Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to move from getting what humans can do to getting what God can do

"We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You" ( II Chronicles 20:12).

This was King Jehoshaphat's prayer to God when his kingdom was surrounded by an overpowering army.

Are you totally dependent on God like that? 24/7/365? Really? Some of us trust God - but only with 10%, 20%, 50%, or 90% of the problem.

Maybe your family, your business, or your ministry is in a mess today because you’ve been trusting too much in your own ingenuity to fix things. Or perhaps things aren't a mess; they're just... common, boring. There's no sense of the supernatural.

You’ve been coming up with the best plans, strategies, and effort you can produce. You’ve been trying good advice from family and friends. You’ve read the right books. But you honestly have to admit that nothing is changing. Not really. Your spouse is unfulfilled and your kids are out of control. Your career has hit a dead end. Your ministry lacks power.

You’ve forgotten how important it is to just trust. And God is reminding you today that it's been a long time since you've been totally dependent on God.

Jesus said, “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. 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).

Don’t miss the command. Abide. It's an imperative – not a suggestion or a request. To abide, we must act. To abide means to remain, to stay closely connected, to settle in for the long term. Jesus is teaching us how an ongoing, vital connection with Him will directly determine the amount of His supernatural power at work in our lives. The branch with the largest, least-obstructed connection with the vine is abiding the most and will have the greatest release of His power.

When we depend on ourselves, we get what a human can do. When we depend on God, we get what God can do.

Josh Harris says, "Abiding is living in this constant awareness of total dependence. Abiding is what desperate people do who realize that they have no life, power, no inward resource of themselves... It's opposite of self-reliance. It's the opposite of the 'I can handle this' feeling. It is dependence and child-like faith... Abiding isn't complicated. The secret to abiding is simply being desperate for Jesus."

It's time for you to pray without ceasing, to show off your ongoing trust in the Lord , to lean into and onto God, to have an ongoing conversations with God about your family, about your career, about your ministry, about... well, everything. It's time to be totally dependent.

Sometimes, written prayers can help us express our hearts' desires. Try this one on for size.

“Lord, You know my family, my career, and my ministry are not what they could be or should be. You know I’ve tried everything. But I can’t fix anything. I am coming to You. And I am going to keep coming. Lately, I am only seeing what a human can do. I want to see what You can do. From now on, Lord, help me to live as close as I can live to total dependence on You. 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 Your will and bear much fruit."

Question: What helps you express a total dependence on God?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A deeper question behind succession planning: Is Jesus enough?

  "For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world" (I Timothy 6:6). 

I remember the early days of CVC. As a leader, I had no following. No one in NE Ohio knew who I was. I could go to stores without stares. I had no street cred. I had no perks. 

I came to Cleveland fresh out of seminary with a godly wife, a great son, and a truckload of mostly garage sale stuff. And little else. 

But we had what money can't buy and what death can't take away. We had Jesus with the hopes and dreams He put in our hearts. I was His and He was mine. And He was enough. 

Over the last 25 years, God has done some pretty amazing things. By God's grace and with the help of His people, CVC has accomplished a lot. We've left a footprint on NE Ohio. Thousands of lives have been changed. Hundreds of people show up each weekend hungry for God's Word. We've helped to start dozens of new churches. Ministries and missions connected to CVC have gone global. 

Along the way, I have gained from the success of CVC. I have picked up a few perks. Some credibility. A good reputation in the eyes of some. Influence. A platform. A title. A nice salary. A sense of identity. Stares in stores from people who've been to CVC and seen me from a distance. It's nice to be at least a little bit known and respected.

Now, we are in a season of transition. I am passing the torch of lead pastor to Chad Allen. The transition of leadership means that I will be slowly releasing what I have gained as CVC became increasingly successful. 

The releasing will be revealing. 

Is Jesus more enough for me than He was 25 years ago? In the early days I didn't have the stuff that comes with success. All I had was Jesus with the hopes and dreams He put in my heart. And He was enough then. The transition is a test. Is He still enough? Is He more enough? 

Right now, I am watching the painful and tragic implosion of another church. The aging senior leader there has a track record of not releasing. He can't let go. Long-time, once-loyal leaders are leaving. He wants to continue to control. Leadership transition seems unthinkable there. He wants to hang onto the stuff of success. I can't see his heart. But from the outside looking in, I wonder, "Could it be that Jesus isn't enough for him? Could it be that the diaspora of his disciples is divine discipline?" 

It's a reality that even servants of the Savior spend our lives trying to accumulate stuff and status. We forget that we brought nothing into this world and that we'll take nothing out of it. 

A leadership transition is not just about preserving the results of a lifetime of ministry. It's about the releasing of the stuff of success. It's about a leader proving to himself and to a watching world that Jesus is enough. 

"For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world" (I Timothy 6:6). What we can take with us is a Person. Just Jesus. And He is enough, isn't He? He is all in all. I will be His and He will be mine. And with Him comes all else that matters.

Question: Why do you think some senior leaders don't or won't transition?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to have engaging conversations with young adults who are embracing atheism

One of the young adults who grew up at CVC is now saying he's an atheist. I am sure he's not alone. He's reading “God Is Not Great” by the late Christopher Hitchens.

