Saturday, March 31, 2012

12 questions for church planters to ask other leaders

A few years ago, Michael Smith, a staff member of ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, asked if he could interview one of my favorite leaders and bloggers, Michael Hyatt. Smith was on a sabbatical. One of his sabbatical projects was to interview leaders in various professions.
Hyatt writes about Smith, "What really impressed me was how thoroughly prepared he was. Michael asked great, thoughtful questions. In fact, the questions were so good that I asked him for permission to post them here. I have printed this list out and put it in my Moleskine notebook. The next time I am with a leader I respect, I can pop out this list and start interviewing."

I saw the list on Michael Hyatt's blog. I liked his list of questions. And they prompted me to tweak his questions to develop a list of questions a church planter might want to ask other leaders – particularly a business or ministry leader who started something from scratch.

So, here they are:

1. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as an entrepreneur? Why and how did this person impact your life?

2. What are the most important decisions you make as an entrepreneurial leader of your organization?

3. As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the demands of the “institution” to distract from the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?

4. How do you encourage creative, aggressive thinking within your organization?

5. Where do the greatest ideas come from in your organization?

6. How do you use specific times to cast vision to your employees and other leaders?

7. How do you ensure your organization and its activities are aligned with your “core values”?

8. How do you help a new staff member understand the culture of your organization?

9. What is one characteristic that you believe every catalytic leader should possess?

10. What is the biggest challenge facing leaders of start-ups today?

11.What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

12. What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as an entrepreneurial leader?

Learn from the leaders around you. Ask these questions. And others. Write down the answers in your own leadership journal.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Problem of Sin

My former pastor, Adrian Rogers, used to say, “The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.”

Our problem: sin in the heart.

Jesus used several different words for sin.

debts – opheilema -  Matthew 6:12 – what is owed, what is legally due
trespass – paratoma – Matthew 6:14-15 – to deviate from the standard
lawlessness – anomia – Matthew 28:28 – living without God’s law, violating the law, iniquity
sin – harmatia – Matthew 26:28 – failure to hit the mark, missing the mark

From Mark 7, we see five ways Jesus believed sin is a problem.
 
Sin is a global problem.

To Jesus, the religious leaders had a problem. His followers had a problem. Everyone listening to his voice has a problem. So, we read…

He called the people… “Hear Me, all of you…”
Mark 7:14 (ESV)

Sin is a global problem.  He calls people from everywhere and says, “Hear Me, all of you…” Sin is not just your problem up here, but his problem back there. Sin is not just her problem over there, but your problem over here.

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

Sin is a problem on every corner of the globe. Sin is a problem for every religion.

How bad is it? Think about the wars, the crime, the poverty, the sex trafficking, the greed, the selfishness. The world is messed up? Why? Sin.

Sin is a personal problem.

4 times in this section of scripture, Jesus says, “A person.” You’ll find those two words in Mark 7:15, 18, 20, and 23.

“A person.” It’s a personal problem. Sin is not just a problem with her or him. It’s a problem with you. And it’s a problem with me.

None is righteous, no not one.
Romans 3:10 (ESV)

We have inherited a sinful nature, one that is naturally opposed to God and his moral law. “The wicked… go astray from birth” (Ps. 58:3). Parents don’t have to teach kids how to say “no,” how to rebel, and how to say “mine.”


We are not as bad as we could be. Thank God! But we are unable on our own to do anything that pleases God. Every part of our being is affected by sin – our intellects, our emotions, our desires, our hearts, our goals, our motives, and even our physical bodies.


I am reminded of the old spiritual:
It’s me; it’s me; it’s me, O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.
It’s me; it’s me; it’s me, O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.
Not my mother, not my father, but it’s me, O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.
Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.

Every time I look in the mirror, I need to be reminded that I am my own worst problem.

Sin is an internal problem.

All these evil things come from within…Mark 7:23a (ESV)

Lots of us think this way, “I am good person who sins occasionally.” But to think that way causes us to misdiagnose the real issue. We don’t get to a deep enough level. There are sin patterns that we can't shake. Sin is deep inside. Remember: The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. We aren't sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.

It’s a delusion for us to think that we as sinners can be truly pure before God by religious performance. If I clean up the outside, that has no power to cleanse the defilement in my heart.

The problem with evil is much deeper than we think. The problem is that what’s in here [in our hearts] gets released into our actions, attitudes, and words.

Our diseased hearts are sin factories from which we must be saved.

Evil things proceed from within. This is where sin exists. It’s not the environment that makes us sin. We must stop making excuses. It’s my heart that is the problem. We have to stop blaming others.

As Isaiah 29:13 says, it is possible to honor God with our lips while our hearts are far from Him.

Sine is a spiritual problem.

All these evil things come from within they defile a person.
Mark 7:23 (ESV)

Look at the word “defile.” Defile is a word that means to profane, to make unclean, to make unholy. In ancient Israel, if a person was defiled, they could not worship God.

The religious leaders in Jesus’ day thought that defilement worked its way from the outside to the inside.  Jesus shows that the very opposite is true. We are defiled from the inside out.

Think about how religion views the world. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and lots of so-called Christians see sin as something that is outside that we need to avoid. Religion teaches that if we do our best to avoid sin, then we’ll all be acceptable and make it to paradise or heaven or Nirvana. “Don’t watch this; watch that. Don’t do that; do this! Don’t go there; come here!” As long as I keep the bad stuff out there, I will be pure in here. Inwardly, I am good. Evil is outside trying to get in. As long as I keep the outside outside, I will be OK.

Here, Jesus is saying that our spiritual relationship with God is not destroyed by unclean food or unclean hands. It is destroyed by the sin that is birthed out of our diseased hearts.

Sin is a relational problem.

We are going to see how the dirty heart inside shows up in dirty hands outside… and ruins relationships.

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.
Mark 7:22-23 (ESV)

These are the kinds of sins that destroy relationships. These are the works of our hands that mess up lives and families and marriages and ministries and careers. That person that you thought about earlier? This is the work of their hands that messed things up – that mess me up, that mess you up.

My former pastor, Adrian Rogers used to say, “Sin will take you further than you want to go, teach you more than you ought to know, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” With sin, you'll get what you want, but you won't want what you get.

