Thursday, May 31, 2012

God is not getting back at you; He's getting you back

Maybe tough times have come your way lately. And maybe you've been wondering, "Is God getting back at me for some of the sinning I've done?" But consider this: God is not getting back at you. Instead, He's getting you back. For Himself.

When I was a young man, I had an idol. Baseball. As a kid, I dreamed about being an all-star, a world series MVP, and maybe someday make it to the Hall of Fame. But I have to admit that it was all about me. Baseball was an end in itself. It was my idol.

God had a different idea. He had a calling, a mission for my life. He wanted me to be all about building His kingdom. Baseball was not supposed to be an end in itself, but a means to an end. God said, "Glorify Me by building My kingdom."

But I said, “Me first.” And I ran. I ran from God.

One day in 1974, when I was playing in fall ball for Vanderbilt in Nashville, I made it to first base somehow. And the pitcher tried to pick me off. I dove back into the bag. I was safe. But when I got up, my shoulder was hanging down several inches lower than normal. And I was hurt. I don’t know how many times I had gone back to the bag in that very same way. And nothing bad had ever happened. Baseball players dive into the bag that way all the time.

But this time, I found myself in a kind of physical storm. I didn't know if I would ever be able to throw a ball in from the outfield again. My once good arm was now a liability.

I saw that God was at work through that injury. He was pursuing me. God was saying, “Stop running. Get rid of your idol. Get on mission with Me. Make My agenda your agenda.”

I learned an important lesson: You can run but you can’t outrun God. He got my attention. And I stopped running from God and started walking with God.

I never could throw a ball as well as I threw before the injury, but God let me play baseball another 5 years after that. I saw the game differently, though. I saw it as a means, not an end. I used baseball as a platform to build the kingdom of God. Over those five seasons, several of my teammates came to faith in Jesus through my life and ministry.

I hate to think what might have happened to me if God hadn’t dislocated my shoulder – if I hadn’t stopped running – if I hadn’t given up my idol. Maybe I would have married some neurotic woman and wasted the last 40 years of my life.

But I stopped running and God orchestrated a chain of events and I ended up with a great wife, 3 amazing sons, and a ministry in NE Ohio that has been so very fruitful far beyond anything a washed-up minor leaguer from the sticks of Tennessee could expect.

I’m glad God sent that physical storm to me. My shoulder still hurts when I play catch in the yard with my boys. But that’s OK. It’s a reminder of God’s grace. When God engineered the circumstances that resulted in my bum shoulder, He wasn’t getting back at me. He was getting me back.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A way to encourage men to pray

How do you encourage men to pray?

I am convinced that prayer is often seen by men as something that women do. Or that girly men do. But think about the most manly men in the Bible. Moses. David. Daniel. Elijah. Peter. They prayed. Really prayed.

And, of course, Jesus, the perfect Man among men, prayed.

So, how do we talk to men about devoting themselves to prayer?

I think we could and should appeal to the warrior God has put inside men. Maybe we can talk to men like this.


Men, I believe God wants you to especially lock in. Teenage young men? You, too.

I know you want to see some good things, better things happen in your marriage, with your kids, in your career, at school, with your future. So, you strategize, work, plan, and scheme. You may even go to church and Bible studies to try to figure out how to get God in your side. You manipulate, plead, beg, cry, yell, scream, cuss. Some of you even hit. You try all kinds of strategies to make things happen.

But you don’t pray. Not really.

Listen, your personal passion will get you what a human can do. But prevailing prayer will get you what God can do. Which do you want? What you can do or what God can do?

Some of you are making something happen in your career with your personal passion. But in the end, it will be empty, meaningless. Some of you are making some things happen in your family with your personal passion. You have your wife doing what what you want and your kids are in line. But in the end, they will resent you.

Listen, men. Prayer isn’t a woman’s thing. It isn't a wimpy pastor thing. It’s a Christian’s thing.

You are in a war, men and young men. You have an enemy. His name is the devil, Lucifer, Satan. He wants to steal, kill and destroy everything good in your life. And prayer is your number one weapon. The Christian army advances on its knees. But many of you are fighting this fight with a pop gun.

Don’t blow me off, men. I don’t care if you’re a middle linebacker type. I don’t care if you make $250,000 a year. I don’t care how many people work for you. If you don’t pray, you’re a spiritual wimp. And the day will come when you will regret your spiritual passivity.

God is waiting. He's waiting on you to pray. You need to say, “I can and I will prevail in prayer – for my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my church, my business, my world."

It's time to man up, men. And start on your knees. If you don't pray for your family, your career, your future, who will?


Questions: Have you thought about why many men are so passive in prayer? How do you encourage men to not see prayer as a woman's thing? How do you call men in particulaar to pray?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How to make sure the Lord's Prayer doesn't become vain repetition for you

Do you ever wonder if your praying has become repetitive, meaningless, and powerless? I've wondered that about my praying at times. I'm re-energized now, though. I just learned a new way to pray. 

Mike Breen in Building a Discipleship Culture encourages disciplers to teach disciples to use the Lord's prayer as a model. After all, when Jesus was asked to teach the disciple how to pray, He taught the Lord's prayer. It's found, of course, in Luke 11:1-4 and in Matthew 6:9-13.

