Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The top 5 posts on the blog in February 2012

Why you should be part of the story

We need to become part of the story, the story of the Bible.

It’s Jesus’ belief about creation, fall, rescue, restoration that moved Him to love – to sacrifice so others could live, so we could be saved.

The story of the Bible lifts you out of you. You’ll join Jesus on His mission of restoration – to bless the broken and heal the hurting. The Bible isn’t a rule-book as much as it’s a story that invites you in! It’s a story where the Father is the author and Jesus is the star and the Spirit is the director and we each have a part to play.

As we begin this foundations series and consider the Bible – the truth, what do we want you to know and why do we want you to know it? What do we want you to do and why do we want you to do it?
What do we want you to know? That you can trust this book. You can at least explore whether or not you can trust this book. Why do we want you to know this? We want you to build your life on a solid foundation. What do we want you to do? Pick it up and read it. It’s not just a book. It’s alive! Why do we want you to do this? You will live a life of adventure and sacrifice and joy as you join Jesus in His story on His mission.

I bet some of your struggle with believing the Bible isn’t just a book. You’ve seen and heard what might be called discrepancies. (Skeptics say, “In one place, the Bible says there was one angel at the tomb of Jesus and in another place the Bible says there were two angels. The Bible contradicts itself!”) I would be lying to you if I said there were no difficulties with the Bible. But on the screen are just two of many resources to help you with your questions.

If you approach the Bible as a skeptic, you’ll find reasons not to believe. It will be just a book to you. But if you approach the Bible with an open mind, you’ll find beauty, and hope, love, and an invitation into a relationship with God so you can make a difference in the world. Just read it! If you want to call yourself well-educated, you ought to at least read what most people would say is the most influential book in western civilization. 

Vanderbilt was a great struggle for me. I didn’t know where to believe my professors or my Sunday School teachers. I began to look at the lives of the skeptics and the believers. I saw more hope, more clarity, more purpose as the believers lived their lives on mission. I decided to go with the guys who believed the Book. Since then, I am not finding hidden flaws in the Bible, but glorious beauty.

CVC's youth pastor, Rick Eimers, serves students, teachers, and families in Chardon

Please pray for our youth pastor, Rick Eimers, as he ministers to students, teachers, and parents in Chardon. Tuesday was intense.  Rick and our two youth interns, Jim and Jeremy, all went to a church in Chardon and had an incredible opportunity to minister to 50+ students from the community.  

Rick wrote, "We talked with the best friend of students killed, students who had stories of running late to school and even of a girl who witness the entire incident from beginning to end.  God allowed me the opportunity to debrief many individuals through the CISM Crisis training model that we hosted at CVC a few years ago.  We were able to connect many of the students to get follow up care with individuals within the church who are desiring to walk with these students." 

Today through Friday, Rick has additional opportunities to provide further encouragement and training as the people of Chardon deal with the aftermath of all this pain and suffering. Pray that God would use this horrific incident to see students come to a saving knowledge of Christ and that they’d find healing within the body of Christ.

Pray for Rick as he's been invited back to Chardon to debrief all middle school teachers on Wednesday and parents on Thursday. Then he’ll be at the school all day on Friday to help merge the students back in to school.  Rick's availability has turned into something much much bigger than he anticipated.  

God is doing some incredible things in the lives of many of the students.  There will be many opportunities for Rick to serve and encourage the people of Chardon in the future as well.  The road to healing is only beginning for them.
 
Thanks everyone.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Your invitation to join the storyline of the Bible

Jesus believe the Bible. He believed the Old Testament. He believed what He said about Himself that would one day be recorded in the gospels. And Jesus believed that what would be written about Him in the future New Tesatament.

OK. He believed in the Bible. So what?

The Bible was foundational for His life. And even the skeptics would say that He lived a good life. I would say that He lived like no one ever has lived. Jesus personified love. Jesus was able to love like He loved because He believed what He believed.

Jesus not only trusted the Bible, but He also understood it. Jesus was often in conflict with the religious rule-keepers in His day because they believed the Bible but missed the meaning of it. They made it into a list of dos and don’ts. Jesus set them straight.

"You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29, ESV).

Although the Bible has rules, the Bible isn’t a rule book. Jesus didn’t see the Bible as a religious rule book. It’s a story about relationship.

Jesus came into this world for relationships, not religion. Jesus was a radical who resisted the regulations and rituals of the organized religion of His day. If you can keep the rules of religion, then you can become a Somebody. We all know people like that. They keep the rules really well. And make us feel bad about ourselves. That was what was important to the Pharisees. They wanted to be seen, heard, praised. Jesus says, “That’s not what the Bible is all about.”

The Bible isn’t about you becoming a Somebody. The Bible tells a story about a Somebody who will rescue anybody because they are already a somebodies to Him.

Just so we don’t miss the meaning of the Bible, let’s talk about the story line.

If you read the first chapters of the first book of the Bible, you see that God made everything. It was very good.

If you read the last two chapters of the last book of the Bible, Revelation, you see that everything will be very good.

What happened between creation and restoration?

The Fall. We rebelled against God. We sinned. We went our own way. And it had a cataclysmic impact. Things were not very good any more – on the planet, between people, and with God. It’s explains what’s wrong with the world: sickness, disease, catastrophes, war, hunger, and even conflict in your own home.

People have tried to fix things through education and industry and government and religion. But we can’t fix ourselves or the world. So, Jesus came to rescue us. He lived the life we could never live and died a death on a cross in our place to forgive us. He ascended into heaven. He sent His Spirit to live inside us. One day He’s coming back to restore all things. This world will be very good again.

While we wait for that day, we have been invited to follow Jesus – to join Him on His mission to rescue and restore.

Think about it. Everything was very good. An enemy comes and everything is very bad. A hero comes to rescue us through personal sacrifice and we live happily ever after. This is the story line of the great literature and films in history. The reason we love the stories we love is that hard-wired in our hearts is a longing for His-story – the story of the Bible!

We are destined for a very good eternity. Why are we left here in this not-so-good world? It’s to join Him in His mission to bless the broken and heal the hurting.

The Pharisees didn’t get that! They had turned the Bible into a religious rule-book. They tried hard to keep the rules. To a degree, they succeeded. And they were filled with pride. It was about them!

It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus and His glory and His mission.

When we make everything about us, that’s a problem. The reason you get mad on the Interstate when somebody cuts you off is because it’s about you. The reason you argued with your brother or sister or mom or dad or husband or wife yesterday is because it’s about you.

The Bible says it’s not about you. It’s not about religion. It’s about a relationship.

When Jesus was summarizing the Bible, He boiled it all down to three commandments. Command #1: Love God. Command #2: Love One Another. Command #3? See Command #1 and Command #2!

We need become part of that story, the story of the Bible.

It’s Jesus’ belief about creation, fall, rescue, restoration that moved Him to love – to sacrifice so others could live, so we could be saved.

The story of the Bible lifts you out of you. You’ll join Jesus on His mission of restoration – to bless the broken and heal the hurting. The Bible isn’t a rule-book as much as it’s a story that invites you in! It’s a story where the Father is the author and Jesus is the star and the Spirit is the director and we each have a part to play.

