Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why His Story Matters ... For Believers

Knowing His Story gives us a perspective on pain and suffering. It answers the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” If knowing this you are wondering why such bad things have happened to you, then realize where you are in the story. We are still dealing with the effects from the fall. It wasn’t God’s original intent. And it won’t always be this way. He’s going to restore all things, including you. Knowing this can give us perspective.

Knowing this story gives us meaning and purpose. It answers the question, “Why am I here?” While we wait for the return of Christ and the final perfect restoration of all things, we are here to join Jesus in His work to restore.

Knowing this story gives us hope in the face of loss. It answers the question, “Where am I headed?” We just lost a two dear friends and church members, Tim Hejl and Ed Gawel. Knowing that Jesus died and rose for them and has given them the gift of heaven is what gives all who love them hope in the face of loss.

The Story of God needs to be told.

In the story, The Clown of God, the character, Giovanni, lived mainly for himself. He wondered, “How can I make a few bucks and get some applause?” He accepted gifts from God without giving to God or living for God. But at the end of his life, Giovanni discovered his life's purpose. It’s to “clown” for God, to “juggle” for God, to live for God. And to put a smile on His face.

Lots of us are accepting gifts from God without giving to God or living for God. We don’t know how much time we have left. It’s time to “juggle” for Him, to “clown” for Him, to do whatever it is you do for Him. And one of the best ways to put a smile on the face of God is to tell His story.

Who will you tell this week?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Elements of His Story

All powerful stories contain undercurrents of truth and follow a series of components called a plot line.

Think high school English. There you learn that there are four crucial stages in the development of a plot line:

Stage 1 - set up

Some people call it the exposition. This is where it all begins! The stage is set, the characters introduced. We see the setting, the main characters. The set-up gives us background information. The tone is set. Stage 1 – set-up.

Stage 2 - struggle

Some people call this the “rising action.” A struggle happens. Problems come. Complications occur. Stage 2 – struggle.

Stage 3 - climax

This is the high point of the story. The hero and the villain collide. Struggles come to a head. The conflict rages. The hero wins, usually after some kind of personal sacrifice. Stage 3 – climax.

Stage 4 - resolution

The conflict is over. The hero wins. The conclusion, the end, is coming. Stage 4 – resolution.

OK. So, what’s the plotline of the Bible?

The Plotline:

God (Genesis 1:1)
Good (Genesis 1:31)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Genesis 1:1 (ESV)

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.  Genesis 1:31 (ESV)

Sin (Romans 3:23)
Separation (Isaiah 59:2)

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Romans 3:23 (ESV)

Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.  Isaiah 59:2 (ESV)

Christ (I Timothy 1:15)
Cross (Romans 5:8)

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  I Timothy 1:15 (ESV)

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8 (ESV)

Faith (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Follow (Luke 9:23)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23 (ESV)

That’s it. That’s the story. You can tell this. Learn 12 words and a few verses and you have talking points. Tell it your way and in your own words. And as you do, lives will change. Heaven will be populated.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Truths About HIS Story

A great website,, is designed to equip us to tell the greatest Story ever told. We learn some important truths.

1.  The Bible is one BIG story – His Story.

Many people know stories from the Bible but do not know the Story of the Bible.

Imagine that you have a handful of pearls. They are pretty and valuable. But you can’t do much with them as a necklace or bracelet because there’s no string to link them together. But when you link the pearls together with a string… Wow!

Lots of us learn the individual parts of the Bible without understanding the whole. The parts are beautiful and helpful. But they are more beautiful and helpful when they are seen as a part of the whole. The individual parts make a lot more sense when you can see the big picture.

2.  His story has a PLOTLINE.

The Bible has one big plot. Scholars would call the story a meta-narrative. We can look at the Bible as filled with stories that are disjointed and unrelated. Or we can see that all the poems, all the prophecies, all the parables are parts of one plotline that unfolds the Story of God.

But all 66 books and 1,189 chapters of Scripture have one underlying, foundational story. God is on a mission to rescue us from broken, fallen lives and from a broken, fallen world.

3. The theme of His Story is God’s GRACE: Jesus’ rescue and restoration.

The climax and center of this story is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

4. We can all PARTICIPATE in His Story.

God’s story includes a host of characters. God uses people just like you to tell of His redemption and to move His story along to its glorious ending. We can be part of God’s story.