How do we make sure that praying according to the Lord's prayer does not become "meaningless repetition"? We can pray it phrase by phrase and in our own words - a kind of personalized, amplified version of the Lord's prayer. I've known this and practiced this for many years. 

But in his book, Breen taught me something new. "Another way to better understand the Lord’s Prayer is to see it as a circular prayer; each phrase is fully developed by all of the others. Take one phrase, place a colon after it, and then continue with the other phrases. Ask, how is this part of the prayer fully articulated in the rest of the prayer."

How might this work? It's not really all that complicated. Consider the six petitions in the Lord's prayer.

1) Praise: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. 
2) Priority: Your kingdom come, 
3) Plan: Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 
4) Provision: Give us this day our daily bread...
5) Pardon: And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors...
6) Protection: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Stay focused on one petition each day. Then pray through the other petitions in light of the one. 

In the paragraph that follows, I'll show you how to keep petition #1 as the prayer focus while praying through the rest of the petitions. and explain how to 

Monday's theme: #1 - Praise // Pray that God's fame as Holy God will grow. Pray # 2 for areas in your life and ministry that His kingdom will come more and more so that His holiness will be seen. Pray #3 for people you know that His will be done more and more so that His holiness will be seen in the lives of His holy people. Pray #4 for your family, career, and ministry that He will give you your daily bread in a way that He will be seen and praised as holy. Pray #5 for you and the pople you know that you would forgive and be forgiven so that He will be known as the holy One who makes His people wholly free from bitterness. Pray #6 for you, your family, and ministry that you would vercome temptation and be delivered from the evil one so that God will be seen as the holy One who gives His people a holy victory. 

OK. Now that you get the idea, below is an outline you can follow for the rest of the week. Don't worry. It's not as complicated as it might look. 

Tuesday's theme: #2 - Priority // Pray that more and more people and cultures would submit to God as King - that His rule and ways would prevail. Then, pray # 3 in light of # 2. Pray # 4 in light of # 2. Pray # 5 in light of # 2. Pray # 6 in light of # 2. Pray # 1 in light of # 2. 

Wednesday's theme: #3 - Plan // Pray that Gods will will be done in your life, in your family, in your ministry, in your city/nation/world. Then, pray # 4 in light of # 3. Pray #5 in light of # 3. Pray #6 in light of # 3. Pray # 1 in light of # 3. Pray # 2 in light of # 3. 

Thursday's theme: #4 - Provision // Pray that God would meet your needs, the needs of your family, and the needs of your ministry. Then, pray # 5 in light of # 4. Pray #6 in light of # 4. Pray #1 in light of # 4. Pray # 2 in light of # 4. Pray # 3 in light of # 4.

Friday's theme: #5 - Pardon // Pray that as you and others experience more and more of God's forgiveness that you and others will be free from bitterness and resentment. Then, pray # 6 in light of # 5. Pray #1 in light of # 5. Pray #2 in light of # 5. Pray # 3 in light of # 5. Pray # 4 in light of # 5.

Saturday's theme: #6 - Protection // Pray that you, your family, and those in your ministry will be able to overcome temptation and be delivered from the schemes of the evil one. Then pray # 1 in light of # 6. Pray #2 in light of # 6. Pray #3 in light of # 6. Pray # 4 in light of # 6. Pray # 5 in light of # 6.

Why not try this method of prayer for a week or so? 

Note: On Sunday, you might want to pray through the Lord's Prayer in a more straightforward kind of way. Or you might want to model your prayers after some other biblical prayers like Paul's prayers in the epistles (see Philippians 1:9-11). 

Question: Have you been able to pray through the Lord's Prayer without it becoming vain repetition? How? 

Monday, May 28, 2012

3 ways to deal with the tension of a dual citizenship

I am proud to be an American. Very proud. And I am grateful for those who have served in the military to protect our freedoms.

My dad, Vern Duncan, served in the Navy in the Pacific theatre during WWII. My wife's dad, Art Catrino, served in WWII, too. My brother, Jerry, served in the Air Force during the Viet Nam era. Several young men from our church are currently serving in Afghanistan and other places in the world. I pray for them.

So, on this Memorial Day, I am remembering those who have served and especially those who served and died. It fosters gratitude and a greater commitment for me to be a better citizen.

Yet, as believers, our first loyalty should never be to the USA.

In the past, I've been in some church environments where love for God and country are confused. I've heard sermons that were more about commitment to the USA than about commitment to Jesus. And some believers have questioned other believers' commitment to Christ if they are perceived to be on the wrong side of the American political spectrum. In the heat of a political values debate, some believers forget that our citizenship rests first with the Lord and secondarily with the USA.

The Bible is clear. Our ultimate citizenship is in heaven with the Lord, not here. "Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20, ESV).

But our citizenship in heaven ought to be reflected in our being great citizens here. "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work" (Titus3:1, ESV).

So, how do we live with the tension of being loyal to the Lord and being proud to be Americans?

1. Inform your citizenship from the Bible.

As Tim Keller says, "Truth doesn't come from the right or from the left. Truth comes from above." There will be times when you will support the positions of the government because they line up with the Bible. There will be times when you won't. And in those times, you have to speak out to other citizens and leaders promoting biblical values via emails, letters, phone calls, and conversations. We don't blindly support the right or the left. We support the morals and values in the Bible.