Jesus Trusted the Bible Future...

We have seen in the prior blog posts that Jesus trusted the Bible past and present.  Let's take a look at how Jesus trusted the Bible future...

Jesus trusted the Bible that would be written in what would be His future. How do we know? We just see hints about this in the teaching of Jesus. But we can see it.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would assist His followers remember His words.

The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
John 14:26 (ESV)

This is a big deal. Jesus is saying that before the NT was written, the Holy Spirit was working to make sure that the followers of Jesus would verbally communicate truths that could be trusted. And then the Holy Spirit would work to make sure that what they later wrote could be trusted.  

This explains that what was written by the first followers of Jesus was seen by the early church as having the same authority as the OT.

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth… and He will declare to you the things that are to come.
John 16:13-14 (ESV)

The work of the Holy Spirit was to guide the followers of Jesus so that their memory of the words and the work of Jesus was completely accurate.

Later in John 17 , Jesus prays for His first followers and their impact on future followers – on people like us. And notice how He prays.

I [pray] for those who will believe in Me through their word…
John 17:20 (ESV)

He’s praying so that what was said and written in the future could be trusted. These are hints from the lips of Jesus that the words and the writings from His followers that were yet to come could be trusted. The first followers of Jesus were simply passing along what they had received from Jesus.

The OT can be trusted. The gospels can be trusted. The rest of the New Testament can be trusted.

Maybe someone reading this has lost your purpose for living. You are asking, “Who am I and why am I here?” Maybe God has you reading this blog today jsut to remind you that you can trust the rest of the NT. Read it. And in its pages you will find your purpose. It’s not just a book.

Jesus trusted the Bible past, present, and future.

4 ways to pray the good news into your life

J.D. Greear is the pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. This article is adapted from his newly released book, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary. Find out more info on the book here. I first saw this post on The Resurgence website.

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One of the revolutionary ideas of the gospel is that we begin to do what we ought for God as we are captivated by the story of what he has done for us.

Spiritual fruits do not develop in us as we focus on them; spiritual fruits come as we abide in Jesus (John 15:5). Spiritual “fruit” is much like physical “fruit.” When a husband and wife conceive physical “fruit” (i.e. a child), they are not thinking about the exact, scientific mechanics of making that child. They get caught up in a moment of loving intimacy with one another, and the fruit of that loving intimacy is a child. In the same way, spiritual fruits do not grow by focusing on fruit production, but by becoming intimate with the doctrines of the gospel.

GROW YOUR FRUIT WITH THE GOSPEL

Jesus said that saturating ourselves in the gospel, or “abiding” (lit., “making our home”) in it, is the way to abundant fruit. Sanctification is the daily process of pulling up the roots of our hearts from the flesh and grounding them in the soil of the gospel. Or, to change metaphors, we must send out missionaries to the unreached parts of our heart to preach the gospel and bring our heart under the subjugation of the

A PRAYER OF GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS

About four years ago, I wrote a prayer for our church to help to this end. We often talk about “preaching the gospel to ourselves daily,” but how can you do that? This four-part prayer confronts us with the reality of God’s gift-righteousness and love:

“In Christ, there is nothing I could do that would make you love me more, and nothing I have done that makes you love me less.” Pray about this “gift righteousness” of the gospel (2 Cor. 5:21) and go to war against the incipient works-righteousness hardwired into our hearts.

“Your presence and approval are all I need today for everlasting joy.” Pray about this value of God’s presence in our lives. It’s one thing to know that Jesus is your possession; it’s another for that approval to have such weightiness in our hearts that our captivity to other idols is snapped.

“As you have been to me, so I will be to others.” Pray about and consider the extravagant generosity of God toward us. His generosity toward us leads us to radical generosity toward others.   

“As I pray, I’ll measure your compassion by the cross and your power by the resurrection.” Pray that God would help you view the world through the lens of the gospel. Seeing the compassion and power of God revealed in the gospel produces bold, audacious faith in our hearts. 

FOCUS ON WHAT JESUS HAS DONE FOR YOU

Things like radical generosity and audacious faith are not produced when we focus on them, but when we focus on the gospel. Focusing on what we ought to do for God creates only frustration and exhaustion; focusing on what Jesus has done for us produces abundant fruit. Resting in what Jesus has done for us releases the revolutionary power of the gospel.

Monday, February 27, 2012

7 readings for maintaining a sustainable pace in ministry

I recently received an email from a young spiritual leader in another state who is wanting to plant a great church but is now facing burnout.

Here's what he wrote his supporters, "This is a risky email, but I've come to the conclusion that it's necessary. The truth is that I needed to take time off to deal with severe physical symptoms that surfaced [in my life]. Doctors have cleared me of anything fatal - nothing wrong but big-time stress and anxiety.

"However, I still haven't been able to shake extreme panic attacks, loss of sleep and overwhelming fear even after 3 weeks of fantastic care from parents, close friends, professional counselors, etc. [It's] something that's extremely embarrassing and humbling to admit.

"I don't need more attention; just prayer. Please pray that God will continue to help me learn what I need to learn, change what I need to change, and refuse to give in to the lies of our enemy Satan. Christ has already won for me; that's all I've got and that's all I need."

I see in this young man great potential. So, I wrote him to encourage him:

"Even though we met ever so briefly, my heart goes out to you. I am sorry you are in this season of extreme panic attacks, loss of sleep, and overwhelming fear.

"May God give you healing, my brother. He will. Please believe that you are learning great lessons for your life and ministry that will serve you well for decades to come.

"So, don't feel guilt about the time off. I am glad you are under the care of parents, friends, counselors, and, best of all, the Lord Himself. In His time and in His way, He will bring you through this and you will be stronger and wiser. The people you will one day lead will be better led, too.

"Here are 7 of my blog posts where I have written about the importance of pace, rhythm, and slowing down. Maybe they will help.

"My Rx for what it's worth... Read one a day for the next seven days.

1. "How are you doing?" "Well rested."

2. Slowing

3. Right your wrong rhythm

4. Rest awhile

5. Remaining centered

6. Do more. Slow down.

7. Be still, my soul

"May the God of peace grant you His peace. You are the apple of His eye even during this time out. He hasn't forgotten you."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

7 ways that God is not like a vending machine

Chad Allen talked today about a common experience we all have. We're hungry. And we go looking for a vending machine. We put the money in. We push the buttons. But what we want gets stuck and we get nothing. Or something we didn't want comes out. It's frustrating. We want to kick and shake the machine.

Our problem is that we sometimes see prayer like that. We wouldn't call God a vending machine. But sometimes we treat Him that way. We put our prayers into the machine. We push the buttons and ask for something specific. But often God says "no" or He says "Here's something else instead." The problem is that now we're not frustrated with some earthly vending machine. Now we're frustrated with God.

But we know that God is not a vending machine. Here are 7 ways God is not like a vending machine.

1. We don't have to go looking for Him!  When you are hungry late at night in a hotel, you have to go looking for a vending machine. But we don't have to do this with God. He is always present. He is always available. It's why we can pray without ceasing.

