Thursday, November 29, 2012

9 steps to memorize more scripture

From the very beginning, Cuyahoga Valley Church has encouraged Bible memorization as an important tool for living new and growing spiritually. As we fill our minds with Living Truth, we will be more and more equipped to live new. The Psalmist wrote, “I have stored up Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).

Memorizing scripture can be one of the most fundamental and life-changing disciplines in a believer’s spiritual development. Memorizing Scripture makes God's Word available for the Holy Spirit to bring to our minds just when we need it. It is a great source of comfort and encouragement. It provides us with guidance. It helps us overcome temptations. It gives us fuel for our prayer lives. It prepares us for unexpected opportunities to live missionally as we share our faith with others.

You will be amazed at how the Lord uses what you've memorized. If you will fill your mind with God’s Word, you will see His Word penetrate your heart and show up in your actions. You will mature as a Christian if you will commit to put Bible verses to memory.

How to Memorize Scripture
1. Spend a few moments in prayer asking God for insight into the verse and the ability to memorize it before seeking to learn the new verse.

2. Read the context surrounding each verse you memorize to gain a more clear understanding of the verse.

3. Write the verse in a scripture memory notebook or on a 3x5 card. It’s helpful to include the topic and reference before and after the verse. Writing the verse out deepens the impression in your mind.

4. Read the verse through several times. Each time you read it, say the topic, reference, verse, and then the reference again.

5. After learning the topic and reference, learn the first phrase of the verse. Once you have learned the topic, reference, and the first phrase and have repeated them several times, continue adding more phrases after you can quote correctly what you have already learned.

6. Think about how the verse applies to you and your daily circumstances.

7. Use the verse as you talk with God in prayer and continue to seek His help for success in Scripture memory.

8. Find a friend to check you on the verse. Better yet, memorize the verse together.

9. Review the verse immediately after learning it and repeat it frequently in the next few days. Repetition is the best way to engrave the verses on your memory.

Remember, memorization is like exercise. The more you do it, the easier it gets; the less you do the harder it gets. 

Question: How has scripture memory helped you grow as a believer?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How to fight for peace…

Do you have a sense of security or are you worried, stressed and fearful? Do you have peace in your mind or do you give people a piece of your mind? Does a sense of wellness pervade your life or are your mind, heart and soul diseased?

Do you have peace - peace with God, the peace of God, and peace through God with others? 
Peace is not something that we acquire passively. Yes, it's a gift from God. But it's a gift that must be actively received and diligently maintained.

The enemy of our souls is set on stealing, killing, and destroying all of the gifts God seeks to give His people. Surely, one of the gifts the enemy wants to eliminate from our lives is our peace. That's why our peace can be so elusive and fleeting. 

Jesus once said that all the benefits of life in the kingdom - including His peace - is there for the taking. But we must fight for it. Jesus said, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12). Clearly, we must war for all the blessings in the kingdom of heaven. And that means we must fight for peace. 

Here are 12 ways to fight for peace.

1. God gives us His peace as we rely on the work of Christ on the cross. "But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).
2. God gives us His peace as a result of our justification. "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

3. God gives us His peace when in abide in Christ – live in Him. "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
4. God gives us His peace as a gift. "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27).
5. God gives us His peace when our minds stay focused on Him. "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3).
6. God gives us His peace as we love His law. "Great peace have those who love Your law; nothing can make them stumble" (Psalm 119:165).
7. God gives us His peace when we set our minds on the things of the Spirit. "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:5-6).
8. God gives us His peace when we are filled with and bear the fruit of the Spirit. "Be filled with the Spirit... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace..." (Ephesians 5:18b, Galatians 5:22a).
9. God gives us His peace as we learn to pray about everything with thanksgiving. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
10. God gives us His peace as we submit to the rule and reign of Jesus. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end..." (Isaiah 9:6-7a).
11. God gives us His peace as a function of His grace. "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26).
12. God gives us His peace so we can live on mission. "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you'" (John 20:21).

