Wednesday, January 30, 2013

16 ways to assess your commitment to Missional Living


I am currently in El Salvador on a mission trip to Love and Hope Children's Home. Mark Zimmerman of WCRF is leading our vision tour. Rick McKee pastor of Christ Community Church, Stow Campus, is part of the tour, too.

I am enjoying seeing up close and personal what Rachel Sanson and her team have been building. Rachel grew up attending CVC. God called her to mission work here in El Salvador. The Children's Home opened under her leadership about 10 years ago. 

Rachel and her team are caring for 28 abused, neglected, and abandoned children. The kids are energizing, fun, busy, and inspiring. 

We've also traveled to several surrounding villages to see where these kids have come from. It's stunning to see where they have come from and to compare that to where they are now. 

Through Rachel and her staff, God has rescued these children and they now have amazing opportunities ahead of them. What might these children become over the next 10 years as they grow as disciples? I can see them as leaders in churches, in education, in business, in the country. 

Of course, when we go on mission, God not only works through us, but in us. The trip has made me want to evaluate how well I am living as a missionary. Am I truly a missionary 24/7/365 and not just while in El Salvador? 

How about you? Why not evaluate yourself as a missionary? You can use the tool below to assess your level of growth. Simply rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 (5 being high) as to how well the statement applies to you.

Missionary 

1. I realize that Jesus is for everyone.
2. I maintain friendships with those who are far from God for the purpose of sharing Christ.
3. I invited non-Christian friends to my baptism or to the baptism of family or friends.
4. I have developed a written testimony.
5. I pray for those who are without Christ.
6. I regularly invite people to worship services / programs.
7. I know the basics of how to share the gospel.
8. I join God in what He doing to reach new people for Christ.
9. I find volunteer opportunities to serve locally & regionally outside the church – serving the last, least and lost.
10. I have learned how to defend the faith (apologetics).
11. I understand how to engage in spiritual warfare.
12. I have increased my commitment to Missional Living outside the local church.
13. I see myself as a ‘missionary cleverly disguised as .....’
14. I am growing in my ability to communicate the faith with cultural and racial sensitivity.
15. I am committed to world evangelization and have and/or will serve in an international mission project.
16. I have led people to put their faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.

Question: What are one or two relationships, experiences, practices, or learnings that you could engage in that would raise your assessment in one or two areas? 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A grateful heart in the midst of ministry

It's too easy for me to lose my gratitude. Yesterday, we visited a church started in 1976 in San Salvador that reaches 10s of 1,000s each week. The church has planted 498 other churches in El Salvador. They have a thriving international missions ministry. They started a school where 1,700 kids (including 11 from the Love and Hope Children's Home) are educated. Book store, library, TV, radio, and seminary ministries all seem to be flourishing. They own a city block. I was amazed. 

Later, I found out that the founding pastor who is still leading the church has been divorced 5 times. 5 times! I am confused. How can a man with a messy life like that seemingly accomplish so much for God? 

I have to admit that sometimes seeing success like that in the midst of sinful messiness takes its toll on my gratitude. 

I have been a believer since I was 6. My dad led me to Christ after a Sunday night church service at Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

I am very aware of my own sins, failures, depravity, and shortcomings. I often say that not only do we have more dignity than we can possibly imagine, but we are more depraved than we can possibly imagine. That's certainly true for me.  But, generally speaking, I have been a fairly good boy for the last 53 years. 

I was a pretty straight arrow through high school and college. I had a couple of years in college when I strayed some. Lots of people would say, though, "You call that straying? You story is really tame compared to mine!" 

I am the guy in Jesus' story who was hired early in the day. It's a story, frankly, that I have struggled to embrace. 

Jesus tells us about the boss who hires workers for his vineyard at 6:00 AM. He promises them a day's wage for working from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. He hires more help at 9:00 AM. Then, at noon, he hires more. He finds even more workers at 3:00 PM. Finally, at 5:00 PM, he hires the last group. At the end of the work day, the boss gives everyone, even the group that only worked one hour, the whole day's wage. That makes the 6:00 AM workers angry. After all, they worked all day long in the heat of the day. The 6 to 6 workers thought they deserved more. 

I can be like these guys who grumble about the boss, "Look, Lord, at how faithful I have been! I have been more faithful to You over the long haul than him. Yet his church is bigger; his paycheck is fatter; or his influence is wider. It's not fair!"