2. Unlike a vending machine (which usually gives you something that tastes good but us actually bad for you) whatever answer you get from God - whatever comes out - is always good for you, best for you. We can't push button A to get product A with God. We push buttons ABC and with God we might get product XYZ or product PQR (or nothing!). He always knows best. Our Father knows best.

3. We don't go to Him for a snack. Vending machines are for snacks. God gives no snacks. We go to Him for the main course. He is our Source, our Strength, our Supply. Prayer is the means by which we get our Sustenance for living.

4. While they don't always work, with vending machines, we usually know what we are going to get. But it's not that way with God. We pray but we won't know in advance what we will receive from Him. Sometimes God says "no." Sometimes God says "slow." Sometimes God says "grow." Sometimes God says "go." Prayer is a dynamic, surprising relationship.

5. Vending machines can get dented with hits and kicks when people get frustrated with them. But we can't dent God! Submissive believers don't kick Him or shake Him when we don't get something we want. Instead, we embrace Him knowing that what we get or don't get is for our good and for His glory.

6. With God, we don't have to put something of value in to get something of value out. We have nothing of value to offer anyway. We are penniless to God. Prayer is a free invitation to get from God. We don't "earn" God's answers to pray. It's not a transaction where we give and then get. It's not a transaction that's equal on both sides. God's gifts to us - His answers to prayer - are free. We have nothing and He has everything. He gives freely!

7. What we get from God in prayer is not something we keep for ourselves to greedily eat in secret. It's something to share with others. Know this: Whatever answer you get from God is designed to help you live on mission for Him and live on mission for others. His answer is calling you into His redemptive plan for you to be on mission.

No one I know sees God as a vending machine. But it's time to stop treating Him that way.

God is our ever-present, good-giving, strength-supplying, surprise-loving, stability-granting, grace-giving, mission-sending Father in heaven. Why wouldn't we want to go to a God like that in prayer?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Jesus trusted the Bible present

Jesus trusted the Bible past, and Jesus trusted the Bible present.


What I mean is that Jesus trusted the Bible that was being spoken in His present – the Bible being spoken by Him! He believed His own words that would be written down later.

Jesus spoke about the eternal nature of His own words.


Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
Matthew 24:35 (ESV)


Who says that? Not me. Not you. But Jesus did.


In the Old Testament, the prophets often opened statements by saying, “Thus says the Lord.” Jesus didn’t introduce comments by saying, “Thus says the Lord.” It was enough for Jesus to speak in His own name. He was confident that His words were God’s words. He would begin His teachings by saying, “Truly, truly I say to you…” (John 3:5). Who says that? Not me. Not you. But Jesus did.
Jesus said that if we build our lives upon His words, we will stand when everyone else falls.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  Matthew 7:24-25 (ESV)


He says, "If you build your lives on Me and My words, you will stand when everyone else is falling." Who says that? Not me. Not you. But Jesus did.

If I were to say, “My words will not pass away,” you should not trust me. If I were to say, “Truly truly I say to you” and act like what I am saying has the same authority as God, you should not listen to me. If I were to say, “If you obey me, you are building on a solid foundation,” then you should run. But this is what Jesus said. He believed His words were God’s words.


The OT can be trusted. The Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - can be trusted.


Maybe you have lost clarity. You have lots of decisions, directions, choices. Maybe God is reminding you today that you can trust the Gospels - that you can read the words of Jesus. And that's where you will find clarity and direction.

The Bible. It’s not just a book.

Jesus trusted the Bible past and present.

John Piper's new acronym

I rarely post things on my blog that are full reposts from others. But John Piper's relentless pursuit of tools to help him behold the glory of the Lord is so imstructive that I felt the need to repost the following from his blog. If you don't have a habit to discipline your mind like his habit/practice, I recommend that you either adopt his acronym for a renewed mind or that you come up with something similar.

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I have a new acronym... I now use A.I.M.S. to help me maintain my Christ-consciousness through the day.

Two times in his second letter Peter said he meant to stir us up “by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:13; 3:1). This is what I need all day long. Reminders of massive truth.

If my mind is empty or worldly, my faith languishes. My joy in Christ weakens. I need truth. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

My mind needs glory: “Set your minds on things that are above” (Colossians 3:2). I need to think on excellent praiseworthy reality:. “If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

But my mind drifts into banal and trivial things. And my soul shrivels.

What shall I do? I “will call to mind” amazing things about God (Lamentations 3:21). I will “remember” his all-gracious covenant (1 Chronicles 16:15). I will set my mind on “the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5). I will “consider his wondrous works” (Psalm 106:7).

How?

Among other ways, with A.I.M.S. Through the day I will pause and ask, What are you’re A.I.M.S. And I will answer:

A. I will call to mind the stupendous truth that Jesus is ALIVE. (Luke 24:5–6)

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

I. I will remember the breathtaking reality that Jesus is IN me. (Romans 8:10).

“Christ is in you.”

M. I will ponder the all-comforting fact that Jesus is MIGHTY. (Matthew 28:18).

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

S. And I will savor the sweetness that Jesus is SATISFYING. (John 6:35)

"Whoever believes in Me shall never thirst."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Proof that Jesus Believed in the Old Testament

Lots of people who say that they trust Jesus have a struggle trusting the Bible.

But if we have a problem with the Bible, we have a problem with Jesus. Why?

Jesus trusted the Bible.

Consider: Jesus trusted the Bible past.

Jesus trusted the Bible that had been written in His past. The part of the Bible that Jesus had when He walked on this planet was the Old Testament. And the evidence points to the fact that Jesus believed the Old Testament was true and was God’s Word.

In Mark 7, Jesus affirms what Isaiah, the OT prophet, wrote. “Well did Isaiah prophesy…” Jesus says. And then He calls OT teaching “the commandment of God.”

"You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men."
Mark 7:1-8 (ESV)

See, Jesus trusted the Bible past. Just a few examples.

Jesus didn’t talk about OT characters like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah like they were myths. He believed they actually lived and that they did what the Bible says they did.

Jesus believed that OT teaching and prophecy would be fulfilled.

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Matthew 5:18 (ESV)

The iota is the smallest Greek letter. Jesus is saying that even the tiniest parts of the OT will be fulfilled – that all the “t’s” will be crossed and all the “i’s” will be dotted.

Jesus once rebuked two of His followers for being slow to believe the OT scriptures.

O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
Luke 24:25 (ESV)

He's saying, "Don’t be slow of heart to believe all the Old Testament.

The Old Testament can be trusted.

Some of you reading this may have lost hope. Maybe your hope lost is related to the job, your family, your health. Maybe God has you here reading this to remind you that you can trust the OT. Read it. Find words of hope. It’s not just a book.

Jesus trusted the Bible past. Next we'll see that He trusted the Bible present.

Thoughts on following the leader

Follow the leader is a children's game that can be fun for kids. But we outgrow the game. As adults, some of us would rather be the leader than follow the leader. And many of us don't really want to lead, we just want to criticize the leader. But what if we weren't really supposed to outgrow the game? 

In the Old Testament we see stories about how well things went when the people of God followed a God-appointed leader. And we see how badly things went when they didn't. 

"At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses" (Numbers 9:23).

