

Word about the Welsh revival began to spread. People came from South Africa, Russia, India, Ireland, Norway, Canada, and Holland. And the spirit of revival began to touch other nations. A journalist from California, Frank Bartleman, wrote to Roberts and asked how to bring revival to America. Roberts encouraged him and assured him of his prayers from Wales. And revival broke out in America. Barlteman wrote about what’s called the Azusa Street Revival that started in Southern California in 1906. And that revival changed the landscape of 20th Century Christianity in the USA.

The 1903-1904 Welsh Revival tells us that God can use any of us to bring about His purposes. If God’s Spirit can use Evan Roberts, then He can use you.

Today, God is looking for more people like Evan Roberts who will dare to dream – who will dare to claim the Lord’s promises to renew us, to rebuild us, and to regroup us. Is there an Evan Roberts out there? Is there an Ezekiel out there – for your family, for your ministry, for your business, for your church, for your city?

Since Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, He can work in the same way as today as He did in the past. So, we can look at the record of God's activity in the past. We look at the Scriptures and we see what God has already done. We look at church history and we see what God has done. And we pray, Lord, if you did it before, You can do it again. So we trust Him. Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes from the word of God.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Dreaming (3)

Have you lost hope? Are you afraid to dream about a better future? What dream is dead for you now because of some relational disconnect, because of a broken relationship, or because of a separation? You think, "Here I am and there he is. Walls have risen between us." Who is coming to your mind?

There's hope. you can dare to dream about what once was might be again. Except better. See, when the Spirit of God breathes life into dead, dry bones – when revival comes – He fulfills His promise to rejoin, to make us one.

What would it look like if you began to dream and claim the promise of God for you to regroup – to believe that God can make what has become two into one? What might happen in your marriage, in your family, and in your ministry?

Dream big! The Lord has promised not only to renew us and to rebuild us, but He also promises in Ezekiel 37 to regroup us. 


God's Message came... "You, son of man: Take a stick and write on it, 'For Judah...' Then take another stick and write on it, 'For Joseph—Ephraim's stick...' Then tie the two sticks together so that you're holding one stick. When your people ask you, 'Are you going to tell us what you're doing?' tell them, 'God, the Master, says, Watch me! I'll take the Joseph stick that is in Ephraim's hand... and lay the Judah stick on it. I'll make them into one stick...' (Ezekiel 37:15-19, Msg). 




It's God's dream to take two warring people and make them one. He promised to do that in ancient days for the northern and southern tribes of Israel. It's His dream to make two into one. If He did it then for them, He can do it now for us.

Will you dare to dream that that God can restore the broken relationships in your life? And will you claim the Ezekiel 37 promise that God will make the two into one? For you?

Our human dreams are doomed to fail. Our human dreams are limited. Our human dreams are earthly. But God’s dreams succeed. God’s dreams are infinite. This means that we must go to the Scriptures to find God's dreams. And we can find His dreams in His promises, in the "shalls" and "wills" of the Bible. We must claim the promises of God. We must find His promises in the Old and the New Testaments.

Dreaming God's dream and claiming God's promises involves...
...finding them; recording them; praying them; expecting them; and receiving them …

A dream that is birthed in wishful thinking will see no fruition. But a dream that is birthed from the heart of God will see itself become a reality. We must dream God's dreams about our own lives, our families, our churches, our cities, our nation, and our world. Our dreams must match the dreams of God.

We have to learn to live with a constant, two-fold state of grieving and dreaming.

Grieving is a kind of desperation of being broken over what’s broken. Tears fall. Knees bend. Over the history of our church, we have seen God change lives in ones and twos and threes and fours. We have a loving and Christ-exalting, Bible-based, worship-filled, mission-minded congregation. But it still seems that not enough has been accomplished for the kingdom of Christ.

We’ve sent postcards, produced radio spots, handed out invite cards, and hung flyers on doors in neighborhoods. Some have come to Christ and their lives have changed, but it’s not enough. The lack of interest in Jesus, the people coming to Christ in ones and twos rather than hundreds and thousands, and the hard-heartedness of the people ought to make us grieve.

If, however, all we do is grieve then we will end up depressed with a desire to quit, to give up. So, we need to add dreaming to our grieving. We need hope.

