Monday, April 30, 2012

Try before you buy?

I am glad that my wife, Maryanne, and I waited. 


"A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed" (Song of Solomon 4:12).


We live in a culture that promotes a "try-before-you-buy" attitude about sexuality. It's increasingly rare for me to do premarital counseling and find that couples have practiced sexual purity before marriage. Young adults want to either sleep together or live together before the honeymoon in order to find out if they are sexually compatible. 


But notice that in the Song of Solomon, a book that celebrates intimacy between a man and a woman, the bride is "a spring locked, a fountain sealed." What is that about?


The ESV Study Bible says, "garden (more like modern parks than flowerbeds) is not only a welcoming place for lovers but is regularly associated with a woman’s sexuality in the ancient Near East. A spring or fountain reflects a similar concept (cf. Prov. 5:15–19). Notice that her garden and spring are locked, indicating that she reserves herself for her lover alone" and that the garden is not to be unlocked until after the wedding.


This is a theme repeated in the Song of Solomon over and over. 


"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases" (Song of Solomon 2:7).


"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases" (Song of Solomon 3:5).


"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases" (Song of Solomon 8:4).


Again, the ESV Study notes are helpful here: "The actual marital consummation is reflected in Song of Solomon 8:5. This is supported by the consistent refrain urging restraint—i.e., not to “stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (cf. 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). Thus, immediately following the last occurrence of the refrain (see 8:4), in 8:5 the woman declares, “Under the apple tree I awakened you”—which is the only place where she is said to have (sexually) awakened her lover.


Sexual intimacy is anticipated and even celebrated by God in the Bible. He invented sex and the pleasure that sex brings. So, God is not a "cosmic kill-joy." God says "no" to sex before marriage because He has a better "yes" to sex after marriage. God's "wait" is to preserve a better "go." 


Notice how God encourages and celebrates sexual love. "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love" (Proverbs 5:18-19). God is not seeking to keep something from us, but seeks to preserve something for us.


So, I am glad that my wife, Maryanne, and I waited. No one else - no past partner - has entered into our bedroom. The memories of past experiences are not tampering with our trust. No outside virus has invaded our sexual relationship. And that builds greater trust and more freedom for us inside and outside the bedroom.


For teens, young adults, and singles, it's tough to stay locked up sexually in a culture that encourages sexual expression and experimentation. But God's word says that the difference is worth the distance. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

How would you define the favor of God?

Today, Chad Allen taught us about the favor of God from the life of Daniel. He reminded us that if we want to walk in the favor of God, we need to have 4 attitudes: obedience, humility, faith, and perseverance.

But what will motivate us to live that way? I think we'll be more motivated to walk in God's favor if we understand what the favor of God is... and isn't.

So, last week, I texted some friends who are spiritual leaders and asked them how they would define the favor of God. I wanted to get their gut reaction responses. Here are some definitions. See which ones inspire you the most to have the 4 attitudes of obedience, humility, faith, and perseverance. 


***

God's special blessing that expedites things exceptionally. Bob Roberts

I think of David... The favor of God is when God gives your life on earth the things that give Him glory eternally. Nick Bertram

It's special grace shown to a particular person or group. Garnett Slatton

God's favor is God’s gracious attitude toward His people, seeing them as pure, without fault. Mike Misja

God's favor is His strength and guidance working through His people, prospering their efforts. Mike Misja

God's favor is His kindness around His people, providing them with what is needed to enjoy their existence. Mike Misja

Picture a very humble-looking peasant kneeling before a great and powerful king with a royal robe being placed on the peasant so that everywhere he/she went, everyone would know he/she was favored of the king.The king is extending his royal scepter over the person and saying, "I really, really like you. Come and enjoy all the goodness of My kingdom!" Ron Sandoval

God's presence going before/ahead of the person favored, e.g. Joseph in Genesis 39. Juri Amari

God's favor is the fruit of walking in obedience to God with the assurance of Romans 8:28. Joe Abraham

God's favor is the annointing of Christ resting on a human through God's grace and mercy that provides undeserved blessings to that person. Robert Kilo

God's favor is His grace, forgiveness, and blessing given through a relationship with Him whereby you become His, receiving His Spirit - connecting with the vine, abiding in Him. Bob Kuntz

The favor of God is when God goes to bat for you. Bob Kuntz

God's favor is Special Recognition by God. At its basic level God shows favor at the moment of salvation  granting man eternal life.  If salvation was the only favor granted to me would I be satisfied. Not casting me away from his presence when I do sin shows special recognition. Dan Anthony

God's favor is God smiling at me through the prism of His Son. Alan C. Duncan

Having the hand of the Lord upon us in all that we do! Jason Van Horn

Favor of God is a term many use to explain some type of "extra" blessing that God have rained upon them. Whether that is true or not does not give God a fair picture of His grace and mercy. I believe God's favor [is] when we do what Micah 6:8 says. So many believe the key to unlock God's favor is to sacrifice something when it is simply becoming obedient to His Statues. In Deuteronomy God tells the children of Israel it was not because you were the largest or best nation. I just chose you to be a light  to draw the nations back to Me. So, God's favor is a method He uses to draw the lost world unto Himself. Marlon Johnson

I believe that the favor of God is grace related. It produces tangible signs of His approval. Greg Clark

Technically, the words in Hebrew and Greek are "hen" (sounds like "hane") and "charis" (sounds like "karese"). God describes Himself in Ex. 34:6-7 as "the compassionate and gracious God" (rachum wa'hanun), that is, His character entails a compassion like a mother for her child (see 1 Ki. 3:26 where this word appears again) and a kindness that has "no reason" (see 1 Sam. 19:5 where this word appears again). This word pair appears many times throughout the OT and we are to understand their individual meanings in light of each other. The favor of God in the OT was an unmerited bestowal of blessing or protection born out of a deep compassion for His creation (humans being the apex of that creation) and little really changed when we move into the NT. That grace/favor/compassion simply put on a face - Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, Paul says as much as he alludes to Ex. 33:18-34:6-7 in his instruction to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6. The favor of God is the bestowal of blessing and protection ultimately in the person and work of Jesus Christ! Dave Lyndon