Questions: What steals your peace and how do you fight to get it back? 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

22 passages for your pursuit of peace

God gives us His peace as we live to please Him. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased" (Luke 2:14).

God gives us His peace so we can be free from fear. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27).

God gives us His peace in a world that is filled with troubles. "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

God gives us His peace so we can live on mission. "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you'" (John 20:21).

God gives us His peace as a result of our justification. "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

God gives us His peace when we set our minds on the things of the Spirit. "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:5-6).

God gives us His peace as a result of our faith in Him. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13).

God gives us His peace when we are filled with and bear the fruit of the Spirit. "Be filled with the Spirit... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace..." (Ephesians 5:18b, Galatians 5:22a).

God gives us His peace as we pursue wisdom. "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17-18).

God gives us His peace as a fruit of His divine discipline. "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).

God gives us His peace as we put on love. "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful" (Colossians 3:16).

God gives us His peace as we learn to pray about everything with thanksgiving. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).

God gives us His peace as we follow the example of the apostles. "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:9).

God gives us His peace through the words and the work of Jesus. "For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:14). "And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:17-18).

God gives us His peace when our minds stay focused on Him. "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3). 

God gives us His peace as we rely on the work of Christ on the cross. "But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

God gives us His peace through the rule and reign of Jesus. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end..." (Isaiah 9:6-7a).

God gives us His peace so we can dwell in safety. "In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety" (Psalm 4:8).

God gives us His peace as we grow in meekness. "But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace" (Psalm 37:11).

God gives us Hhis peace as we refuse to return to foolish living. "Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly" (Psalm 85:8).

God gives us His peace as we love His law. "Great peace have those who love Your law; nothing can make them stumble" (Psalm 119:165).

God gives us His peace as a function of His grace. "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Give the Lord and the world your best anyway...


Babette's Feast. It won a 1988 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Have you seen it? I've read about it but I never watched it until last night on Hulu.

Here's a plot summary from iMDB, "In 19th century Denmark, two adult sisters live in an isolated village with their father, who is the honored pastor of a small Protestant church that is almost a sect unto itself. Although they each are presented with a real opportunity to leave the village, the sisters choose to stay with their father, to serve to him and their church. After some years, a French woman refugee, Babette, arrives at their door, begs them to take her in, and commits herself to work for them as maid/housekeeper/cook. Sometime after their father dies, the sisters decide to hold a dinner to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth. Babette experiences unexpected good fortune and implores the sisters to allow her to take charge of the preparation of the meal. Although they are secretly concerned about what Babette, a Catholic and a foreigner, might do, the sisters allow her to go ahead. Babette then prepares the feast of a lifetime for the members of the tiny church and an important gentleman related to one of them."

Now, here are a few of my thoughts.

This is film about how we can and should grieve our unmet longings. It shows us the truth - that in this brief life our truest, deepest talents might go unrealized and unrecognized.

But because of grace, this life is not all that is. Through Christ, there is a life to come.

This is a film for all artists who never get as much "play" as they actually should receive.

I love the lines from Babette, "An artist is never poor. Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me the chance to do my very best."

And I am moved by the lines from Filippa, "In Paradise you will be the great artist that God meant you to be. Ah, how you will delight the angels!"

This is a film I want my family and friends to see. When you need some inspiration to give the world your best even when it seems no one cares and appreciates it, watch Babette's Feast.

Questions: What are you doing and it seems like no one knows and no one cares? How do you motivate yourself to give the Lord and the world your best anyway?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful in the ICU

Today, I am sitting in the ICU unit at Parma Hospital. It looks like my mom has an infection and pneumonia. She's somewhat responsive. But very weak. It's not going to be a fun Thanksgiving for her, that's for sure.

Yet, I am thankful.

I am thankful for all the many servants at the hospitals, fire stations, and police stations, military bases who work on the holidays to keep us safe and healthy. The nurse who is caring for my mom is Nikki, a North Royalton High School grad who was a junior when Our son, Alan, was a senior. She's very professional and very kind.