Grieving without dreaming will lead us into a futile pessimism. Dreaming without grieving will lead us into a false optimism. If we only dream, then we become Pollyanna-ish just figuring that somehow, some way everything will work out just fine.

We need both grieving and dreaming, both desperation and hope.

So, how can you have both grieving and dreaming? How can you persevere in a difficult marriage, with troubled teens, in a stagnant business, or with a faltering ministry?

You must dream God's dreams and pray the promises of God in faith (Matthew 21:22). You must really pray. By this I don’t mean a few minutes on the way to work in your car.

By really praying I mean at least four things.

1. We learn to dream God's dreams and pray “God-centered” prayers so that the Lord will be known and glorified in all the earth (Matthew 6:9). We start this way: “Hallowed be Thy name!” Ask God to work in you a passion for His passion—that His name be glorified in everything you do. (We’ll explore this more next weekend.)

2. We learn to dream God's dreams and pray “We’re-not-giving-up” prayers. We pray with a zealous persistence. We keep asking, seeking, knocking (Matthew 7:7-11). This is only possible when we grieve. We’ll quit really praying if we forget how dead things are. If you pray only a few minutes per day, if you find yourself falling asleep when you pray, then surely you are not surveying the scene. You’re not desperate about the dryness. And when you are not desperate you will lack zeal and persistence. If your ten-year-old son is diagnosed with a brain tumor then you do not fall asleep while praying for him. So, when we truly believe the diagnosis of deadness, dryness in our hearts, in the hearts of those around us, and in our city, nation, and world then our prayers will have a fervency and persistence about them.

3. We learn to dream God's dreams and pray “Spirit-led” prayers (Romans 8:26). This never comes with only a few minutes in prayer. This means to pray until you pray. Pray until the Spirit comes upon you. Pray until you sense the glory of God’s presence. Pray until the door, as it were, to the Holy of holies is opened before you.

4. We learn to dream God's dreams and pray “Promise-driven” prayers – prayers based on the promises of God. John says, “This is the confidence we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (I John 5:14). What’s His will? Find the promises and you will find His will. My former pastor, Adrian Rogers, used to say, “The prayer that gets to heaven is the prayer that starts in heaven.” Find the verses that say God will regroup you and that estranged one and then pray those promises back to God. Our problem is that we pray for only a few minutes at a time as we pray our pet phrases, “God be with John” or “Give traveling mercies to Janet” or “Help Bill through his surgery” and we quickly run out of things to pray. If, however, we pray the word of God we can go on literally for hours.

Will you dream God's big dreams about two becoming one? Will you really pray according to God's dreams? Will you really pray for God to regroup the two sticks - to make the two into one? 

When you have been hurt

Let's just face it.

Sometimes, the people we count on to be there for us aren't there for us.

Maybe you've been wounded or attacked by someone in the presence of others. And you thought that the others would see it and stand by you, stand with you, stand for you.

But what happened was... silence.

Now, you aree feeling alone, confused, unappreciated, and taken for granted.

Maybe your friends and teammates just didn't sense that you needed them. Maybe they didn't feel that you were wounded. Maybe they are going through their own pain and don't have the capacity to minister to you at that moment. Maybe they are just relationally or emotionally dull. Or maybe they even agree to a degree with the one who wounded you.

What do you do?

Go to the One who will never leave you or forsake you. Claim the promises of God. And here is one from Isaiah.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. Isaiah 42:3

So, who do you know who needs this verse today?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Dreaming (2)

So, we can dream. Our dreams must be birthed out of God’s promises so that His promises become fuel for our prayers.  I'm not going to cover all 60 promises in these 2 chapters now. Aren’t you glad?

So, today, let’s just focus on 3 promises to claim.

The Lord has promised…

… to renew us.

And what does a renewed life, family, church city look like? 1) Soft-hearted. 2) Spirit-led. 3) Sin-cleansed.

26 And 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. (Soft-hearted)
27 And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Spirit-led)   Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV)

23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Sin-cleansed)   Ezekiel 37:23 (ESV)

Some couples are here and your marriage needs to be renewed. You’re hard-hearted toward each other. You argue a lot because neither of you are convinced that the other is being spirit-led. And you have watched each other sin over the years in ways that have built walls in your relationships. God has promised renewal.

Some of us are tempted to think, “He won’t renew me. I have out-sinned His grace. I am too far gone. I have been dead, dry, and divided too long.”