Just how Calvinistic should reformed theology be?

Some who are Calvinists want others who are also reformed in theology to preach and teach the doctrines of grace vigorously. A few years ago, a young leader who came to adopt a Calvinistic point of view affirmed, challenged and exhorted me to be more clearly and persuasively Calvinistic in my teaching and preaching. I appreciated his candor and clear thinking. But I let him know that I feel that my calling as a missionary-cleverly-disguised-as-a-pastor is to reach people for Christ, not to make Calvinism the defining aspect of my ministry. I am reposting his exhortation and my response.  


***


The exhortation: I would like to affirm you in your holding to the Five Solas. And I would also like to affirm you in holding to Reformed Theology and the Doctrines of Grace.

However, I would like to challenge you and slightly exhort you, concerning your statement that “I don’t wear the doctrines on my sleeve.” From my point of view, I never knew you wore them at all.

Please allow me to explain.

This past year, my wife and I, by the Grace of God, discovered the Doctrines of Grace and Reformed Theology and needless to say, it completely rocked our “evangelical” world. It was like being “born-again” again. It has ignited our faith and our relationship with God. I wish I had space to explain what learning of these great and beautiful Doctrines have meant to us!

After embracing Reformed Theology, I looked back upon my spiritual journey and wondered how I could have missed these great truths. I went to church every Sunday morning for almost 10 years. I participated in small groups, listened to Moody Radio 24/7, studied the Bible, fellowshipped with multitudes of believers, you name it. Yet, in God’s Sovereignty, I was prevented from learning of Reformed Theology, at least the depths of it, until now.

Therefore, about a month ago, when I happened upon your blog, I was completely shocked to learn that you are Reformed in your theology. See, during my spiritual journey, I attended CVCC (at the time) and 707 from 2003-2005. I attended both morning and evening services, and even taught 2nd grade Sunday school. So, when I read in your blog that “you don’t wear the doctrines on your sleeve,” it made sense to me, because I would have never guessed it from your preaching, teaching, worship services, and so forth. And now that I know the Doctrines of Grace, I can honestly say, I had no idea that you were reformed and that it’s taught at CVC.

Pastor Rick, I have to be honest with you, I was somewhat upset with you upon learning this. I kept thinking, why hadn’t he taught us the Doctrines of Grace? Why keep this to himself? Even in your blog you write things such as, “I don't like to argue about reformed theology. I just try to enjoy it. I particularly delight in being one of the elect!” and that the doctrines of Calvinism “are truly God-honoring and, therefore, foster passionate worship.”

Pastor Rick, why not let your flock enjoy these great truths as well? You have certainly benefited from them, so why not allow your flock to do so also?

In another blog entry, you mention of being a “stealth SB,” so I can only assume that you are somewhat of a “stealth Calvinist,” as well.

To which, I scream, WHY? (with love)

The Doctrines of Grace are so rich and full of truth and as you put it “foster passionate worship.” The church is so in need of passionate worship! The Doctrines of Grace are what the sheep need to grow and mature and to understand the Sovereignty and the Greatness of our Almighty God. I know, I have experienced this myself. I have grown more in the last year, than in the 10 years prior, simply by embracing these awesome truths.

You might argue, “I do, it’s in my preaching, I just don’t wear it on my sleeve.”

But, Pastor Rick, if you’re waiting for your flock to “just get it,” it’s not working. It didn’t work with me back in 2003-2005 and I know it’s not working today. I continue to have many friends who still attend CVC and have for many, many years and they have no idea of Reformed Theology. When I discuss the Doctrines of Grace with them, they look at me like a deer in headlights. And it’s not just the Doctrines of Grace that they are missing, it’s the proper teaching of Regeneration, Sanctification, Justification, Evangelism, God’s Sovereignty, etc.

Pastor Rick, you even stated in your blog that many of the Reformers died for their beliefs. I would argue that they not only wore them on their sleeves, but on their whole body. They were up against Rome, a much more formidable foe than anything we will ever be up against, and they stood firm for the truths of God. And I think those of us who embrace these doctrines owe it to these Godly men, who’s shoulders we now stand on, to do the same, and stand for the truths of God in our day.

Pastor Rick, I plead with you, not as a rabid Calvinist, but as one who sat under your teaching, to please start wearing the Doctrines of Grace on your sleeve, and not just in your blog, because they are truth and they are God-honoring and they lead to the passionate worship of God. Isn’t this what every pastor wants from their flock?

Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts. 



***
My response: Thanks for your comments. How thoughtful! I'm honored that you would take the time to write such a thoughtful response.

I'm glad that your worship and growth has been enhanced by your understanding of reformed theology. I'm sorry that you feel you weren't helped as much as you could have been while at CVC.

Some at CVC do get that we are (I am) reformed in theology. Maybe when you were at CVC you weren't at a point where you were ready to see or embrace those particular truths.

I was communicating with a staff member about this and he said that he feels it's extreme to say that people would have NO idea that I am Calvinistic. He said that the people he talks with know for sure that I'm a Calvinistic and they see it in my teaching. He said that he had a conversation with an attender on Palm Sunday he said he knew I was reformed and Calvinistic.

I encourage our people to get the ESV Study Bible and to read books like Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life by Donald Whitney and Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper. I encourage the reading of blogs by Mark Driscoll and Tim Challies. Soon, we hope to have an extension of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where Al Mohler is President. [The NEO Seminary did open at CVC, but closed about a year later when SBTS decided to keep only a few extensions open. That saddened me and others on our staff. We had Al Mohler to preach at CVC to help us launch the Seminary extension.] In doing so, the people at CVC are being encouraged to consider Calvinistic theology in a more subtle way.

My desire is not to make Calvinists out of people, but Christians.

So, that's me. It's just the way the Sovereign God made me. And while I appreciate your heart and your encouragement, I don't really feel called to approach things any differently.

Thanks again. May God use you greatly to bring HIm much glory.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Keeping the Outside Dirt Outside


In ancient Israel, the religious leaders thought that if they could just keep the outside dirt outside, then they would be right with God.