I also want you to know that I'm thankful for all you who read the blog. You’ve helped me just by being interested in the things God is teaching me. Thanks for reading. Maryanne and I pray that you, your families, and your churches have a blessed Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for my family, my church, my friends, my ministry, my health, my home, my "stuff." I have so many tangible blessings. All undeserved. 

Mostly, I am thankful for the Giver of all the tangible blessings. He's given us the intangible blessings, too. I am thankful for 1) he goodness of God. Everything He does in our lives is loving. He is too loving to be unkind. 2) the wisdom of God. Everything He does in our lives is not a mistake. He is too wise to make a mistake. 3) the power of God. Everything He does in our lives is part of His sovereign plan. He is too strong to fail.

And it all - the tangible and intangible - has been secured for us by grace and mercy through Jesus Christ. Without Him, we'd all be objects of wrath. But He took the wrath in our place. Now, we are sons and daughters of God with an inheritance that is imperishable and undefined, reserved in heaven for us. 

Because of Christ, even if the worst happens to us on this planet, the best is yet to come. That is something to be thankful for... even in the ICU at Parma Hospital. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

7 perks that come from being chosen by God

Remember what it's like to be chosen? "I got accepted!" "I got the job!" "He asked me to marry him!" "She said yes!" 

Being chosen feels awesome.

Out of high school, I was drafted in the 15th round by the San Francisco Giants to play baseball in their organization. I was also chosen to receive a scholarship to play baseball at Vanderbilt University. After college, I was drafted again to play pro ball, this time by the Minnesota Twins in the 2nd round of the 1975 winter draft. Those experiences of being chosen made me feel grateful, honored, privileged, and special. 

But the event that has made me feel most special was being picked by my wife, Maryanne, as the man she would share her life with. She said yes! The perks that came with being married to Maryanne were our sons, Alan, Ryan, and Evan. Now, with Alan comes Joanna, Alan's wife, and Ethan, our grandson. I am so thankful. And it all started by being chosen by Maryanne. Being chosen by Maryanne and gaining all the perks that come with her choice of me make me feel grateful, honored, privileged, and special. 

Every believer has been chosen by God.  "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Ephesians 1:4). Sadly, that fact does not thrill us enough. Maybe we need to slow down and reflect on how awesome it has been to have been chosen by God. We are honored, privileged, and special in His sight. Do you feel gratitude for that? 

So, what are the perks of being chosen by God? Ephesians 1 gives us at least 7 perks. This is a list of blessings that we can and should post, pray, and preach to ourselves to encourage our hearts. 

1. I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (1:3).

2. I have been adopted into the family of God. "In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will" (1:5).

3. I have been redeemed by blood that Jesus shed for me. "In him we have redemption through his blood" (1:7).

4. I have been fully and freely forgiven. "In him we have... the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us" (1:7-8). 

5. I have been given insights into the purpose and plan of God. "In all wisdom and insight [he made]  known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (1:9-10).

6. I have been given an inheritance, something to look forward to. "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory" (1:11-12). 

7. I have been sealed with the Spirit, the guarantee of my salvation. "In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory" (1:13-14).

Chosen. Blessed. Adopted. Redeemed. Forgiven. Given insight. Made an heir. Sealed. We don't deserve any of this. But by His grace and for His glory, we get all these gifts and more. These are gifts from God that matter most. 

Remember what its like to be chosen by God. Remember all the perks that come with His choice of us. Feel grateful. You are honored, privileged, and special in His sight. 

Questions: How might your life be different if you would reflect on these truths about you more frequently? Will you post, pray, and preach these truths to yourself?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Who are your outsiders?

One struggle that many spiritual leaders have is engaging effectively those who are outside the family of faith. We spend so much time managing and organizing the church - the results of previous outreach efforts - that we insulate ourselves from the outside world.

Yet we are absolutely commanded to connect with outsiders, not just insiders.

"Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Colossians 4:5-6). 