Maybe you know some young adults who were raised in a church but have now rejected the faith. Maybe you are related to someone like that.

About a year ago, I saw a very well done documentary, Collision, that chronicles the debates and relationship between Hitchens and a pastor, Douglas Wilson.

Check it out. It might give you fuel for prayer and conversation. It’s long, but really good. You can watch it

Other resources that may help you as you help others:

Gunning For God: Why the New Atheists Are Missing the Target, by John Lennox
There Is A God: How The World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, by Antony Flew
Why God Won't God Away, by Alistair McGrath
I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, by Frank Turek
Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists, by Albert Mohler

Question: What resources have you used to help young adults who are struggling to maintain a theistic worldview?

Monday, August 27, 2012

A prayer for the healing of our nation's unhappy divisions

Below is a scriptural prayer from Matthew Henry (1662-1714). It was published in his Method for Prayer. It's truly amazing that this prayer composed 300 years ago has laser-sharp relevance for today. Why not take some time right now to use it as a basis for your own prayer for the USA as we face an important election?


"For the divisions that are among us, there are great searchings of heart (Judges 5:16); for there are three against two and two against three in a house (Luke 12:52).

"But is the breach as vast as the sea, which cannot be healed (Lamentations 2:13)? Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored (Jeremiah 8:22)?

"Lord, repair the breaches of our land, for because of them it totters (Psalm 60:2).

"I beg in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that there may be no divisions among us, but that we be united in the same mind and the same judgment (I Corinthians 1:10).

"May the God of endurance and encouragement grant us to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together we may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5-6), and promote the common salvation (Jude 1:3).

"Lord, keep us from judging one another and despising one another (Romans 14:10), and give us to pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:19); that living in love and peace, the God of love and peace may be with us (II Corinthians 13:11).

"Let nothing be done from rivalry or conceit, but in humility let me count others more significant than myself (Philippians 2:3); and grant that my reasonableness may be known to everyone, because the Lord is at hand (Philippians 4:5)."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

How to say "sorry, we can't promote that event here"

I want to be a team player and a Kingdom builder. I think what God is doing in and through every single ministry in NE Ohio is important. What's God is doing at Cuyahoga Valley Church is no more important than what He is doing in Avon Lake, Ohio City, Orange, or anywhere else. We all need to "win" for Jesus! When one ministry "wins" in NE Ohio, we all "win." I really do believe that!

So, in the past, at CVC we have promoted lots and lots of city-wide activities. And I think my brothers and sisters in NE Ohio have been very appreciative.

But lately, I have become convinced that promoting events and activities that take place throughout the Greater Cleveland area is having diminishing returns in our own church's efforts to disciple our people.

So, I've been saying “sorry, but we can’t promote your event” more and more.

Recently, I wrote such an email to a city leader who asked me to promote his event through CVC. My first instinct was to say "yes." But my best instinct was to say "no."

I thought I would share my response with the leaders who read this blog since I know we all regularly receive requests to promote city-wide events.

Maybe my “thanks, but no thanks” response can be useful to you. It might cause you to think through a little more carefully about why you might say a "yes" to some things and "no" to others.


"Thanks for the invite. I am sure it’s going to be a great event. I will post the event on my Facebook page.

"At CVC, we are currently working through clarifying our vision, mission, values, strategy, goals with an organization called Auxano and Will Mancini, who wrote an excellent book on local church leadership, Church Unique.

"We are thinking through how we might change some things about the way we’ve conducted the Lord’s business as a church.

"What we are learning is that we’ve made the mistake in the past by promoting lots of city-wide/outside-CVC stuff that has really confused our people about what matters most, has cluttered up their lives with Christian activity, and left little room for true missional living. We’re seeing that the more stuff we promote, the less stuff they do because they actually start to tune us out.

"Therefore, we are really trying to limit what we communicate to just the simple basics – 1) worship, 2) groups, and 3) service in/out. We are trying to encourage and mobilize deeper discipleship and missional living through our groups.

"I hope my explanation helps you understand why we so often give a “thanks, but no thanks” answer to requests to promote various city-wide events.

"May God’s hand of blessing rest on you as you seek to grow the Kingdom."


Questions: How do you determine what you will or won't promote as a church? And how do you say "thanks, but no thanks" in a way that lets people know you really are kingdom-minded?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to find the favor of God even when you've been betrayed

How do you handle it when you've been betrayed or forsaken by family or friends? You thought the people around you were loyal. But instead of guarding your back, they turned theirs... on you. Now, you feel forsaken.

But don't forget that you can find the favor of God even when you've been forsaken.

In the Bible we meet a man named Joseph. Joseph's father, Jacob, had 12 sons from 4 women, but Joseph was his favorite son. Jacob gave Joseph a special coat of many colors. And Joseph’s brothers began to hate him.

Joseph had two crazy dreams. Basically, he dreamed that his whole family would bow down to him and that he would be elevated above them all. It's the kind of thing you probably should keep to yourself. But he told everybody. Now, his brothers were really ticked at him.