Jesus concludes His story, "But he [the boss] replied to one of them [a worker], 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity'" (Matthew 20:13-15)?

Honestly? Yes. I guess I do begrudge God's generosity. 

I too easily forget that it's all grace. I did not deserve to be called to Christ at age 6. What I deserve is God's judgement. I forget that no matter what I've done for Jesus for 53 years, I am an unprofitable servant. I have failed to be a faithful, diligent servant in the vineyard. I have taken too many breaks. I have cut too many corners. I have failed to fellowship with and appreciate the gracious master. I don't deserve a place in the vineyard... much less a day's wage. 

This story reminds me that God is good! I have received more than I deserve!

The ESV Study Bible notes are helpful, "The laborer failed to be thankful for his own wage because he was blinded by his self-interested lack of compassion for his fellow worker. A disciple of Jesus should not measure his or her worth by comparing it with the accomplishments and sacrifices of others, but should focus on serving from a heart of gratitude in response to God’s grace. Jesus is not denying degrees of reward in heaven (see... 1 Corinthians 3:14–15) but is affirming that God’s generosity is more abundant than anyone would expect: all the laborers except the very first got more than they deserved."

Matthew Henry notes, "There is a great proneness in us to think that we have too little, and others too much, of the tokens of God’s favour; and that we do too much, and others too little, in the work of God. Very apt we all are to undervalue the deserts of others, and to overvalue our own."

I must let the Lord handle the wages for men like the 5 times divorced pastor here in San Salvador. I want to be like Paul. He felt himself to be an undeserving sinner saved and then called to serve by grace, saying, "I am the least of the apostles, the least of the saints, and the chief of sinners." 

"Lord, forgive me for begrudging Your generosity. Thank You for calling me early in life. Thank You for the privilege of serving You for these 53 years. I have been an unprofitable servant. Yet You have used me anyway. He didn't fire me when You could have. You have forgiven me, fellowshipped with me, and believed in me. Thank You! Now, help me serve in Your vineyard today as You see fit. You are gracious to me. Always have been. Always will be. Today, I am Yours. Use me as You will. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Five habits for finding more joy


For the last few months, I have been meeting with a small group - a huddle - of businessmen. The 4 of us are seeking to grow in Christ together. 

We all agree that we need to experience more joy. We are all wired to get things done. Tasks, to dos, and busy-ness fill our days. We get one thing done and it's off to the next thing. 

Stopping to celebrate is not a regular rhythm in our lives. We are missing out on the joy that God wants us to know. And the people around us miss joy, too. We can't share with others what we don't have ourselves.

We are seeking to encourage each other to grow so that we can bear the fruit of joy more and more.

Psalm 16 grabbed my attention today. It's a song about joy. "My heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices... In your presence there is fullness of joy..." A glad heart. Every cell in my body rejoicing. Fullness of joy. I want that kind of joy, don't you?

As we know, the Lord is the Source of our joy. But how? And how can we access more of Him? 

From Psalm 16, here are five habits to cultivate so we can find more joy.

1. Learn to listen to His counsel, even at night. "I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me" (16:7). How can you find yourself going to sleep, waking up, and walking throughout your day listening to the Lord more?

2. Find ways to keep your eyes on the Lord all day every day. "I have set the LORD always before me" (16:8a). When our model for living the most joyous Person in the universe, we will see our own joy elevate.

3. Meditate on your eternal security. "My flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption" (16:9b-10). Joy-robbers in this life are rendered powerless when we think of what's ahead for us in the life to come,

4. Walk confidently in the way the Lord leads each day. "You make known to me the path of life" (16:11a).

5. Practice the presence of God. "In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (16:11b). The ESV Study Bible reminds us that this is a result of "deliberate reflection (cf. 1:2); likewise to set the Lord always before me expresses intention."

So, I am asking myself a question today? How intentional will I be to connect with the Lord? When I do, I get a glad heart, every cell in my body rejoicing, and fullness of joy.

So, what's holding me back? What's holding you back? 

anticipating the unanticipated

Yesterday I sat in Houston on a plane waiting to head to El Salvador for a mission trip to the Love and Hope Children's Home.

I thought, "I'm emotionally and spiritually prepared and living in anticipation of being used by God in unanticipated ways."

As I sat on the plane, I wondered, "Why don't I live with the same anticipation every day?"