During the time of the Exodus, when Israel was at her best as a people, they followed the commands of the Lord. The Lord gave them a moving cloud for guidance. When the could moved, the people had to be ready for immediate departure on any day. They had to follow the Lord every day until the cloud stopped.

But notice the connection between obeying the commands, the charge of the Lord and following the leader, Moses. "They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses" (Numbers 9:23b). Notice the phrase "by Moses."

The level of their obedience to God is expressed by their willingness to respond submissively to their leader, Moses. 

The people of Israel didn't always follow Moses, of course. They often grumbled. They often resisted. They often refused to submit. Think about their resistance to enter the Promised Land under Moses' leadership. It cost them 40 years of wandering in the desert. When they didn't follow the Lord by following Moses, they paid a price. 

But when they were at their best, they followed the Lord by following Moses. 

This required that Moses be a man who heard from God on behalf of the people. And this required that the people recognized that Moses has been with the Lord. Moses went up the mountain to hear from God and lightning flashed and thunder rolled. Moses talked to God face-to-face as a man talks with a friend and his face shone. 

We can see this as a great model for leadership in the New Testament church. The Lead Pastor must be a man who gets alone with God. The people need to see his face shine. He leads and the people follow. Not blindly, of course. But after testing to see if his leadership is consistent with the scriptures for the glory of God to be known among the nations then the people should follow. 

As I think about the transition at CVC from me as the Lead Pastor to Chad as the Lead Pastor, I want to model good following as a future staff member. Chad will spend time with God. He will come to the staff and the church with insights and challenges. My job and the job of all CVCers will be to prayerfully support and follow his vision. 

This will be a challenge for us as 21st Century Americans. Not only do we have a fallen, sinful pull toward rebellion and independence, we have a long history of mistrusting leaders because of business, political, and spiritual scandals. But we must remember that all leaders are not abusive, selfish, and manipulative. Some leaders are servant-hearted. And this is Chad. It,s why we called him to be our next Lead Pastor. 

Do you need New Testament evidence for this line of thought? 

"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith... Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you" (Hebrews 13:7, 17). 

As Chad increasingly moves into leadership at CVC, let's grow in our ability to cheerfully submit. This will be good for Chad's joy as he keeps watch over our souls. As Hebrews 13:17 says, it will be advantageous for us in ways we can't even begin to imagine. 

Follow the leader. It's not just a children's game. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

3 things God wants to see in your life to restore your fortunes

Have you experienced losses lately? You once felt full, but now you feel hollow. You once had dreams, but now it feels they will never come true. 

Now, you are wondering if God has forgotten you. You are wondering if He's no longer going to be generous toward you. You are doubting God's goodness and love. 

What will it take for God to restore your fortunes? 

1. True repenting. God is waiting for us to return to the Lord with all our hearts. "When all these things come upon you... you call them to mind... and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you..." (Deuteronomy 30:1-3). What part of your heart are you holding back?

2. Passionate requesting. When we cry out for God's face to shine on us, He restores us. "Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!" (Psalm 80:3). What is holding you back from truly fervently crying out to God to restore your fortunes? 

3. Missional  investing. God's restoration isn't for selfish purposes but for missional purposes - for the benefit of others. "I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit" (Amos 9:14). What selfish dreams do you need to give up so that you begin to live and rebuild to bless others?

Our God is a good God. He delights in restoring the fortunes of His people. But He's waiting on us to do some true repenting, to make some passionate requesting, and to live for missional investing.

Which of these characteristics if added to your life could have the biggest impact?

7 habits of highly restored people

What have you lost?

Have you lost a job? The joy in your marriage? A close connect with friends and family? Fruitfulness in ministry?

What causes you despair? What brings you discouragement?

Yesterday, I thought a lot about how we have a God who delights to restore our fortunes. We sure need restoration in NE Ohio.

I am convicted that one reason a lot people never experience a restoration is because they settle for hollow, fatalistic lives. But God is not honored by faith-less living. He wants us to know hope.

Could a defeated, depressed, and discouraged attitude be keeping you from experiencing a restoring of your fortunes?

Last night, I found myself looking for verses dealing with God's restoration. I was reading in Jeremiah 33. From verses 7-11, here are 7 responses/attitudes/actions for those who live with expectation for a restoration.

1. Claim the promise of restoration.

2. Confess and repent of all known sin and rebellion.

3. Purpose to give God all the praise and glory due Him.

4. Let the world know know that God is the God who provides.

5. Let your voice be a voice of gladness and thanksgiving by singing and giving thanks to God.

6. Believe in the Lord's goodness and steadfast love.

7. Watch God bring you back and better than ever.

Here are the promises in Jeremiah 33. See if you can match the 7 responses with the words of promise in these verses.

"I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first. I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it. Thus says the LORD: In this place of which you say, 'It is a waste without man or beast,' in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man or inhabitant or beast, there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord: ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!’ For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 33:7-11).

May God do all this for you... and me... and all of NE Ohio... and beyond.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What you might not know about obedience

We are often tempted to give the Lord a partial obedience. We don't go all the way. We cut corners. But what we don't know is that our partial obedience may be impacting something God may delight to do through us to bless us and future generations. 

At CVC, we are engaging in a chronological Bible reading plan. Yesterday, we read Exodus 40 where Moses received commands from the LORD about making and setting up the Old Testament tabernacle. The instructions were very specific. 

And Moses led the people to obey all the specifics. Moses did exactly as He was commanded. "This Moses did; according to all that the LORD commanded him, so he did" (Exodus 40:16).

Exodus 40 repeats over and over that Moses did as the Lord had commanded (vv. 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32–33). It is emphasized that he finished the work (v. 33) leaving nothing undone.

As you read Exodus 40, you might wonder, "What is the big deal about all the specifics?" 

Maybe Moses wondered, too. Maybe He thought, "It won't matter much if I cut a corner here or there." I'm glad he didn't fudge, but he finished. 

Today, in our chronological reading plan, we read Hebrews 9:1-12. Centuries later, after Moses set up the Old Testament tabernacle, we see the big deal about the specifics of the tabernacle. The specifics pointed to Jesus, the only One who was qualified to enter into the Holy of Holies through the shedding of His own blood. 

"When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:11-12).

If Moses had not fully obeyed, then the picture painted by the Old Testament tabernacle of Jesus as our great high priest would have been less clear, less compelling. 

So, the next time you are asked to obey specifics from God, do it. All the way. Completely. You don't want to miss any opportunity to be used... even years and years later after the specific commands were given. 

You just never know what God is up to. 

Do according to all the LORD commands you. 

And then watch Him do immeasurably more than you can ask or think... often later than you think. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

THE RESOLUTION in the movie Courageous

I do solemnly resolve before God to take full responsibility for myself, my wife, and my children.

I WILL love them, protect them, serve them, and teach them the Word of God as the spiritual leader of my home.

I WILL be faithful to my wife, to love and honor her, and be willing to lay down my life for her as Jesus Christ did for me.

I WILL bless my children and teach them to love God with all of their hearts, all of their minds, and all of their strength.

I WILL train them to honor authority and live responsibly.

I WILL confront evil, pursue justice, and love mercy.