Jacob sent the brothers out to handle the family business - to take care of their flocks. And then he sent Joseph to take food to them. He was about 17 at the time. And as he approached, they thought, “This is our chance to get rid of that dreamer.” They schemed to kill him. But one brother said, "Don't kill him." The others decided to sell him for a few dollars as a slave to some traders who are traveling to Egypt. They told Jacob, their daddy, that Joseph was killed by wild animals.

So, Joseph was sold by his brothers to be a slave in Egypt. That's betrayal. That's being forsaken.

What are we going to see? Anger? Bitterness? Resentment? A ticked-off teenager?

"Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. [And now you can see that the favor of God was on Joseph’s life.] The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 
His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate" (Genesis 39:1-6a).

Did you notice the word "favor" in the passage? In the Hebrew, the word is "chen." It means “acceptance” or “good-will.” Joseph had the favor, the acceptance, the good-will of his boss.

Why did that happen? How did that happen?

Think with me: If you were in charge, would you promote the victim – a bitter, vindictive, angry, revenge-filled, always-talking-about-how-he'd-been-hurt guy? No.

So, there must have been something attractive, something winsome, something special about Joseph. Potiphar saw it. In spite of being forsaken by his brothers and sold by them as a slave, Joseph had a positive impact on the people around him. He wasn't bitter. He rose above it. And Potiphar promoted Joseph.

We don’t see any evidence of a root of bitterness taking hold in Joseph's life. Somehow, he was able to forgive. As the story unfolds, we see Joseph display a consistent trust in God and a perseverance to be a man of integrity and endurance despite difficult circumstances. And as a result, God granted Joseph favor.

The relationships stayed unreconciled for a long time. But Joseph never lost the favor of the Father.

How about you? How do you react when you've been forsaken or betrayed?

Maybe you’re nursing a hurt that happened long ago. Maybe your birth mother gave you up. Maybe your spouse walked out on you. Maybe your family hasn’t forsaken you physically, but they have emotionally. Maybe you feel like your kids have forsaken you, even turned on you. Maybe a business or ministry partner has abandoned you and is now painting you as a villain. And because of all the hurt you’re bitter and resentful. You've been justifying your hard feelings.

But what you've failed to see is that because of your bitterness, you have forfeited the favor of God on your life.

What if you would forgive? Could you regain the favor of God? What if God is placing His finger on that hurt and saying, "You need to let it go and give it to Me?"

You can find the favor of God even when we've been betrayed. But only those who forgive can catch the favor of God.

Questions: Have you forfeited the favor of God because of a refusal to forgive? Who do you need to forgive today?

How to memorize scripture

I owe Al Baker.

Al Baker, a baseball player from the University of Alabama, was my roommate in 1974 in Nicaragua on a 5 week mission trip where we played ball for Sports Ambassadors of Overseas Crusades. First, Al introduced me to my future wife, Maryanne, when we came back to the states. That was the greatest gift I could have ever been given! Second, Al introduced me to scripture memory. His example and his challenge for me to learn every verse in the 4 Spiritual Laws booklet have inspired me ever since.

Memorizing scripture has been one of the most fundamental and life-changing disciplines in my spiritual devleopment. Memorizing Scripture makes God's Word available for the Holy Spirit to bring to our minds just when we need it. It prepares us for unexpected opportunities to counsel or witness. It gives us fuel for our prayer lives. It provides us with guidance. It helps us overcome temptations.

8 key commitments for memorizing God’s Word

1. Make a list of reasons why scripture memory will be profitable for you. (See Psalm 119:9, 11; Psalm 1:1-3; and Joshua 1:8.)

2. Ask God for wisdom regarding Bible verses and passages to memorize.

3. Consider memorizing verses that have been recommended by many Christian leaders throughout the history of the church. (See the Navigators’ Topical Memory System, Bethlehem Baptist Church’s Fighter Verses, etc.)

4. As you do your regular Bible reading, be on the lookout for additional verses God may impress upon you to learn.

5. Record your scripture memory target list in a safe place (a journal) that you will see regularly.

6. Set a scripture memory goal. How many verses will you learn each week? (Note: Many great believers have set a goal to learn 2 verses a week).

7. Write down verses you are currently learning and keep them in an accessible safe place for future review.

8. Develop a system for reviewing the verses you have already learned.


The Navigators is a ministry founded by Dawson Trotman that has always focused on the importance of scripture memory. Click on the link provided for a short article from the Navigators with some practical advice on
how to memorize scripture.

Jean Williams of Matthias Media has posted a very helpful series of articles about scripture memory: 1)
Why you shouldn't memorize Bible verses (but should memorize passages), 2) A three course banquet of Bible memorization, and 3) A smorgasbord of Bible memorization methods.

I have found a few other articles that will be helpful:
10 Tips for Memorizing Bible Verses
How to memorize scripture
How to memorize scripture: 10 practical tips

Several great online tools and apps seem helpful:
Bible Minded App
Bible Memory Verses
Fighter Verses
Scripture Typer


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

When your success has sabotaged your passion

Yesterday, my friend Will Mancini posted an article on his blog that decribed why sometimes pastors can lose their passion for ministry. The time demands on pastors because of ministry success can make a pastor want to run and hide. You can read his post here: How Joe Lost His Passion in Ministry.