That's the way the Lord wants us to live, isn't it? Emotionally and spiritually prepared and anticipating being used by God in unanticipated ways.

Question: What is stopping you from living that way today?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reasons for the seasons... of inactivity

Maybe you are wondering why God has taken away some of your opportunities for service. Maybe you feel under-valued and under-utilized. Maybe you are wondering why.

My friend Gus Supan recently wrote about what he calls The Discipline of Inaction.

"In order to teach one patience God may put you in a place of inaction. A place where there is virtually nothing to do.


"Sometimes He may send you to a desert. Sometimes to a bed of affliction. Sometimes removal from all the things that busy you. Separated from all your idols.

"It took Moses forty years of separation to be transformed from an impulsive, hot, fiery young man to a quiet, patient, meek, old man.

"Have you ever been there? Are you there now? Praise Him for The Discipline of Inaction."

I believe Gus is giving us good words and encouraging insights here. Indeed, we can learn patience during the inactivity. God may be teaching other lessons, too.

He may be teaching that we must get our identity from relationship with Him, not from busy-ness for Him.

He may be redirecting us to a different way of doing ministry.

He may be changing the focus or location of the ministry.

He may be pruning us of things like pride, self-reliance, or self-rule so that we can bear more fruit.

He may be sharpening the sword as in Isaiah 49:2.

He may be giving us a season of rest to prepare us for a future season of extreme busy-ness and fruitfulness.

He may be demonstrating to us and a watching world that it is gain to release the things of this world (even ministry activity) so that we can embrace Him alone.

One day, we may find ourselves on a chronic bed of inactivity unable (due to age or illness) to do anything. We will see then that He is enough, that to be fulfilled we need intimacy with Him, not activity for Him.

May the mysterious and powerful work of our Vinedresser be evident in all our lives.


Question: What are some other reasons why God might be giving us a season of inactivity?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Honoring aging parents

Do you have aging parents? 

It honors God to honor them. 

How will you invest your time, talent, and treasure in caring for them? 

Watch out for the temptation to use the "I can't come to see you because I'm really busy serving God" excuse or the "I can't help you financially much because I'm giving to God" excuse. That's the height of hypocrisy. 

In Matthew 15, we learn that honoring aging parents demonstrates that our hearts are close to God's heart. Jesus cares about justice and mercy for the aging. 

And Jesus has harsh words for those who self-righteously use religious obligations as loopholes to limit their responsibilities to love mercy and do justice to their moms and dads. 

 1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,
2 "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat."
3 He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
4 For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.'
5 But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, "What you would have gained from me is given to God,"
6 he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.
7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 
9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"
From Matthew 15

We dare not use God as an excuse for our laziness, self-centeredness, and greed. 

Three commentaries on Matthew 15:1-9 say: 

"Honor (tima) is a term includes the idea of assistance and support, as in 1 Timothy 5:3. In God"s view honor to parents is not shown only in outward words, obedience, and respect, but also in material assistance, help provided for their needs, and financial gifts freely bestowed when necessary." [PULPIT]

"Honor your father and mother means not only respect and submission, but also support (Exodus 20:12; Exodua 21:17; Deuteronomy 5:16;  Deuteronomy 27:16; Proverbs 23:22; 1 Timothy 5:17)." [DAKE]

"Honor your father and mother is an eternal obligation. It is to be understood to refer not merely to the high esteem children are to give their parents, but also of the honor children are to provide by feeding, clothing, and supplying parents with the necessaries of life when the parents are in need. This is a reasonable service for children to provide for all the care, expense, and trouble the parents have provided in bringing the children. [GILL] 

So, how might you increase your level of honor to your aging parents today?

7 simple prayers for America: From Kelly Clarkson's My Country, 'Tis of Thee


Yesterday, Beyonce, James Taylor, and Kelly Clarkson sang at the inauguration of Barak Obama. 

All 3 performances moved me for different reasons. 

But the one that moved me most was Clarkson's performance of My Country, 'Tis of Thee, written in 1831. It served as the de facto national anthem before The Star Spangled Banner was adopted in 1931.

One of the verses of the song is a prayer to God. Clarkson finished with that verse yesterday. The 7 lines are powerful and profound.

Our father's God, to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom's holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!