That’s what people think today. Ask your friends people, “Are people basically good inside?” Most will say something like, “We are basically good. We learn to be bad. Bad parents mess up good babies. Bad neighborhoods produce bad kids. Bad government policies produce laziness. We all start off with a clean slate. If we keep the bad stuff out of people’s lives, we’ll be good people in a good world. Just change the environment and we’ll all be OK.”

Our culture teaches us that we are basically good people who are in need of good environments and good instruction so we can live our best life now. 

But Jesus says that our problem is inside out, not outside in.

21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,
22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.
23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
Mark 7:21-23

This thought – that evil has its roots inside of us, not outside is – was such a religiously radical idea that the first followers of Jesus couldn’t get their minds around it. It contradicted everything they had ever been taught about religion. That’s why they had asked Jesus to explain.

You think eating dirty food is what defiles you? It enters your mouth and exits a little later.

Non-kosher hot dogs don’t defile you. The problem is in your heart. There are problems inside of you.

You can’t stink up a sewer. If it’s already dirty inside, so what if more dirt gets in? The problem is not what is outside that might get inside. The problem is what is inside that is going to get outside!

Now, where will we turn to get our hearts fixed?

A young black leader in Cleveland calls for justice in the Trayvon Martin tragedy

This is a guest post from my friend, Reverend Marlon Johnson. Rev. Johnson has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cleveland State University with a concentration in Sociology. He is currently pursuing a a Master's degree from Ashland Theological Seminary. I was honored that last year he participated in our leadership class I teach at CVC.
***
Recently in the media there has been an incident that has piqued the interest of so many. The incident involves a 16 year old boy by the name of Trayvon Martin being killed by a man named George Zimmerman. The reason why this case has sparked so much attention is because Trayvon happened to be a young African American male who was walking towards his father's house and was approached by a white male. 


From the outset of the incident we can notice that this opens up some racial tension that the community, as a whole, was not ready to deal with. Throughout the country we have seen public demonstrations for the support of this young man's family and the call for justice through what is called the hoodie movement. 


I myself, being a 31 year old African American male, can understand the hurt this family feels during this time. And I, along with the mobs of people, call out for justice. But a question echoes in my mind. To whom does this call for justice go? 


Many will tell me the Florida police department and the Florida State Attorney. Some would say that George Zimmerman is whom we are seeking justice against. 


Being an African American male who grew up in the inner-city of Cleveland, I have witnessed my share of injustice connected to crimes against young black youths. But injustice was when these youth were turning the gun onto themselves. Yet there was no hoodie movement for them. Injustice happens when an innocent young mother and her child are killed by her boyfriend and then found in a empty building. Yet no one walked toward the city halls steps demanding justice. 


Death is a part of life. But there is a hope for this death sentence that is ringing so loud in our country. And that hope is through the redemptive grace in Christ Jesus. 


Yes, I am an African American male. And, yes, I was raised in the inner-city of Cleveland, Ohio. But one thing my father and my faith have taught me was that the penalty of the fall of man was and is a death sentence on the generations that came afterwards. 


We can quickly dismiss this Trayvon issue by collectively placing it under the title of racism. But I wouldn't be so fast to do so. Now don't misunderstand me. I am not endorsing the Trayvon situation or any others to be right. I am simply being realistic about the real problem. It is not racism that is the cause of moral decay on our country. It is and always will be the disease that infected us all: sin. The plight of humanity does not lie within the entanglement of racism, but rather with the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. If sin is the outstanding cause and problem, then the question is "How do we solve this problem?" 


First, placing another behind bars may help, but that will not solve the issue or cure the disease. The call for resignations may make each of us feel a little better. But, once again, that will not remove the stain of sin. We can always elect new leadership. But human leadership must first surrender to the authority of Christ. The answer is what lies in the foundation of the church. And that is the grace of Christ. See, Christ conquered death, sin, and Satan on the cross at Calvary.


II Chronicles 7:14 states, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." I believe if we do what this verse says, then there will be a limited number of Trayvon Martin cases and love would cover a multitude of sins. 


This is not a racial issue. It is, as many of the issues that face our world, a sin, spiritual, and moral issue that can only be answered by the love of Christ. John 3:16 states, "For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." Romans 6:23 states, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." These are not just words on a old piece of paper. But they are and will always be the answers to the problems in our world. 
***
Rev. Johnson has served as an after school coordinator for The City Mission and as a staff manager at Parmadale. He has worked as an education specialist at the Boys and Girls Club and as a Youth Residential Worker at the Cleveland Christian Home. He was a residential counselor at Boys Hope Girls Hope and a case manager for Connections. Rev. Johnson's wife, Jennifer, has a bachelor's degree in Social Work from Olivet Nazarene University and a Master of Social Science Administration from Case Western Reserve University. 

5 (calvinistic) solas

In doing some research for a message I preached on John 14:6, I was reminded of the five "solas" of the Protestant reformation. They are Latin phrases with deep theological meaning and ecclesiological ramifications. 

As I think about these"solas," I want to repost them and reaffirm them. These are things that Martin Luther and the reformers were willing to sacrifice and even die for. These are things that I deeply believe reflect vital truths about our faith. These are things that CVC believes. These are things that we ought to teach to our kids.

See if you can memorize the list and some of the supporting verses.

The five solas:

sola scriptura – scripture alone (II Timothy 3:16-17, Isaiah 8:20). The Bible alone is the inspired and authoritative word of God. It the only source for Christian doctrine.

sola fide – faith alone (Romans 3:28, Romans 5:1-2). Being declared right with God is received by faith alone apart from our good works. Saving faith is always evidenced by good works. Good deeds are the result of our salvation, not the cause of our salvation.

sola gratia – grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9 ). Our salvation comes by God’s grace or “unmerited favor” only and is undeserved. Salvation is an unearned gift from God.

solus Christus – Christ alone (Acts 4:12, I Timothy 2:5-6). Christ is the only mediator between God and man. Salvation comes no other way.

soli Deo gloria – glory to God alone (Romans 11:36, I Corinthians 10:31). All glory is due to God alone since our salvation is accomplished solely by His will and work in our behalf.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Work of Our Hands Comes Out of Our Hearts

Last week, I sat with the pastor of another church and listened as he poured out his heart about a long-time, trusted staff member who jumped into moral impurity with a member of his church. The price that this staff member will pay will be huge. The work of that staff member’s hand has caused pain, division, disappointment, and set-backs. The cost to the ministry will be profound.