I totally can identify! I have lived what Will describes. Although our ministry success might seem modest to some, it's been challenging for me to keep up. At times, I've been so tired and on the verge of burnout that I've gone into stores like Marc's or Home Depot or Drug Mart hoping that I don't see anyone I know.

Wanting to hide from people is obviously not missional living. It's just the opposite. I am supposed to be an ambassador - a everyday witness, a missionary cleverly disguised as a pastor. I am supposed to seek and to save those who are lost. I am supposed to go to heaven and take as many people with me as I possibly can. Like the pastor in Will's article, when I first came to NE Ohio and saw people I wondered, "Those people over there... Do they know Jesus? Are they headed the heaven? How can I reach them? Are they some of the ones God sent us here to win?"

But I don't always live that way like I once did when I first came to NE Ohio to plant CVC. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't. What I need is constant help for my soul. I need to trade in expired enthusiasm for a re-inspired enthusiasm.

After reading Will's article, I came across a Puritan prayer in a prayer book entitled "The Valley of Vision." It encouraged my soul in light of the challenges and obstacles Will so compellingly articulated. Maybe it will encourage you. Here's a portion of the prayer.

"Heal me of any wounds received in the great conflict; if I have gathered defilement, if my faith has suffered damage, if my hope is less than bright, if my love is not fervent, if some creature-comfort occupies my heart, if my soul sinks under pressure of the fight.

"O Thou whose every promise is balm, every touch is life, draw near to Thy weary warrior, refresh me, that I may rise again to wage the strife, and never tire until my enemy is trodden down...

"Give me a draught of Thy eternal fountain...

"Then shall my hand never weaken, my feet never stumble, my sword never rest, my shield never rust, my helmet never shatter, my breastplate never fall, as my strength rests in the power of Thy might."

Question: As a leader, what helps you stop hiding and start helping again?

Conner and Anna Soska: New life in Christ at CVC

“I have joy in my heart. My children turned to God and trusted Him,” writes Chris Soska after his children spent a week at the CVC Sports Camp.

Chris and Jen Soska have sought the everyday presence of Christ in their home. They admit they aren’t perfect parents. But most days, the kids, Conner and Anna, see their parents praying, hear the name of Jesus, and join in the attempts to follow God's will. Chris and Jen have been teaching the scriptures to their children and have shared the plan of salvation with them. They have been bringing the children to church where teachers have faithfully taught the Word of God.

This past week at the CVC Sports Camp, the spiritual seeds that have been planted took root and burst forth! Chris said, “Both of my children came to me to tell me they prayed ‘that prayer’ during sports camp week.” He asked, “Which one?” They replied, “The one where you ask Jesus in your heart.”

The Soskas are already seeing the evidence of salvation. Conner says, “I didn’t get a teacher to pray with me. I just did it by myself. God is going to help me and protect me.” Anna said, “Jesus died on the cross for our sins.” The kids told their dad, “We believe Jesus died for our sins. We get to go to heaven now when we die. Jesus will help us listen to mommy and help us be nice. We will be protected by God from Satan.”

At first Chris thought, “They are so young. How can I be sure they understand?” Then God’s Spirit began to speak to this young dad. He now says, “It's their start. It’s their changing moment from not understanding to understanding, from belief to personal belief. God's Spirit will be guiding their decisions. They will be molded by His Grace.”

Chris and Jen are grateful for all the Sports Camp volunteers. They rejoice in knowing for sure that their kids prayed to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior the same week at the CVC Sports Camp. Something Conner and Anna heard that week moved in their young hearts and minds to pray to God to accept Jesus. The Soskas say, “The change is happening. It was not by chance, but by God's perfect timing.”

The words of these young ones have been heard in eternity. And the promise from our God for them is eternal life.

Thanks be to God for using the CVC Sports Camp in the lives of these young ones!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When you can't forgive: A simple prayer to help you forgive when you've been hurt deeply

Corrie Ten Boom lived through the holocaust during WWII. Her family hid Jews from the Germans in Holland. Eventually, her whole family was caught and arrested. Her beloved father died 10 days after he was imprisoned.

Corrie and her sister, Betsie, ended up in a Nazi prison camp called Ravensbruck. 80,000 people died in that camp over a period of seven years. Many were shot, given a lethal injection, or gassed. Sick prisoners had to strip in front of the Nazis. Corrie watched her sister Betsy grow ill, suffer, and die.

After the war, Corrie began to speak about the forgiveness of Christ. In 1947, she spoke at a church in Munich. That’s where she saw the man. The man had been a guard, one of the most cruel guards.

He was in front of her with an outstretched hand. “What a fine message. How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are forgiven.” She fumbled in her pocketbook. She didn’t want to take his hand. He obviously did not remember her. But she remembered him.

She was face-to-face with a man who not only hurt her, but her sister. He said, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me.” And his hand came out again.

Let's let Corrie ten Boom finish the story in her own words:

I stood there - I whose sins had again and again needed to be forgiven. And I could not forgive. My sister, Betsie, had died in that place. Could this guard erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It couldn’t have been many seconds that he stood there - hand held out. But to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I ever had to do.