In 1831, Lowell Mason wanted a song to perform at a children's Independence Day program at Park Street Church in Boston on July 4. So, Samuel Francis Smith, studying to be a Baptist pastor at Andover Theological Seminary, wrote the lyrics for Mason in just 30 minutes. The melody used was and is that of the national anthem of the UK, God Save the Queen.


Would you take some time now to pray to God for our nation using this short verse of 7 lines as an inspiration? After all, we have been commanded to pray for our nation.

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:1-4). 

We can echo Smith's prayer for America written 182 years ago. Use the 7 lines as fuel for your prayer for the USA. In your own words...

1. ... thank God for being the God of our forefathers.
2. ... worship God as the Author of Liberty.
3. ... praise God as the only One who is worthy of songs of praise!
4. ... ask God to shine His light on our nation.
5. ... ask God to help us defend freedom so that everyone can pursue holiness and walk in the light.
6. ... ask God to protect us with His sovereign care.
7. ... praise Him for being a great God, pronounce Him as your king today, and ask Him to increasingly become king over more and more of the USA in 2013 and beyond.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Complete Manuscript of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" Speech

Martin Luther King Speech - I Have a Dream

Steps of the Lincoln Memorial
Washington D.C.
August 28, 1963

 
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free.

"One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"


Question: What are your favorite parts of this amazing speech?

Religion at the inauguration of George Washington, our first President


It's inspiring to see how reverent and devoted to God our founding fathers were regarding their civil service. Expressing "God Dependence" was an important part of the very first inaugural day.

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States of America. The ceremony took place in New York City at the open gallery of the old City Hall (afterward called Federal Hall).

Washington was dressed in a dark brown suit and white silk stockings, all made in America. His hair was powdered and styled in the formal fashion of the era.

The oath of office was administered by Robert R. Livingston, the Chancellor of the State of New York. The Chancellor came forward to administer the oath prescribed by the Constitution, and Mr. Otis, the Secretary of the Senate, held the Bible for the oath on a crimson cushion. The oath was read slowly and distinctly, while Washington put his hand on the open Bible.

When it was concluded, President Washington replied, solemnly, "I swear - so help me, God!" Mr. Otis intended to raise the Bible to Washington’s lips, but the President preempted that by humbly bowing down to kiss the Scriptures.

The Chancellor exclaimed, "It is done!" and then turning to the people he shouted, "Long live George Washington, the first President of the United States." At this moment a flag 
was displayed on the cupola of the hall that was followed by the artillery. All the bells in the city rang out and the audience cheered. The shout, “Long live George Washington” was echoed and re-echoed by the people.

The President and the members of Congress retired to the Senate Chamber, where Washington gave the inaugural address.

Notice the references in the inaugural address that Washington reverently made to God:

 
"In tendering this homage [act of worship] to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. 


"Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of Providential Agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government [i.e., the creation and adoption of the Constitution] . . . cannot be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude...

"We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious [favorable] smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained...

"Having thus imparted to you my sentiments as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race in humble supplication that... His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this government must depend."

At the conclusion of the inaugural address, the new President and the members of Congress went in procession to St. Paul's Church (which, with the other churches, had been opened for prayers at nine o'clock that morning). The leaders sought the blessings of God on the new government.


The service at St. Paul’s was conducted by The Right Reverend Samuel Provoost – the Episcopal Bishop of New York, who had been chosen chaplain of the Senate the week preceding the inauguration. The service was performed according to The Book of Common Prayer, and included a number of prayers taken from Psalms 144-150 as well as Scripture readings and lessons from the book of Acts, I Kings, and III John.

May the faith of our founding fathers continue to inspire and inform our great nation.

When the demands of serving others are more than you can handle...

"Then He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish,He looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds." From Matthew 14

When the needs are great and you have nothing to give (and that is the honest reality ever and always)...

1. Come close to Jesus.
2. He knows what people need.
3. He produces much out of little.
4. He gives to us.
5. We give to others.
6. We come back to Jesus after serving others.
7. He replenishes our supply so we can go and give again.

As long as we keep coming back to Jesus, He keeps multiplying resources. We get our baskets filled. We can then give to others.

But when we stop coming to Jesus, we'll have nothing of value to give away.

So, who around us has needs we can meet today?

Will we come to Jesus (through prayer and the Word) for the resources (like energy, "want to," words, wisdom, gifts) to meet others' needs? Will we let Jesus serve us so we can serve those around us?