One of the best ways we can participate is by telling His story – by inviting other people to enter the story. So, witnessing, outreach, mission, and evangelism are really pretty simple. We’re just telling a story. We have to become better storytellers.

We’ve been invited – even commanded – to tell the story.

Let the redeemed of the LORD say so.  Psalm 107:2 (ESV)

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
Romans 1:16 (ESV)

Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others… If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. God… gave us the ministry of reconciliation… entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
II Corinthians 5:11a, 17, 18b, 19b, 20a (ESV)

We can do this. All we have to do is tell a story. Follow the plotline and tell the story.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Can You Tell HIS Story?

Summer is here… time for baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and… the 2011 College World Series where my alma mater, Vanderbilt, is playing! It’s our first time ever in the CWS. But summer is also time for one of America’s pastimes… hitting the local cinema to watch the latest from Hollywood. Summer Blockbusters are rolling out. Sequels and prequels of Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men, Harry Potter, and Transformers. The movie industry is going to make lots of money. Why?

Everybody loves a good story.

Lots of us sat in our parents’ laps and said, “Read me a story.” We’ve all been shaped by stories.

When he was little, our son, Evan, loved “The Clown of God.”

Set-up: Giovanni is a young boy who has a gift. He can juggle. He grows up and makes a living sharing his gift with others all around the country. It’s all about the applause for Giovanni.

Struggle: But years pass and times get tough. And he is not so steady with his juggling. He drops balls. And his audiences are not so kind. He becomes a beggar.

Climax: As an old man, Giovanni enters a church one night- only to be awakened by glorious singing. It’s the celebration of the birth of the Christ child! But the statue of the Christ child looks so sad, so serious. Giovanni would do anything to make the child happy. So, he juggles. Giovanni musters up one final, glorious performance. When he gets to his “show-stopper” – a juggling act with a golden ball, his heart stops and he dies.

Resolution: But at the end, the Christ Child is holding the golden ball. And he wasn’t sad any more. He was smiling.

Our son, Evan, loved that story. We all love stories.

If you think about it, our lives are stories. Stories. We like to hear them, read them, see them, and tell them.

Sometimes, we forget that the Bible is a story. In fact, it is the Story.

As Sally Lloyd-Jones says in The Jesus Storybook Bible, “The Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done… The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves… The best thing about this Story is—it’s true. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story…”

Can you tell The Story – His Story?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Insiders Go Out So Outsiders Come In

Think about a restaurant where you received really bad service and you thought, “I just wish someone in leadership would teach these servers how to serve. The food is good, but the servers stink”?

Now, I’m not going to mention any names, but there’s a restaurant here in NE Ohio I go to for breakfast from time to time. The food’s OK. I mean, how do you botch breakfast? So, I don’t go there for the food. I like going there because the servers recognize me, act like they like to see me, know some to the people I meet with, keep coming by with more water or coffee or anything else we need, and ask me if I want to read the paper if my friend is late. So, I keep going there even though it’s a little more pricey than some other breakfast places in town.

How we insiders serve the outsiders will determine how open the outsiders will be to sit down at a table and eat a meal with Jesus someday.

Insiders go out so outsiders come in.

You can do this. This is possible. It’s a possible lifestyle for you right now. If you are an insider, you have been left here on this earth so that the outsiders you know will become insiders.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Testimony of God's Love and Support Through Community...

Here is a testimony that of one of our CVC congregation shared at our weekend services a few weeks back and how God used the people of CVC to come along side her and continue to minister to her during some extremely difficult seasons in her life.


When my daughter and I found our home at CVC two-and-a-half years ago, our hearts longed to find where we fit in. My daughter felt called to share her love for children in the Children’s Ministry, while I responded to an invitation to attend the Women’s Bible Study on Monday nights. I so wanted to be in fellowship with other women, and it was through this last study that I found what my heart had been seeking. My daughter had been asked by the Women’s Ministry to babysit on Monday nights, so I found myself more committed than ever in attending the Bible studies. With each week that passed, I found myself appreciating each of these women. I was becoming increasingly comfortable with my group and looking forward to seeing them. I am rather shy and quiet by nature, so this was quite a feat. Little did I know that God had a greater purpose in surrounding me with these special women. Three months ago, my precious son, Tony, passed away suddenly at age 25. The routine of life that was so familiar was suddenly turned upside down. It was hard to remember to do even the most basic of things. What happened next caught me by surprise.