2. Pray for your nation and leaders.

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior" (I Timothy 2:1-3, ESV). And while you are praying, thank God that you are a citizen of the USA. In the history of the world, we Americans have been given rare opportunities and freedoms that can be leveraged to build God's Kingdom.

3. When you see a soldier, thank her or him.

You won't regret making this a habit. The other day, I was in a restaurant and I saw an older man in a veteran's hat eating by himself. I politely interrupted him and asked him when he served and where. He was a WWII vet. He was about 85-90. I shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and said, "Thank you." He smiled and I had the feeling that I made his day.

So, do you ever feel the tension of being a citizen of heaven first and USA second? If you do, how do you handle it?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Celebrating 25 years of changed lives at CVC

3 things every leader must do and must lead others to do

Envision excited expectant parents living in an urban city in China. A beautiful healthy baby girl is delivered. But her parents don’t celebrate. Why? There’s one-child policy in China and it’s believed that boys will provide better for parents in their old age. So, the parents want a boy, not a girl. And this precious newborn girl is taken to a local dump and left among the stinking, rotting trash… to die – cold, hungry, and alone.

Outraged? Yes. Grief-stricken? Yes. And this is just one example of countless injustices in the world. You know that such heartless injustice simply has to be stopped.

We think about the world’s victims of poverty, slavery, sexual exploitation, oppression, and violence. We want to help. And we want to mobilize the people we lead to help. But we are distracted by the worst parts of the American dream. We are enmeshed in managing our organizations. And, too often, we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and end up doing nothing.

And that’s not OK.

We need to learn how to better reflect the heart and hands of God for the oppressed. We may not be able to do everything, but we can do something. We can be courageous missionaries cleverly disguised… And we can lead others to bring hope, transformation, and salvation to people in need.

And this is precisely what God requires of us.

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). 

We are saved by grace through faith, not works. That’s the root of our salvation. But when we are saved, our hearts are changed. Then, that grace through faith shows up in our lives. We see the fruit. Micah 6:8 shows us the fruit.  

So, what's the proof - the fruit - that we are saved by grace through faith? What is the proof that the people we are leading are saved?

1. We do justice.

2. We love kindness.

3. We walk humbly with our God.

So, how are you leading your organization to go 3 for 3?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Leaders... speak truth // shut up // sit down! Why less is more when it comes to delivering a message

I once saw a Facebook post from a church planter that made me wince at little. OK. A lot.
He wrote, “Who's got two thumbs and the guts to preach an hour long sermon on Hell, and another hour long sermon on Satan...THIS GUY DOES!!!!!!!! All praise and Glory to HE who LIVES!” 
I tried to let it go. But I couldn’t. I felt some hubris in his words. I wondered if he would let  me meddle a little. So, I sent a personal message, “Question. Do you think it might be serving your people better by preaching 4 30 minute messages on Satan and Hell rather than 2 60 minute messages?”
He quickly responded, “I usually preach for about 45 minutes but I preached a little longer on Hell a couple of weeks ago and a little longer this morning on the person and work of Satan. Looking back, I think maybe doing a shorter sermon over a few weeks may be a better way to go. Any advice? Thank you SO much!”
He opened the door for me to meddle. Here’s my advice to him:
“I know that at CVC we are trying to hit the 35 minute mark. 30 would probably be better. I can often go for 40, even 45. 
“I don't like it when I do that. I think it's a sign that I didn't really do my homework. It's harder work to eliminate the extra stuff to get the message to 30-35 minutes. 
“If you see that small group discipleship is where the action really takes place, then you aren't tempted to dump the whole load on everybody in every Sunday's sermon. 
“And, remember, if the Lord doesn't come back for a while, you'll have several decades to preach. So, don't try to cram so much into each message. 
“I also think that the 35 year old husband and father (our target at CVC) is not able to stay with us consistently for 40-45 minutes. They mentally check out and, sometimes, they physically do, too. They just don't come back because they can't absorb all our theological nuggets of gold. 
“Finally, I think that the Driscolls and the Chandlers and the Platts can go longer than most of us. But the last time I checked, I'm not one of those guys! My attention-retaining gifts are not as top-shelf as theirs. I'm just me and maybe all people need to hear from me is 30-35 minutes worth.
“So, those are just a few of my thoughts. But as you know, you have to follow the Lord's lead, brother. Why not talk with your team (and some people who have left the church) about it? And tell them to tell you the truth.”

So, what do you think is an ideal target for the length of a message?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Is the pursuit of balance biblical?

(edited and reposted)

I have had a friendly feud with several staff members at CVC for the last several years about "balance." Some of our staff members are very, very convinced that the way to live a life that honors God is to live a balanced life. I'm not so sure about that. To me, balanced living has always sounded like lukewarm living. I've felt that God is most honored when we are living with passion and zeal and fire, not balance.

This topic came up again when my friend John Alan Turner started blogging about the issues surrounding balance.