Come close to Jesus today. You will be glad you did. And so will the people you are called to serve.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

13 questions to help pastors move a message from the head to the heart



Yes, it's all about God, not us. "Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory" (Psalm 115:1).

So, a preacher who makes much of himself in a message is a narcissistic mess. "Him [Christ - the hope of glory] we proclaim" (Colossians 1:28).

So, it's all about God. Not the preacher.

But the 19th century preacher, Philips Brooks, said, "Preaching is truth through personality." I believe he's right. I believe that's supported by scripture. Paul once wrote, "So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us" (I Thessalonians 2:8).

Sometimes a message can be good, solid, and accurate. It can explain the text well. It can impart strong information.

But the personality of the man can be missing. Preachers dare not forget that even the introverts must be relational, connecting, personable,and warm-hearted up front.

So, before you preach tomorrow, sit down for an hour an answer some questions.
  • Why does this passage/truth/topic matter to YOU? 
  • What is YOUR vision for the people regarding this? 
  • Where do YOU struggle with this? 
  • Why do YOU struggle with this? 
  • How has God helped YOU grow in this area? 
  • Who taught YOU most about this? 
  • What are one or two things YOU have been prompted to do to grow in this area? 
  • How have YOU gained victories in this? 
  • What is a story about this that has changed YOU, inspired YOU, convicted YOU, challenged YOU, encouraged YOU? 
  • Where are YOU wanting to take us because we live this way? 
  • How do YOU see our lives being different if we live new in this way? 
  • Again, why does this matter to YOU? 
Give your people more of God... through YOU!!!

Answer some of these questions and weave them into your current message. (You'll likely have to delete some current content to do it.)

Again, Philips Brooks said, "Preaching is truth through personality." Your people likely need more of YOUR persona, YOUR personhood, YOUR personality.

Impart the information well. But don't forget to give the people more inspiration. More motivation. More vision. More reasons to change. More understanding of what's at stake. More of how God's story has impacted YOU.

I am not trying to give you more work to do on a Saturday. (Well, maybe I am!) But I think deleting a little content and giving us more of YOUR passion will move your message from good to great.

Question: How do you think preachers could connect more relationally with their congregations in a message?

Friday, January 18, 2013

How is my heart today?

Ask God to make your heart...

... good
and soft
and receptive
and fertile
and deep
and weed-free.

"As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." From Matthew 13.

The proof of our salvation is in the fruit.

Are we bearing the Fruit of New Life?

It all starts with a soft, deep, weed-free, good heart.

How is my heart today?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

When you feel like the world is ticked at you...


"Am I really and truly a Beloved Child?" Most of us wonder about that. We struggle with shame and guilt. We struggle with feelings of worth and value. We are sure that God is ticked at us.

Why is that?

Some of us go to work everyday and we wonder if the people in charge really want us there. Others of us grew up in homes where our parents said, “You’ll never amount to anything.” And just this last week, someone heard, “I don’t know why I ever married you.”

You need – you really need – to know what God thinks.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

We are His Beloved Children. Jesus hasn’t just saved us. He’s actually delighting in us. Two words here: Rejoice (sus) means "exult" and gladness (simchah) means "mirth." It’s like God is at a party and He's dancing because of us.

Is that overstated? I don’t think so. "As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you" (Isaiah 62:5).
Does God delight in you because you are so lovable? No. The Bible says that we hated God and were His enemies. Does He delight in us because we are so “together”? No. We’re sinful through and through.

In spite of all that, Jesus brings us before the throne of grace and is proud of us. God delights in us because of Christ and what He’s made us to be. It’s with the blood of Jesus that we’ve been washed and made new.

"I will rejoice… and delight in my people. And the sound of weeping and crying will be heard no more" (Isaiah 65:19, NLT).
Too many of us believe that God is a “ticked off” God. Yes, He’s just. Yes, He’s holy. And yes, He disciplines his children. And we should never presume upon His grace.


But at the end of the day, you’ve got to know that through Christ Jesus, God delights in His people. 

God not only loves you, He likes you. You are so loved that Jesus delights in you. And because He delights in you, you can delight in yourself... and someone else.

Question: How will you live new today because God rejoices over you?


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Believing you are beloved

If you are having a hard time believing that you are a Beloved Child (and most of us do!), take 3-4 minutes to listen to the video below of Brennan Manning, author of Ragamuffin Gospel.