God's favor is sovereign, unmerited benefits and opportunies.  It does not necessarily mean avoidance of trouble, see Job 10:12 and Gen. 39:21.  Wray Bradley

I believe that the favor of God is grace related. It produces tangible signs of His approval. Greg Clark

Theologically...God's favor was and is upon man through Jesus. God's good favor (or some call it "common grace") is upon all mankind. His special favor humbles me for I in no way deserve it. Its both mystical and unfailing.
In brief, I would say God's favor is walking in the blessing of our Heavenly Father, as in Malachi 3 when the Bible talks about the windows of heaven being opened so that blessing can be poured out. His favor is whaen you see His manifest presence, perhaps in a particular area of life (e.g. you receive the right idea for a solution to a problem in the workplace, or the Lord provides just the right person needed as just the right time to assist you in an area, etc). In Exodus 32:11, we read that Moses sought the *favor* of the LORD his God." And in Luke 1:30, Mary "found favor with God." One secret:  we know that “God opposes the proud but shows *favor* to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5; James 4:6 Jonathan Schaeffer

***

As my friend Jonantahn says, "I hope that helps, and may we see the Lord's favor in our lives!"

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Trent Richardson, the NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns, and divine election

3 reasons why the NFL draft is good, but not as good as the divine draft

Thursday night, after an Elder Team meeting, I walked into our family room and saw my wife, Maryanne, with an arm raised up in celebration and victory. Why? The Browns traded up to draft Alabama running back, Trent Richardson, in the first round. Her alma mater will be duly represented in a big way on the Browns for, hopefully, at least a decade to come.

The Cleveland Browns draft Trent Richardson! Maryanne is happy. And so is our son, Alan. Alan works part-time for the scoreboard department for the Browns and, as a former HS and college running back, he is excitedly anticipating editing lots of Richardson highlight runs over the next few years.

So, the NFL draft  has been big news in the Duncan family over the last few days.

I was talking with our middle son, Ryan, today about the draft. We began to talk about my experience of being drafted in baseball. I was drafted out of high school by the San Francisco Giants in the 15th round in 1971. But I didn't sign a contract. I chose instead to accept a scholarship to play baseball at Vanderbilt University. Then in 1975, I was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 2nd round of the January secondary draft. I signed a contract with the Twins and spent 5 years in the minor leagues before finally calling it quits and joining the staff of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

I told Ryan that I couldn't remember how I found out that I was drafted by either the Giants or the Twins. For sure, there was no TV coverage! I didn't get a hug from the commissioner of  baseball like the first round NFL draft picks get from the NFL commissioner. (That hug from the commissioner seems kind of weird to me, anyway!) And the contracts offered to me were teeny-tiny compared to what is offered to the top players today. I'm guessing I just got a phone call - maybe even days afterwards - to let me know I was drafted.

All this has made me think about another draft - a draft which has hopefully impacted your life. If you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, you have been drafted. By God!

"We know, brothers [and sisters] loved by God, that he has chosen you" (I Thessalonians 1:4).

He chose me. And you - if you know Him. It's a divine draft. And that draft matters most. God's choice of us makes us very significant. Whenever you are feeling like a nobody, just remember that you have been drafted by God Almighty, the Sovereign Creator and Ruler of the universe.

Here are 3 reasons that being drafted by God makes being drafted by the NFL pale into insignificance by comparison.

1. When God drafts you, you are truly rich. You have what money cannot buy and death cannot take away. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Ephesians 1:3-4). In the NFL, the first round draft picks get rich. But lots of those guys lose much of their money even before their NFL careers are over. And all of them have to leave it all behind on their death day. Would you rather have every physical blessing in earthly places that you will one day have to give up or every spiritual blessing in heavenly places that you will forever enjoy? The divine draft makes you truly rich. 

2. When God drafts you, you are guaranteed success. You will be fruitful. Jesus said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (John 15:16). The NFL experts cannot predict the future success of their draft picks. Some guys drafted by the NFL are successful in the NFL. Many are not. But when Jesus drafts us, we are guaranteed that we will bear fruit that will remain.

3. When God drafts you, you are saved. You are saved from sin and hell. You are saved by God Himself. You are saved for God's glory and for your good. "But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth" (II Thessalonians 2:13). I can think of no more important question than this: "Are you saved?" The divine draft enables you to say, "Yes!"

If you have said "yes" to Jesus - if you have made Him your Savior and Lord - then you have been drafted by God. He chose you. You are his draft pick. He has made you significant.

Hold your head high. Wear His gear! Serve Him gladly. Score touchdowns for Him. Hit home runs for Him. Thank Him for choosing you.

Here's a prayer that I am praying today. Maybe my words will fit your lips. "Lord, thank You for choosing me! Whenever I am feeling worthless and insignificant, help me live in light of Your divine election. Thank You that I am saved. Thank You that You will bear fruit through me. Thank You that I have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. I want to live this day with confidence and hope. The fact that you chose me when You didn't have to choose me means that I must matter. So, today my heart overflows with praise. I worship You, Lord God Almighty, the divine Draft-er of my soul."

Related posts:

Be secure

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

A conversation about predestination

Friday, April 27, 2012

Doing Hard Things

I wish I did more Hard Things. I wish I was more radical in how I serve others, more revolutionary in how I help people. I wish I was more generous, more sacrificial. I wish I did more Hard Things.

See, the people we admire most in life are people who do hard things. Think with me; talk to me. Who are the kinds of people you admire because they do the hard things? I think of firefighters, the police, the military, EMT.

Doing Hard Things. God has hard-wired us to admire it.

My wife, Maryanne, is one of the people I admire for doing Hard Things. My mother moved in with us about a year ago. She’s 88, a stroke patient, pretty much paralyzed on the left side. She needs assistance walking, bathing, in the bathroom, getting in and out of bed. My mom loves to say, “I require lots of attention.” She’s right. I help out. I pretty much have the night-time shift with my mom. But frankly, Maryanne does more than me. Not too many daughters-in-law would do what Maryanne is doing for my mom. I admire the Hard Thing my wife is doing.

But most of us don't do the Hard Things as much as we would like to do them. There's not only something in us that wants to do Hard Things to serve others, but there’s something in us that resists doing hard things. What is it? Maybe it’s selfishness. Maybe it's a fear of the personal sacrifice involved. Maybe it's a lack of faith that God will reward humble, obedient service. We feel pulled to do the extraordinary. But we are stuck in the ordinary.