While I knew that people would be expressing their sympathy, I never expected the outpouring of love and support I received from my ladies. There they were, coming to pay their respects, one after the other, love and concern on their faces. Their prayer chain had been activated, and they planned meals to get my family through those first painful weeks. They quietly and humbly served my family and friends at the memorial service luncheon, providing a welcoming atmosphere to many who had never been to CVC. Cards, notes, and gifts followed. It was almost funny, as each time someone asked, “who is that from?” the response was “one of my Bible study ladies.” More than all the tangibles, though, was the feeling my family and I experienced of being wrapped in God’s love as this very special group came up alongside us. They were the hands and feet of Jesus, escorting us through this difficult time, praying us through it.

Because of their example, my daughter, who will be leaving for college in the fall, is eager to find her own community of believers; my sister-in-law, who was drawn in by their hospitality, is now volunteering in the ministry to the homeless; and a friend of mine is showing an interest in attending a future Monday night Bible study. I experienced the truth of Jesus’ words “love one another as I have loved you” like never before. Though we are a varied group with different personalities and life experiences, I can look at each of these women and see the eyes of Jesus looking back at me with love and compassion and, once again, I feel His arms embracing me in a love that is unmatched by anything on earth.

Share in a Personal Way

What would if look like if outsiders became insiders – if non-followers of Jesus became followers of Jesus? And what if God wants to use you to make that happen?

To help outsiders in, share in a personal way.

There is not a one size fits all approach.

… so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  Colossians 4:6b (ESV)

We have to individualize, particularize things. There is not a one size fits all approach. The conversation must be appropriate for each person we speak to. We have to learn to speak to the outsiders where they are, according to their interest and needs.

Talk to people. Anyone. Everyone. Be aware. Ask questions. Lots of them. Listen closely to the answers.  This is where the stories element comes in. We need to hear the stories of the outsides so we can share in a personal way. Ask questions!

Would you mind telling me a little about your story?
Where are you on your spiritual journey?
How would you describe your life with God now?
When did you feel closest to God?
How do you see yourself moving closer to God?

This is how we can speak the right word at the right time to the right person. This is how we meet the other person where he or she is.

Half of the outsiders in America surveyed by Gallup pollsters said they intend to return to active church participation some day. Of that group, one in 5 said they would start back to church if someone would just talk to them about spiritual matters.

We must listen to the stories of other people. We must be curious. We must ask questions. We must be interested in their lives. We can't be more interested in what we are going to say than we are in what they are saying. We must not be defensive about what outsiders think about the church.

Outsiders can't be projects. What if we stopped selling and started listening?

I believe that Jesus really is the answer to the longing in every heart.  If your friend is longing for love, Jesus loves the unloved. If your friend is feeling guilt, Jesus forgives. If your friend is lacking peace, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. If your friend is lacking hope, Jesus is the hope of the nations.

But we need to know our friends' longings to see how to help them see that Jesus is the One who can meet their needs. We have to listen to their stories before we apply the medicine of the gospel.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Live with an Urgent Aim and Speak with a Gracious Voice

What would it look like if outsiders became insiders – if non-followers of Jesus became followers of Jesus? And what if God wants to use you to make that happen?

To help outsiders in, live with an urgent aim.

… making the best use of the time.  Colossians 4:5b (ESV)

One version says, “Buying up the opportunity.” The idea is “Don’t just sit there and wait for opportunity to fall into your lap, but go after it. Buy it. Purchase the opportunity completely.”

There are two primary words for “time” in the Greek language. One Greek word, chronos, describes a duration of time. Another word, kairos, describes a point in time. This word, kairos, is the word used here. The idea is “Do it now! Make the most of the opportunity while you have it.”

I read a little story that makes the point. A senior demon and some junior demons were planning ways to keep people out of heaven. One junior demon said, “Let’s make them believe there is no sin.” Another said, “Let’s make them believe there’s no hell.” But the best plan, according to the senior demon was the third junior demon’s plan, “Let’s make them believe there’s no hurry.”

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Ephesians 5:15-16

So, again, what would it look like if outsiders became insiders – if non-followers of Jesus became followers of Jesus? And what if God wants to use you to make that happen?