Who do you know that messed up? Who do you know who has destroyed something in their life with their own hands? Think about that.

Maybe someone you know messed up last week, last month, or last year. Do you have someone in mind? Maybe you are thinking about yourself. Now, a marriage, a family, a ministry, a career are messed up. 

What happened?

Could it be that the work of their hands - what they did to mess up something – came out of the heart?

Here’s a huge question: What is the source of human evil? Most people don’t question the fact that evil exists. Bad people do bad things. But what’s the source of the evil?

Let’s answer that by taking a look at a conflict between Jesus and some religious leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees. They were the self-appointed moral police writing tickets to everybody who broke the rules of their religion.

They gathered around Jesus. They noticed that some of Jesus’ disciples weren't following the Jewish ritual of ceremonial hand washings before eating. It wasn’t a personal hygiene issue. The washings were supposed to remind people to be clean before God. But the washings were being mis-used to determine who was a sinner and who wasn’t. To the religious leaders, ceremonial washings meant you were good-to-go with God! No washings meant you were not good-to-go with God!

To these moral cops the rules about washings had become outside indicators to show everyone who was and who wasn’t clean before God.

The religious leaders were asking Jesus, “Why do Your followers eat with dirty hands? Why do your disciples not keep the religious rules?”

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand:
15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
20 And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
Mark 7:14-23

Jesus is saying, “The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart!”

This has profound implications for me… and for you. The heart of my human problem is the problem of my human heart. And the heart of your human problem is the problem of your human heart.

Now, where will we turn to get our hearts fixed?

9 "is nots" regarding evangelism

Yesterday, I posted about how CVC Co-teaching pastor, Chad Allen, and I went to the SCBO evangelism conference last week. We had the opportunity to hear Dr. David Wheeler teach about evangelism. It was convicting and motivating. 

David is Professor of Evangelism for both Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Liberty University. Even though the book David wrote is entitled "Evangelism Is," last week at Momentum, he spent a good deal of time teaching what evangelism isn't.

9 "is nots" regarding evangelism

1) Evangelism is not just passing on information. It's both incarnational and informational.

2) Evangelism is not a choice for obedient believers. If you are not sharing your faith, it is disobedience. See Acts 1:8.

3) Evangelism is not swapping sheep. Real church growth is conversion growth, not transfer growth. 

4) Evangelism is not a spiritual gift. It is not talked about as a spiritual gift in scripture. Evangelism is everyones' responsibility. Yes, there are evangelists - people who specialize in harvesting. But if you are a disciple, you have to be evangelistic in praying, sowing, watering, and even reaping. 

5) Evangelism is not the same as "missions." Missions doesn't drive evangelism, but evangelism drives missions. We shouldn't spend 1,000s of dollars to send people around the world not to share the gospel. Don't send people halfway across the world to do what they won't do here. 

6) Evangelism is not simply inviting people to church. Followers of Jesus can't expect the staff to do the work of evangelism for them.

7) Evangelism is not just "going out." We must share Christ in our circles of influence. David teaches that every time we step out of bed, we are on our mission field. 

8) Evangelism is not in competition with worship.  9) Evangelism is not in competition with discipleship. We aren't fully discipled unless we are evangelizers. 

Which "is not" does your church violate most often?

***

Dr. David Wheeler teaches “Evangelism and Christian Life” classes, as well as “Contemporary Evangelism” classes. He leads Ph.D. seminars on the “Theology of Evangelism” and the “Theology of Spiritual Awakenings.”  He also represents the North American Mission Board on campus as a recruiter for Church Planting and student internships.

What's first? Being chosen by God to be saved or our response to the gospel?

At CVC, I was once asked, “What came first, being chosen by God, or our ability to choose salvation? Does God decide who will eventually choose his Son? If so, how can you pray for salvation for yourself or others if our fates have already been decided?”

These are tough questions. They came from someone who heard a message from John 10:31-33 about being sure you are going to heaven. What follows is a repost of my answer to that person's questions.

The Bible clearly teaches that God elects persons to salvation. See Ephesians 1:3. But He does it in such a way as to do no violence to their personal responsibility to repent from sin and believe the Gospel. Is there a tension here? Yes. Is there divine mystery? Absolutely! God has chosen. But whosoever will may come. See Romans 10:11.

Here’s the way I think of it: If you are willing, then you are chosen. No one will be standing before God on judgment day saying, “I wanted to be saved, but You wouldn’t save me. I was willing, but You weren’t.”

One of the greatest preachers in the 19th Century was the British pastor Charles Spurgeon. He was a five-point Calvinist. He was also a passionate evangelist and soul winner. On August 1, 1858, he preached a sermon entitled, “Sovereign Grace and Man's Responsibility.” What came from his mouth on that day could only come from a theologian with a shepherd's heart and a love for the lost. I think he addresses the issue you are raising with great wisdom.

“That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.... You ask me to reconcile the two. I answer, they do not want any reconcilement; I never tried to reconcile them to myself, because I could never see a discrepancy.... Both are true; no two truths can be inconsistent with each other; and what you have to do is to believe them both.”

This teaching is an encouragement to me. I worship thankfully and with a full heart because I’ve been chosen for no good reason other than God’s pure grace. And I evangelize because I know that if I keep spreading the good news, some of the people that I share with will respond because they are elect. I believe that any theology that does not result in a "hot heart" for the souls of lost persons is a theology not worth having.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

7 habits for effective evangelistic churches

Last week, Chad Allen and I went to the SCBO evangelism conference and had the opportunity to hear Dr. David Wheeler. David is a friend of mine from his days as the evangelism director of our State Convention. And Chad just finished a Liberty Seminary course where David served as his online professor. So, we were happy to reconnect with David. He has written Evangelism Is... Sharing Jesus with Passion and Confidence.