You know a family in need because of job loss or medical bills and you wanted to help but you didn’t because it wasn’t convenient. You bought the new car instead.

I think God wants to take away our fear of sacrifice. He wants to help us overcomes what makes us hesitate to do the hard things. He wants to eliminate what keeps us from sacrificial service. He wants us to do some things that are risky, revolutionary, and radical. He wants us to live dangerously. He wants us to serve others. He wants us to make a difference in the world.

God wants us to be the people we admire. He wants us to do something hard to bless the lives of others.

Now, some people would say that the Person who purposed to do the hardest Hard Thing ever was Jesus. Physically, He willingly took a beating – a scourging – that ripped the skin off His back. Then, He was pierced through His hands and feet, nailed to a cross. Spiritually, He was forsaken by His Father in heaven as He took our sins on Himself on the cross. He willingly went through all that and more on purpose, dying in our place to forgive us. He was forsaken so we could be accepted. He did the hardest Hard Thing.

My question is “How?” How was He able to do it? And can we tap into His passion so we can do our own Hard Thing?

Let’s look at a story from the life of Jesus that gives us a clue – that tells us how He was able to do the hardest Hard Thing. Look at John 10.


14a I am the good shepherd… [I am the One who takes care of My people.]
15b … I lay down my life for the sheep. [An enemy has come to destroy My people, but I will die to save them.]
17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.
18 No one takes it [My life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father."
19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. [What words? “I lay down My life that I may take it up again.]
20 Many of them said, "He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?"
21 Others said, "These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon…"
John 10:14a, 15b, 17-21a (ESV)


Some said, “He’s insane!” Others said, “Not so fast. Maybe He is who He says He is.” Here’s what got Jesus in trouble with the religious crowd: He said, “You want proof that I have a special relationship with God the Father? Watch Me lay down My life and watch Me take it up again.” He’s referring to His death and resurrection. He’s predicting His resurrection from the dead. “When I die, I will rise!” That’s why people said, “He’s wacked out!”

What did Jesus believe? He believed in His own resurrection. Jesus believed that a miracle would happen after He died. He believed that His dead body would come back to life! He said, “When I die, I will rise.”

He believed in His own resurrection. And that was fuel for Him to do the hardest Hard Thing ever – to die on that cross. He said, “When I die, I will rise.” He believed that if He humbled Himself to the point of death, His Father would exalt Him. His belief shaped and motivated His behavior. What He believed enabled Him to live and love well. A belief in His resurrection enabled Him to do the hardest Hard Thing.

Now think with me. If we believe what Jesus believed, then we will be able to live and love well, like Him. If we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead after He did the hardest Hard Thing, then we can believe that when we do our Hard Things God will raise us up, too.

Certainly, we can’t die in the place of anyone to pay for their sins like He did for us. God may never call any of us to literally die for our faith. But Jesus does call us to die little deaths every day. He calls us to do the Hard Things – to be that person we admire, to be the person who sacrifices to serve others.

Now, what Hard Thing will you do for Jesus starting today?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

When relational curiosity is dangerous

A few days ago, I wrote about relational curiosity. I encouraged leaders, when challenged, to ask probing questions so they could learn more about their own life and leadership. I wrote, "Non-defensive questions are in the toolkits of the best humble, teachable leaders."

I shared three sets of questions you could ask when you are questioned, challenged, or resisted as a leader. Here's an abridged version of those questions:

1. Wow. I'm curious. What is it about me that makes you think that? Would you tell me more about that?

2. What is it like for you to spend time with me? Do you think I am hearing you? Or do you feel dismissed by me?

3. Thanks for your insights. I want to think about what you've shared. Will you pray with me and for me as I seek to learn and grow as a person?

My friend, Dr. Mike Misja, helped craft these questions. He encouraged me to remind leaders to be careful in asking these kinds of questions. He wrote, "Tuning into the relational dynamics during a conversation can be risky. It is helpful to do a quick heart assessment of the other person." Sometimes, asking these kinds of questions can be dangerous if the other person is unhealthy. It can be like casting your pearls before swine.

Mike said that it's helpful and healthy to evaluate the other person in terms of 3 categories:

1. The other person has a caring (phileo) heart. This is when you think that the other person genuinely cares about you and the depth of your relationship. S/he is FOR you and comes with a good heart. In this case, you think, "I am willing to relationally engage and process with this person."

2. The other person has an agenda driven heart. This is when you think that the other person is not concerned about you or your relationship. He or she is driven by personal agenda and sees you and your opinion as an obstacle to be overcome. In this case, you think, "I will attempt to shift from the agenda to the personal and see if the person is available for relationship."

3. The other person has a lethal heart. This is when you think that the other person wants to take you down as an act of vengeance or display of power. This person is coming with a bad heart and is dangerous. In this case you think, "I am cautious and wise as a serpent. Jesus did entrust himself to men as he knew what was in men’s hearts."

Related posts:

Leaders and relational curiosity

Tough love for difficult people

Wisdom from Proverbs on handling conflict

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tim Keller on the 5 things that keep his ministry strong

This post is from British evangelical, Neil Powell, who blogs at "A Faith to Live By."


Tim Keller spoke at the City to City conference this week in New York on the difference between ‘inner power’ that which flows out of our relationship with the Lord and ‘external power’ that which comes from position, status or prestige. Focusing on ‘external power’ is deadly, but ‘inner power’ brings life and vitality to you and your ministry.


Here are his 5 things we have to work at, plan for, be disciplined at if to have independent, inner, source of power.


1. Private devotions – regular, consistent; morning  (40 mins), lunch-time (5 mins – recap), evening (40 mins), bed-time (pray with Kathy)


2. Spiritual friendship – Christian brothers & sisters who hold you accountable. Intimate friendship. Hebrews 3.16. Who have you given the right to do that?


3. Right kind of pastoral counseling [ministry] – Regular evangelism, discipleship, helping others. Some form of serving.


4. Study and reading – you’ve got to read your head off!


5.Corporate worship – do you really worship in your services or are you merely the producer and director?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Leaders and Relational Curiosity

When a leader seeks to mobilize others, he or she will experience leadership backlash. The people you are leading will ask questions, challenge motives, and resist change.