He wrote, "I somehow picked up the idea that balance was the key to life." Some of his blog readers chimed in and said they had learned the same thing in the form of a well-known Greek maxim: "All things in moderation." John continued, "There are some things you can’t do in moderation. You can’t experience a moderate amount of ecstasy. You can’t be moderately heartbroken. You shouldn’t be moderately involved in the lives of your children, and you can’t moderately follow Jesus."

John remembers a conversation that he and I shared about balance. I mentioned that I didn't believe that balance is truly biblical. John writes, "I was totally shocked when [Rick] suggested that the idea isn’t biblical and reflects more of a suburbanite, comfortable, manageable lifestyle than anything we read about in the Bible. I have been to countless retreats and read dozens of articles in Christian magazines touting balance as the Holy Grail of the Christian life. [Rick] might as well have questioned the deity of Jesus! But the more I thought about it, the more I began to suspect that my friend Rick was right. If you just go through a list of the great bastions of faith in the Bible — say, Hebrews 11 — you’re not going to find many characters who are good examples of balance."

What follows are some of my thoughts in response to John's blog. I think a better goal for us is to be what I call "appropriately passioned,” rather than balanced.

For example, I don’t think my wife, Maryanne, would appreciate it if I sought to love her with a “balanced” love. She wants me to be “head over heels” in love with her (which really does descibe my feelings for her!).

In the same way, I don’t think God is particularly moved by a balanced life. Or a balanced love for Him. He wants us to love Him with all [ALL!] our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. That doesn’t sound like balance to me. Sounds like "sold out" love.

Among many, many other scriptures, you can check out II Corinthians 11:24-28 today. Paul is writing: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

I think we’d all have a hard time calling such a life “balanced.”

And then I think about Revelation 3:15. Jesus, of course, is speaking: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm [think “balanced], and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Wouldn’t we all agree that the Lord wants us to pursue passionate lives, “on fire” lives, zealous lives? It’s really hard for me to see how “balance” is a synonym for “zeal.”

And think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:45-46. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."

“What? He sold everything? Wait! That’s not balance!” Exactly. God is looking for people who are “sold out,” not balanced. Those are the ones who get the Pearl of Great Price.

I want to be passionate (not balanced) about all the right things. The Lord. Service to Him. Wife. Sons. Church. Friendships. Health. There may be times when I will have to focus on one at the expense of some others. But that’s OK. I believe that God will give me all the necessary time I need to be blazingly passionate about each area of life when the time is right.

To me, something about “selling out” is just more compelling to me than “being balanced.” I don’t want to sign up for anything that asks for a balanced commitment. Why not? The last I checked, a balanced commitment never won a World Series (Go Tribe!) or a Superbowl (Go Browns?). When I signed up to serve Jesus, I signed up to be on a team that wins it all. And He does win it all. And He's looking not for balance, but for a radical, passionate commitment from each of us.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why leaders fail to feel loved and what they can do about it

On Sunday afternoon, I read Tim Keller’s little book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. It’s a good read for spiritual leaders who fall into the trap of comparison, who daydream “about successes that give them the edge over others,” or who tend to beat themselves up and are “tormented by regrets” (p. 35). 
Sometimes I lose sight that I am deeply loved by God. I think it’s a common flaw for spiritual leaders. We base our sense of value on our performance. When attendance goes up, we feel loved by God. When it goes down, we don’t. When we are hanging out with leaders who seem less influential than us, we feel God’s favor. When we are hanging out with leaders who have a bigger circle of influence, we fail to feel God’s pleasure. 
I can fall into the trap of looking at my circumstances, comparing myself with others, and concluding that God loves others more than He loves me. When I'm thinking that way, I lose joy, hope, contentment, and energy.
I once read words from 17th century theologian John Gill that reminded me that love describes God so much that 1 John 4:8 and 16 say simply and straightforwardly that “God is love.”
Love originates in God. To us, it might be a strange thought to say that God first loves God. That sounds so selfish. But even for fallen humans, self-love is not a bad thing if it’s not carried to a criminal excess and if it doesn’t neglect others. In fact, we are to love others not more than ourselves but as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). So, it shouldn’t surprise us that God first and chiefly loves Himself. In fact, it should comfort us. He has made Himself the ultimate end of all He does.
Love originates in God for God. Since God is Triune, love flows perfectly, passionately, and eternally between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit; the Son loves the Father and the Spirit; and the Spirit loves the Father and the Son.
He loves because it's His nature and His character to love. God is love.
Now, what is amazing is this: Because of our union with Christ, God loves all His children with the very same love that flowed in eternity past between Father, Son, and Spirit. He does not love one child more than any other.
We must look to scripture, not to our circumstances to prove this point. Scripture teaches us that God loves us with the same love that flows between God the Father and God the Son. You can see this when Jesus prayed to His Father for us, “May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me”(John 17:23, HCSB). 
Think of it! The passion that the Father has for Jesus is the passion the Father has for you. He can't love you any more than that.
Let this sink in: There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more. There’s nothing you can do to make God love you less. As my friend Laryssa Ziolkowski once said to me, "God the Father doesn’t even love Jesus any more than He loves you."
Keller writes in his little book, “In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His family. In other words, God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, ‘You are My Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’” (p. 40).
If He loves us as much as He loves His Son, then why do we grumble and complain that others are more thin or more popular or more wealthy or more influential? Why do we grumble at the circumstances in which He’s placed us? He is too loving to be unkind to us. 
This means that we don’t have to perform! We really don't have to earn this love. It's a gift. As Keller says, “I do not have to do things just to build up my resume. I do not have to do things to make me look good” (p. 40).