Another way to help outsiders in, speak with a gracious voice.

Someone said, “98% of insiders give all the others a bad name.”

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt…   Colossians 4:6a (ESV)

“Grace” is here to be used in the sense of “pleasantness,” “attractiveness,” “charm,” “winsomeness.” Don’t talk in ways that turn off the outsiders.

And then notice, our speech is to be seasoned with salt. In the ancient Greek world, “salt” (halas) described the wit that gave zest and spark to a conversation. It’s not dull. It’s not sanctimonious. It’s joyful, witty. Salt brings out the flavor of things. Speak in a way that makes them want more.  Saying the right thing in the wrong way is wrong. Speak with a gracious voice.

And you can’t speak with a gracious voice if we are becoming famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for. At least that’s what outsiders are thinking about insiders.

David Kinnaman and Gable Lyons wrote a book called “UnChristian.” They explore what outsiders in their 20s think about insiders.

"[Outsiders] assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, anti-choice, angry, violent, illogical, empire builders; they want to convert everyone, and they generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn't believe what they believe."

We are becoming famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.

For insiders, there has been a great temptation to dismiss this book. There are two ways we can do this:

• By saying that it isn't true
• By blaming the outsiders for the way they see us - if they misunderstand what we are about, that's their problem!

But if we want to walk in wisdom toward outsiders, we cannot afford to ignore this research. These results are based on objective research. We cannot just dismiss it because we don't like what it tells us.

We have to know what outsiders are thinking about us. And prove them wrong.

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.
I Peter 3:15

Don’t be abusive with the gospel.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Should I or shouldn't I? A few thoughts on those "grey areas" in the Christian life.

Think about this question. What are some issues in your in your culture that create disagreement, disunity, and conflict?

For me in high school, one issue was dancing. My dad was a Baptist who was against it. He thought Christians should not dance. He thought that it might lead to sexual immorality. My future wife, Maryanne, was a Methodist who saw no harm in dancing. Who was right? Should a Christian dance or not?

So, what are some  issues in your in your culture that create disagreement, disunity, and conflict?

I Corinthians 8 is a chapter in the Bible that teaches us how to make decisions when it comes to questionable things, things about which there is no definitive command from God. In America, we call these "grey areas." 

Grey areas include things like dancing, drinking, women wearing pants to church, going to movies, and celebrating halloween. 

What are "grey areas" in your culture? How do you decide what's right and what's wrong?

For the church in Corinth, the "grey area" was eating meat sacrificed to an idol. Some said it was OK. some said it was not. It was creating division in the church.

Why is unity in the church such an important issue?

1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." This "knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up.
2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.
3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
I Corinthians 8:1-3 

We have to be careful about how we handle knowledge. Why? Knowledge can foster pride. We ought to focus on being known by God and knowing Him in return. This will foster humility. We know God and are known by God. As a result, we love God. See the connection between knowing and loving? 

But for some of these Christians at  Corinth, there was a connection between knowing and pride, which led to disunity.

So, what did they know that they thought others didn't know?

4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one."
5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth-as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-
6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
I Corinthians 8:4-6

What many in the church at Corinth knew was simple. If there is no god beyond an idol, then the idol is just a hunk of stone or wood. An idol really represents nothing. It does nothing. See, there is only one God. And He's not to be depicted by a rock. This is something worthwhile to know.

But not everyone is so certain.

7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
I Corinthians 8:7

What some Christians know - that eating meat offered to a  idol is no big deal because the idol itself is nothing - others don't know. Maybe they have just come into church out of idolatry. And when they eat meat offered to an idol, it might remind them of their idolatry or, worse, tempt them to go back into idolatry. 

Take drinking alcohol, for example. What if I feel it's OK? And a teen or recovering alcoholic sees me coming out of a liquor store with some beer or some whiskey? What if I can handle it? What if I can drink in moderation? Then it's no sin for me. But what if that teen or recovering alcoholic sees me and is tempted? And what if they get drunk or enslaved?

The issue is not really the meat (or the drinking). Eating or not eating doesn't really impress God one way or the other. That's an outside in thing that has no real value in helping us overcome the flesh.

8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.
I Corinthians 8:8

Eating the meat offered to an idol is no big deal. It's inside out change that's important, not outside in change that's important.