Whenever you are questioned, challenged, or resisted, it is normal to react. You will want to defend and explain rather than learn and connect. And that will often yield a "right/wrong" or "me/you" response. Conflict and misunderstanding inevitably follow.

But a better way is to be curious. What if, instead of explaining or defending, you asked probing questions so you could learn more about your own life and leadership?

I have found that non-defensive questions are in the toolkits of the best humble, teachable leaders.

Here are three sets of questions you could ask when you are questioned, challenged, or resisted as a leader. My friend, Dr. Mike Misja of North Coast Family Foundation, helped craft the questions. (Mike wrote the book, Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage.) These questions build on each other and display a relational curiosity.

1. Wow. So you are saying that... That's interesting. I'm curious. What is it about me that makes you think that? What is it about what I said that makes you say that? Would you tell me more about that?

2. What is your experience of me? How do I make you feel? What is it like for you to speand time with me? Do you think I am hearing you? Or do you feel dismissed by me? When we were talking I noticed that you... and I wondered if you felt/thought... What are your concerns/observations/insights about me? How could I love you and others better? Any other feedback you can offer me?

3. Thanks for your insights. I want to think about what you've shared. Will you pray with me and for me as I seek to learn and grow as a person?

Of course, if you are relationally aware, these questions will lead you to ask even more follow-up questions. Follow the flow of the Spirit as He leads you in the moment. Stay relationally curious.

When you ask questions like these, it's really an act of love.

You'll be receiving love from the person who is questioning, challenging, or resisting you. It takes bold love to speak up and speak out in the presence of a leader. Showing relational curiosity is a way for you to receive love.

And relational curiosity is a way for you to give love. When you want more from the person who is questioning, challenging, or resisting you, it's an act of love toward them because it shows that you value their opinion and insights. It's also an act of love toward God since you are acknowledging that He has put that person in your path to teach you some things about you. Finally, it's an act of love for yourself since you will learn and grow as you practice the discipline of relational curiosity.

What if we all truly became more relationally curious? I honestly think our love for God and our love for others would grow. We'd actually be better at fulfilling the Great Commandment.

If you really grew in your capacity for relational curiosity, what changes might take place in your marriage, with your family, for your friends, and through your ministry?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Is Jesus enough?

Brian Bloye is pastor of West Ridge Church in Atlanta. I met Brian at a Vision 360 meeting in Orlando. We connected because he also has a baseball background.

Several weeks ago, he spoke to church planters at the Velocity12 Conference. In the talk, he discusses a question from another mutual friend, Bob Roberts, President of Vision 360 and Pastor of Northwood Church in Dallas.

I found notes on his talk on the Leading Smart blog written by Tim Stevens. You can find the 20 minute talk here. It's worth the time to listen and watch.

It's a talk designed to set us free from performance-based Christianity. In the talk, Brian asks probing questions.

Is Jesus enough?
If you never build a large church, is Jesus enough?
If your church fails, is Jesus enough?
If you never get to speak at a conference like this, is Jesus enough?
If no one reads your blog or retweets your tweets, is Jesus enough?

If Jesus isn’t enough, you will always feel unsettled in your soul.
When Jesus isn’t enough, it’s not that you try to replace Jesus. You just try to add on to Jesus.
And then you become performance-driven.
Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to is your idol.”

Jesus plus anything or anyone leads to emptiness.
We all have to settle this in our hearts, not just once, but over and over again.

I am grateful for this simple question: Is Jesus enough?

Thanks, Brian, Bob and Tim, for seeking to set us free from success-oriented ministry.

May we learn to live and minister for an audience of One. And may Jesus truly be enough for you and for me.

CVC Senior leadership transition update

Chad Allen, our co-teaching pastor, and I talk about the lead pastor leadership transition at CVC. It's good news!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A missionary cleverly disguised as a doctor

On Easter Sunday, we showed the testimony of Darwin Jeyaraj, a CVCer who is a physician from India and now living out the American dream in NE Ohio. He is giving it all up - his practice, research, and professorship - to go back to India to set up a missionary medical clinic to reach the poor. Here is an extended cut version of his story. May we all be as sensitive to the call of God on our lives.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Captain

In preparing for a funeral today, I found a story I used for a funeral a few years ago. Captain Edgar Jacobsen was actually an admiral of a fleet of ships on the Great Lakes. And this story not only honored Captain Jacobsen, but helped me build an emotional connection with those grieving the loss. It was also great way to encourage those in attendance to consider giving their lives to Christ.

As a leader, you may be given opportunities to speak at a funeral or memorial service. Be sure to tailor your comments in a way that will honor the deceased and connect with those who mourn.

***

A sailor was headed to what was for him a new port through uncharted waters. It was a “once-in-a-lifetime” voyage. Although he had heard stories of how people had sailed those waters, he had never done so himself. He’d heard that some pulled into port with grace and glory. Others had tried to sail those same waters and shipwrecked.

At first, his trip was fairly uneventful. Southerly winds. Calm waters. Smooth sailing. He was making good progress. “This isn’t so bad,” he thought to himself. “Those other pilots whose trips ended in ruin must not have been very experienced.”

Just then, the winds changed and black clouds formed. Jagged bolts of light fell from heaven. The waves turned into wild, twisting enemies that crashed over the bow of the boat. Now, the trip was an adventure – a challenge.

Soon, the sailor saw that he had underestimated the strength of the winds against him. He had miscalculated the distance he had to travel. It was tough, rough going. He was in trouble. The moonless night came quickly.

The sailor couldn’t see well. But he could feel the threat. His boat was being pushed toward the harsh, jagged rocks that guarded the shore. Now, he knew why so many other boats had become wreckage.

On the outside, the sailor was calm. He appeared to be entirely in control of the situation. But inside, things were different. He wondered, “Will I make it? I’ve never sailed these waters before.” He dared not admit it even to himself, but he was scared.

Just then, he had the surprise of his life. He saw another man on board. “Where did he come from?” he wondered. As the boat pitched in the wild waves, this man carefully made his way to the helm. When the sailor looked into the man’s eyes, he saw a peace and a power that seemed almost miraculous in light of the imminent crash that was sure to come.