Manning says that our gloom, pessimism, low esteem, self-hatred, and despair block God's way to us. He goes on to say that we have made God in our own image and, as a result, He winds up being as fussy, rude, narrow-minded, legalistic, unforgiving, judgmental, and unloving as we are.

Is it any wonder, then, that we have a hard time believing that God truly loves us?

My friend Mike Misja showed this video to our North Coast Family Foundation Spiritual Leader Forum yesterday morning. 

The message of the video moved me. It helped me. It reminded me that I don't have to perform. 

How would you answer if Jesus asked you, "Do you believe that I love you? Do you believe that I desire you? That I wait for you day after day? That I long to hear the sound of your voice?" 

Real believers can say, "Yes, Jesus. I believe that You love me and I am seeking to shape my life as a response to it." 

I am Beloved. 

And so are you.



See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. I John 3:1a (ESV)

Monday, January 14, 2013

KEYS TO SUCCESS ON SHORT TERM MISSION TRIPS…FOR OPENERS, JUST GO!  

Our guest post is written by Dwight Short. Dwight has been a friend of mine for 26 years. I first met him through my involvement with Fellowship of Christian Athletes when I first came to NE Ohio. We served on the board in Cleveland together. Later, Dwight and his wife, Marlene, became active, participating members of CVC. Dwight has had a very successful career as a teacher/coach and at Merrill Lynch. He has moved to the Tampa area where he is active as a consultant and in ministry. The post that follows is his latest Monday Morning Message. As you will see, missions is still on his heart and in his life.

Monday Morning Message, January 14, 2013

January of the year 2000, our local mission leader from Cuyahoga Valley Church visited our small group to talk about the importance of short term mission trips. He was aware of how everyone in this gathering had been financial partners for many years to many of the members of CVC who had built orphanages, shared the Jesus Film, and served in medical facilities. 

But his message that night was that he believed we should not just give money for others to go on the mission trips but it was time for us to GO! It became the catalyst for two of us in the group to sense God’s calling for us to do just that.

Since that first basketball trip to Mombasa, Kenya, the Lord has been gracious in allowing me to be part of eight more teams in sharing God’s love. Not a day goes by that I do not think of many of those teammates and the people we were able to touch with the message of the Gospel. 

I wanted to share some things that I have learned from these experiences because we are at the point in time where you will hear about and perhaps even be approached about being a partner in such a trip. This advice is intended to be applied in your planning if you are actually going, and should be part of your due diligence if you are supporting a team thru your financial gifts.

MAKE SURE THERE IS A CLEAR PURPOSE FOR THE TRIP. This should be easily explained and it should encompass more than, “we are going somewhere to play a sport”. If the trip will not involve openly sharing the Gospel message visually or verbally, think twice before jumping in.

MAKE SURE THERE IS STRUCTURED LEADERSHIP. Usually this means three forms of leadership, such as a coach, doctor, nurse, or leader of the intended mission. An administrative leader who takes care of monies, tickets, travel arrangements, lodging and all the nitty gritty details. Most importantly, a Spiritual Leader who can keep the MAIN THING IN FOCUS when all the challenges and obstacles start to show up.
 
MAKE SURE YOU ARE REALLY NEEDED. Local missionaries and leaders will normally request help from specific sources and once there is a feeling that God is matching up those with specific talents and gifts that match those needs, JUST GO!!!

Several people questioned me on our first trip to Kenya as to why we would go all that way and spend all that money when we have needs here at home. Their concerns were valid in my mind and I could not really explain back then why it seemed important other than we all felt God’s calling to go. 

When we finished our ten days in Mombasa, close to one hundred young people, mostly young men had made a decision to give their lives to Christ. The missionary on the last night said that they had not seen one conversion in over two years prior to our coming. When we got home, we took those who questioned us by the hand and asked if they would help us preach the Gospel right here at home. There is room for both points of service in God’s Kingdom. 

Question: Where will you or your partners GO in 2013?

Matthew 28:19-20 (RSV) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Who am I?

Something to keep in mind when we see a sky filled with stars or a blazing sunset vista or a view from a mountain's peak:

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 
4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 
From Psalm 8

We could make a case that we are simply insignificant pieces of dust on this planet.

YET

The One who knows all thinks of us! The Creator cares for us! He sees us as glorious! We matter to God! 

This is why He sent His Son to save us. This is why He seeks to restore us. This is why He longs to bring us home. We matter to the One to whom belongs all the glory. 