But it's easy to lose sight of that fact. Churches do it all the time.

What are ways that people in your culture measure maturity that are really outside in and not inside out? Is your culture better with inside out change or outside in change?

The real change that God wants to see is love. And that's inside out change.

We who have been changed form the outside in must always be sensitive toward our brothers and sisters in Christ who might have different views about the grey areas.

9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
I Corinthians 8:9

The word "weak" here is referring to someone with a tender conscience - someone who thinks eating the meat offered to an idol is wrong. So, the string one who thinks it's OK to eat the meat should not cause the weaker one to stumble.

10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?
11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.
I Corinthians 8:10-11

You're eating the meat offered to an idol and it's OK for you. But it's not OK for him. He sees you eat the meat and thinks, well, I can do that, too. But his heart is drawn back to idolatry and away from Christ.

So, that makes your eating the meat a sin. Why? You are violating the law of love. You are free to eat the meat. But you are not free to cause your brother to stumble.

12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
I Corinthians 8:12

So, should I eat the meat or not?

13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
I Corinthians 8:13

Love limits liberty. I could eat the meat, but I choose not to eat the meat if it might cause a brother to stumble. The relationship is more important than the rule.

Why are people often more concerned about rules than they are about relationship? Often, it's because it's easier to focus on outside in change than it is to focus on inside out change.

So, how does this all fit into the big picture?

Creation: God created the world. Good. There was no need for rules. Relationships worked. 

Fall: Sin entered the picture. Relationships were wrecked. God knew it. We knew it. So, rules were created to govern relationships. The rules still didn't work to fix relationships. First, we can't keep them. But even when we do, Christian rules don't work. Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish rules don't work. We turn the rules into a who's in and who's out thing. We turn the rules into a change from the outside in thing. And our relationships are still a mess. The problem is in our hearts.  

Rescue: God did what rules can't do. He sent His Son - one who did keep the rules perfectly, to die on the cross for all our wrongdoing. He rose again. Then He sends His Spirit to live and work in us so we can love, so we can have great relationships. Jesus does for us what the rules never could. He changes us from the inside out. 

Restoration: Now, Jesus calls us to be on mission with Him. He wants us to join Him on His mission to write His rule of love in the hearts of everyone who will follow Him. He wants us to reject following the rules of human tradition so we can follow the law of love - loving God and loving people. We can join His church - a community of changed people who can eat meat or not, who can dance or not, who can go to a movie or not, but who are always putting relationship ahead of rules, who are always being changed from the inside out, who are always going to focus on loving others.

Sometimes, our love for the weaker among us will limit our liberty in Christ. We always focus on relationship over man-made rules. We know that rules can't change us, but that Jesus can and that He always focuses on inside out change, not outside in change. Truly, Jesus is the Key.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Walking in a Prudent Way

What would it look like if outsiders became insiders – if non-followers of Jesus became followers of Jesus? And what if God wants to use you to make that happen?
To help outsiders in, pray for an open door walk in a prudent way.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders…   Colossians 4:5a (ESV)

The word “walk” here means our way of life – our everyday, “walking around in this world” life. We’re not talking about adding something to your already overcrowded life.

An underlying assumption behind these words is that we have a relationship with outsiders as a way of life.

Maybe you grew up in a Christian family and were taught not to have relationships with outsiders. You were taught that we are to separate ourselves from those dirty, rotten, no-good sinners.

There are two extremes in the church. Some of us tend to be too disengaged from the world. We live isolated lives. We listen only to Christian music, hang out with only Christian people, and go only to Christian places. We’re not “in the world” – insiders who never go outside.

Others of us tend to be too engaged with the world. There’s not much real difference between our lifestyles and our non-Christian friends’ and lifestyles. We’re “of the world” – insiders who live like outsiders. And that’s not good. We are called to be pure and holy. We are to keep ourselves unstained by the world. But that doesn’t mean that we disengage from the world. We are to be in the world, but not of it.

Jesus prayed for us this way in John 17:

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world… You sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
John 17:14, 18 (ESV)

I want to remind you that the Bible tells us that Jesus was “a friend of sinners.” They liked being around Him. Sinners welcomed him gladly. Yes, He was hated by the religious establishment. But the irreligious liked being around Him.