I WILL pray for others and treat them with kindness, respect, and compassion.

I WILL work diligently to provide for the needs of my family.

I WILL forgive those who have wronged me and reconcile with those I have wronged.

I WILL learn from my mistakes, repent of my sins, and walk with integrity as a man answerable to God.

I WILL seek to honor God, be faithful to His church, obey His Word, and do His will.

I WILL courageously work with the strength God provides to fulfill this resolution for the rest of my life and for His glory.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. – Joshua 24:15

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

To leave a legacy, be strong...

God has hard-wired us to want to be able to say, "My life counts. My mission matters. I'm making a difference. I'm leaving a legacy. I'm not wasting my life. My life has not been lived in vain."

Are you sure you are living that way?  How do we live that way?

At the end of I Corinthians 15 is a little verse that has become a life verse for me. And I think it shows us how we can live a life that counts.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. 
I Corinthians 15:58 (NASB)

Notice that this verse teaches us to be strong.

"...be steadfast, immovable..."

This means at least 2 things.

1) To live a life that counts, be strong in your beliefs.

Believe that God really exists. Beleive that Jesus really died on that cross in your place for your sins. Believe that the Holy Spirit really is living in you. The Bible really can be trusted. People really are created in the image of God but we've all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We really do need a Savior. Believe that heaven and hell really are real and that all people really are headed to one or the other. Believe that Jesus really is the only way, truth, and life. Believe that we really have been sent on a mission in this world.

Be steadfast and immovable about such things. Be strong in your beliefs.

2) To live a life that counts, be strong in your behavior.

I have been asked many times, "What's the secret to the success of your church plant?" I always feel uncomfortable with that question. My answer usually is "God. God wanted another church in NE Ohio."  They say, "We know that. But from a human point of view, what happened?" I say, "Prayer and plodding."

Plodding. When something discouraging happens, you just get up and keep going. You out one foot in front of the other. 24/7/365. Year in abd year out. Just do the next right thing. Stick with it. Stay obedient. Keep at it. Don't quit. Never give in and never give up. Believe Jesus when He says, "I will build My church." It's stick-to-it-iveness. Persevere. Keep plodding.

To live a life that counts, be strong.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Christian student's response to the "all comers" policy at Vanderbilt University

Clay Myatt is a student at Vanderbilt university. He is from Cleveland and Cuyahoga Valley Church. I am so proud of this young man... and of his mom and dad and our youth staff, Joe Vaalenti and Rick Eimers, for investing in him.

***

At Vanderbilt University, the administration recently started enforcing a non-discrimination policy that doesn't allow religious groups to choose their own leaders based on their faith but instead all groups have to hold open elections.

This would mean that if a Jewish person or an atheist wanted to lead a Christian Bible Study and they got enough votes they would be perfectly allowed to do so regardless of the beliefs of that organization.

Clearly, that goes against the views of a lot of the Christian groups on campus and most of them are not going to change their Constitutions and will, therefore, be kicked off campus.

Now, this seems like it would have a negative effect on the Christian groups but the opposite has happened.

All the groups have united together for prayer, worship, and other meetings. Instead of being a bunch of different religious organizations on campus, we've really come together as one body expressing our view on the policy.

God is really moving on this campus during this time as students and faculty alike are seeing a bunch of students come together in protest of this policy. We've been given a great opportunity to share Christ's love with them.

It has been pretty hard on us from the standpoint that we have no idea where we'll be meeting next year and [we have no idea] what religious life is going to look like on campus. But we're trusting God to take care of that and we're doing our best to be faithful with what we have been given.

I was talking to my youth pastor Rick [Eimers] the other day and he mentioned that throughout history evey major religious movement has started with some kind of persecution and that even though this is nothing compared to what happened back in Acts or what's happening in other countries, it is still a wake up call for us. We're praying that God would use it for his own glory.

This is very much related to the idea of God's refining fire and how He lets us go through trials and sufferings to ultimately strengthen our faith in Him.

I personally have grown so much from this experience (and really from the college experience in general) as I have had to rely on Christ so much more so than before because my faith is under atttack more so than ever before - both in the classroom and the social atmosphere. But what I can tell you is that it is [through] periods of trial and suffering in your life that God shows you all the things that are holding you back from following after him with "undivided devotion".

For me these included things like finding my identity in academic or athletic performance instead of in Christ. [I've also been] crippled by fear or comfort. But I love what it says in Hebrews 12:1 that we are to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us".

By letting us go through trials and sufferings [God] allows to become weak so that we have to COMPLETELY depend on Him so that we can become strong through him (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

My final encouragement to you all would be to REJOICE, as the apostles did (Acts 5:41), that you are going through trials/difficulties because in the end God will carry you through them and you will come out a stronger Christian with stronger faith.

"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast." (I Peter 5:10)

To live a life that counts, be secure...

God has hard-wired us to want to be able to say, "My life counts. My mission matters. I'm making a difference. I'm leaving a legacy. I'm not wasting my life. My life has not been lived in vain."

Are you sure you are living that way?  How do we live that way?

At the end of I Corinthians 15 is a little verse that has become a life verse for me. And I think it shows us how we can live a life that counts.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. 
I Corinthians 15:58 (NASB)

It all starts with our being secure.

Notice the verse starts by saying, "... my beloved brethren..." Paul writes to them as the beloved ones. Yes, they are beloved by Paul. But, more importantly, they are beloved by God. And Paul wants them to be secure in that love.

Are you secure in God's love. Let me ask it another way. Do you have a ! or a ? In your heart?

Lots of people have a ? in their hearts. And because of that, they have done great damage to others. They aren't secure. They have a question-marked heart. They use people. How do they use them? They use and (even sometimes abuse them) to answer the question, "Do I have worth and value?"

Others have an ! in their hearts. They are secure. They do many of the same things as the people with the ? heart. But the ! hearted people do great good to others. They don't use people. They serve people. They aren't asking, "Do I have worth and value?" They are secure in proclaiming, "I am loved! I do have value!" And because of this ! heart, they leave a good and godly legacy.

In Ephesians 3, Paul writes to a church and He says, "God is going to great things through you. He can do immeasurably beyond all that you can ask or think. Your lives and mission and ministry will count. Big time." But just before he says all that, he tells them how he's praying for them.

"That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:17-20).

Paul wants them to be secure in the love of God - to have an exclamation marked heart, to know how high and deep and wide and long the love of God is for them. That is the basis for living a life that counts.

It's been said that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make God love us less. His love for us is based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in our behalf.

To live a life that counts, you have to start by being secure in God's love for you. You don't have to perform. You don't have to use people. Instead, you can serve them.

Many years ago, I learned a quote from a book called Search for Significance. "I have great worth apart from my performance because Christ gave His life for me and, therefore, imparted great value to me. I am deeply loved, fully pleasing, totally forgiven, accepted and complete in Christ." Maybe this is a statement you can put to memory, too.

I need to keep reminding myself of these truths. I am beloved. And if you are in Christ, so are you. Do you believe it?

If you want to live a life that counts, it starts by your being secure.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

7 (more) ways to hang onto hope

I had lunch with a young adult recently. His job search with no success in this tough economy has stolen much of his hope. My heart went out to him. So, I searched the Psalms for reasons for him to have hope. 