Yes, there is more depravity in us than we know, YET there is also more dignity in us than we dare to dream. 

This is a call for us to live up to the glorious and honorable creatures we are. 

How might you live differently today if you would pray, "Thank You, God, for crowning me with glory and honor"? 

There is something about you - there is something in you - that reflects God's glory. 

Live up to that fact today. It's one way to help you to "live new."

Friday, January 11, 2013

When you feel like you about to sink

Are you feeling swamped? Taking on water? In what area of your life do you feel like you are about to sink?

Don't be afraid. Instead, pray. Express your God Dependence. Say, "Save me, Lord!"

If you are His disciple, the Lord Jesus Christ is with you. He has authority over the wind and the waves. He will save you and bring glory to Himself.

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.
24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.
25 And they went and woke him, saying, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing."
26 And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?" Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
27 And the men marveled, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?"

From Matthew 8

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

How to live like a Beloved Child (2 of 4)



What might be different in your life if you literally began to call God "Daddy" when you pray to Him? 

Our adversary, the devil, loves to attack our understanding of our status as sons and daughters of God. We forget we are Beloved Children. 

Satan accuses us to neutralize us. His sinister whispers sound like, "How could you think that? You are a loser as a Christian. God won't bless you anymore. God can't love someone like you." 

But no matter what, we are Beloved Children! For most followers of Christ, that's a known fact. That fact ought to silence the haunting accusations of the devil. 

But it's not enough for us to know you are Beloved Children, we have to live it! Are you living in the freedom and power of being a Beloved Child? 

How can you live like a Beloved Child? Romans 8:12-17 gives us four characteristics of members of His forever family. The first is to forsake your fears. Here is the second:

See God as "daddy."

At CVC, we have many families with adopted children. We have a huge heart for adoption in our church family. These adopted children didn't do anything to deserve being adopted. Yet they posses all the perks of their adoptive families. And one of those perks is the right to call God "daddy."

... but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father." (Romans 8:15b)

"Abba" means "daddy." Our heavenly Father is asking us to call Him "Daddy." The word conveys a warm sense of intimacy. God is wanting us to know Him so intimately that we dare to call Him "Daddy." How many of us literally call Him "Daddy?" 

There is a big difference when children call their fathers "daddy" or "father." When kids say "daddy," it grabs the father's attention. That's how God wants us to come to Him because we are His children. We are His beloved (I John 3:1). 

We can't let the things of the past continue to haunt us. We can show up at church every time the doors are open and we can work hard in serving Christ, but it won't make us more God's children than we were before. We don't have to earn our adoption. 

Think about it! Our heavenly Father, Abba, wants us to call Him "Daddy." The King of kings - the Lord of lords, the Creator of all that exists, the One who knows the numbers of hairs on our heads - wants us to cll Him "Daddy." 

Our identity isn't in our performance. It's in being adopted sons and daughters who have a "Daddy" in heaven.

Question: Will you call God "Daddy" in prayer for the rest of this week? 

(Note: This post was inspired by a message from Jason Van Horn on Saturday night, January 5, 2013.)

Monday, January 07, 2013

How You Can Find Your Purpose In Life


Are you living with a clearly defined purpose? Is that purpose guiding your daily decisions and actions?

Will Mancini of Auxano likes to say, "Clarity isn't everything but clarity changes everything." Are you clear when it comes to your purpose?

Sadly, many of us are not clear on why we are here. So, we run from activity to activity based on our own feelings and the opportunities that present themselves. We let others dictate our agenda by responding appropriately (or sometimes inappropriately) when called upon.

A purpose will give you clarity, focus, strength, motivation, consistency. It will be attractive and draw the involvement of others.

Last year, I took our sons, Evan and Ryan, to see the film Hugo. It's a film by Martin Scorsese. The film certainly entertains while making a major point about the importance of each person finding and living out his/her unique purpose.

Hugo, filmed in 3D, earned 5 Oscars. It won the awards for cinematography (Robert Richardson) and art direction (Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo). It captured the Academy Awards for sound editing (Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty) and sound mixing (Tom Fleischman and John Midgley). Hugo also took the prize for best visual effects (Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann and Alex Henning).

Hugo is an orphan boy living in a train station in 1930s Paris. He learned to fix clocks and other gadgets from his father and uncle which he puts to use keeping the train station clocks running. The only thing that he has left that connects him to his dead father is a mechanical man that doesn't work without a special key which Hugo needs to find to unlock the secret he believes it contains.