David is very passionate and authentic about evangelism. He seeks to mobilize pastors and leaders to be truly evangelistic. Here are some of my notes from his challenging break out session. 

***

7 habits for effective evangelistic churches

1. Focus. The ultimate purpose of the church is to glorify God by making disciples. David reminded us that we have been given an amazing invitation to join God on His mission as willing multipliers of the gospel through personal evangelism. 

2. Modeling. David told us that pastors must lead out by personal example when it comes to evangelism. We pastors can't ask our people to do something that we won't do. One time David was talking with a pastor about evangelism. The pastor complained that his people just would not share their faith. David asked him to name 3 neighbors. He couldn't. David said, "OK. Name 2 neighbors." He couldn't. David said, "OK. Name 1 neighbor." He couldn't even do that. David rebuked the pastor, "You are mad at your people for not doing what you aren't doing." This pastor was one of the 50% of pastors who are not sharing their faith. David lamented about the fact that 50% of Southern Baptist pastors have not shared their faith in the last 6 months. As leaders, we can only replicate what we are. 

3. Sacrifice. David's challenge to us was that we must join Christ on His mission to fulfill the Great Commission at any cost. 

4. Accountability. David asked us, "Have you bought the lie that it too much to expect church members to become evangelistic who are full multipliers?" He encouraged us to go to our deacons and leaders and ask, "How many of you have shared your faith in the last year?" And if they haven't shared their faith, it is our job to encourage and equip them. David encouraged church leaders to make sharing the gospel a requirement for the other serving opportunities at church. To the guy who wants to care for the grounds, we could say, "If you don't share your faith, you don't cut the grass on Saturday morning."


5. Plowing and planting. If we are not seeing souls saved in our churches, then it's because our churches are harvesting based on what they have plowed and planted.  Here is the process: 1) Plow. 2) Plant. 3) Grow. 4) Harvest. 5) Multiply. If your church is dying and not growing, then the plowing and planting are not happening. 


6. Empathy. David taught us that Biblical evangelism is always based on empathy rather than sympathy. In our churches, we have made it OK to sympathize, not empathize. Sympathy can be defined as feeling without a corresponding  act of love. Empathy can be defined as feeling with a corresponding act of love. Empathy says, "I will go over there with a meal." The church has made it OK for us to give sympathy and not empathy. Empathy is active. And empathy is necessary if we are going to be effective in evangelism. Evangelism is serving incarnationally. We have to learn to step outside our comfort zones. 

7. Opportunistic. Sometimes people don't evangelize because they feel ill-equipped. They wonder, "What will I say if someone asks a question I can't answer?" David says he loves the questions he can't answer. He says, "When they ask a question I don't know, I like it. This means I not only have a chance for one conversation, but two. What I say is 'I don't know but I will find out.' Then I get with the person for conversation #2."

***

Dr. David Wheeler is Professor of Evangelism for both Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Liberty University.  He teaches the freshmen “Evangelism and Christian Life” classes, as well as the “Contemporary Evangelism” classes at the graduate level for the seminary; and two Ph.D. seminars on the “Theology of Evangelism” and the “Theology of Spiritual Awakenings.”  He also represents the North American Mission Board on campus as a recruiter for Church Planting and student internships.

The 6th and 7th points of Calvinism: I'm right and you're wrong


About 30 years ago, I was mentored by a man named Bob Tebow. His kid is Tim Tebow, the new QB for the NY Jets. At that time, I was the Area Representative for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Jacksonville, Florida. Bob had that job before me and was on staff at the church where I was a member. Bob searched the scriptures with me and, as a result, I came to hold to what many might call a Calvinistic view of theology.

I believe that “the doctrines of grace,” as some have referred to Calvinism, are truly God-honoring and, therefore, foster passionate worship. The Calvinist position can be can be articulated as a belief in the 5 points: 1) Total depravity. 2) Unconditional election. 3) Limited atonement. 4) Irresistible grace. 5) Perseverance of the saints. I jokingly call myself a 4.5 Calvinist since I struggle with the concept of limited atonement in light of verses like I John 2:2. Overall, reformed theology reminds me that everything good in my life, from start to finish, is all of God and none of me.

So, I gladly call myself Calvinistic. I have been helped greatly by the writings of people like J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and John Piper.

However, I have noticed that some of my Calvinistic brothers are harsh and judgmental and critical of others who do not share their views. This, I think, is a blind spot for many who hold to reformed theological views. They seem to be more intent on turning Arminians into Calvinists rather than turning irreligious people into passionate followers of Christ.

The other day, a member of our church staff, Rick Eimers, informed me about a new theological position. Instead of 5 point Calvinism, some have adopted a 7 point Calvinist position in theology. 1) Total depravity. 2) Unconditional election. 3) Limited atonement. 4) Irresistible grace. 5) Perseverance of the saints. 6) I’m right. 7) You’re wrong!

Unfortunately, I have met some 7 point Calvinists! They make me want to run and hide.

I once read a biography of John Newton, the English pastor who wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace. Newton was Calvinistic. But he was deeply disturbed by the contentious spirit he had observed in the lives of some of his Calvinistic friends.

“Throughout his life, John [Newton] could not understand why evangelicals spent so much time attacking each other. He wrote, ‘Will these spiritual gladiators never cease to cut and slash each other?’ Still less could John understand why those who held to the true doctrine of the reformers felt that they must always be hammering others. He wrote, ‘They who avow the doctrines distinguished by the name Calvinistic, ought, if consistent with their own principles, to be the most gentle and forbearing of all men, in meekness instructing them that oppose.’ His argument was that we who hold these truths only understand them because of God’s grace, and therefore have no reason to be angry with those who oppose.” Brian H. Edwards, Through Many Dangers: The Story of John Newton, p. 289.

I like Newton’s attitude. In other words, let’s talk theology, but let’s be charitable about it. Let there be debate between Arminians and Calvinists, but let’s be nice to one another. Our enemy is not a fellow brother in Christ, but the world, the flesh, and the devil.

I think a refusal to quarrel over non-essential issues reflects Paul’s instructions in the pastoral epistles. When we read the pastoral epistles, it is clear that we should refrain from being divisive.