Being holy and righteous doesn’t mean that outsiders will want to run away from us. Prostitutes and tax collectors and people whose lives were all messed up were drawn to Jesus because He related to them in warm, winsome, gracious ways.

So, if you have been taught that it is inappropriate for you to have friendships with non-believers, then that was wrong.

If we are going to be like Jesus, we have to have relationships with people who are far from God. Start praying now that you will develop relationships with some people who are far from God. We want outsiders to delight in being with us and we want us to delight in being with outsiders.

Jesus was the Ultimate Insider. He was in heaven living a perfectly unpolluted life. Absolutely holy. But He came out. Down and out. He left heaven to be “in the world.” Not “of the world,” but “in the world.” Why? So outsiders could come in.

This is at the heart of the gospel. The Son of God left heaven to come to earth to live, suffer, die, and rise again so that those on earth could be saved, transformed, rescued, and go to heaven to be with Him forever. The insider goes out so outsiders come in.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Praying For An Open Door

Do you pray for "outsiders/unbelievers" to become "insiders/believers?"

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison-that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
Colossians 4:2-4 (ESV)

Here’s the cry of our hearts: O Lord, open the door of the outsider’s heart so I can point them to Jesus.

Do you pray for outsiders to become insiders? More specifically, do you have a prayer list?
  • Keep a prayer list of outsiders you want to become insiders on 3x5 cards.
  • Keep a prayer list of outsiders you want to become insiders in a notebook.
  • Or keep a prayer list of outsiders you want to become insiders on just simple sheets of paper you keep in or near your Bible.
An idea that Dale Piscura shared recently was making a prayer map of your neighborhood.

Talk to the Lord about your friend before you talk to your friend about the Lord. And then you go through your day looking for those open doors.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

Outsiders Becoming Insiders

Have you ever been to a restaurant and received really bad service? Maybe you thought, “I just wish someone in leadership would teach these servers how to serve. This restaurant would be really good if they took care of their customers better. The food is good, but the servers stink.”

In Colossians 4, God tells the insiders how to serve outsiders better. What we have to offer is really good. But we often don’t offer it in a good way.

Colossians is a letter written 2000 years ago by a spiritual leader named Paul who started a church in Colossae, a city in what we now call Turkey. The relationship between insiders and outsiders was often difficult then, too.

Outsiders sometimes called insiders unpatriotic because they didn’t burn incense before the image of the emperor. Outsiders sometimes called insiders immoral because they met secretly and the outsiders just knew something corrupt had to be going on.

So, Paul writes to the insiders and tells them how to love and serve outsiders better.

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison-
4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.
6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  Colossians 4:2-6 (ESV)

Ok. To help us apply these truths, I ask all insiders to write down some names.
  • Would you write down the name of the first outsider who comes to mind who is causing you pain – who is breaking your heart?
  • Would you write down the name of the first outsider who comes to mind who is about as far from God as you can imagine – who is pretty unlikely to become an insider any time soon?
  • Would you write down the name of the first outsider in your neighborhood/work/school who comes to mind – someone you see pretty regularly?

 What would if look like if those outsiders became insiders? And what if God wants to use you to make that happen?


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Inside Out - Outside In - "Their Stories"

Insiders. And outsiders. Who’s hot? And who’s not? Who’s up? And who’s down?

We live in such an inclusive culture that there’s something about these terms that we just don’t like. So, to think of “haves” and “have-nots” is kind of repulsive in some ways for most of us. We live in a pluralistic society that loves, accepts, and values all kinds of people. And I love that about the USA.

So, I get that. But the Bible speaks of outsiders.

What have I to do with judging outsiders?  I Corinthians 5:12

Walk properly before outsiders…  I Thessalonians 4:12

He [an elder] must be well thought of by outsiders…  I Timothy 3:7

Outsiders. What is that? It’s a term used in the Bible to describe people who have not yet come to faith in Christ, who are not yet part of the Church, who are not yet following Jesus, who have not yet joined Jesus on His mission to change the world, whose sins are not yet forgiven, who haven’t yet experienced the abundant life Jesus offers everyone. Outsiders can be atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, or nominal Christians. Outsiders.