For I had to do it - I knew that. If you do not forgive others their trespasses, Jesus says, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses.

I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids.

It was as simple and horrible as that.

And still I stood there with coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion - I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. So, I prayed silently, “Jesus, help me! I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You must supply the feeling.

So woodenly, mechanically, I placed my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place.

The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother, with all my heart.”

For a long moment we grasped each other's hands - the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love – not my forgiveness. I had tried and I did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5: The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness. It sets us free.

Questions: Who do you need to forgive? Will you pray Corrie's prayer? ("Jesus, help me! I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You must supply the feeling.")  What might lifting your hand look like in your situation?

Monday, August 20, 2012

3 words for a church planting team

A friend, Rodney Mileski, is planting a church in Carmel, Indiana outside Indianapolis. Connection Church is in the pre-natal phase right now. Preview services are coming soon. Public worship starts in a few months. 

Rodney is working with a core group of believers and is getting ready for an important meeting with his team of leaders. He asked three leaders for some help as he prepares for this meeting. He asked us for 1) a word of caution, 2) a word of purpose, and 3) a word of encouragement.

Here's what I shared with Rodney and the leaders of Connection Church. 

1) a word of caution 

Do not trust in human effort, giftedness, or ingenuity. "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63). Be passionate about a dependence on Christ that is expressed through prayer and by abiding in Jesus for fruit-bearing. 

2) a word of purpose

The people of Carmel have been blessed richly to be a rich blessing. What the city needs is a new church filled with people who will live generously, sacrificially, and missionally as an Acts 1:8 church. This mindset is reflected in a prayer entitled "Things Needful" in the Valley of Vision - a Puritan prayer book: "Make me [generous of spirit] to give Thy bounties to the indigent, comfort to the mentally ill, restoration to the sin-diseased, hope to the despairing, joy to the sorrowing, love to the prodigals... Fill the garden of my soul with the wind of love, that the scents of the Christian life may be wafted to others; then come and gather fruits to Thy glory. So shall I fulfill the great end of my being - to glorify Thee and be a blessing to men" (p. 325).

3) a word of encouragement

This is a rare opportunity for you to join with God in planting something that will glorify Him and bless the world long after you have graduated to glory. "They may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified" (Isaiah 61:3b). You are not planting flowers that will last for a season nor a tree that will last for a lifetime. You are planting a church of Jesus Christ that will glorify God, depopulate hell, populate heaven, and have an impact for eternity. What a privilege! 

Question: What would you say to a church planting team in the prenatal phase?

Crowns in heaven and what we will do with them

Therefore, my beloved brethren, whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, beloved (Philippians 4:1, NASB). 

The Bible gives a description of several different kinds of crowns God’s people can receive.

One crown usually overlooked in lists is mentioned in Philippians 4:1. For Paul, the Philippians – the people he had won to Christ and discipled to be a growing, generous church – were his crown. By extension and by implication, the people we lead spiritually can also be our crowns.

There are more crowns mentioned in the Bible.

To all who have keep the faith and long for the return of Christ, there will be a crown of righteousness (II Timothy 4:8).

To all who have helped bring others to Christ, there will be a crown of rejoicing (I Thessalonians 2:19).

To all who endure temptation and are faithful through trials, there will be a crown of life (James 1:12).

To all that serve and shepherd God’s people, there will be a crown of glory (I Peter 5:4).

To those who have had self-control and subdued the old sinful nature, there will be an imperishable crown (I Corinthians 9:25).

Are these crowns literal or is this figurative language? I think it’s likely figurative language. These are not crowns that we are going to wear and parade around in order to draw attention to ourselves. It’s not about us!

What happens with the crowns God’s people will one day get? The Bible says that the 24 elders mentioned in the book of Revelation will fall down before the throne of God in worship.

"They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 'Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created'" (Revelation 4:10b-11).

John MacArthur writes, “Aware that God alone is responsible for the rewards they have received, they divest themselves of all honor and cast it at the feet of their King” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 2003).

Will other believers also cast their crowns before the throne? The text only says that the 24 elders cast their crowns. But it’s possible that others will follow the lead of the 24 elders and also cast their crowns before the throne.

Henry Morris writes, “It is probable also that this action in turn is followed by the millions of redeemed men and women whom the elders represent, who also will fall down in adoration before the One on the throne” (Henry Morris, The Revelation Record, p. 91). Charles Wesley applied the truth to all believers in his hymn "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" when he wrote at the end of the hymn: “Till we cast our Crowns before Thee, Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise!”

I believe that our casting crowns is a way for all believers to give back to God the honors that we may have gained from the Lord as a result of serving the Lord. All of the redeemed will humble themselves in the presence of God and give whatever rewards they have received to God because, after all, from Him, to Him, and through Him are all things (Romans 11:36).

Any crowns we receive are going to be presented to Jesus, to the One who is worthy to be praised. Why?

Jesus is the one that made everything possible.