Monday, May 21, 2012

5 ways for leaders to get out of a funk

How often do you get into a funk?

Recently, I met with a young church planter who said he was in a funk. He has a wonderful family. He's gathering people, watching God change lives, and living out a dream. Yet, in spite of all the great things God is doing in his life, his introverted, melancholic, perfectionist tendencies are being leveraged by the enemy to steal his joy and peace. He's in a funk.

A funk is a dejected, disgusted, disinterested mood. When I am in a funk I am grumpy, disengaged, lethargic, and de-motivated. I am not fun to be around. I throw pity-parties. Not only does the to-do list not get done, it doesn't even get made!

I think funks are inevitable. They are part of fallen humanity. So, we shouldn't be surprised or guilt-ridden when we end up in a funk. But I know that at the root of my funk is my sin. Scripture tells us to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4). When my heart is not rejoicing, it's a telltale sign that I have placed someone or something other than Jesus on the throne of my life. Funks flow from idolatry. When I stay in a funk, I am telling a watching world that Jesus is not enough for me. Extended funks are not OK.

Remember that God still loves you when you are in a funk (Ephesians 3:18-19). But also remember that He loves you too much to let you stay there.

In the Bible, we see leaders who got into a funk. One was David. Leadership for David was often hard. "And David was greatly distressed... But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God" (I Samuel 30:6, ESV). The KJV says that he "encouraged himself" in the Lord. Evidently, David was able to de-funk-ify his life.

I want learn more and more how to encourage myself in the Lord - how to de-funk-ify my life. My wife, my family and my friends want me to learn that, too.

So, how do we encourage ourselves and get out of a funk? It helps me to think about a plan of attack in five ways - physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.

1. Move physically. Go for a walk, a run, or a bike ride. Get outside if you can. Do 10 minutes of push-ups, jumping jacks, and squats. Get to the gym. When you exercise, your brain will release endorphins that will elevate your mood. Or you might want to try something as simple as taking a shower or a bath. Or take a nap. Organize your desk and/or your office. Just change something physically.

2. Stretch mentally. Learn something new. How? Memorize a Bible verse. Learn an inspirational quote. Read a few pages in a book on theology, history, science, nature, technology, or leadership. Share a few things you learn with some friends via a note, a card, Twitter, or Facebook.

3. Grow emotionally. Put on some upbeat, happy music. Make a play list of upbeat music and play it loud. Music has a powerful way to connect us to the good times we're already experienced in the past. Even if you have no reason or don't feel like it, laugh! For 7 seconds. Your emotions will often follow your body’s lead. Smile at the people you see. And watch them smile back. Hang around people that love you or who can make you laugh. Avoid the VDPs in your life (the Very Draining People!). Instead, talk with an encouraging friend who knows how to listen and lift your spirits.

4. Serve relationally. Who (besides you!) is having a hard time? Stop feeling sorry for yourself and lift someone else's spirits. Write a note; send a card; make a call; go out with them for coffee; buy a gift card; or give a generous gift. Just do something to make someone else's day. Or volunteer to do some work with your church or your local charity. If you are married, write a love note to your spouse and mail it.

5. Soar spiritually. Read some inspiring sections or stories in the Bible that have a track record of lifting your heart. Make a list of 3-5 things (or more) you are grateful for and then thank God for them. Pour out your heart to God. Ask Him to help you get out of your funk. Remember, apart from Christ you can do nothing (John 15:5). Trying to de-funk-ify your life without Jesus is just empty/vain/futile self-help. Jesus can fill you with positive, uplifting thoughts. He can help you give thanks for what you have rather than what you don’t have. If you have Jesus, you have what money can't buy and death can't take away (Ephesians 1:3, II Peter 1:3). He can help you be joyful about what you get to do rather than what you have to do. He is the ultimate attitude-adjuster. Stay connected to Christ.

So, how do you de-funk-ify your life?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How a leader can avoid failing miserably AND avoid succeeding even more miserably