In the Psalms, the Hebrew word for hope is yachal. It means to wait, to expect. Waiting with expectation is the idea. When things aren't going as well in your life as you would like, are you waiting with expectation on God to act in your behalf? 

Yesterday, I shared 7 ways from the Psalms to hang onto hope. Here are 7 more.

1. The story of how God came through for you in your time of need will inspire future generations. "He commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God" (Psalm 78:5-7).

2. A life lived according to the word,the ways, the will, and the rules of God will always lead to more and more hope. "Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules" (Psalm 119:43). "I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your commandments "(Psalm 119:166).

3. We are invited and encouraged to go to God's word to get specific promises for our difficulties and challenges. "My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word" (Psalm 119:81). "You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word" (Psalm 119:114). "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope" (Psalm 130:5).

4. As we pray, we can remember that God loves to be reminded of His words of hope that He has promised to His servants.  "Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope" (Psalm 119:49). "Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope" (Psalm 119:114).

5. When God fulfills His promises to you, others will rejoice and glorify God. he is building His reputation in this world as He works powerfully in your behalf in your crisis situation. "Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word" (Psalm 119:74). 

6. God takes special note of those who rise early to seek Him for their future hopes and dreams. "I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words" (Psalm 119:147).

7. Our hope is ultimately tied to the nature and character of God. Do we really believe He is who He says He is? He is a loving and redeeming God. Do you truly believe He is that and more for you? "O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption" (Psalm 130:7).

Friday, February 10, 2012

7 reasons to hang onto hope

I had lunch with a young adult recently. His job search with no success in this tough economy has stolen much of his hope. My heart went out to him. So, I searched the Psalms for reasons for him to have hope. 

Here are 7 reasons to hang onto the hope of the Lord.

1. God has not forgotten you. Yes, things might seem bleak for now, but remember that it's darkest before the dawn. "For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever" (Psalm 9:18).

2. God especially looks out for those who reverence and respect Him. "Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love... Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you" (Psalm 33:18, 22).

3. It is common for all God's people to spend time in God's waiting room. You are not the first to be waiting on God and you won't be the last. "And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you" (Psalm 39:7).

4. Even though you might be tempted to be in a depressed state of mind, the time is coming when you will praise God for answering your prayers. "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation" (Psalm 42:5).

5. You won't complain or whine about your predicament when you make the God of hope the sure foundation of your life. "For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken" (Psalm 62:5-6). 

6. God is waiting to do something so awesome in your life that can only be explained by His activity and power. Remember, there is no testimony without a test. "By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas" (Psalm 65:5).

7. God takes a special delight in those who hope in Him as teens and as young adults. "For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth" (Psalm 71:5).

So, which of these reasons for hope means the most to you?

10 steps for you to clarify your dreams

I have a friend who recently left the country to go on mission. He's seeking to be obedient. He's single. He doesn't have many financial needs. So, he just left the country to go to the third world. I admire his willingness to obey.

But his vision is fuzzy. His clarity is lacking. He's still seeking support for his cause. I wish he had more clarity before going overseas. But maybe being on the mission field will help him clarify his mission.

What follows is my advice to him. We all could use more clarity and focus of vision. We need it in our personal lives. Our organizations need clarity, too.

So, here are ten suggestions I gave to my missionary friend. I am going to take my own medicine. Will you?

***

Don't start with what you are doing or how you will do it. Start with why. 

Why does God have you where you are? What is the "why" for people to join you? MLK, Jr said, "I have a dream." That gets at the why.

1. Pray and ask God for wisdom about your vision. Keep praying all the way through your process of clarifying your vision. 

2. Start by writing, "I have a dream today... that ___________" Make sure your dream is really God's dream for you, that your dream truly aligns with God's purposes. 

3. Dream big because we have a big God. He is able to do immeasurably beyond all that we can ask or think. 

4. Fill up a page or two or three with your God-sized dreams. 

5. Then, over time, narrow it, focus it, synthesize it, hone it, dissect it, restate it, verbalize it, and test it.

6. Get coaching from a team of advisors who will ask lots of questions about the dream.

7. Continue refining your dream until you can state it in a pithy, sticky way that inspires you and others. 

8. Write down the dream - the why - and post it in a prominent place so you will see it and be inspired by it every day. Talk more about the why than you do about the what and the how.

9. Live in a way that is consistent with your dream. It's a matter of integrity. You must embody the dream - the why.

10. Watch God work to fulfill His dream for your life. You will inspire people to join you in your mission as your why becomes their why.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Vanderbilt's "all comers" policy

David Williams II is the Vice Chancellor for University Affairs & Athletics, General Counsel, University Secretary and Professor of Law. I sent an email to him expressing my concerns about Vanderbilt's all comers policy. Below is my original email, his response, and my reply.


Please pray for the students at Vanderbilt to have the recognized and affirmed opportunity to organize peacefully on campus according to the dictates of their beliefs.


***


Good morning,


I am a Vandy alum, B.A. Religious Studies 1975. I would like any updates or information about the new policy that is a cause of great concern to many of us.


While I uphold the value of equal opportunity for all, I also uphold the value of freedom for groups to organize according to the principles of their conscience. Vandy is a liberal arts institution that makes the claim that freedom of expression is paramount. Yet, this policy limits the freedom of applying organizational values that will insure the ongoing unique integrity of the groups. This new policy is an attempt to promote a so-called tolerance by being clearly intolerant to the values and convictions of others. The so-called anti-discrimination policy discriminates against the people who do not agree with the administration’s positions and values. So much for the free exchange of ideas.


This policy does not enhance my pride in our university. Instead, it causes great concerns.


I lead an organization that just encouraged a student to attend Vandy. The parents of this freshman at Vandy are now concerned about his choice of university. They are voicing their concerns to other parents who may choose to encourage their children to not consider Vandy. Surely, that would be a bad outcome for Vanderbilt University over the long term.


This policy will have a negative impact on the university's reputation in the eyes of a very large segment of our population in the USA. The "all comer's" policy seems to mean that traditional, conservative values are not welcome at Vanderbilt.


Please send me updates or further information as this issue continues to unfold.


As a former baseball player, I am looking forward to an upcoming reunion of our early 70’s teams on the weekend of April 14-15. Any meetings for conversation and updates that could be set up for me and some other baseball alumni that will attend (and who share my views) would be much appreciated.


Thanks,


Rick Duncan, B.A. Religious Studies, 1975


***


Rick



Thanks for your email and your interest in your university and its non-discrimination policy. Vanderbilt believes strongly in the concept of non-discrimination as well as providing our students a free opportunity to join any organization on our campus. We also value ones right to freely express and practice their religion. As a private university, Vanderbilt has a right to determine the organizations that will be on their campus and require those organizations to be free on discrimination. We are doing nothing more than [that] with our policy. Because of the complex nature of these issues and the clear misunderstanding around these issues, we conveyed a town hall meeting last Tuesday and plan to continue the discussions with members of the University community. Thank you for your interest.


David


***


Thanks, David, for your prompt reply to my concerns.