Questions: Are you living in a way that will find you worthy of reward on the Day? Will you have crowns that you will be able to present to the One who is worthy? What changes is God prompting you to make today?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hot topics

Sometimes people say that Jesus never talked about same-sex marriage. They go on to say that His silence on the topic gives us freedom to be open to differing sexual preferences. In this article by Danny Akins, President of Southeastern Seminary, we see that Jesus indeed did address the issue.  Read "Is it true that Jesus never addressed same-sex marriage?"

The Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek was last week. Tony Morgan shares what were his top ten leadership quotes from the Summit: 10 quotes that should shape your leadership.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What's wrong with worry: 3 ways worry is wrong

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6).

No anxiety? No worry? You’re kidding, right? We all have reasons we can worry.

Maybe you are facing financial difficulties. Maybe you are unemployed or underemployed. Perhaps you are sensing that there is a wall between you and your child. For some of you, things are not going to well at school or at work. For others, health challenges for you or someone you love are mounting up.

Remember that there is a difference between ungodly worry and godly concern. Realistic concern is not condemned or forbidden in the Bible. We should be concerned about the spiritual condition of ourselves, families, and friends. We should be concerned about meeting the physical and material needs of our family. We should be concerned about injustice, poverty, and crime. Realistic concern is right.

But unhealthy anxiety -- worry -- is wrong. It's wrong because it focuses on the potential sorrows of tomorrow and spoils the actual pleasures of today.

What's wrong with worry? I learned these three things years ago from someone. (I am not sure who taught me. They sound like "Adrian-isms" from my former pastor, the late Adrian Rogers.)

1. Worry is worthless.

It simply doesn't do any good! Trouble in life is inevitable. Jesus didn't come to get us out of trouble. He came to get into our troubles with us. Worrying never eliminates trouble and worry does not control the future.

2. Worry is wasteful.

Matthew 6: 44 says, "Each day has enough trouble of it's own." Focus on today's troubles, not tomorrow's. Someone said, "Worry borrows today's strength to solve tomorrow's problems. It does not take the trouble out of tomorrow. It takes the strength out of today."

3. Worry is wicked.

What is the opposite of worry? Faith. Trust. Romans 14: 23 says, "Whatever is not from faith is sin." Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith is impossible to please God." Worry is wicked because worry betrays the absence of faith. A lack of faith doesn't please God. Worry is sin because it betrays a lack of faith.

So, how do we live without worry in this world that is filled with so much uncertainty?

Remember Philippians 4:6. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6).

Pray! About everything... With thanksgiving... Prayer is your antidote for worry. Do you pray? Will you pray?

Question: How do you fight the temptation to worry?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stop talkin' trash... to yourself: How to overcome negative self-talk

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8).

This verse has obvious applications for making sure we aren't watching, hearing, or thinking impurely, lustfully, or selfishly. But I want to apply the passage another way.

Most of us are pretty good at talking trash... to ourselves. It's negative self-talk. We talk ourselves down. We think demeaning, degrading, disgusting untruths about ourselves.

And God is not glorified by that. We are created in His image and are precious in His sight. He is dishonored when we think wrongly about the ones He loved enough to redeem for Himself through the shed blood of His Son.

Yes, I know we have sinned and fall short if His glory. Yes, I know our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. Yes, I know we have to deal with indwelling sin. And we can learn some other day how to kill sin lest it kill us.

But for today, let's consider that there is not only more depravity in us than we could possibly fathom, there is also more dignity in us than we could possibly fathom. Let's learn to think biblically about ourselves so we can live up.

This week, I was speaking with a young leader in our city. He’s having a hard time leading right now primarily because of bad self-talk. He’s doing the stinkin’ thinkin’ thing.

I asked him, “What are the kinds of things you are saying to yourself?” He said, “I’m a loser. I am not as good as others are. I will never accomplish this or that…” My heart was breaking for him.

So, I asked, “What is God saying about you? What does He want you to believe about yourself?” We sat for 20 minutes as he thought through truth after truth. I asked him to wrote it all down. Here's some of what he wrote:

"I will stop lying to myself and speak the truth in love to my soul.

"I am not lost. I have been found by Christ and I belong to Him. He will never leave me or forsake me.

"God will richly supply my every need according to His riches in glory.

"I have been created in the image of God. He has given me unique talents and abilities. I am precious and special in God’s sight. I need not compare myself with anyone else.

"There’s no hope? NOT! God knows the plans He has for me, plans for welfare – wholeness, success, prosperity, peace, tranquility – to give me a future and a hope.

"I have great worth apart from my performance because Christ gave His life for me and imparted great value to me. I am deeply loved, fully pleasing, totally forgiven, accepted and complete in Christ."

(Taken from truths found in John 15:16, Philippians 4:19, Isaiah 43:4, Jeremiah 29:11, and Robert McGee's Search for Significance.)

I asked him to read it all back to me all at once. About 3/4ths of the way through, he had to stop reading. He had never thought that way about himself, at least not for a long time.

The truths had so powerfully impacted his soul that tears were literally streaming down this young leader’s face. He was literally speechless for 3-4 minutes.

When he composed himself and finally finished reading, I asked, “What might happen if you would just keep these words in a prominent place, read and pray through this morning, noon, and night for the next 30 days?”

This is a way to obey Philippians 4:8. It’s renewing the mind. It’s getting rid of stinkin’ thinkin’. It’s thinking biblically. This is the principle of meditation.