There are 2 ways for us to walk and 2 ways for us to talk. 

Walk wisely. v. 5a
Walk urgently. v. 5b
Talk graciously. v. 6a
Talk individually.  v. 6b

If we have little or no interaction with outsiders, we are not walking wisely. If we have no real burden for those who are far from God, then we are not walking urgently. If we alienate or judge or condemn, them we are not talking graciously. If we share a pre-packaged monologue without honest, caring conversation that includes really listening, then we are not talking individually. 

Ask God to put a burden on your heart for those who don't yet know. Ask Him to put outsiders in your path. Ask Him for the grace to love and serve them well... All the way to Jesus.

So, how is your heart toward outsiders? What is your plan to connect with those who are not of the faith? 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Could someone say these things about you?

This past Saturday night, a NE Ohio missions ministry, International Friends, held their annual banquet. It was a wonderful evening.

I had the privilege of giving a tribute to Tom and Joan Wright. They founded International Friends, a mission that is reaching many international students at Case Western, CSU, and Lorain Community College. Tom has passed the baton of Executive Director to Art Wells, effective last Saturday night. So, it was my real honor to pay tribute to Tom and Joan.

Below are my words. As you read them, maybe you could be asking the Lord, “Am I living my life in such a way that someone could one day say something like this about me?”


We taught our oldest son, Alan, that he didn’t have to like everybody, but he needed to love everybody. He took that seriously. And when he was a little boy, he used to end his prayer like this: I love You, Lord, and I like you, too! In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Tom and Joan, we know that you love us and like us, too. And you have helped us know that Jesus loves us and likes us, too. So, thank you!

I know we all agree with Pastor Jonathan and Mary, “What a gift you have been to Cleveland! You have mobilized Jesus–followers to reach out… and you have touched countless internationals along the way.”

As I thought about you, your ministry, and what to share tonight, I was drawn to I Thessalonians 2. I think this really describes your ministry to internationals and to the larger body of Christ in NE Ohio.

I won’t read it all. But let me paraphrase and apply just a few verses.

Tom and Joan, your coming to us was not in vain. You had boldness in our God to declare to us the gospel of God… Your appeal did not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive. You have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. So you speak, not to please man, but to please God. You never came with words of flattery, nor with a pretext for greed. Nor did you seek glory from people. You were gentle among us, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. You have been affectionately desirous of us and ready to share with us not only the gospel of God but also your own selves… (I Thessalonians 2:1b, 2b, 3-6a, 7-8).

Tom and Joan, thank you! Thanks so very much for following Jesus so faithfully. You both can truly say to the Church in NE Ohio, “Follow us as we follow Christ.” So many words come to mind when we think of you. Let me share just 8 tonight.

Courageous. You left a lucrative career to start a ministry – something we too rarely see these days. Megan wrote, “I truly learned so much from you about commitment and dedication to serving God and other people, even when times are tough.

Loving. We have seen you care passionately and sacrificially for aging parents as well as lonely students. Dave and Cindy said, “It is truly a ministry that comes from your hearts!” Tony and Eve wrote, “Your leadership is touching and inspiring. Through all the lives, souls, and spirits you touched, we see God’s love.”

Persevering. You have gone on faithfully in fruitful service after releasing your precious daughter into the arms of Jesus. Pastor Joe said, “You served through heartache and crisis.” “You both have faced personal valleys, but your faith and trust in the Lord, your Sustainer, remained steadfast.”

Generous. You have sacrificed time, talent, and personal treasure – including retirement income – to launch International Friends and Mosaic. Sue and Paul wrote, “We know you have given your heart and soul to this ministry.”

Evangelistic. You have led many, many students to Christ. You have discipled and baptized them. Pastor Steve and Nancy wrote, “Your love, hospitality and sacrifice is a model to all of us and has changed the composition of Heaven!” Chuck and Val wrote, “Your picture should be next to Matthew 28:19-20 in the Word.”