But think. Jesus has come to give life and to give it abundantly. So, would you dare to say, “What’s dead and dry in me is beyond the ability of Jesus”?

No. He can renew even you.

What would it look like if husbands and wives dared to dream and claim the promise of God to renew their relationship?

The Lord has promised to renew us…

… to rebuild us.

Travel down I77 here in NE Ohio to Slavic Village and you will see houses foreclosed, schools shut down, and businesses failing. This story could be repeated in community after community in NE Ohio. And it’s not just financial problems we have in Cleveland. We have moral decay and political corruption.

That’s similar to what the people of God faced in Ezekiel’s day. The enemies had carried away the leading citizens along with the wealth – the gold and silver. The farms had been razed. The cities had been torn down. Things were bleak.

Now, what is the Lord going to do?

33 “Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt.
34 And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by.
35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’
36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it.
Ezekiel 36:33-36 (ESV)

What if our business and political leaders would do all they can do with strategies and tactics and initiatives to lift up the city of Cleveland? But what if with all that, they also put their fingers on these verses and looked to heaven and dreamed and claimed these promises. “God, we are trusting You. You alone can rebuild. You did it for ancient Israel. Would You do it for us? Do it in such a way that You will get the credit, not us.” What would happen if our leaders prayed that way?

And what is desolate and broken down for you? Maybe at age 12 or 15 or 18 you had dreams about what you could be. But somehow, your educational dreams were dashed. Or your career dreams were dashed. Or your relationship dreams were dashed. You are in a desolate and broken down situation.

What would it look like if you began to dream and claim the promises of God to rebuild you life?

The Lord has promised to renew us, to rebuild us…

… to regroup us.

Fist, let me give you just a little history. The people of God were organized as 12 tribes – 12 clans, 12 family lines. 10 were in the north in Palestine. 2 were in the south.

150 years before Ezekiel was written, the 10 tribes in the north, called Israel, (because of their faithlessness) had been conquered by the Assyrians and taken away from their homeland in the north. Now, the 2 tribes in the south, called Judah, (because of their faithlessness) had been conquered by the Babylonians and taken away from their homeland in the south.

So, the people of God were scattered all throughout the Mid-Eastern world. Some of the people – the most promising and most influential leaders – had been taken away from Israel to Assyria and from Judah to Babylon.

Now, notice the promise of God.

24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.   Ezekiel 36:24 (ESV)

God promises that His people will be brought back to their homeland and rejoined to the Jewish people who had been left behind.

In chapter 37, God makes a promise through an object lesson with 2 sticks. One stick has “Judah” written on it – to represent the 2 southern tribes. The other stick has “Joseph” written on it to represent the 10 northern tribes (Joseph was the father of Ephraim, one the northern tribes).

19 Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph… And I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand.
22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms.
Ezekiel 37:19, 22 (ESV)

God promises to rejoin the old northern and southern kingdoms.

Reconnecting. Reuniting. Rejoining. That’s what God does.

Try easier

The Tampa Bay Rays have started their season 0-5. The Rays squeezed out just four hits in a 5-1 loss to the Angels that left them with their first winless homestand since 2000.

So, what should they do? Try harder, right? No. How about this? Try easier.

"There are times when you actually have to try easier," manager Joe Maddon said. "Right now, we can't try any harder than we are. I prefer our guys kind of back off just a little bit mentally, understand exactly what's going on, don't read it the wrong way, and eventually you come out of these moments."

In baseball, a player who tries too hard will tighten up and become less effective. 

Try easier, not harder. I think these are good words for spiritual leaders, pastors, church planters, and missionaries.

Maddon's comments remind me of something that Someone with far more insight and power once said about the futility of trying harder and about the fruitfulness of trying easier.

The Lord Jesus Christ once said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). 

We are fruitless if we try hard through self-effort, through seeking impact in our own strength. According to Jesus, that's a sure-fire way of doing nothing of eternal value. 

Trying harder to be better in our own strength won't produce results. We'll do worse than 0-5. Only God produces the fruit. You don't see a branch straining and grunting and groaning to produce fruit. We must learn to "try easier" - to abide in Christ. 

We must be “actively passive” as we serve in ministry. Or perhaps we could think of ourselves as being “passively active.” “Abide,” Jesus says. Don’t miss the command. Abide is an imperative – not a suggestion or a request. To abide, we must act. To abide means to remain, to stay closely connected, to settle in for the long term. 