The man’s lips were moving. He didn’t shout to be heard. It was a still, small voice. But as the sailor tuned in, he could hear the words that pierced through the thunder, the wind, and the waves. He was saying, “Give me control. Let me sail your boat. I’m the only one who can bring you safely home.”

The sailor shook his head. After all, this was a ship-wrecking, life-threatening situation. He knew he was in trouble. But he also knew that he had successfully sailed through other harrowing circumstances before. He didn’t like the idea of giving up the helm to an unknown. “I’ll just trust myself,” he thought.

The contrast in their eyes was astounding. A look of terror for the sailor. A look of power for the man. Yet, the man just stood there and hung on as the boat bounced wildly closer and closer to the rocks. And he waited and waited.

What the sailor didn’t realize was that this man had rescued others who had been in similar trouble many, many times before. That the man was a supernaturally experienced sailor. That he allows sailors to crash who reject his help and insist on keeping control. That once the man is given permission to take over the helm of the boat, he says these words, “Peace, be still!” That he alone can escort any willing sailor to safety.
And still he waits and waits for those who will turn over the helm to him.

* * *

"It was right and proper that God, who made everything for His own glory, should allow Jesus to suffer, for in doing this He was bringing vast multitudes of God’s people to heaven; for his suffering made Jesus a perfect Leader [a Captain], one fit to bring them into their salvation" (Hebrews 2:10, TLB).

* * *

Who is at the helm of your boat? Is it yourself or the Savior? Are you trying to navigate life’s treacherous waters on your own? Are you absolutely certain that your ultimate destiny will be in God’s safe harbor? Is Jesus truly the captain of your life?

The story of the cross of Christ is the story of the One who suffered shipwreck in our place. We’ve all sinned. Our boats are bruised and battered because of poor past sailing. If we received what we deserved, we would all experience the ultimate and eternal disaster. But Jesus died – suffered shipwreck – for our sins so we won’t have to. And then God raised Him from the dead. Now, He waits for us to receive His forgiveness and to invite Him to pilot us through this life. It’s up to us to invite Him to be captain of our souls.

Is Jesus waiting for you to see your danger and to invite Him to take over? Here is a prayer you can pray to make Christ your Captain:

Dear Lord Jesus,
I’ve been sailing through life by myself too long. I’ve made so many mistakes. I’ve sinned. I need your forgiveness. Thank you for suffering shipwreck on the cross for me. I believe You died in my place there. I believe You rose again. Right now, I step away from the helm of my ship and ask You to pilot me the rest of the way home. I make You my Captain. Thank you for saving me. Amen.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Leaders and the favor of God

How does a leader know when he or she has the favor of God?

It's so easy for leaders to define the favor of God in terms of their tangible blessings. Having the favor of God means that we will know good health, working relationships, career success, and ministry fruitfulness. These are the signs of God's favor. Right? And when health, friendships, finances, and ministries struggle that is a sign we are out of God's favor. Right?

Wrong!

Think about it. Moses had God's favor yet was leading a rebellious bunch of followers. Esther had God's favor but was faced with death threats to her people and her own life. Daniel had God's favor yet was thrown into a lion's den.

So, what it the evidence of God's favor? It's important to get our definition from scripture. Here are three evidences of God's favor.

When we have God's favor, we will experience...
1. ... the presence of God

"For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:16). The favor of God doesn't mean that He always gets us out of trouble. God often uses trouble to correct us, perfect us, direct us, and protect us. But the favor of God does mean that the enabling and encouraging presence of God will be ours in the midst of the trouble. When we have God's favor, we will experience the presence of God.

2. ... the vindication, help, and comfort of God

"Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me" (Psalm 86:17). Notice in the verse that the Psalmist has people who hate him. So, the favor of God cannot mean that everyone likes you! Rather, the favor of God means that ultimately, you will be vindicated, helped, and comforted even when others hate you. When you have God's favor, you will experience the vindication, help, and comfort of God.

3. ... the leaving of a lasting legacy

"Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" (Psalm 90:17). We want our lives to count. We want our influence to outlive us. But only time will tell whether that will be true for us or not. So, this evidence of the favor of God is not something we can see or experience in our own lifetimes. We should want the favor of god on our lives so our influence will go and grow beyond us. When we have God's favor, we will experience the leaving of a lasting legacy.
These three reasons alone should be sufficient for us to entreat the favor of God. Be bold! Ask God for His favor on your life, family, and ministry.

And the next time you are tempted to evaluate God's favor based on earth's tangible, seemingly positive blessings, remember that according to the Bible, we must measure the favor of God based on what money cannot buy and death cannot take away.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Leadership: overcoming a false sense of self worth

A friend sent me this statment today: "We all have our way of getting a false sense of self worth, some are just more obvious than others." I agree. Do you?

Several years ago, I came to the conclusion that I was trying to get self worth through leadership in the ministry.
It went like this: I didn’t make it to the major leagues as a baseball player, so now I will prove my worth by making it to the “majors” as a pastor.
Baseball sure opened some doors for me. But I allowed baseball to mess me up, too. The stats side of baseball was/is ingrained in me and I carry it into the ministry way too much – counting noses and nickels as a way of gaining self-worth.
When I go down that path, it’s pretty ugly. I fail to love people well when I am focused on seeking to achieve a false sense of self-worth.
Someone encouraged me to read a book entitled “Search for Significance.” From the book, I learned a statement that I have put to memory: “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, totally forgiven, fully pleasing, accepted and complete in Christ.” I still forget this over and over and need to remind myself of this over and over.
A class where I was trained in counseling at North Coast Family Foundation helped a lot. Also a book called “We are Driven” helped, too.
I thanked my friend for the reminder that “we all have our way of getting a false sense of self worth, some are just more obvious than others.”
So, how do you try to get a false sense of self-worth? And how are you overcoming that sinful tendency?

how beliefs become behaviors

I have a friend who is looking for scripture / thoughts / feedback to a couple of questions:

"Is 'trying to live out our beliefs' a valid statement? Or does our lifestyle give evidence to what we do in truth believe?"

***

What follows is my answer:

In short, I think scripture answers a qualified “yes” to both questions.
The way we live truly reflects our beliefs and values. We don’t live out the faith more passionately and obediently because we don’t truly believe it. If we truly believed it, we would live it out. Does our lifestyle give evidence to what we do in truth believe? Yes.