We are warned not to “wander away into vain discussion” (I Timothy 1:6). We are told that leaders are to be “not quarrelsome” (I Timothy 3:3). We are warned that some in the church can be puffed up because they have “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth” (I Timothy 6:4-5).

Paul charges us “before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (II Timothy 2:14). We are told to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (II Timothy 2:23).

We are told to “avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 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” (Titus 3:9-11).

I believe that some of us will have to stand before God and give an account of a quarrelsome, controversial, self-righteous attitude that “majors on the minors” and “makes mountains out of molehills.”

So, do you agree or disagree with me about these things? You say you disagree? Then, roll up your sleeves, dude, and get ready to fight! I want to argue with you about the foolishness of arguing! (Just kidding!) Maybe we should sit down together and talk over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. But be warned. I’m right and you’re wrong
!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Calvinism and Arminianism, blue coats and grey jackets, and Ed Stetzer


Ed Stetzer has produced a very informative video blog that deals with the issue of Calvinism and Arminianism. If you would like a great, non-argumentative introduction to the topic, you might want to check out Ed's blog here. Ed interviews Michael Horton, author of For Calvinism, and Roger E. Olson, author of Against Calvinism. I like Olson's statement about the controversy, "Before we disagree, we must say we understand." 

I am reposting a past post where I wrote about my views. In the days ahead, I will repost a few more of my thoughts.

Personally, I am reformed in my theology. But I don't "wear the doctrines on my sleeve." In other words, when preaching through a passage (like Ephesians 1) that deals with the doctrines of grace, I bang the drum. If I'm preaching from a text that deals with something like anger, for example, I won't try to force some reformed approach on the topic.

I actually came to a reformed view before I went to seminary, but my time at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary helped me grow in the doctrines of grace. Mid-America, at the time, had a diverse collection of views on the faculty. But I became more articulate about reformed theology mainly because of the influence of my church history professor, Tom Nettles. I love to read John Piper and R.C. Sproul. As Piper would say, most of my dead heroes of the faith are Calvinists. And I use their exegesis and commentary often. For example, I read John Gill’s commentaries in preparation for messages and I often check out what C.H. Spurgeon has to say.

I am, however, pragmatic when it comes to church growth strategies and leveraging some of the tools of the 21st century to reach people for Christ. I’ve learned from Rick Warren and Bill Hybels and Andy Stanley and Ed Young, Jr. And I have found that this makes me suspect in the eyes of some of our reformed brethren. They would say that I have sold out to the pragmatic spirit of the age. Oh well… I'm not trying to please a reformed constituency or a Christian sub-culture of Calvinist watchdogs. I don’t have some Calvinistic seminary prof that I need to make sure approves of the way I'm doing things. I say this: "If you displease God, it doesn't really matter who you please. But if you please God, it doesn't really matter who you displease."

So, some would say that I'm not a true church growth guy because of my reformed theology. Some would say that I'm not a good Calvinist because of my pragmatic emphasis on church growth. Some would say that I'm not a good SBC dude because of my para-church/non-denom approach to ministry. And some would say I'm not a good non-denom/para-church guy because I really like the cooperative approach of the SBC. I sometimes feel like a man without a home.

Maybe Jesus likes me. Zephaniah 3:17 says so anyway.

I don't like to argue about reformed theology. I just try to enjoy it. I particularly delight in being one of the elect!

I think there are a lot of mean-spirited Calvinists who are kind of like the Pharisees when it comes to doctrine and practice. I think they should read I and II Timothy and Titus and take special note of all the verses that say things like "Don't wrangle over words." I don't want to be associated with negative, critical people. This life to live and love for Christ is too short for that.

I don't want to be a "nay-saying Calvinistic church growth critic." To me, that's the way some reformed guys come across. I want to grab them by the collar and say, "There's a lost world out there. You'd do the kingdom more good by winning the lost than by judging and criticizing the people who are least trying to get something done. Don't tell me about your doctrine. I want to know how many of the elect did you find and baptize last year?"

When it comes to church growth, I'm trying to have a heart like Spurgeon's whom I've heard used to say, "Lord, save the elect. Then, elect some more." So many Calvinists that I know are so hung up on doctrinal precision that they fail to have a heart for the world of lost people. They seem to be more passionate about criticizing the Rick Warrens and Bill Hybels of the world than they are about seeking ways to leverage greater influence to build the Kingdom.

A friend once wrote to me as we discussed the loneliness of not fitting into the prescribed molds of the US evangelical scene, “So, maybe there are a few of God's men out there who wear blue coats and gray jackets. In this civil war of American Christianity you may continue to be shot at from both sides.”

After reading John Piper's book on missions, “Let the Nations Be Glad,” I found that I want to have the kind of heart expressed there: Let's grow the church and reach the world - populating heaven with worshippers of Jesus Christ. To God alone be the glory.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

12 things to say if you had 24 hours to live...

Today, our Co-Teaching Pastor, Chad Allen, asked us a question during the Sunday morning service, "If you had 24 hours to live who would you gather around you? What would you tell them?"

He asked us to write our answers down on a 3x5 card and spend a couple of minutes talking to a neighbor about our answers. 

I thought the questions were great ones. So, I sat down and spent about 15 minutes answering the questions. Here's what I would tell the people closest to me if I had the energy and the opportunity if I knew I just had 24 hours to live.

***

1. I do love you so very much and I am so proud of you. It's been an honor for me to be in a relationship with you. 

2. I am sorry I didn't love you more passionately. I should have loved you better. 

3. I am sorry for not passionately loving and following Jesus more for you. I am sorry I was not more like Jesus for you. 

4. If anyone of you has any unfinished business to take care of with me, maybe we can find a few minutes today to talk to take care it. Let's take care of business. 

5. Please love Jesus more than I did. Please ask Him to let your righteousness, faithfulness, and fruitfulness far exceed my own. 

6. Make sure you know that you know Jesus as your personal Savior and Lord. Make sure you know that Jesus really loves you - that He is proud of you, that you are His beloved, that His love for you is high/wide/deep/long, that you are the apple of His eye, that He rejoices over you with loud singing, that your name is engraved on the palms of His hand, that there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more, that there is nothing you can do to make Him love you less, that He will never leave you and forsake you. 