Jesus is teaching all believers how an ongoing, vital connection with Him will directly determine the amount of His supernatural power at work in our lives for our fruitfulness. 

The branch with the largest, least-obstructed connection with the vine is abiding the most and will have the greatest potential for results. 

So, when it comes to ministry success, try easier, not harder. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Dreaming (1)

When Maryanne and I came to NE Ohio 24 years ago, I called a friend from my past who had moved to Cleveland. He had been on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ while I was at Vanderbilt in Nashville. In Cleveland, he was with Athletes in Action and worked with the Browns, the Cavs, and the Indians. I asked him, “What is the spiritual climate in Cleveland? He said, “Most pastors are defeated, depressed, and discouraged.”

Sounds kind of like a valley of dead, dry bones.

Somewhere, I had learned that when you are facing desolate times, it’s a good idea to find promises from God’s Word and to claim them. So, I did. And I still have a list of promises that I claimed from God’s Word back in 1986. And claiming those promises helped keep me going in a climate where most pastors were defeated, depressed, and discouraged.

Question: What is dead and dry in your life? And do you know how to access and claim the promises of God in your desolate times?

In week 1 of this series, Breath of God, we asked ourselves a question, “What’s dead in your life? 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?

This passage tells us that it is possible for people who were once alive to be like dead, dried, and divided bones. Every particle of marrow is gone.

Maybe your walk with Jesus is not as passionate as it once was. Maybe your marriage is not as vibrant as it used to be and you are wondering why you ever married him? Maybe your kids were once open to spiritual truth, but now they are running hard from God. Maybe you once felt called to serve Jesus as a minister or as a missionary, but you’ve shoved that call into a dark corner of your heart. Maybe your time in the word and in prayer was exciting, but now it’s a chore.

Your extremity is God’s opportunity. There is hope. The resurrection of Jesus means that what’s dead can live. With God, all things are possible. God is “the God of hope.” Are you dreaming? Or are you simply resigned to what is? Or bitter about what isn’t? Here in Cleveland I think we are just used to things. "Well, that's just our family, that’s just church, that’s just Cleveland." And we don't dare to dream about what could be.

Maybe your problem is that you don't really believe. So, you can't see ahead to a brighter future. Instead, you just focus on your past defeats, our past failures. So, you don't dare to dream about a brighter future. Instead, you live in the darkness. You live in the deadness with the pain of the past. But when you read the Bible, you can see that God sees something better. He encourages you to dream.

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.

Last week, Pastor Chad encouraged us to be grieving – to think about what’s dry and dead in our lives, families, church, community, nation, and world.

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.  Ezekiel 37:1-2

How? How does He bring the dead to life?

Chad taught us to pray, “Lord, help me to be broken over what’s broken.” And when that brokenness really happens, he said, “Tears will fall and knees will bend.” I hope you’ve been praying and seeking that grieving, that brokenness. “Lord, help me to be broken over what’s broken.”

But we’ll not find life if all we do is the “grieving.” To the grieving we had to add “dreaming.” And that’s what Ezekiel was encouraged to do in verse 3.

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

Now, what does God know? He knows everything, of course. So, in reality He’s wanting us to reflect on what He knows. Think about the context. I think perhaps He wants us to know what He just said in chapter 36. And He wants us to know what He’s going to say in the rest of chapter 37. As I look at the context – at what comes before and after the vision of the valley of dry bones – I am struck by all the promises that God makes.

We have to remember that these promises were made to a specific nation, to Israel. Most Bible scholars would say that there is an “already, but not yet” nature to these promises. These promises were fulfilled in the past when the people returned from Babylon to their homeland. That’s the “already” nature of these promises.

But there’s more to come. One day, the people of God – the Jews – will see the Lord fulfill these promises fully and finally. That’s the “not yet” nature of these promises. In fact, some say that God began the final process of fulfilling these promises when the Jews returned to their homeland – when Israel became a modern-day nation – in 1948. So, these promises have yet to be fully fulfilled for Israel.

So, for Israel, there is an “already, but not yet” nature to these promises.