Questions: Is a list of truths like this something you develop for yourself this week? Do you need to read a list like this to yourself 3 times a day for the next 30 days? How will you increase the quality and quantity of time you spend in meditation this week?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Relationships: Why are we breaking our promises?

As I look back at ministry over the last 25 years, this is one of the most disappointing facts: Husbands not getting along with wives, wives not getting along with husbands, parent/child conflicts, and ministry partner splits and divisions. Frankly, it’s been heart-breaking.

Why are relationships seemingly more and more difficult to maintain? When it comes to relationships, we tend to be shoppers and consumers. And when a better deal comes along, we bail.

Tim Keller writes about this tragic temptation toward consumerism in his book, The Meaning of Marriage.

"Sociologists argue that in contemporary Western society the marketplace has become so dominant that the consumer model increasingly characterizes most relationships that historically were covenantal… Today, we stay connected to people only as long as they are meeting our particular needs at an acceptable cost to us. 

"When we cease to make a profit – that is when the relationship appears to require more love and affirmation from us than we are getting back – then we 'cut our losses' and drop the relationship. This has also been called 'commodification,' a process by which social relationships are reduced to economic exchange relationships, and so the very idea of 'covenant'  [commitment] is disappearing in our culture." (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, pp, 81-82.)

Think about it. We are very much like Christ when we forgive and when we keep our promises. What is God like? He restores our broken past through His forgiveness of us and creates our better future by His promises to us. To be like Christ, with God’s help, we can dis-empower the past by forgiving people who have hurt us and we can realize a better future by making promises and keeping commitments to the people in our world.

So, be like Christ and break the back of our consumeristic tendencies. Stick with the people you are stuck with! When everything else tells them they can count on nothing, they can count on you.

In his book on marriage, Keller quotes a 1983 article by Lewis Smedes. I googled it to find it. Smedes writes, "If we won’t commit to build a caring community, then we will just become a 'combat zone of competing self-maximizers.'" (Lewis Smedes, Controlling the Unpredictable, January 21, 1983, Christianity Today.)

Competing self-maximizers. Wow. I hate to say it, but over the years I have seen husbands and wives and brothers and sisters in Christ who deserve that descriptor. 

So, how do we fight the temptation to cut our losses and drop our relationships when the relational-pay-back is smaller than we want? We take a gaze at the gospel once again. we follow the example of our promise-keeping, forgiveness-granting God.

Keller continues, "When Jesus looked down from the cross, He didn’t think, 'I am giving Myself to you because you’re so attractive to Me.' No, He was in agony, and He looked down at us – denying Him, abandoning Him, and betraying Him – and in the greatest act of love in history, He stayed" (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, p. 109)

Think about some broken relationship in your life. Are you a self-maximizing consumer in that relationship or a covenant-keeping Christ-follower?

Question: Will you ask God for grace to keep your promises and to restore that broken relationship?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Winning the battle over sin

Augustine won... and so can you.

When it comes to winning over sin, for every believer, there's something true about us that many of us either don't know or fail to remember. Either way, we're beat. And sin wins.

But when we know and remember the truths about our union with Christ and what Jesus has won for us through His death and resurrection and then live in light of those truths, by God's grace and for His glory, we can win over sin.

Here's what we are supposed to know... and remember:

"We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin" (Romans 6:6-7).

A few years ago, I was listening to a message from Romans 6 from Dr. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He said, “When Jesus died, we died. Our old self was crucified. That’s past tense. Therefore, you are not the same person now. Your body is now under the reign of your new spiritual master. Because of this new identity, you can break the reign of your old spiritual masters. You must learn to remind yourself of who you are. If you’re not changing, it’s not because you don’t lack any spiritual resources. It’s because you’re not deploying them. They don’t deploy automatically. If you’re still sinning in the same old ways, you’re not remembering who you really are.”

Then Dr. Keller told a story about Augustine. I tried to verify the story. It appears that the English minister, F. B. Meyer, used to love to tell the story, too.

It's a story about how St. Augustine defeated sin and temptation. Before his conversion, Augustine felt pulled in two directions. He was pulled toward the Lord by his mother, Monica, a saintly woman. He was pulled toward sin by a mistress. The conflict was long and terrible and Augustine went back and forth.

But when the Lord shined into Augustine’s heart through the words in Romans 13:14 — “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” — everything changed.

F. B. Meyer described what happened to Augustine: Instantly he arose. He had made his decision. He had counted the cost. He told his friend, Alypius, and they went and told Monica, and Monica was glad. The next day he went down the main street of Carthage. As he did so, he met the woman who had been the source of so much temptation for Augustine. She wanted to pull him away once again for a fling. And in those days, that might have meant several weeks of sensual pleasure. Augustine said, “No thank you.” She thought, “Maybe he didn’t really recognize me.” So she called out, “Augustine, It is I!” He said, “Yes, I know. But it is not I. I am not the former I.” He was applying the truths found in Romans 6.

"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, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18).