Entrepreneurial. You did what no one else in NE Ohio had done – launched a dynamic, fruit-bearing ministry to internationals. Kelsey wrote, “I am blessed by your willingness and pioneer hearts to create the ministry of International Friends.”

Missional. You have inspired individuals and entire churches to leverage resources to reach people most of us would have overlooked. Mark said, “You have made me a foreign missionary in my own home.” Another friend wrote, “Our lives have also been touched and enriched, as we have become more global in our perspective and caught a vision of the ‘big picture,’ Christ’s body, the church, throughout the earth.” Pastor Juri said, “You have a rich legacy with eternal dividends!”

Challenging. You have an ability to lovingly move people out of their comfort zones in the zone of obedience to Christ. Ann wrote, “You have challenged and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, and now finding a parking place downtown isn’t such a big deal anymore!”

For you guys, it’s not been about the programs, but the people. For you, it’s been about the individual. You are good at the one-on-one, step-by-step ministry. You have been changing the world one life at a time. I think Ann emphasizes this well. “Without International Friends, I never would have met Anja or been able to watch her change from a self-centered student to a committed follower of Christ!”

Mark and Kate wrote, “There have been many Heavenly celebrations because of your ministry.” People from many nations will be standing around the throne in heaven someday singing praise to Jesus because of You. John and Linda wrote, “Only eternity will reveal the true value of all the time and energy you have invested. How many will be around the throne forming the worshippers from every language and nation?”

What better example to give all of us in NE Ohio?

Tom and Joan, we love you and we like you, too! But most importantly, Jesus loves you and likes you, too.

Thanks, Tom and Joan, for being people who left the world behind to embrace the call to follow Jesus on His mission to reach the nations. As Jim and Lee have said, “We know you will not stop ministering. It is just the end of one era and the start of another.” We look forward to serving Jesus with you in the future.


Question: What changes need to be made in your life so you could be living your life in such a way that someone could one day say something like this about you?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In pursuit of spiritual authenticity for spiritual leaders

This morning, I was on the phone with a friend, a pastor who has not been able to preach since April. He is very seriously depressed. He is not getting better. His counselor has encouraged him to take 2 months away for rest and therapy. My pastor friend called me to see if I knew of some places he might be able to go.

His call prompted me to pull a book off my shelf, Spiritual Wholeness for Clergy by Donald R. Hands and Wayne L. Fehr. The forward was written by British novelist, Susan Howatch, author of a series of books with clergymen as the central characters. Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes, Absolute Truths, Scandalous Risks, and Mystical Paths are her stories about the church.

In the forward, Howatch writes that clergymen are people who can oftentimes live behind a professional facade which imposes considerable demands on their mental and emotional health. She understands that it is easy for pastors to become imprisoned by a false self - trapped, she says, behind a "glittering image." She felt compelled to write about people in the ministry as capable of sinning not because they want to be wicked but because they are "in some vital way cut off from God and alienated from their true selves" (Spiritual Wholeness for Clergy, p. xii).

Over the years, God has used her words as a sober warning to me. I wonder if my depressed pastor friend has experienced some of what she has written.

At the close of Howatch's forward to the book, I used her thoughts to compose a prayer:

Dear Father, 

Save me from living behind a professional facade!

I know that my career as a pastor has imposed considerable demands on my mental and emotional health. Help me to recognize those demands and to protect myself.

May I not be imprisoned by a false self - a "glittering image" of what a pastor is supposed to be. May I be free to be who You made me to be. I want to be real.

I do not want to be somehow cut off from You because of the ministry. And I do not want to be alienated from my true self because I am playing the role of a pastor.

When I see any hint of a facade in my life and ministry and when I see my true self in its weakness, may I not deny it with horror. But by Your grace, may I explore it with compassion.

Save me. Heal me. Help me. Liberate me, Lord.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Question: How have you seen ministers of the gospel live behind a professional facade?

Monday, November 12, 2012

It all starts at home

Many spiritual leaders are concerned about the moral direction of our nation.
Polls show that voters are becoming more and more secular. One of the greatest predictors of voting patterns is the frequency of church attendance. Far fewer Americans attend church today.