“Anything done in our own strength will either fail miserably or succeed even more miserably.” G.K. Chesterton
Guy Stevens, the Director of NEO360, a church planting network here in NE Ohio, once shared this quote with me. I have passed it along in messages at CVC over the years. It reminds me how necessary if is for leaders to abide in Christ. Jesus said:
4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5, ESV).
Getting things done while not abiding in Christ equals doing good things through self-effort (in our own strength). That's a sure-fire way of doing nothing of eternal value. Getting things done through self-effort is fruitless. Ecclesiastes calls it “chasing after the wind.” I Corinthians calls it “wood, hay, and stubble” that burn up on the day of judgment. Galatians calls it “running in vain.” Philippians calls it “laboring in vain.” Hebrews calls it “dead works.”
When I share the quote, "Anything done in our own strength will either fail miserably or succeed even more miserably, " I sometimes see light bulbs go on in some leader’s eyes. Our deeds done when we’re not abiding in Christ may be successful in men’s eyes, but they are not successful in God’s eyes. And, in that sense, they fail. And to make matters worse, the “success” can reinforce even more self-effort on our part. 
That's why I sometimes pray, "O God, save me from 'successful' self-effort."
Below is a prayer that I put together relating to a leader’s need to abide in Christ to bear much fruit that remains. 
Read it. Then, think. What might happen if you and I used it as a guide for praying this every day for the next month or so?
Jesus, I praise You as the living Vine in heaven. And I thank You that You have made me a living branch on earth.
I confess how little I have understood how great my need is for You. And I confess how little I have understood that You desire to bear fruit through me to bless the world with Your love.
So, now, I offer myself as an empty branch to You. Apart from You, I am lifeless, hopeless, helpless. I ask that You fill me with Your fullness, Your life, Your love. I desire a complete and close connection to You. I know that You want me to be a fruitful branch.
Let me more and more clearly see this wondrous union between You and me. Guide me into an ever-increasing communion with You. Let my whole being cry out, “Jesus is indeed to me the True Vine, bearing me, nourishing me, supplying me, using me, and filling me to the full to make me bring forth fruit abundantly. And I am indeed a branch to Jesus, abiding in Him, resting on Him, waiting for Him, and living in Him that through me He is giving His fruit to a perishing world.”
By faith, Lord Jesus, I claim Your strength for my weakness; Your riches for my poverty; Your supply for My need. I yield myself wholly to You. I am nothing without You. I can do nothing without You. But through Your life in me, I can accomplish all Your holy will and bear much fruit for the Father’s glory.
May it be my aim for the rest of my life to discover more deeply what it means to abide in You, Jesus. Right now, by faith, I connect to You, Christ. Bear Your eternal fruit through me. Bless the world through me today.

Related posts:

Friday, May 18, 2012

9 ways leaders can know if they are filled with the Spirit...

How do leaders know when they are filled with the Spirit? 
In Acts 1 and 2, there’s a special supernatural power for ministry (particularly in missions and evangelism) that is experienced. Leaders must long for that kind of evidence and pray for supernatural power in ministry. 
But I believe that leaders could and should long for evidence of the Spirit’s filling that is much more mundane and routine. Fruitfulness and excellence in daily living is evidence of the Spirit’s fulness in your life. Your family will be much more impressed if you focus on the Spirit’s filling in your daily life than they will be if you focus on the Spirit’s filling in your ministry life. After all, your family is your primary ministry.
Pastor Joe Propri has been at our church to train some of our leaders. Here’s one thing Joe shared that’s been helpful to many of us.
Let’s say that a container – a jar – represents you and what’s in you. We pretty much can handle life well when things are going the way we want them to go. But life isn’t always like that. Life is a series of problems one after another. Things come at us. Things go wrong. There is stress. And pressure. The pressures might be financial. The stress might be a relational struggle with a child or a parent or a friend. The problems might be physical.
Now, the things that go “wrong” tip us over. And what’s in us comes out.
Let’s be honest here. What comes out when your child has a nasty attitude toward you? Or some ministry leader challenges your authority? Or a volunteer gets angry with a decision and confronts you? When things do wrong, what comes out? Often it’s anger. Anxiety. Bitterness. Addictions. Depression. Abuse. And more.
Strange, isn’t it, that those kinds of things come out of us when heaven’s Helper is living in us? Consider what the Bible says that He actually desires to produce within us. Here are the 9 characteristics that the Spirit seeks to produce in leaders’ lives - all day, every day. 
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22, 23).
Are these the 9 things that are coming out of you? Whether or not we bear the fruit of the Spirit doesn’t depend on what is going on outside. “But you don’t know my kids, my spouse, my trouble.” Listen, things will go wrong… for everyone! What I must accept and remember is this: My peace and joy have nothing to do with what’s going on outside me! My peace and joy have everything thing to do with who’s filling me!
The Holy Spirit is in me. Pressure and stress and trouble come. I’m tipped over. What comes out when I’m filled with the Spirit? The fruit of the Spirit! Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control come out! We simply have to begin taking responsibility for reactions and responses to the stresses of life.
We need supernatural power to live this Christian life. Try to live this Christian life in your own strength and you’ll fail – miserably. You’ll be miserable and so will everyone else around you. Every day, several times a day, ask for the filling of the Spirit in order to walk by and live according to that filling. Over the years, we’ve many times taught CVCers to develop a habit of praying three things:
Father, search me. (That's seeing our sin.)
Jesus, wash me. (That's forsaking our sin.)
Spirit, fill me. (That's seeking freedom from sin.)
Will you pray those prayers today? The people who are following you need you to be filled with the Spirit. They need to see the 9 proofs that you are filled with the Spirit. All day. Every day.
And by the way, when you focus on being filled in the routine of life, you will be surprised at when and how often the special supernatural power for ministry (particularly in missions and evangelism) will show up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Characteristics of a disciple

Note: This is a working document designed to help articulate various aspects of discipleship.

Please use this document as a way of evaluating your own spiritual growth and development. Put a check by the items where you feel you have made significant discipleship progress. Put a question mark by items where you have made some progress and where know you know you need to grow more. Put a circle around those items where much improvement is needed.