7. Love the people around you well. Forgive them. Overlook their flaws. Remember to be kind because everyone you know is fighting a great battle. 

8. Read your Bible, journal, and pray: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Do this all your life. Everyday. Without fail. I've never heard anyone who regretted doing this.

9. Die to self, learn to abide in Christ and be filled with the Spirit. Remember that you can't live this life well through self-effort. Live according to John 15:5, Ephesians  5:18, and Galatians 2:20.

10. Invest your life in advancing the mission of the church. Find some cause - some global Goliath - and live on mission in light of that cause. Be a missionary cleverly disguised... locally and globally. Do good deeds to create good will so you can share the good news. Learn to lead people to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. Speak out for Jesus. 

11. Persevere in the faith. Don't quit. Don't ever give up or give in to sin. Overcome! 

12. I will see you in heaven again. We will see Jesus together. It will be sooner than we think. It's going to be better than we think. Thanks for loving me. Thanks for forgiving me. See you soon!

***

Now, what would you say to the people closest to you if you had 24 hours to live? Why not tell them today?

your Rx for more joy

I have a friend who is working in a secular environment. He is struggling with disappointment, anger, and depression about life circumstances. He's not being the kind of salt and light that he knows he should and could be at work or at home.

I asked him to write himself a spiritual prescription that he could take 3 times a day. I wanted him to think on things that he feels might be helpful and nurturing for his soul.

I encouraged him to consider how his expectations that people will treat him well might be unreasonable. I said that those high expectations might be setting himself up for disappointment. I encouraged him to expect the world to treat him badly. (After all, if they mistreated Jesus, why will they not mistreat us?) I also encouraged him to consider what a proper response to mistreatment and disappointment might look like.

Here's what he came up with (slightly edited by me). As you read through his list, what might you write for yourself?

***

Today I can expect:

1. To feel like I deserve better than what my current position in life is. (typical response: envy, depression)
2. To feel as though I have wasted my life. (typical response: depression)
3. To be treated with disrespect. (typical response: anger)
4. To feel that I am better than someone I have to work with. (typical response: pride)

My response should (WILL) be:

1. Repent.
2. Realize that God has not abandoned me. He is still guiding my path and trying to teach me something.
3. Remind myself that my struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). [And I will remind myself that] "Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31).
4. Recall that God has delivered me in the past and [that] He is still bigger than any problem that I am facing. “Nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37).
5. Request God to do another miracle in my life and give me joy, peace, and contentment and help me to learn to trust Him. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

***

I am so proud of my friend. I am praying that his trust in God's power will help him live in victory over envy, depression, anger, and pride and that the Spirit will produce joy, peace, and contentment in abundance in his heart.

Now, what kind of prescription do you need to write for yourself?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

7 reasons to be a leader in a church

Lots of people who have great leadership qualities choose not to lead in a local church. Sometimes, wrong priorities keep people from taking the lead. Other times, they know that their habitual sin disqualifies them. Often, past hurts and bad experiences keep people from leading. Admittedly, leadership can be difficult and lonely. 

It's good when potential leaders count the cost of leadership. And it's good when people are, frankly, hesitant to lead. We all know that a person who is greedy to lead is often motivated by pride and ego. And that's never good for the church.

So, what can help a humble person push through the obstacles so that they become dynamic servant leaders who are difference-makers? People who are willing to take a leadership role have to understand the Biblical reasons to lead.

Here are 7 Biblical reasons a person should aspire to leadership in the church:

1. You demonstrate obedience to the call of God. 

The great leader Paul wrote, "I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service" (I Timothy 1:12). Note that servant-leader appointments are calls to individuals from God. Paul once wrote to another leader, "See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17). Note that a ministry is a calling we receive from the Lord. So, how does a leader know if he or she is called? It's usually a combination of several factors: a desire to lead in a certain area of ministry, affirmation from others in the body of Christ, effectiveness and fruitfulness in service, open doors of opportunity, a zeal for being used by God, and feeling energized by serving in your area of gifting and passion.

2. You show your love to Christ by serving what He loves (and died for) - the church.

Ephesians 5:25b-27 is a key passage that God used to call me to local church ministry. "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25b-27). If Jesus loved the church so much that he was willing to die for the church, then why wouldn't I want to love the church enough to live my life to serve what he died for?

3. You demonstrate good stewardship of the gifts, talents, abilities, and experiences God has given you.

Jesus told the story about servants who leveraged their abilities to make a profit for their master. Down through the centuries, pastors have taught their people that these are the kinds of words faithful servant-leaders will hear from Christ on the day fo reckoning. "His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’" (Matthew 25:23). Leaders serve with the view that one day they will hear words like these from Jesus.

4. You show your love to others by serving them through the ministry of the church.

On the night before he died, Jesus washed the feet of his followers as an act of love. Then he said, "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you" (John 13:13-15). Servant-leadership is an act of sacrificial love.

5. You help the church stay focused on its mission by fulfilling your leadership function.

Early in the history of the church, a problem arose because certain widows were being served at the expense of others. The apostles knew that this was a very real problem. They looked for leaders to help solve this problem so they could stay focused on the mission of the church. "And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:2-4). When God-called leaders don't lead, the load of leadership grows too heavy for pastors and elders and they end up being distracted from keeping the main thing the main thing. Don't let that happen in your church. Lead!

6. You make an eternal difference in the lives of people.

In one of the greatest chapters in the Bible on leadership, Paul considers the impact that his leadership has had on others. He writes about the believers at Thessalonica, "What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy" (I Thessalonians 2:19-20). The lives of the Thessalonians changed because of the leadership of Paul. Their changed lives became evidence of fruitful service as he considered standing before the Lord to give an account of his leadership.


7. You position yourself to grow as a follower of Jesus.

As a leader, you will be stretched. You will want to be able to say to others what Paul was able to say in I Corinthians 11:1, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." Only a growing follower of Jesus would dare write something like that! Leadership places you in a position where you will want to grow so you can - with integrity - write an invitation like that.