I am still concerned. In fact, after viewing portions of the 3 hour town hall meeting, I am even more concerned.  


I live in the Cleveland, Ohio area now. And as an alum, I have had many emails and conversations in the last few days with parents of students and other Vandy grads who are deeply concerned about the direction of the administration.


I trust that the seemingly short-sighted effort toward implementing what seems to me to be a left-leaning, politically correct ideology is not going to alienate many current supporters and proud graduates.


After viewing the town hall discussion, it is deeply distressing to me to hear that this is being cast as a civil rights issue similar to the civil rights issues of the 1960s. That is a very, very manipulative way to try to take the high moral ground and to shut down reasoned conversation with people who might think differently. That is not what a liberal arts education is supposed to produce.


Is there someone in the Vanderbilt administration with a dissenting voice? Is there someone in the administration who has felt the freedom to say publicly that policies restricting religious groups is, in fact, a form of discrimination? Who in the administration is representing the views of the leaders of the religious organizations?


I would love to have a conversation with someone in the administration who is sympathetic to the voices of those who oppose the policy. Or has the pervasive ideology of Vanderbilt become so left-of-center that there is no room for or respect for dissenting voices.


Vandy is an institution that provides for a liberal arts education. As you know, this is a disciplined area of study that is considered essential for a person to master in order to maintain and advance the cause of freedom. Please allow for the free expression of ideas, including those ideas that PC ideologues may not like to entertain.


Rick Duncan, B. A. Religious Studies, 1975


Related post:


Vanderbilt's anti-discrimination policy

7 ideas on being a better speaker

What is your process for putting some thoughts together to speak to a group?

Public speaking can be terrifying for people. But it can be a fulfilling experience. We all have experiences from God that need to be shared. Sometimes, we are assigned the responsibility to speak to a group whether we like it or not.

Today, I was thinking through some practical ideas about public speaking that have helped me over the years. Some weeks, I forget to apply some of these principles and when I do my speaking suffers and so do my listeners.

1) Pray. We have to ask God what topic or text He wants communicated. And we have to ask God for the wisdom and the words to communicate it. We have to ask God to help us model what we are seeking to communicate. We have to pray for the people with whom we are communicating. We have to ask God to fill us with His Spirit so we can abide in Christ. We want our words to have an unction, anointing, and power so they do not "fall to the ground."

2) Narrow. I first learned this in high school when writing an English paper. I see more than ever that it is still true. I often am tempted to cover too much ground in a message. I want to think through the "take away" for the people. What is the one big idea that you want people to remember? You don't want your message to be about many things. You want your message to be about one thing. Now, you might talk about that one thing in many ways. But make your message a "one big idea" message.

3) Research. Talk to a team of people about your topic or text. Their insights and questions will prove to be invaluable. The old African proverb is true here: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." Read books and commentaries about your text or topic. Listen to other speakers and their messages. This is your information gathering phase. At some point, it is necessary to stop research. For a weekend message, I am usually done with research by Wednesday.

4) Write. Many speakers like to prepare a simple outline and trust the Holy Spirit for the exact words in the moment. I prefer to double my trust in the Spirit. I trust the Spirit to give me words as I write and I trust the Spirit to give me words in the moment of speaking. Writing helps clarify thinking. Since the time for speaking is limited, writing helps you eliminate words and ideas that aren't moving the message toward that one big idea being cemented deeply into the listener's hearts. Write it out either word for word or a very, very extended phrase-by-phrase outline.

5) Answer. As you write, be answering some key questions. 1) "What does God want us to know and why does He want us to know it?" 2) "What does God want us to do and why does He want us to do it?" This helps to answer the "So what?" questions. Be precise in your answers. Think through how these answers relate to your main big idea. This is a time when you might tweak, strengthen, and even shorten your big idea. (Last week, my big idea was "What we believe determines how we behave." As I went through this process, the statement became "Beliefs become behaviors." It became a shorter, stronger, more memorable statement for people.)

6) Model. As much as possible, live out the truths you will be teaching. Even if you can only do so a day or two before the message, put to practice the practical ideas you will be sharing with your listeners. This calls for integrity and authenticity. It gives "street cred" to you. You can share how helpful and how difficult it has been to put these principles into practice in your own life.

7) Rehearse. Before you speak, practice. Out loud! Speak through your manuscript at least once. Have a stop watch running. Have a pencil or pen in hand. Delete things that distract. Add clarifying transitions and explanations. Delete unnecessary words and phrases. Tweak. Strengthen. Cut out the weakest ideas that are putting you over your time limit. Practice your delivery. When will you speak faster, slower, more loudly, more softly? What will you do with your face, your hands, your body? How will you express your passion? As you end your rehearsal, pray for yourself and your listeners.

Public speaking. As Phillips Brooks said, it's "truth through personality." May God bless us all as we speak His truths to a broken world.

Related posts:

Questions for preparation for preaching

Preaching

Planning your preaching

Friday, February 03, 2012

Vanderbilt's anti-discrimination policy

Last year at Vanderbilt, my alma mater, a gay student complained about being dismissed from a Christian fraternity. So, Vanderbilt officials began a review of their anti-discrimination policies.

Now, Vanderbilt is asking about a dozen student organizations to comply with a policy banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The university has not identified the groups, but if they don't comply, school officials say they could lose access to funding and campus facilities. The university said in a statement it's committed to making the campus a "welcoming environment for all of our students."

But members of religion-based groups like FCA, Cru, and BUX (the Christian-based fraternity) say they are being unfairly singled out because of their beliefs. College Republicans President Stephen Siao says the university has "launched an assault on religious groups on campus."

This is personal to me becasue I was part of the FCA at Vanderbilt and because we have students from our church at the university now.

Below is a recent letter I sent to university officials.
I am a Vandy alum, B.A. Religious Studies 1975. I would like any updates or information about the new policy that is a cause of great concern to many of us.
While I uphold the value of equal opportunity for all, I also uphold the value of freedom for groups to organize according to the principles of their conscience. Vandy is a liberal arts institution that makes the claim that freedom of expression is paramount. Yet, this policy limits the freedom of applying organizational values that will insure the ongoing unique integrity of the groups. This new policy is an attempt to promote a so-called tolerance by being clearly intolerant to the values and convictions of others. The so-called anti-discrimination policy discriminates against the people who do not agree with the administration’s positions and values. So much for the free exchange of ideas.
This policy does not enhance my pride in our university. Instead, it causes great concerns.
I lead an organization that just encouraged a student to attend Vandy. The parents of this freshman at Vandy are now concerned about his choice of university. They are voicing their concerns to other parents who may choose to encourage their children to not consider Vandy. Surely, that would be a bad outcome for Vanderbilt University over the long term.
This policy will have a negative impact on the university's reputation in the eyes of a very large segment of our population in the USA. The "all comer's" policy seems to mean that traditional, conservative values are not welcome at Vanderbilt.
On Tuesday night this week, Vandy held an open forum where students could share concerns and ask questions. I received an email from Clay Myatt, one of our CVCers who is considering joining BUCs, the Christian fraternity at Vandy. Clay was gracious enough to send an update from the student president of BUX. If you are interested, please read the lengthy report below and pray for God's people to love well while standing for truth.