But what about us? Can we claim these promises, too? Well, Galatians 6:16 calls the Church, “the Israel of God.” We are all, spiritually speaking, the Israel of God. It’s appropriate for us to remember that these promises are for the nation of Israel. But we say, “You already did this in part in the past for Your people, the Jews. And You will do it more fully, more completely in the future for Your people, the Jews. But, Lord, we, too, are Your people. We are the Church. We are ‘the Israel of God.’ So, would you do this for us, too? We claim these promises. We dare to dream.”

Now, what can we dare to dream? We dream according to the promises of God.

Now, let me give you a little help in accessing the promises of God. Look for the places where God says, “I will” or “you shall” or “they shall.” From Ezekiel 36:22-Ezekiel 37, there are over 60 promises of God – over 60 “I wills” and “you shalls” and “they wills.”

Yes. We may be like dried bones, good for nothing. But the Lord comes and says, “I will, I will.” He promises life. 

So, we can dream. Our dreams must be birthed out of God’s promises so that His promises become fuel for our prayers.

Can these dry bones live?

Wednesday 6:00 AM prayer at CVC

You are in absolute control. Your will will be done. You will do strange and mighty things in miraculous ways. Hear our prayers. May they be in compliance with Your will. 

We thank You for the gift of this new day. We live in a world full of distractions. We are pulled off course. Help us keep our focus on You and only You. We want to see what Your will is for us and for others around us. We want to plant seeds that would revive the hearts of those around us. 

Thank You for the Holy Spirit who convicts. Give us more humility. Help us to serve in the places You want us to serve. Help us not just do things that worked in the past. May we hate sin. May we grieve it like the Holy Spirit grieves. Guide us.

Thanks that corporate prayer lifts us toward you. May our prayers reach Your heart and please You. We want our desire to be for You. Fulfill the purpose that You have for us today. We want to seek Your face and not Your hand. We want Your perfect will to be done. We thank You for Your great heart that none would perish but that all would come to You.

May there be more of You and less of us. Look inside and find what is not pleasing to You. Break us. Bring revival. Start with each one of us. We are so weak. Please strengthen us. May Your Holy Spirit fall upon us. 

We come to You because we need You. Stir us up and change our hearts. Remove the complacency. Turn our hurts back to You. We see in Your word that when sin comes in, Your favor is lost. We want Your favor to be renewed. Stir us up to get rid of the sin in our lives. We have to come to repentance. Lord, let Your Spirit fall on us. Let us turn completely to You. Let us follow the leading of Your Spirit. Protect us from the lies of the enemy.

Thank for the opportunity to come to pray. We lift up the inner city of Cleveland. Change the culture, poverty, lack of education, and men that don't care about thie wives and children. Be with the inner city churches to be a light and beacon to speak the truth.

Cause our political leaders and business leaders to not trust in the arm of flesh. Let them trust in You. Bring a rebuilding of NE Ohio to NE Ohio.

Let a revival start with us. May we be broken and contrite. May we picture You on the cross and realize that You did it for us. Help us to humble ourselves and pray and seek Your face. Help us as a church. Help us affect the lives of one other person. 

We lift up our high schoolers and middle schoolers. Do a mighty work in NR, Brecksville, in Parma and beyond. Be with our students. Protect them spiritually and physically. Bring leaders to stir in our student's lives. May their faith be their own, not their pastor's or parent's faith. Work in the lives of our teachers. They have the potential to be destroyed every single day by the enemy. Destroy his work in their lives instead. 

We read in the Bible that Solomon did not finish well. He never really caught it. So, maybe David was not the dad he should have been. Help our parents raise kids in the faith. May our kids not be distracted from You by having bad relationships like Solomon developed.

Give our children direction. We pray, dear God, that Your Spirit would move in a mighty way for or children in our schools to know You. 

We pray for the 600 plus teachers that were let go in Cleveland yesterday. Lift us up from a loss of hope. Act in a mighty, visible way. There is no doubt that You are Lord of Lords. We are faltering. We need a visible, mighty work from You.

You sent a Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. You sent an Ezra to help. So, send a modern day Nehemiah and an Ezra to NE Ohio. May politicians and spiritual leaders work together in dependence on You to accomplish Your purposes. Revive NE Ohio, Lord Jesus.

We have been rebellious and judgmental toward those who do not see as we see. Change begins in our own hearts. How can  we share Your love if we reject others. May we gently, kindly, accurately talk of You. Use us today for Your purposes.

We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when Your goodness and loving kindness appeared, You saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to Your own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom You poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:3-6).