Of course, we don’t know what Augustine said to himself the day that former mistress tried to seduce him. But maybe he said something like this to himself: “I used to be a person who had to have female affection. I was a slave to sex. It wasn’t about love; it was about lust – about pleasure, about me. I was driven to sin with that mistress before. But now I have a new master. I don’t need this. I am free not to live according to lust, but according to love. I am not the former I.”

This is the way we must learn to talk to ourselves when we are faced with temptation. The gospel changes everything. Speaking the truth to yourself is how you change. This is how you win over sin. Know your new identity in Christ. And then live courageously, confidently, and conqueringly because of what Christ has done for you.

Jesus made us new. He set us free. We don't have to sin. We have a new master. Now, let’s live like it.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

8 questions every leader should ask re: followers

I like Twitter followers. But I like spiritual followers better. Most pastors aren't looking for Twitter followers as much as they are looking for spiritual followers. At least I hope that's true.

The leadership/followership relationship is complicated.

Every pastor probably wishes someone would preach to their congregation of followers from Hebrews 13:7, 17. Most pastors don't have the guts to preach it themselves. And they probably shouldn't. I never have.  

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

For sure, these are verses that challenge the followers at church. How rare it is for people in the USA to obey these verses. We have such an individualistic spirit in America. We don't want to yield. And Biblical followership is compromised.

Yet these verses also give challenging instructions for the leaders.

Here are 8 questions for leaders based on Hebrews 13:7, 17. 

1. Am I living a life worth remembering?

2. Am I speaking the word of God to the people?
3. Is the outcome of my way of life worth consideration?
4. Is my faith worth imitating?
5. Should people really obey and submit to me because they know and I know and God knows I am keeping watch over their souls?
6. Am I remembering that one day I will give an account to God regarding my leadership?
7. Do I serve with appropriate joy when the people are doing well?
8. Do I serve with appropriate groaning when the people are not doing well?

Remember, leaders, that you will give an account for your leadership. Lead well.

If you are a leader, here's a prayer prompted by Hebrews 13:7, 17 that might express your heart: 

Lord Jesus, You were and are the greatest leader of people ever. No one led like You. You were and are worth following. You have given all leaders a stewardship. We have people entrusted to our leadership. Show us areas of weakness. Show us areas of growth. Thank You for forgiving our lax leadership, Lord, through Your death and resurrection. We can't lead well apart from You. Help us lead more and more like You. Help us keep watch over the souls of others. We will fail without You, Lord. Please give us grace to do this. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Transition: It's not about me!

At CVC, we are in the midst of a leadership transition. I am passing the torch of leadership to Chad Allen, our co-teaching pastor. It's happening September 16. It's going to be a momentous day in the life of our church. (I am going to stay on staff and serve under Chad's leadership in the areas of preaching, leadership development, missions, and pastoral care.) 

It's easy to talk about leadership transition. It's harder to do, especially if you are the one giving away your authority. When the soon-to-be leader - the guy you are mentoring - is dedicating more babies than you, preaching more sermons than you, performing more weddings than you, baptizing more people than you, and doing more funerals than you, then it's hard. 

That's when it's good to look for examples of guys who have already done this transition thing before you. 

And one great example is John the Baptist. He's worth emulating because Jesus said about him, "I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John" (Luke 7:28a). What made great? His humility. His ego-less clarity. 

John the Baptist's disciples came to John worried, "You are losing followers! Remember Jesus, the One you pointed out when you were baptizing earlier? He's now baptizing! And some of our people are leaving us to follow Him!" 

John's answers are incredibly mature and selfless. His voice is the voice of greatness. 

He says to his loyal followers, "Think about it. Everything we have - especially our followers - comes to us from heaven, from the Father. So, the followers of Jesus have come to Him from God. If I am losing followers and He is gaining followers, it's because of the wise benevolence of a sovereign God. It's not about me. I am not Christ. I am His herald. I am announcing His coming."

"The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:29-30).

John says, "Jesus is the groom and I am His friend. I rejoice when I hear the groom speak. Seeing Him connect with His bride fills my heart with joy. I am not worried that He has a growing following and I have a shrinking following. I am not jealous. It's not about me! He must grow more prominent and I must grow less prominent. Jesus has come from heaven. He who has come from higher must be lifted higher. I am human. I am just dust. But Jesus is above all."

As I pass the baton at CVC, John's attitude encourages me. 

Of course, the passing of the baton from John to Jesus and the passing of the baton from me to our co-teaching pastor, Chad Allen, is infinitely different. I am no John the Baptist. And Chad isn't Jesus. But some principles apply. 

It's not about me. And it's not about Chad, either. It's still all about Jesus! He is above all. It never was about me or my voice or my following. It's not about Chad or his voice of his following. Whether it's Chad or me as the lead pastor of CVC, it't about Jesus and His voice and His following.

If a pastor can't transition out, it shows that maybe it was about him after all. If a leader doesn't pass the torch, he doesn't pass the test. If a pastor can transition out, it shows that maybe it wasn't about him after all.  Maybe it was all about Jesus all along.

John the Baptist teaches us that the greatest among us can pass the torch because it's not about the leader. It's all about the Lord. 

Question: What kinds of damage have you seen happen when leaders can't bring themselves to pass the torch? 

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