But I also think that we must recognize that we are fallen people who should seek to grow both in our faith and in our practice. That means we will often be believing beyond our living so that our living will grow to more closely be aligned to our believing. Is "trying to live out our beliefs" a valid statement? Yes.

I’ve been saying in our Foundations series that “beliefs become behaviors.” This is reflective of the way Paul wrote his letters. For example, in Ephesians 1-3, we see Paul teaching truths related to beliefs; in Ephesians 4-6, we see Paul applying those beliefs to behaviors. Paul knows that growing in faith will result in greater obedience.

To me an important verse in discussing spiritual transformation is Romans 6:17. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.” In this verse, we see that spiritual growth takes place as the mind, the will, and the emotions are all impacted. The will of the believer has been changed (“you… have become obedient”). The emotions have been engaged (“… from the heart”). The mind has been enlightened (“…to the standard of teaching”). God does not by-pass the mind to speak to the heart and impact the life. The truth of God’s word enlightens the mind, engages the heart, and impacts the will. Any process that attempts to help someone “live out the faith” that overemphasizes or underemphasizes the importance of any of these will eventually be shown to be defective.

Scripture does teach that a growing faith / belief precedes an increasing ability to live our the faith. "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing" (II Thessalonians 1:3). Notice the order here: faith grows and then love increases.

Bottom line: We have to grow in our faith, in our believing. In this way, we will also be growing in our ability to live out the faith.

So, how will you grow to believe more and better today so that you will also make progress in your living and loving? (Hint... look at Romans 10:17.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spiritual leaders at Vanderbilt protest the discriminatory all-comers policy

Please keep Vanderbilt University in your prayers this week because the Vanderbilt Board of Trust meets Thursday and Friday  to discuss and perhaps finalize the All-Comers Policy that actually discriminates against the religious organizations on campus. The following video was made by some student leaders, alumni, etc. It sums up the issues very well.





For more information, check out the related posts:


Vanderbilt's anti-discrimination policy


Vanderbilt's all-comers policy


A Christian student's response to the all-comers policy

A jump start for your prayer life

Sometimes, we just don't know how to pray. Other times, our motivation for prayer is low. That's why it's often good to pray with others.

Here are a few notes from this morning's 6:00 AM prayer at CVC. Maybe using this as a guide for your praying will be a good jump start for your own orayer life.

 ***

 CVC 6:00 AM prayer, April 19, 2012

 Today's reading: Psalm 51.

We are gathered here as your children. We worship You as Creator and Sustainer of life. We have been created in Your image. We have been created for relationship.

Here we are at the beginning of the day. Help us to pick and choose the wise and loving things to do. Help us build and strengthen Your kingdom.

Help us to look at the opportunities You put before us to serve and help others. May we bring more souls to You through the good deeds we do.

Father, You are the great Defender and Protector. Jesus, You are Savior and Redeemer who gives us a loving, perfect example. Spirit, You are our Comforter. We are blessed by Father, Son, and Spirit.

We thank You for opportunities to serve others on mission. Thank You for the strength and wisdom to leverage the blessings You have given us - material and spiritual.

You are King and Father. You are ready to forgive and You come running toward us. Make us like the younger son in Luke 15 and not like the elder brother.

We think of David and how a man after Your own heart failed. Yet You provide opportunity for forgiveness. Thank You.

We abide in You. We know can't do anything apart from You.

Thank You for the good teaching we hear. Thank You for using fellowship to teach, to rebuke, to encourage.

Thank You we can live the life that You give to us and that we can give our lives away  so that others can be brought into fellowship with You. We pray for Your working in our community and neighborhoods.  

Mobilize Your people at CVC to go on mission trips and to be on mission 24/7/365. We see how we fall short every day. We need Your forgiveness every day. Help us to be humble and contrite.

We pray for our prodigals. They are lost. Break through the darkness of their selfishness, unbelief, prideful rebellion, and addictions. There is no life apart from You. We pray for a turning - a salvation for them.

We pray for the CVC staff. We pray for the transition. We pray for Chad and the vision and mission of the church. Help him and his family with the adoption of the baby of China.

We thank You for divine appointments. We pray for Leslie, a young woman with Buddhist approach to spirituality, who was encouraged and witnessed to by a CVCer this week.

We thank You for the many children, youth, and young adults at CVC. May we invest in them. May they outlive us in righteousness, faithfulness, and fruitfulness.

Help us not live under, but over the circumstances of life.

Help us know how to talk about the gospel - that we would not present God as a quick fix, but as the only hope. May those who came on Easter to CVC see you as the only hope. You were here in our midst directing and providing and showing the way for them.

We pray for the turning of our land to you.  Now, help us live this day as living sacrifices, abiding in Christ, filled with the Spirit, rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and thanking God in all things. In Jesus' name, Amen.

The Seventh Words - Perspective of the Roman Centurion

Luke 23:46.  "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, 'Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.'"

The Seventh Words - from the perspective of the Roman centurion.
Written and Read by Alan Duncan, Blast! writer.

I had heard the stories about him. They said he healed the sick. They even said he had raised the dead. But his own people had also cried, "Crucify him!" That was where I came in.

As a Roman centurion I was accustomed to death. I thought I had seen it all. But this man was different. He hadn't screamed to protest his innocence. He hadn't hurled expletives and insults at his accusers or fought with his executioners-of whom I was one. His was the oddest death I had ever seen but for much of the day that was all it was to me. Until one moment…one phrase changed my life for eternity.

After everything we had put him through he pulled himself up by the nails in his wrists and pushed himself up by the nail in his feet. Scraping his shredded back over splintered wood he let out a cry that was chilling in it’s power, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said that he breathed his last.

It was strange, but as he was taking his last breath I felt as thought I was breathing for the first time. I was overwhelmed with the truth that, "Surely this was a righteous man." And before I knew it those very words were falling out of my mouth. I praised God. Here was a man whose faith in God His Father was unshakable even in the face of death. I heard a hope and a trust in those last words that I had never known or seen before on this desolate hill.