The 20-somethings and 30-somethings are attending church less and less. Many have rejected the faith of their parents. And that shows up in the way they vote.

Why? What’s going on?

I just wonder, “Could it be that the absence of genuine Spirit-filled living and the downward spiral in the homes of church-going people have caused their children – the younger generation – to choose a different path?”

When will so-called Christian moms and dads stop chasing their idols? When will we take responsibility for the chaos and criticism and catastrophic relationships in the home? When will we see that our lack of spiritual integrity and vitality has resulted in our kids rejecting the faith? When we will start seeking the filling of the Spirit so that God-dependent power falls from heaven onto our lives in such a way that our kids find our faith compelling and attractive and winsome?

If we don’t like the moral direction of our nation, then maybe it’s time to repent and ask God to help us create spiritual authenticity in our homes.

We can start by asking God to fill us with His Spirit 24/7/365/year-after-year. 

Pray something like this: "Father, search me; Jesus, cleanse me; Spirit, fill me." And teach your kids to pray this way, too. Every day. Many times a day.

To live new at home, we must be Spirit-filled.

Related posts:

Is it "going well" with your family?

Family life can be disappointing

12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child

Friday, November 09, 2012

How doing more can dumb down discipleship

Recently, a high profile author was in town speaking at a well-publicized event. Our staff spent a good amount of time discussing the pluses and minuses of encouraging participation in the event. 

I chose not to go. But some of our staff went. Some went to learn. Others took advantage of the event to spend time with people in their ministry areas and to cast vision for discipleship. Some went for social fellowship reasons. It seems the event was a big success. 

I have actually read the book that put the author on the speaking circuit. And I grew spiritually as a result. I now recommend the book to others. 

But my thinking regarding the event went like this: "Is this author likely to share something new in 45 minutes of a talk that he left out of his book? I already have all of his best thinking about the subject in the book. I would likely grow more and learn more just by a reread of his book and by meditating, praying, and talking with friends about where and how God wants me to apply the principles that the author teaches."

As Christian leaders, we will have dozens and dozens of decisions to make each year about many attractive and edifying events like the one described above. Will we organize, plan, produce, promote, and attend these events? What makes the calendar and what doesn't? 

And while we decide, we have to keep in mind that religious activity doesn't necessarily produce mature spirituality. When we load up the calendar with events, we have to be aware that there will be less time for relationships.

I've actually been challenged a lot lately regarding this issue by a leader named Will Mancini of Auxano. Recently, he posted a Gospel Coalition conversation with Darrin Patrick and Ray Ortlund about how programs in the church can fake God's work. Will's insights regarding the limits of the effectiveness of a glut of church programming are very helpful and you can find out more that from Will here, here, and here.

Let's face it. We are in a celebrity-loving Christian culture. We can be tempted to think that close proximity to a well-known leader makes us somehow more important and more mature. So, some believers tend to rush from one big event to the next hoping that the next one will somehow be the breakthrough needed for spiritual success.

But let's think! We have as much access to our Sovereign Creator God - to Jesus Himself - as we want. We are offered the experience of intimacy and close proximity with the Highest Celebrity - the most important, most wise, most awe-inspiring, most loving, most life-changing Person in the entire universe. 

Jesus is our Celebrity. 

Why do we then forfeit, short-circuit, or minimize the importance of our time with Him? Why do we fail to take advantage of spending lingering time in His presence? 

Maybe we can exegete and apply an old song. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth - the event-based, celebrity-oriented approach to spiritual maturity - will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."

If Christian celebrity or event can be a tool God uses to get me closer to Christ, then that is a very good thing. If an event with an author prompts us to buy the book and read it and grow closer to Christ, then good! But we can sometimes think that the celebrity's connection to Christ will somehow be mysteriously transmitted to us. We must beware of seeking a vicarious closeness to Christ based on someone else's experience. 