We can never reach the end of You. We lift You up. You can do far more than we have asked. Do it. Make it so. Have Your way. 

Work powerfully with the ministry that Bay Presbyterian is starting at the old Blessed Sacrament Church on the near Westside. Bless the collaboration with Bay Pres, Grace CMA, Fellowship Bible, and CVC to join forces to help. Save marriages there. Save people there. Change lives there.

We thank You that You are doing Your work. Work on our behalf. We praise You, Lord, for what we can expect, Lord. 

Open the eyes of believers in America. Help us not chase after the things of this world. Give us a new dream to pursue. Help us to serve and honor and live for You. Help us to live for You. 

We claim the wisdom which is from above and is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:17-18). 

We pray for those going to Ghana, El Salvador, Ukraine. May they pray the right things for their trips. May we choose righteousness and truth. May we go to these different countries with Your wisdom. May we know Your truth because we are in Your Word. Show favor on all our trips. We pray for finances for these trips. May we depend on You. 

We have another national day of prayer coming soon. Some people oppose this day and bring this day under attack. May people see that You are the foundation of our country. May others not squelch Your work. 

Help us not be ashamed of the gospel. Change hearts and lives. Help us to join us in Your work. Help us to be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Purity in Leadership Motives

4/5/2011 Loving God Journal - Purity in Leadership Motives

Learn

Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness. I Kings 10:9

Observe

These are the words of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon. She saw the hand of God on his life.

O that people might see the hand of God on my life. I don't think that people see that on my life. Not like they used to see it.

I think that too often I want this for me, for my own praise. How sinful this is.

May I want wisdom and leadership ability solely so people will bless the Lord, so that they will see it is He who has delighted in me, so that they will see that He has granted me wisdom because He loves CVC.

May I be a leader known for executing a justice and righteousness that comes from the Lord.

Value

Check your motives as a leader. Want God to be blessed. Want God to be seen as the Source of your wisdom - that He delighted in you to give you wisdom because He loves His church.

Express

You alone are the Source of wisdom, Lord. I have had poor motives in my leadership. Too often, I want the praise and applause of people. Cleanse me from any vestige of this sin. Thank You for the blood of Jesus that cleanses and empowers us to be free from such sins. Leadership and wisdom comes only from You. May I want to lead not so I will be applauded, but so You will be blessed. Please be delighted in me to give me wisdom to lead Your people with justice and righteousness. I pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Can we communicate with our loved ones in heaven?

I have a friend who recently lost a loved one and who is experiencing unusual "happenings." My friend is asking, "Are these things happening because of 'visits' from my loved one?"

Today, I am sharing part of my response with my friend.

***

Thanks for your question. Here are a few thoughts. Please know I am praying for you. I believe that God is at work caring for you. I am glad that you are experiencing tokens of His love, care, and concern for you.

Luke 16 contains teaching on the experience of those who have gone home to heaven before us. It refers to an impassable separation between the after-life and this world. The Bible teaches that those in the next world cannot return to deliver messages to the living.

In Luke 16, a rich man had died and a poor man had died. The rich man went to Hades while the poor man went to heaven. The rich man cried out for some relief, "Send the poor man here to cool my tongue with water!" But He was told, "Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us" (Luke 16:26).

The idea is that once a person is in their eternal state, then they are secured there forever. This is a comfort for us. God is eternally protecting our loved ones in heaven until we join them there.

Another example for us is when David lost his son. David said, "Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me" (II Samuel 12:23). Again, the teaching here is that those who have gone home cannot return to us.

In II Corinthians 5:8, Paul writes, "We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." The ESV Study Bible says that this "refers to the 'intermediate state' between a Christian's death and the resurrection of all believers' bodies on the day Christ returns. Paul means that when he dies, though his physical body will be buried here on earth, he expects that he (as a 'spirit' or 'soul'...) will go immediately into the presence of Christ, and will be present with Christ... until the day of resurrection (cf. Luke 23:43; Phil. 1:23; Heb. 12:23)." 

So, with all this in mind, I believe that [your loved one] is safe and secure with Jesus in heaven. [Those who have gone on are] not coming back and forth. 

However, it is possible that God is giving you gracious tokens of His presence and care to remind you in your grief and loss that He is caring for you. I can imagine [your loved one] saying to the Lord, "Would You send an angel to show my [family] that You love them and are thinking of them and that I love them and am thinking of them?" And I can imagine the Lord doing just that in the various ways you mentioned. 