We had killed a righteous man. I had killed a righteous man. I was at once filled with overwhelming guilt at being an accomplice in the shedding of his innocent blood. But I was also overcome with this unfamiliar feeling of peace, forgiveness and gratitude at finally seeing this Jesus for who he really was. I even found myself mourning for him like I knew him…like I loved him. Maybe he was more than a mere man.

Surely only the unique Son of God could speak so intimately with his Father in these final moments. This man had died with what I could only describe as…purpose. Maybe somehow through His death I could know His Father in a way that would give me the strength to love my enemies and have faith in the face of my death. I left that day changed…his last words forever echoing in my ears. Those are now words I live by. Ones I can’t help but tell to others, because through him we can also say with power and faith, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sharing Christ with a skeptical friend

I have a good friend who is a skeptic. He's not sure about God. Recently, he sent to me an observation about the Christian faith by Mark Twain. My friend was using Twain to make the point that Christian religion isn't helpful when it is exported into people groups that are doing just fine without it. 

Here's what he sent to me: "I heard a story the other day about Mark Twain.  Mark Twain returned from visiting Hawaii and said he had seen some missionaries there. He said he thought it was nice that after all the time people have lived and died on that beautiful Island, someone came and told them there is a hell."

Now, how would you respond to that? You could fire off a few verses about the necessity of evangelism/missions and about the reality of hell. I'm not sure that would be helpful, though. Here is my response, a message reflecting the whole gospel, the overall story of the Bible - creation, fall, rescue, restoration:

"This is an interesting story by Twain. I see his point. Yet, his sentiment assumes (I think wrongfully) that the overall experience of the islanders was essentially peace and harmony in an idyllic environment. 

"But I believe the pre-missionary islanders, as well as the post-missionary islanders, lived on fallen islands with fallen people who knew pain, suffering, and selfishness as the norm. I am fairly sure that a study of the true history of the islands would confirm that, even though there is much physical beauty there, pain and suffering has always been a significant part of their lives. They needed (as we all do) power to overcome the effects of the fall. They needed a reverse of the curse. 

"The message of missionaries was not primarily a message about hell, but a message about the hope of a restoration found in Christ, both now and forevermore. And that is good news needed by everyone, even Hawaii islanders."

So, how would you have responded to my friend?

The Sixth Words - Perspective from Mary Magdalene

John 19:30 “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, ‘It is finished’: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost”

The Sixth Words - from the perspective of Mary Magdalene.
Written and Read by Raquel Schors, Director of Blast!

It is finished.  My precious Jesus…gone.  God in heaven, this cannot be.  Jesus had power and might like no other.  He healed the sick, made the blind see, fed the hungry.   He had authority over wind and waves, and even demons.  Seven demons.  Seven demons ravaged me, and he alone brought me salvation, driving them out of my body and rescuing me from a pit of despair.  He had the power to do anything.  So then, why did he let those men take him and beat him and kill him?  Why didn’t he do something?  He could have.  But his last breath has come and gone.  I saw it with my own eyes.  And now…

It is finished.  His struggle with the people of this world is over.  I am barely able to comprehend how anyone could want to hurt him, and yet he had enemies.  The Pharisees targeted him, and it worked.  This crowd turned so quickly against him.  They were vicious, and no matter how hard I screamed and cried to save him, they screamed louder to have him crucified.  Jesus, who loved to the bitter end, has been met with hatred. The disciples are scared.  They’re hiding.  Only John is here, standing with Jesus’ mother.  I should have stayed away, too, but I couldn’t.  Even now, I can’t tear my eyes away from his broken body.  How could his beautiful life end in this horrifying way?  His last words…

It is finished?  But it isn’t finished.  My new life had just begun, and it was built upon Jesus.  I feel as though I am crumbling because my foundation has been removed.  I still have to face tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.  We all do.  How can we live without him?  He was the way. That is what he called himself…the way, the truth, and the life.  And without him, I am lost.  I don’t know how to live or who I am.  If I’m honest, I am terrified that the demons will come back. What will I do without my teacher?

It is finished.  But I want him back.  If only this wasn’t the end.  I can’t let go of the idea that he could have stopped this…that somehow he chose to allow this to happen.  But it doesn’t make any sense.  This isn’t the way the story is supposed to end.  Jesus taught us that good will win because God will win.  What am I missing?  Perhaps Jesus’ remark held deeper meaning.  He never wasted a word, and I don’t doubt that in his last breath he would choose to say something important to us. 

It is finished.  It is finished.  What could he be telling us?  Is he speaking of his family?  Maybe he meant that his relationships here on earth had come to an end.  Or did he simply mean that he was done fighting to live…that he had succumbed to his injuries and was ready for death?  No, no, no.  That can’t be it.  Jesus always thought of God our Father before anything else.   He lived to do God’s work.  Was he saying that his ministry was finished?  Had he accomplished what he set out to do?  But he called himself the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.  Is it finished?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gospel centered questions

from Jonathan K. Dodson,“Gospel-Centered Questions to Ask,” appendix 1 in Gospel-Centered Discipleship  (Re:Lit; Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 155–56 (formatting added):

Here is a list of questions to help you cultivate gospel motivations. Questions 11–15 are taken from Sam Storms’s book A Sincere and Pure Devotion...

1. What do you desire more than anything else?

2. What do you find yourself daydreaming or fantasizing about?

3. What lies do you subtly believe that undermine the truth of the gospel?

4. Are you astonished with the gospel?

5. Where have you made much of yourself and little of God?

6 Is technology interrupting your communion with God?

7. Is work a source of significance? How?

8. Where do your thoughts drift when you enter a social setting?

9. What fears keep you from resting in Christ?

10. What consumes your thoughts when you have alone time?

11. When people see how you spend money, do they conclude that God is a priceless treasure, exceedingly valuable above all worldly goods?

12. When people observe your relationship with others, are they alerted to the power of Christ’s forgiveness of you that alone accounts for your forgiveness of them?

13. If you are complimented for some accomplishment, does the way you receive it drive onlookers to give thanks to the Lord?

14. Is your use of leisure time or devotion to a hobby or how you speak of your spouse the sort that persuades others that your heart is content with what God is for you in Christ?

15. Does your reaction to bad news produce in you doubt or fear, or does it inspire confidence to trust in God’s providence?

The Fifth Words - Perspective from John

John 19:28 'After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, 'I thirst.'"