Please send additional items that you feel are missing to Rick's assistant, Elena Golsch: 


Has prayed to receive Christ as Lord and Savior.

Has learned about assurance of salvation.

Is reading the Bible and praying as a part of daily life.

Learns to confess sin and live in light of forgiveness

Has been baptized since saved (and invites non-Christian friends to the baptism).

Memorizes scripture.

Understands the importance of the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Attends church services regularly and expectantly. (Seeks to experience intimacy with God during both the music and the message.)

Connects with a Community Group

Has a desire to be pleasing to the Lord.


Is growing in a loving relationship with God. Luke 14:26 

Learns and applies the skills for having a quiet time – continuing to spend time consistently in the Word and in prayer.

Uses an organized Bible reading plan.

Has a passion to obey scripture quickly as a demonstration of love for God.

Learns to discern and do the will of God.

Seeks to live for the glory of God. I Corinthians 6:20 (Seeks to turn the spotlight on God with life.)

Understands the importance of displaying Christ-like character found in the Beatitudes and in the fruit of the Spirit. Matthew 5:3-12 and Galatians 5:22-23

Understands how to build authentic relationships with people.

Overcomes a consumer mentality. (Is a giver rather than a taker.)

Begins to read solid Christian books.


Develops a written testimony.

Becomes a member of the church.

Learns to take and store notes from sermons/messages/podcasts.

Gives generously, consistently, and sacrificially. Luke 14:33 (Becomes a better manager of time, talent, and treasure. Grows in an eternal perspective.)

Is connected to a Growth group within the Community Group for specific spiritual development.

Builds a spiritual friendship with an accountability partner(s).

Pursues holiness, purity, and integrity.

Understands spiritual gifts and begins to experiment with using them in serving in the life of the church.

Loves the world – the poor / hungry / needy / orphan / widow / prisoner / oppressed. (Plans to go on mission locally, regionally, and/or globally.) 


Grows in ability to feed him/herself from God’s Word.

Grows in time spent consistently in regular, ongoing, unhurried prayer.

Develops a QT/Prayer Journal

Continues to read solid Christian books.

Learns to battle against indwelling sin. 

Develops a confidence in the love of Christ to overcome lack of worth and esteem issues.

Learns to work lovingly through relational conflict. John 13:34, 35 (Maintains the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.)

Learns the principles to overcome any bitterness by finding the freedom of forgiveness.

Says "no" to self in order to say "yes to Christ. Luke 9:23 (Denies himself to follow Christ.)

Prays for those who don’t know Christ.

Knows the basics of how to share the gospel.

Finds missional volunteer opportunities to serve outside the local church – serving the last, the least and the lost.


Develops a personal mission statement and a personal spiritual growth plan.

Values personal growth and change. Phil. 3:14 (Is committed to conforming to the image of Christ.)

Has a working knowledge of God's Word and understands the overall message of the Bible.

Understands the foundational doctrines of the faith.

Depends on God's Spirit rather than self‑effort for accomplishing goals.  John 15:5 (Learns to abide in Christ for fruitful service.)

Deals with issues related to healthy family life.

Grows through adversity and obstacles. James 1:2‑4 (Knows that trials produce Godly character. Seeks God’s help through trials he/she is facing.)

Grows in Christian fellowship and a deeper commitment to Community Group.

Uses spiritual gifts in serving in a ministry of the church.

Builds bridges into the lives of those who don’t know Christ. (Builds and maintains friendships with non-Christians for the purpose of being a witness.)

Increases commitment to missional service outside the local church.


Learns how to defend the faith (apologetics).

Learns about living according to a sustainable pace/rhythm with margin (how to say “no”).

Takes a more responsible leadership role in the life of the church or the city.

Understands how to engage in spiritual warfare.

Influences others through Christ-like behavior at work and at home.

Begins to lead others spiritually, perhaps leading a Community Group or ministry in the local church. II Timothy 2:2 (Sees Christ formed in the lives of family, friends, neighbors.)

Grows in ability to serve the lost and in ability to share the gospel.

Invites people to a CVC service / event / program. (Regularly invites un-churched friends to church services and events.)

Invites people to put their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Serves in an international mission project.


Teaches God’s Word in appropriate environments.

Grows in fruitfulness in intercessory prayer. (Can document answers to prayer.)

Develops a desire and a vision to reach the world for Christ.

Takes a step of faith that requires great risk and great faith.

Meets one-on-one with people in the beginning, preparing and joining phases.

Mobilizes others by coaching people in the growing, learning and leading phases.

Influences others to take greater leadership roles.

Increases in generosity and moves toward and then beyond the tithe. (Generosity is characterized by priority, percentage, and progressive giving.)

Leads people to put their faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.

What is a Trader?

An adoption journey

A Story of One CVC Family Being Intentional, Radical, and Sacrificial

Eric and Jenni Wolfenbarger had the kind of life most couples dream about: 2 kids, 2 cars, and a house. Their life was filled with after school activities, vacations, and church on Sundays. They said, “Our focus was to make ourselves happy and we filled our life with a lot of distractions so we could easily tune out God’s calling on our lives.”

But God had more in store.  He pursued them. He wanted them to make some changes.