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A three hour meeting? That’s so long! I thought that the Provost and Vice Chancellor were respectful and thoughtful for staying so long, but it seemed like a lot of students and brothers left the building with questions that hadn’t been addressed—the discussion could’ve gone on for a lot longer. I personally was unable to get inside Furman, but was able to watch the Town Hall meeting from the live stream. If you were unable to be at the meeting for one reason or another, let me recap some of the main points from my perspective.

The biggest issue for all of the religious organizations was that we believe that we should have the right to limit leadership in our organizations to individuals who actually believe in the faith they are teaching and professing. Vanderbilt’s response was that their new ‘non-discrimination’ policy is actually an ‘all-comers’ policy; meaning that any student that wants to join any organization has the right to do so, and also the ‘opportunity’ to run for leadership in an open election. If someone happens to get elected to leadership that doesn’t believe the faith—that is the organization’s decision. One of the first good, pressing questions brought up (by our very own AC!) was, “if the president of the Muslim Students Association converted to Christianity over the summer, and in his new faith he believes he needs to proclaim the gospel to everyone, would Vanderbilt take action and protect the organization?” The response was, “no, that organization elected that individual. Those members could disband and reform under a new name.”

A lot of what was said in the meeting was confusing. You would hear the Provost answer a question saying “this policy is quite simple,” and then later hear the Vice Chancellor answer a question saying, “well, it’s a little complicated.” An idea of adding a religious-exemption was brought up, but the Vice Chancellor responded by saying ‘having any sort of exemption wouldn’t make it an all-comers policy. Exemptions and all-comers can’t coexist."

When describing the nature of the all-comers policy, it just didn’t make sense to me (and seemingly everyone else). Does this mean that any man could go join the woman’s basketball team? Can a student who really wants to be a part of the Honor Society join even though he doesn’t have a 3.5 GPA? They responded saying that there are performance requirements that can be used as a stipulation to join certain organizations. A performance exemption is ok.

They flat out contradicted their whole idea of an ‘all-comers’ policy right in front of us. They won’t make a religious exemption for their policy because their policy wouldn’t be all-comers, but they will make a performance exemption and that will be considered all-comers.

There were a lot of emotions in the room, especially when Jordan Rodgers expressed his concern. The City Paper recorded what Jordan said:

"If someone [running for leadership] doesn't share the faith that is being taught, what's the point of having these organizations?" asked Rodgers, an active member of the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Williams responded by saying members of the FCA could collectively choose not to elect a non-Christian — but that person should at least have the opportunity to run for office. Rodgers conceded that a non-person-of-faith wouldn't be elected.

"If we're jumping through the hoops of your policy as a facade, what's the point?" Rodgers said. Williams acknowledged that the school wouldn't make exceptions to the policy for faith-based organizations and that he understood the opposition.

The last line in that excerpt accurately describes the main message and takeaway from the meeting: Vanderbilt acknowledges our belief that those who lead our religious organizations must believe in what they are professing, but Vanderbilt values their all-comers policy more. It is good that Vanderbilt has publicly taken their stance, but the stance in itself is not good. And we still don’t exactly know what this all-comers policy truly means due to the panel contradicting itself, but we know it isn’t in favor of the religious groups on campus.

I am unsure about all of you guys, but I left feeling super frustrated. With all of the hype surrounding the town-hall meeting, everyone’s energy levels were really high. Then to hear the administrators communicate, “we value our policy more than your beliefs” and asking us, as religious organizations, to “take a leap of faith, and try it out,” that was definitely saddening, frustrating, and somewhat insulting. I think the thing that stood out the most for me was hearing the Provost say, “I am Catholic, but do I let my beliefs dictate how I make daily decisions? Of course not!”

Wait—what?

The core of our faith imply that all our decisions, and the way we live life are founded in how Jesus calls us to live; the Provost just doesn’t understand this. He doesn’t understand why we live each day in faith. And, in all honesty, the reason is that we follow the One whom the world just doesn’t understand: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” –John 1:10-11. How can we, as followers, be understood if the world didn’t recognize Jesus, the one we’re following? This is probably why Peter describes believers as “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). What is happening here on campus is way bigger than just implementing a new policy. It’s an example of Jesus being so inexplicably unfathomable to the world.

After spending time with the Lord, getting some sleep, and having a meeting with Pat Helland this morning, I’m feeling a lot better. Upon arriving for our meeting, Pat explained how her morning has been very busy receiving calls from all over about what the all-comers policy means, and specifically for Greek Life. Greek Life is huge, and there is no way that fraternities and sororities can be in compliance with the new policy.

For example, if 40 girls rush a sorority, and if the sorority is looking for 20 girls, they currently have the privilege to choose whichever 20 girls they like (without discrimination, of course). If the all-comers policy was instituted, the first 20 girls that showed up to the House would have to be accepted because anyone can join any organization, and the sorority wouldn’t have a say—membership would be open to anyone. This doesn’t work. Pat told Jason and me that there is no way that the University could institute an all-comers policy. She gave an example and told me, "It just doesn’t make sense that you would go join the women’s’ basketball team."

She said the first she heard of an all-comers policy was yesterday before the meeting started. Wow. How can the Office of the Dean of Students, the individuals working with different religious student organizations for the past year, accurately guide the organizations towards adopting a policy that she didn’t even know about? In the rest of our meeting with Pat we talked about our constitution, our doctrinal statement, and code of conduct. There are still points within our documents that would need to be altered, so Jason will be taking that to BYX’s Board of Directors. But the main takeaway I got this morning from Pat is that Vanderbilt still doesn’t know what they are doing!

“A year of debate over nondiscrimination and religious freedom will culminate on Tuesday,” is how the Hustler described the Town Hall meeting. Guys, I would argue that this is just the beginning. People are finally starting to see and learn about what is going on at Vanderbilt. FoxNews has been blowing up with stuff on this issue. Heck, Jason was able to get an op-ed published!

Next weekend, February 9-10th, the Vanderbilt Board of Trust will be meeting at school. Communicated by the panel last night, and also by Pat this morning, the Board is the ultimate decision maker for any policy implemented. Student leaders of FCA, Cru, CLS, GCF, Navs, MCF, Vandy Catholic, Intervarsity, and other religious organizations on campus are meeting tomorrow night to discuss how we will continue to raise awareness and ways to share our hearts and stance amongst members of the Board before next weekend. I will make sure to keep you all updated on any form of organized student action that we decide to take.

Lastly, we have gotten word, through kinda random Vandy alumni, that the administration is tracking all contacts from alumni. Those who calling the administration are being asked to email in any concerns/complaints that they may have, and that all emails are being tracked/noted by the administration. With all of the hype yesterday, we still want to show Vanderbilt that their responses in the Town Hall meeting haven’t changed our stance on their all-comers policy. If you know of alumni who aren’t getting connected through our alumni listserve or your parents, please tell them to email nicholas.s.zeppos@vanderbilt.edu, david.williams@vanderbilt.edu, and richard.mccarty@Vanderbilt.edu! The administration needs to know the concerns from alumni of the Vanderbilt community.

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