The Fifth Words - from the perspective of John.
Written and Read by Rick Eimers, Impact Student Ministrie's Pastor.

“I’m Thirsty”

If this reality were simply a nightmare, I’d be more encouraged.  My best friend is being hung on this cross and I am absolutely helpless to do anything about it.  I’m having the most difficult time looking at Jesus, but at the same time, I just can’t look away.  Even His glances my way seem to penetrate my soul in ways that no one else could do.  He has a way of doing that with me.  It’s unfathomable to me that such an incredible man, no, amazing man- would be hanging on this cross in front of me. I don’t know if I’m more angry or distraught with sadness.   As I look at him hanging there, there is a pool of blood at the foot of the cross, his eyes are swollen, and he’s barely recognizable.  It seems like he’s trying to say something though.  It’s hard to hear him because he’s so dehydrated that his lips are cracked open.  His mouth is so dry that he’s gasping every time he says something.  He’s thirsty?  Would someone give him a drink?!? 
As I stood there, I couldn’t help but remember the time he talked about giving hurting people a drink when they were thirsty.  He said as you serve the “least of these you serve me”.  That conversation was one of many that changed my life.  I began to frantically look around for water, but could not find any.  Anger continued to well up inside of me.  Jesus just looked at me.  Without saying anything else, I knew he wanted me to hear what he would say next.  For some reason, I got an overwhelming peace about going back to Mary and standing next to her without finding him a drink.  Then I saw a soldier remove the sponge from the inside of his helmet and dip it into the vinegary water that he was personally drinking from and offer Jesus a drink.  Was this man who was crucifying Jesus attempting to show him compassion?  Jesus took a small sip from that sponge because he obviously needed to wet his tongue and lips in order to say something else before he dies.  Jesus looked at the soldier with the same eyes that he looked at me with.  As I looked at the soldier, it was obvious that something happened.  Offering Jesus a drink just changed this man’s life.  As he pulled the sponge away, shame was obviously overwhelming him, but Jesus’ eyes did not condemn this man. 
It was obvious why Jesus wanted me to hear what he had to say to everyone next.  And it penetrated my heart deeper than anything he had ever said before.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

3 ways youngs leaders must leverage their growing influence

As a young influencer, King David, ancient Israel's leader, experienced much success.

In the first days of his rule as a 30 something year old, David led Israel to victories over their long-standing enemies, Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, and the  Amalekites. "The enemies brought tribute to David and served him...  And the LORD gave victory to David wherever he went" (2 Samuel 8:12b, 14b).

The victories gave David more resources than he had ever had. The man who was once a teenage shepherd tending his daddy's sheep was now blessed with influence beyond his wildest dreams. Wealth was now at his disposal. What would he choose to do with all these resources?

Young leaders must never forget that leadership success is a test. God wants to know what the young leader will do with his or her growing influence.

Never forget that influence is a trust and influence is a test.

From David's life, we can learn 3 ways a young leader should use newly acquired resources  and influence.

1. Provide for the worship of God.

Neighboring kings brought tribute to David. "Joram brought with him articles of silver, of gold, and of bronze.These also King David dedicated to the LORD, together with the silver and gold that he dedicated from all the nations he subdued" (2 Samuel 8:11). Godly young leaders must lead the organization to invest in Kingdom of God issues. How can you lead your organization to dedicate resources to build the kingdom of God?

2. Pursue justice for your people.

"David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people" (2 Samuel 8:15). Poor previous leadership and enemy invasions had meant that the people suffered injustice. David didn't think about himself first. He set into place policies and practices that brought equity to his people. How can you lead your organization to institute policies and practices to take care of the marginalized?

3. Pick a person or a project and personally invest heavily there.

David didn't forget his friendship with Jonathan, Saul's son. He found someone in need from Jonathan's family to bless. "And the king said, 'Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?' Ziba said to the king, 'There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet'" (2 Samuel 9:3). David brought this crippled son into his own house and family and provided for him the rest of his days. This story of David's kindness in particular solidified the people in their admiration and trust of his leadership. How will you personally show a particular kindness that will  inspire and encourage your people?

Young leaders must remember their success must be leveraged for others.  You've been blessed to be a blessing. How will you bless others? Start today! 

The Fourth Words - Perspective from a Pharisee (who is starting to "get it")

Mark 15:34 “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which is, being interpreted, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”

The Fourth Words - from the perspective of a Pharisee (who is starting to "get it")
Written and Read by Joe Valenti, Associate Pastor, Student Ministries.

I remember my desire to become a Pharisee, a call to be set apart, to live differently, to fight back against this tendency toward just moving with the culture. I remember studying the scriptures as a little boy, saying prayers, and listening to stories from my father about God's plan for His people. He would tell us stories and remind us of all that God had done for us and all that He had promised us for the future.

I remember the first time that I met him. He was talking with Matthew, a tax collector. We all knew what tax collectors did. They were cheaters, swindlers, a far cry from the men what we were. And yet here he was talking with him and then dining at his home. We were appalled and asked him why he was spending time with such people. I'll never forget his answer for the rest of my life. He said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Those words have haunted me to this day.

I remember reading all that God had commanded us to do; the sacrifice that needed to be made for sin, the way in which we could remain in right standing with him. That's really all I wanted in the beginning. I just wanted to do the right thing; to keep the rules. I wanted to keep God's law and learn what his expectations were. I really wanted to be a good Jew. It felt like everything was slipping away; like the influence of the Greeks and now the Romans was stealing away our culture, our heritage, and that we were being blinded.

I just wanted to serve God. And now I'm here...one this hill....with this man who is crying out to God. This man, the one that we have condemned for blasphemy, is still calling out to God as he dies? Why is he saying my God? Could it be that he really does know the same God that I know?

The problem... the thing I can't figure out... the things that keeps me up at night, is, well, I'm not so sure that everything I have done to please God has really accomplished the goal. Though I was mad when he said it, I think I really am still dirty on the inside.  And, I think I was wrong about this man. As he hangs on that cross he calls out to the same God that I have wanted to badly to please I can't help but wonder...maybe we were wrong. Maybe I was wrong. Could he really be the Messiah we have waited for? Could he really be the one that was promised? Is this really the son of God... And did we just kill him? 

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