They were at a cross roads in their lives. They had a career decision to make. So, they began to seek God’s direction. And God began to reveal more to them than just a new job. He placed people on their path who were passionate about orphan care. Eric and Jenni began to pray how God wanted them to be a part of serving the “least of these.” Jenni said, “The thought of adoption had been in our minds before, but we could always rationalize why it wasn’t a good time.”

God placed a sense of urgency in their hearts this time. And they felt compelled to start the journey whether it made complete sense to them or people around them.

Eric and Jenni learned about not one, but two orphans – a boy and a girl – from Ghana who lived in an extremely impoverished village. They had no access to medical care or education. They were severely malnourished. A future for these two in that village meant they would become child laborers, beggars, or be sold into slavery, which is a common practice in that part of Ghana. There was no extended family able to take them in. Their village decided that adoption was the best option.

The Wolfenbargers say that this was the first time that they had to let God be in complete  control of something in their lives. They were led to pursue adoption but didn’t know if they could afford it. They couldn’t control a foreign government and how quickly they would approve the adoption. They couldn’t handle the emotional aspect of wanting their new son and daughter to be home with them. And they couldn’t be in control of how their family would blend after the adoption. It was scary.

Jenni says, “We had to make a decision whether we were going to continue living life as it was or whether we were going to trust God in the journey He had ahead of us. We thought that maybe the price was too great and there was no guarantee of a happy ending. Maybe we would look foolish if at the end of the journey we failed miserably.”

The two kids here, Emmi and Jake, would have to sacrifice to bring a brother and a sister home. Jake would need to share a room with his new brother. The trips to Ghana took time away from the two kids here. But thankfully, their hearts were filled with compassion, too, and they were willing to sacrifice to bring their siblings home.

So, Jenni and Eric made the long trip to Ghana to meet their little boy, Kofi, and their little girl, Joy. They were hurt, scared, and lost. They moved from a small village in Ghana to snowy NE Ohio, quite the culture shock.

But God heals and restores. Eric and Jenni believe that Kofi and Joy are a perfect addition to their family and they say their life would seem incomplete without them.

They look back and can tell story after story about God’s provision and how He took care about each detail of their adoption journey. Jenni says, “Every day, we thank God that we didn’t miss out on this blessing! Our life has a new focus and passion that wasn’t there before.  In some ways we feel that adoption was just the start of a new journey and a new way of living.”

Looking back, Jenni and Eric realize that God doesn’t set us up for failure. By living sacrificially for a time, they found freedom in a more simple life. In Ghana, they found people living in poverty but with joy that most Americans can only dream of. Jenni says, “Our world was flipped upside down and what we once thought as necessary or essential to our lives are now merely nice accessories. In giving and sacrificing, we gained so much in other ways.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why asking God for His favor and being content are not mutually exclusive

On Saturday evenings, we end our services with a Q & A. A few years ago, I spoke from Genesis 32 and encouraged our people to wrestle with God in prayer like Jacob. He said, "I will not let You go until I get a blessing!"

One question afterwards was this: "It feels arrogant and prideful to ask God to bless me. Shouldn't we just 'be content' with where we are and what we have? Aren't we already blessed?"

This was a great question.

Here's my response:

Should we be content? Absolutely! "I have learned how to be content with whatever I have" (Philippians 4:11). "True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth" (I Timothy 6:6). Should we be thankful for what we already have? Absolutely! "Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20). "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus" (I Thessalonians 5:18). Should we think of ourselves as already blessed? Absolutely! "All praise to God... who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms..." (Ephesians 1: 3).

Yet the Bible is filled with scripture that indicate that it is good and right to cry out to God for blessings. "With all my heart I want your blessings" (Psalm 119:58). “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). "May God be merciful and bless us. May his face smile with favor on us" (Psalm 67:1).

It is good a right to cry out to God for His favor. "Let your favor shine on your servant. In your unfailing love, rescue me" (Psalm 31:16). "Send me a sign of your favor" (Psalm 86:17). "Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people" (Psalm 106:4).

It is good to ask God for His face to shine on us. "Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us" (Psalm 80:3). "Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved" (Psalm 80:7).

Plus, Bible characters like Jacob (Genesis 32) and Jabez (I Chronicles 4) cried out to God for blessings. These things happened to them as examples for us.

So, how can we pursue God for blessings, favor, and a shining face while at the same time be content and thankful?

I think that God is checking out our motives. When we ask for God's favor with hearts of contentment and gratitude, it's not about us. It's about Him.

If we want God's favor and blessings for selfish, materialistic reasons, then God sees right through that! We don't get answers to many of our prayers because we are asking with the wrong motives (James 4:3).

We must let God set the "blessing agenda" for our lives. We don't pursue God so He will bless our plans. We pursue God so He will plan our blessings. God plans the blessings, not us.

We must want God's favor not so we can be fulfilled and comfortable, but so our lives can demonstrate God's glory.

Like Jacob, after wrestling with God, we may end up with a limp, but that place in our lives that's "out-of-joint" will show His glory even more. When God comes through for us in spite of the limp, people have to recognize His grace and power.

So,we pursue his favor for His fame. And that produces, not pride, but humility.

So, let's wrestle with God. It's good and right to say with Jacob, "I will not let You go until You bless me."

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