So, which 2 or 3 of these reasons is the most compelling to you? What ministry might God be calling you to lead in a local church? Why not make an appointment with a pastor and ask him to build into you and help you grow into the leadership role God has for you?

Friday, March 23, 2012

How not to be a church planting pirate

A few years ago, an old friend who is on staff at a church in another state asked me for some advice about church planting. I love his heart. He wants to be a blessing to his current church and ministry assignment from God.

He said, "I have been leading [a ministry in my current] church. My wife and I have recently felt like God is beginning to again renew this vision [to plant a new church] in our hearts.

"He has place a great team of people around us to support us and help lead the church as well as some wise mentors over my life and ministry. We're right now really trying to understand how to leave our current church and be remembered well. [We want] God's perfect timing for that movement.

"I'm writing you as someone whom I know has a heart for God without agendas and as someone whom I've looked up to for years. Any kind of advice you'd have for me will be well received.

"Thanks so much, man. I so much appreciate your heart and the ministry God has used you to create."

I wrote back to him, "It's good to hear from you. Hope all is well. Here are 2 initial suggestions for starting out:

1) Talk with leadership at your current church about God’s call on your life. Let them know that you want to explore whether or not you are called to plant a church. I would not announce, “God has called me to plant a church… 3 miles away!” That’s a sure way to get a negative response. I don't think you want to be a church planting pirate, right?

Check out a You Tube video from Ed Young, Jr. about the dangers of being a church planting pirate.



It's rather a strong video, right? Basically, Ed is saying, "If you are so 'big and bad' that you can start a dynamic church, why not go to a new place where nobody knows you and plant a church there? To siphon off people from a previous ministry experience without the blessing of that ministry is not apostolic. It's anemic."

So, please ask for your current leaders' input and guidance. Does your church have a vision for planting? Let them know that you want to bless your current church and ministry within the church and that you will not do anything to hurt or harm the church. In fact, let them know that you want to bless and to grow your current ministry before you leave to plant. Let them know your heart is still with your current church, but that you are pursuing what God may have in store for you.

2) Ask your leadership to help you identify whether or not you are gifted to plant. We use 3 assessments. The first is online. The second is a 4 hour interview with the church planter and his spouse. The third is a 4 day formal assessment. The goal of the assessments is to identify giftedness for planting. I do not think that anyone should plant without an assessment process. If you are affirmed through the assessment process (which is vigorous) then church leadership will likely affirm and support your call to church planting.

The online assessment we use can be found here. We are a part of NEO 360 and Vision 360.

a clean heart...

How defiled is your heart? That’s a strange question, right? But in Mark 7 Jesus encourages us to evaluate our hearts in light of our attitudes and actions. He gives us a list of 13 sins that flow from hearts that need change.

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:14-23, ESV).

Let’s slow down. Let’s take a look at the work of our minds and hands that exposes the state of our hearts. Let’s consider each of these 13 sins in light of our lives. Let’s pray, “Father, search me. Show me my sin. Lead me to brokenness, repentance, humility.”

Read carefully through these descriptions and ask God to show you your guilt before Him.

1. Evil thoughts – What’s in the heart shows up in the mind, in our thinking. We are all like the little boy who is told to stay out of daddy’s office who is always thinking of ways to be disobedient, to be digging in daddy’s desk.

2. Sexual immorality – It’s a broad term. It’s sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s messing around online. It’s any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage. God knows that trust is foundational for successful relationships. He knows that immorality violates trust and unravels relationships. That’s why He forbids it.

3. Theft – We think, “I want it. I deserve it. I am going to take it.” It’s taking stuff from the office that doesn’t really belong to you. It’s taking music and movies you did not buy.

4. Murder – It’s not just the physical act of murder, but it’s also hating another person. It’s living like you
don’t really care if they live or they die.

5. Adultery – This is any kind of sexual relationship that violates a marriage. It’s divorcing your spouse to marry somebody else’s. God knows that marriage is the foundation of society. He wants to protect it. That’s why He forbids adultery. He says “no” because He has a better “yes” He seeks to protect.

6. Coveting – This is seeing what someone else has and wanting it so badly that I become discontent and angry until I possess it. It’s the root of our consumerism and materialism.

7. Wickedness – This is a radical self-centeredness. I care about me first.

8. Deceit – I am willing to lie to get what I want.

9. Sensuality – I am ruled by sex, pornography, masturbation.

10. Envy – Literally, it’s an evil eye. You want their blessings or accomplishments. You hate them for having what you wish you had yourself. You think, “Why couldn’t it be me? Why couldn’t I have this blessing? I deserve it as much as they do.”

11. Slander – It’s tearing others down by your words, innuendos.

12. Pride – This is arrogance. We think, “I am better and more deserving.” Sometimes we might even have knowledge or insight into scripture, into truth, and we think we’re better than others.

13. Foolishness – This is living with very little thought about consequences of an action. This is living with very little thought about what really matters in life. This is just living to do what feels good in the moment with very little concern about anything else.

Which 2 or 3 areas out of these 13 need your repentance most? Remember, these sins flow from a defiled heart. Follow up your confession by asking Jesus to be the Great Physician to operate on your sin-sick, diseased heart to make it pure and holy. Don’t wait. Don’t delay. Pray some “Father, search me; Jesus, heal me; Spirit, use me” prayers.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Your predicament... God's promise

I was reading in Isaiah 61 this morning.

I was struck by the description of the predicament of God's people and the promises that are made to restor them.

 What is your predicament? And which of these promises of God do you need to claim today?

The poor.... get good news
The broken hearted.... are bound up
The captives... get liberty
The bound.... have their prison opened
The unfavored.... are favored
The mourning.... are comforted
Those with ashes.... get a beautiful headdress
Those who are mourning.... get the oil of gladness
Those with a faint spirit.... get a garment of praise
Those with a faint spirit.... are called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord
The ancient ruins.... are built up
The former devastations... are raised up
The ruined cities... are repaired
The shamed.... shall recieve a double portion of everlasting joy
The dishonored... shall rejoice at their lot
Those treated unjustly... will be recompensed

May our God who is mighty to save do all this and more for you and those you love. Wait on the Lord. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait on the Lord.

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