If the event gives me a false sense of spirituality, if it creates a kind of spiritual smugness, if it somehow limits my connection to Christ or family or friends or a lost world then the event has actually distracted or dumbed down discipleship.

Closeness to Christ comes from lingering long in solitude and silence before the Savior's face. The author that's mentioned above spent long hours alone in research and in reflection before the Lord. That's what changed his life. Wouldn't we all be better off doing more Word-based stillness and less event-based busy-ness? 

I am not suggesting an either/or approach to this issue. But we don't need proximity to a celebrity to be important or mature. We are already important because we were created in the image of God and because Christ gave His life for us. We become more mature when we abide more broadly, more deeply, more consistently, and more purely in Him. Everyday we can live new as we enjoy an intimate audience with the Most Supreme and Sublime One. 

That event can and should happen every day. Even many times a day. And that is what ought to be the most exciting and exhilarating event in our lives. 

Question: How has program-based, event-saturated spirituality helped and/or hindered your growth as a disciple? 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

How to plan your preaching calendar

Hearing excellent communicators – both secular and Christian – is easy today. And that has made today’s church attendees more critical as listeners.

Every day, believers at your church can turn on or tune in to the best of the best. Your congregation doesn’t know that those other guys may have entire teams helping them to put things together. And if you are a church planter, they don’t think about the fact that these pastors don’t have to negotiate rent, help do set up and tear down, handle problems in the preschool ministry, and do everything else that goes along with being a church-planting pastor. They just wonder, “Why can’t he preach like Mark or Andy or Ravi or Matt or Alistair or Rob or John or Tim or Louie?” And even the unchurched have very high expectations for communicators.

So, it makes sense that planning for preaching ought to be a high priority for every pastor and church planter.

Some people feel planning your preaching takes God out of the equation. Some pastors think that they must seek God this week for the "Word" He wants to speak to their church. They believe that they must walk by faith and hear from God.

But think about it this way: It takes bold faith to sit down with God and plan out a year or a half year with Him, seeking Him for what He wants you to speak about 6-12 months from now. Isn't it possible that God can work through one man or a team to lay it on their heart what He needs them to say in 6-12 months? Doesn't God see the 6-12 months from now and who is going to be listening and what they need to hear?

Of course, the answer is “yes.”

You may wonder, “How will I know in January what I should preach next October?” Well, maybe you can’t know all the specifics, but you can develop the big ideas.

Here are 5 steps for planning your preaching...
1. Read the scriptures and keep a journal as an ongoing devotional habit.
There is no substitute for a vibrant devotional life for a preacher. If you use a Bible reading plan and if you journal, you will find that many of your series and messages will come from an overflow of your devotional life.

So, read your Bible, pray, and listen to the Lord’s leadership. He will be speaking to you about what He wants His people to hear in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Rick Warren says, “I am a collector of ideas, collecting future sermon series and ideas. There are some series I’ve been collecting for 20 years that I still haven't preached on. For instance, I did a series through Psalm 23 a couple of years ago. I had collected material for more than 20 years. I just knew that one day I was going to preach on Psalm 23. So when I get a quiet-time insight, when I hear a good sermon and I hear a quote, I throw it in that file.”

Rick Warren continues, “When I get ready to plan a series I’m not starting from scratch. I have what I call my bucket file. My bucket file is not real organized. It is just stuff tossed in there. Once you get enough to start making a series, you say to yourself, ‘I want to do this series on the family, or I want to do this series on I Peter, or I want to do this series on the second coming’ — you start the file. Right now I have maybe 50 series in the hopper.”

2. Survey your congregation and your leadership team for sermon ideas.
Listen to your people. Conversations with your people are vital. People are always communicating their needs, their disappointments, their fears, and their hopes. Listen. This will help you overcome your blind spots.

3. Review your preaching plan from the previous year.
Annual planning is best done when the church planter can get a few days away, by himself, on retreat. Take a 2-3 day retreat to a local park or another place of quiet. Take a look back on your last year as you begin to lay the foundation for the coming year. This will help you see where there might be gaps in what you are preaching. It can let you know if you emphasized one certain area too much or whether you didn't hit an area at all.