So, if there are people we can call outsiders, then there are people we can call insiders. These are people who have come to faith in Christ, who are followers of Jesus, who are part of the Church, who have joined Jesus in His mission to change the world, whose sins are forgiven, who have experienced the abundant life Jesus offers everyone. Insiders.

So, according to the Bible, you could divide all humanity into outsiders and insiders.

Again, in our 21st century American culture, we value accepting people for who they are. We aren’t supposed to try to change anybody. Why not? Well, that flies in the face of tolerance and love and acceptance. If you are trying to change somebody, then that must mean that you’re judging them, right?

But the Bible teaches that insiders who were outsiders are here to help outsiders become insiders. We want outsiders to know the same joy and peace and forgiveness and hope and meaning and purpose and abundant life that we know. We have lots of names for helping outsider be insiders. Outreach. Mission. Evangelism. Witnessing.

And, let’s be honest, it’s one of the scariest things about our faith.  It scares insiders and outsiders alike.

If you’re reading this and you are an outsider, I want you to know that you are welcome at Cuyahoga Valley Church. We hope you’ll find CVC to be a safe place to explore the Christian faith. Your questions, concerns, and doubts will be welcome at CVC. But my guess is that one of the things that bothers you about insiders is this thing we call evangelism or witnessing.

Let me just say it. We don’t do it very well. We’ve got this great gift (the best gift!) in Christ. But when we can come across in so many wrong ways – judgmental, scared, inarticulate, hypocritical, holier-than-thou, timid, uncertain, flustered, proud.

So, at CVC, we are launching a new series called “stories.”

Everybody loves a good story. And everybody has a life story. If we’ll just start sharing stories in natural ways then all of this angst on both sides will dissipate. If insiders will just become interested in outsiders’ stories, then the outsiders might just want to hear the insiders’ stories, too. And, more importantly, they might want to hear His story – the story of Jesus.

Friday, June 03, 2011

We Can Forgive for Good When We Pay Back

This is not a “you-hurt-me-now-I-hurt-you” payback. We don’t take matters into our own hands.

We give the hurt-er over to God. He handles the justice issues. He won’t be too easy or too hard like we’re tempted to be. He handles things just right.

No. We pay back evil with good. Look at how Joseph handled things with his brothers.

10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.
11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.  Genesis 45:10-11 (ESV)

We respond to injustice with a blessing. Joseph said, “5 more years of famine are on the way. Go back home and get my daddy. Bring everybody here to Egypt. You can all live here with me. My blessings are your blessings. My prosperity is your prosperity. My favor is your favor.”

It’s normal to stay awake at night and dream of ways to hurt back. But we’ve been called to live super-normal lives. If you are a follower of Christ, the Spirit of Jesus is in you. You can live empowered by the Holy Spirit. You can do things no normal person would do.

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.   I Peter 3:9 (ESV)

At the very least, you can make an honest effort to pray for the person who has wronged you. And you can go even further by looking for an opportunity to help him. Maybe even anonymously.

Maybe you can memorize Genesis 50:20 to help remember to trust God. Maybe you can ask God if it’s safe to “come together” and will reach out if He gives the go ahead. Maybe you can release those who have hurt you and say, “They don’t have to pay.” Maybe you can find ways to bless those who have hurt you. Or maybe you need to receive the forgiveness of Jesus so you can give forgiveness to others.

Whatever you need to do, do it. Forgive for good. You’ll be glad you did.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

We Can Forgive for Good When We Call Close and Set Free

If those who have hurt you pass the test of trust, then you can carefully reengage. This might take a long time. Trust has to be earned. But at some point, you step out and reengage the relationship.

So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, please." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  Genesis 45:4 (ESV)

Remember, this took time. In Joseph’s case with his brothers, it took 22 years. But at some point, we can invite those who have hurt us and who pass the tests of trust to come near. Maybe it’s an invitation for a cup of coffee. Maybe it’s inviting someone over for a cookout. God will lead you.

Bottom line. God can do this restoration thing! Relationships that seem impossible to reconcile, God can restore!

But it will take you setting the hurt-ers free.

If I’d been Joseph the first time I saw the brothers who had forsaken me I might have been tempted to say, “I’m willing to forgive you, but let me tell you what I’ve been through because of you. Do you know what it was like living like a slave? You know what it was like being thrown unjustly into prison? Well, let me tell you about those 13 years.”