Scripture suggests there are guardian angels for children. Jesus says of children, "their angels behold the face of my Father," (Matthew 18:10). Also, it appears there may be one specific angel assigned to adults, too. For example, the apostle Peter had an special experience with "his angel" (Acts 12:6-15). So, these experiences you are having may be experiences with angels assigned by God to bring comfort and peace and hope to your soul.

I believe that it is appropriate for us to ask God to get messages of love and gratitude to those we have lost. 

Randy Alcorn, who wrote a wonderful book called "Heaven," writes the following on his blog, www.epm.org:

"Is it okay to talk to our loved ones who've gone on to be with Jesus?

"First, would it even be possible for someone in Heaven to know what's happening on earth, and be able to hear us say anything? Many assume the answer is no. But in Matthew 17, Moses and Elijah clearly already knew the events going on when they appeared with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. In Luke 15 Jesus speaks of rejoicing in the presence of the angels, not BY the angels but in their presence, whenever a sinner repents, suggesting God's people in heaven rejoice at God's work in lives on earth. To rejoice at it, they obviously must be aware of it. And Revelation 6:9-11 shows martyrs in Heaven who are clearly aware that God hasn't yet brought judgment on those who persecuted them, and are wondering why. So they know some of what's happening on earth.

"Okay, so if it's possible someone in Heaven could hear us, is it right to talk to them? First, there's a huge difference between talking to someone and praying to them, and it's critical we keep that clear. When people pray to Mary and the saints, they are calling on them as intermediaries, asking them to intervene and exercise power in this world. There is no biblical basis for this. Since 1 Tim. 2:5 says Christ is the only mediator between God and men, it would violate this to pray to those in heaven. We're not to pray to people or to angels, but only to God.

"But would it be okay to say, 'I'm not sure you can hear this, Mom, but if you can I just want to say thanks for how you always watched out for me. I love you and I'm looking forward to seeing you again and talking and having you show me some special places there.,

"That's talking to someone, but it's NOT praying to them, calling upon them to do something, or to exercise power or talk back.

"Seeking to call up from the dead or to hear from the spirits of the departed is a forbidden occult practice (Deut.18:9-14). But that's very different than doing what I just described.

"Personally, rather than talking to a loved one, I am more comfortable simply praying to Jesus or the Father (there are biblical examples of praying to each) and saying, 'Lord, would you please give my mom a hug, and tell her it's from me?' Now I think my mom sometimes sees what's going on here and might hear this when I say it, but I KNOW God hears it. And I trust God to do what He knows is best. Does that make sense?

"I could see how a person speaking to their departed loved one, even if they're not violating Scripture (since they're not praying to them or calling on them), could become unhealthy or obsessive. But that's not likely to happen when we're talking to God about them. He invites us to come to Him with what's on our minds and hearts. Obviously your loved one is on your mind and heart. If your child or wife or husband or parents or best friend are with Jesus, God understands your desire to feel connected to them, and to want them to know of your love for them, and that you miss them and look forward to seeing them again.

"I have every reason to believe God would honor the request to pass on our warm greetings to loved ones. But again, that's up to Him. It's one thing to ask God for something like this, but entirely another to insist on it. We're the creatures, He's the Creator. He's the Potter, we're the clay. (And what a privilege to be His clay, as well as his sons and daughters.)

"So, bottom line to the person who asked the question, as long as you're not praying TO your loved one or FOR your loved one (who needs no prayer now), but to God ABOUT your loved one, and your feelings, and your desire for them to know something, I think there's nothing in that which violates a Scripture. Just be careful it doesn't shift into anything that treats them as intermediaries or leads to obsession or seeking contact with them, which is expressly forbidden."

Friday, April 01, 2011

Believing (4)

Do you really believe that God can bring life to what’s dead?

In the Bible is a story about a dad who brought his sick little boy to Jesus.

[The father of the sick boy said to Jesus], “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”  Mark 9:22-24 (ESV)

I believe. Help my unbelief.

If you have dead zones in your life, expect great things from God. Believe. If He revived the people of Israel in Ezekiel’s day, He can revive us. Believe that God can do the impossible. Believe the impossible and receive the incredible.