4. Review your church’s overall mission, values, strategy, missional measures, and vision.
Consider the 5 purposes of the church: Evangelism, Fellowship, Worship, Ministry, Discipleship. These five purposes could be a guide for what you are communicating to your church. If you look back and see that you didn't emphasize evangelism enough, then as you plan this next year evangelism could be a special area of focus.

At CVC, we exist to invite people to new life in Christ. Our passions (values) are Living truth, God dependence, Caring Community, Linked generations, Equipped leadership, and Missional Living. Our strategy is Worship, Groups, and Service that leads to Leadership equipping and Restoration efforts. Our target is producing people who exhibit the Fruit of New Life - disciples who are Beloved Children, Self-Feeders, Servants, Investors, Disciplers, and Missionaries. As we plan the preaching each year, we’ll keep all that in mind and do series of messages that will touch on these on areas.

5. Plan your preaching based on the calendar.  
Some of the major holidays to consider are: Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Fourth of July, and holidays that create three day weekends. There are other events that have become almost national unwritten holidays like the Superbowl. And don’t forget the local school schedule. Look at the beginning and end of school, Christmas and spring break, and any other dates that would be of major importance.

The second thing you should schedule is your personal time off. Dcide how many weeks you will speak a year. Then decide which weekends would be best for you to be away.


Are you reactive or proactive? This is one of the best leadership barometers. Either we let things happen to us or we make things happen. Planning your preaching definitely gets you in proactive mode.

Mark Batterson of the National Community Church in Washington, D.C. says, “I feel like putting together a sermon strategy is one of my most difficult and most important responsibilities. Planning the spiritual diet of a congregation is weighty business.” Planning your preaching well is a way for you to aim for a well-balanced diet for each year’s preaching.

Question: What tools help you plan your preaching?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Why leaders must spend time helping VHPs

Are you spending enough time with VHPs? 

I once learned from John Maxwell that leaders should spend 80% of their time with VIPs and VTPs. That's a way we multiply our influence and effectiveness. 

Maxwell said that the temptation for leaders is to spend most of their time with VNPs and VDPs. That's a way we minimize our influence and effectiveness. 

So, who are these VIPs, VTPs, VNPs, and VDPs? Maxwell defined them this way: Very Important People, Very Teachable People, Very Nice People, and Very Draining People. 

If you have been in leadership any time at all, you already know why it is so easy for us to spend more time with the last 2 groups and so challenging to find time to invest in the first 2 groups. 

So who are the VIPs and the VTPs you need to spend more time with? And who are the VNPs and the VDPs you need to stop spending as much time with? High capacity leaders of innovative, growing organizations should take Maxwell's advice to heart. 

But I've been thinking about a 5th group of people lately. I believe these same high capacity leaders need to slow down some and spend some time with VHPs - Very Hurting People.

Consider how these following scriptures exhort us to help Very Hurting People: 
"Encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all" (I Thessalonians 5:14b). "Say to those who have an anxious heart, 'Be strong; fear not'" (Isaiah 35:4a). "We must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He hileaders, leadership, mself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:35b). "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). "If one member suffers, all suffer together" (I Corinthians 12:26a). "Remember... those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body" (Hebrews 13:3b). "Weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15b). 

Leaders who focus only on the VIPs and the VTPs and who spend little time with the VHPs are leaders who not only fail to love well and disobey the Lord but who also miss out on the growth of their own soul.

Spending time with very hurting people helps to grow humility, compassion, servant-heartedness, patience, and gentleness - elements that make any leader truly worth following. 

Beware of any leaders who are filled with a kind of self-importance that results in delegating the care of virtually all hurting people to  others. 

Leaders can and should spend at least some of their time actively caring for hurting people like orphans, the mentally challenged, the elderly, the terminally ill, the chronically sick, and prisoners. 

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