Joseph doesn’t do that. The past is past and the future starts now. He tells his brothers not to beat themselves up over the past.

And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here…
Genesis 45:5a (ESV)

He’s saying, “You don’t have to pay. You owe me nothing. I don’t even want you to carry a load of guilt.”

You can choose to set free those who have injured you. You can set them free. You don’t need to retaliate because you are not in the place of God. The work of bringing justice - of making right the wrong – is God’s work. Your work is to forgive and release. It’s the only path to healing. Refuse to punish.

Lay it all down. You do that by spending time in the presence of God and asking Him to dig out every root, every thought, every fear, every lingering shred of resentment and pain.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

We Can Forgive for Good When We Test Hearts

We actually have to look back at Genesis 42-44 to see this. What we see in chapter 45 is really the brothers’ second visit to Egypt. They had been there before to get food. And Joseph recognized them then.

But he didn’t reveal himself. He tested them. The past hurts had shattered Joseph’s ability to trust his brothers. Joseph needed to know and believe two things – that they were telling him the whole truth and that they were truly sorry for what they had done.

At first, Joseph doesn’t tell them who he is. He wants to find out a little more about who they are now – what their character is like now. He had missed over two decades of family life with his dad and brothers. It’s time for a test. “Have they changed? Are they truthful? Are they kind? Are they sorry?”

Joseph set us some scenarios to lead his brothers to see the seriousness of their sin. He wanted to be reassured that they truly were repentant and wanted to insure that they wouldn't treat his little brother, Benjamin, the same.

Joseph said, “Go back home and bring back your little brother.” It’s Benjamin, his full brother. Scholars say that Joseph wanted to see if they were still jealous – if they acted toward Benjamin the same way they acted toward him.

So, they start talking amongst themselves in Hebrew. And Joseph hears their softened conscience: “We are very guilty.” He hears how the memory haunted them: “We saw Joseph’s anguish.” He hears them connect the dots between their past guilt and their current troubles: “Therefore is this distress come upon us.” They used to call him In “this dreamer,” but now he is “our brother” and “the child.”

He comes to the conclusion that maybe these are broken men pleading before the governor. He’s think that maybe they are ready to come clean.

On the second visit for food, the brothers do bring Benjamin. And Joseph says that he’s going to keep Benjamin in Egypt while the others go back. But the brothers say, “We can’t let this happen to our dad. He’s already lost one son. This would kill him.” Finally, one of the older brothers, Judah, actually asked that he be allowed to take Benjamin’s place as a slave. That’s when Joseph “could no longer control himself” (45:1). He knew this was the time to tell them who he was. His questions were all answered. His brothers had told the truth. Most important of all, their hearts were changed.

Think about it. This reconciliation took over 20 years. I take this to mean that reconciliation may not happen quickly. If the other party is not ready, then seeking to reconcile with them prematurely can do more damage.

Some of us think that if we forgive our offenders, that they are let off the hook – that they get off scot-free and get to go about their merry ways while we suffer. We can also think that we have to be close friends with them again or go back to the old relationship.

Listen, God commands us to forgive others, but He never told us to keep trusting those who abuse our trust.

Forgiveness is not letting the offender off the hook. We can and should still hold others accountable for their actions or lack of actions.

Forgiveness is not letting the offense recur again and again. We don't have to tolerate ongoing hurt over and over.

Forgiveness does not mean we live as victims. Forgiving is not saying, "What you did was okay, so go ahead and walk all over me."

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling. We can forgive someone even if we never can get close again.

There are, frankly, some people in my past that I have forgiven, but that now I think (with the wise counsel of others to whom I am accountable) are unsafe. In such cases (which should be rare), I have applied Titus 3:10-11 which says, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes, “Depending on the nature and circumstances of your relationship with some who have wronged you, it may not be appropriate for you to reconnect face-to-face or to re-establish ongoing contact with them… Our main goal for our offenders should be their reconciliation, first and foremost with God and then, if possible, with us. We may [emphasis, mine] be able to help bring about that ultimate objective by building bridges of love and blessing across the divide” (Choosing Forgiveness, p. 203).

Testing the heart of a hurt-er is biblical. If they don’t pass the test, you won’t trust. Not yet, anyway. If they pass the test, you can let your trust grow. And you can take careful steps toward reconciliation.

Share it