Maybe all you can say is “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” Say it. Pray it.

Just before the Civil War in the 1850s, America was a valley of dry bones. The stock market had crashed. Banks failed in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Railroads bankrupted. Factories shut down. Unemployment soared. The nation was divided over the slavery issue. Church growth was not keeping pace with population growth. Chicago had 70 churches and 100 brothels.

In 1857, a businessman in New York City named Jeremiah Lanphier was burdened about the problems he saw in his city and in his nation. He decided to invite others to join him in a noonday prayer-meeting, to be held on Wednesdays once a week. He put together a brochure:

This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers, and business men generally an opportunity to stop and call upon God amid the perplexities incident to their respective avocations. It will continue for one hour; but it is also designed for those who may find it inconvenient to remain more than five or ten minutes, as well as for those who can spare the whole hour.

So, at twelve noon, September 23, 1857, Lanphier took his seat to see who might respond to his invitation. Five minutes went by. No one came. 10 minutes. 15. 20. 25. Finally, after 30 minutes, the first friend came. Then another. 6 people showed up that day. The next week, 40 showed up to pray.  The weekly noon prayer meeting turned into a daily noon prayer meeting. Businessmen of all kinds showed up. Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists.

Within six months, ten thousand business men were gathering daily for prayer in various places in New York. Wall Street movers and shakers were showing up. Other cities started to follow. Philadelphia’s prayer meetings grew to 3000. Chicago’s and Cleveland’s prayer meetings grew to 2,000 daily.

• Churches began to fill. Within two years, a million new believers were reached and joined various churches in America.
• In New York, hundreds of prostitutes were converted to Christ and “rescued” out of that lifestyle.
• In Boston, police officers jaded by violence were shocked to see an outbreak of joy and goodwill among the uneducated and poor, black and white together.
• In Philadelphia, firefighters notorious for brawling opened their halls to evangelistic meetings.
• In Chicago, a newspaper reporter wrote, “[The revival] is upon the lips of Christians and unbelievers. There are few or no scoffers, few who sneer publicly and openly at what is transpiring.”
• In Atlanta, the chief of police maintained that the revival had so reduced the rate of crime that he could dispense with half his force.
• Pastors shared pulpits across denominational lines as they focused on what united them rather than on what divided them.
• 90 college revivals swept through American campuses like UC Berkeley, Dartmouth, Wisconsin, Wake Forest, and Oberlin between 1857 and 1859.
• Gambling saloons made their places available for prayer meetings.
• The governor of Ohio brought people to tears at a Columbus prayer meeting when he talked about his conversion to Christ.
• One spiritual leader wrote, “The best token I have seen of revival was our [church business] meeting. I was never at such a one. Brethren seemed flowing together in love…”

The 1857-1858 businessman’s revival tells us that God is not intimidated by the size of our cities and the sin in them. God’s Spirit can move through these cities again.

Today, God is looking for more people like Jeremiah Lanphier who will see what’s dead, speak God’s Word and pray God’s breath – who will believe God for revival. Is there a Jeremiah Lanphier here? Is there an Ezekiel here – for your family, for your ministry, for your business, for your church, for your city?

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)

He knows. Do we know? Do we believe?




Praying the petitions of the Lord's Prayer

Did you know that there are six petitions in the Lord's Prayer, what some have called the Model Prayer or the Disciples' Prayer?

You'll find the prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. I am putting a number in front of each petition. Jesus said, "Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, 1) hallowed be your name. 2) Your kingdom come, 3) your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 4) Give us this day our daily bread, 5) and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 6) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

So, how can you pray according to these petitions? While this list below is not even close to being a comprehensive commentary on all the things that are included in this prayer, this list below can be a good "jump start" for your prayer life.

So, pause for a few minutes and pray today the way Jesus taught us to pray. Your prayer might included the following:


1) Ask God to work in you a passion for His passion—that His name be glorified in everything you do.

2) Ask God for the grace that you long for and work toward the salvation of the nations.

3) Ask God to help you learn to submit cheerfully to and work passionately for God’s will in your every circumstance.

4) Ask God to meet your needs and to grant you a contentment with what He has provided for you and your family.

5) Ask God for the ability to daily and graciously forgive others who wrong you.

6) Ask God that you can be zealous for God’s glory and that He not to expose you to any sordid temptation lest you fail the test and bring shame to His name.

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