On his adventures, he meets with a shopkeeper who works in the train station and his adventure-seeking god-daughter. This grumpy old man, played by Ben Kingsley, is the preeminent French film pioneer, George Melies, who was also the original inventor of the mechanical man.

By film's end, Hugo finds his purpose and helps others find theirs as he unlocks some memories that Melies has buried inside regarding his past.

In a remarkable scene in the film, Hugo says, "A broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do. Maybe it's the same with people. If you lose your purpose, it's like you're broken... I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too." 



Have you found your unique purpose yet? Can you clearly articulate it? Do you see that you are more than just an extra part? Have you found your reason for living? Are you clear that you are doing what you are meant to do?

Here’s a simple 30-minute exercise to help you find your purpose:

1. Write a prayer at the top of a piece of paper, “Father God, what is my true purpose in life? Why did You make me? How can I best glorify You? Lord, how am I supposed to make disciples? Holy Spirit, would You speak to my heart and reveal to me my mission?"

2. Quiet your heart. Be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). It's in returning to the Lord, resting in Him, being quiet before Him, and trusting in Him that we find our strength (Isaiah 30:15). Learn to listen for the Lord's still, small voice (I Kings 19:12).

3. Write what comes into your mind. It doesn't have to be well-crafted or even profound. This is a rough, rough, rough draft. You might write a word, a phrase, or a sentence. Now, skip a space. Clear your mind, pray again, and write again - a word, a phrase, a sentence. For the next 30 minutes, repeat this process - mixing words, concepts, phrases, and ideas. Repeat these steps until you write something that moves you, that feels right - that brings a tear to your eye or a smile to your face. Listen for the Spirit's voice that says, "This is the way; walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21).

4. Take your personal purpose statement out for a "test drive." Review it everyday. Post it in a prominent place. Use your statement as a grid through which you will make all your decisions. Do the words inspire you? Does the purpose help guide you? Do other people think that your purpose fits you?"

5. Tweak your purpose periodically. As you grow in your understanding of God and yourself, then your understanding of your purpose will change. As your circumstances and responsibilities change, then your purpose must morph.

You are not an extra part. As Hugo says, "If you lose your purpose, it's like you're broken... I [realized I] had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too."

Find your purpose to lose your brokenness and gain your focus. Find your purpose. You will be better for it. And so will be the world.

Question: What do you think keeps many people from finding their purpose?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

How to live like a Beloved Child (1 of 4)


We all have made lots of mistakes. And our adversary, the devil, seeks to use condemnation and accusation to neutralize us and to minimize our influence for Christ. His sinister whispers sound like, "How could you think that? You are a loser as a Christian. God won't bless you anymore." Surely you have dealt with this. The enemy uses our sins from our past to keep us from spiritual victory.  The enemy tries to use sins from years and years in the past to haunt us.


But we are Beloved Children! 

Now, most believers know this. We've read and maybe even memorized John 1:12, "But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God." For most followers of Christ, it's a known fact that we are God's children. That fact ought to silence the haunting accusations of the devil. 

But we have to see that knowledge move from the head to the heart. It's not enough for us to know you are Beloved Children, we have to live it! Are you living in the freedom and power of being a Beloved Child? 

How can you live like a Beloved Child? Romans 8:12-17 gives us four characteristics of members of His forever family. Here's the first of the four. 

Forsake your fears.

We can easily become fearful about our relationship to God. "Have I done enough? Is God angry with me? What more do I need to do to make God like me, accept me, bless me, favor me, or love me?" 

But remember, there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. We need not fear.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear... (Romans 8:15a).

Our entrance into God's family - our acceptance to God - comes from the merits of Jesus Christ alone. Don't look at your past or even your present. Don't look at either the good or the bad. Forget what lies behind. 

We are never going to be holy enough to please the Lord. There is nothing we have ever done or are ever going to do to ever merit the grace of God. It's been freely given. 

We don't have to live in fear wondering if we have performed well enough to merit an entrance into God's forever family. We are in! It's not because we deserved it. It is simply because He chose us.

Forsake you fears. You don't have to perform anymore. Rest in His love.  

(Note: This post was inspired by a message from Jason Van Horn on Saturday night, January 5, 2013.)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Questionnaire to Help You Prepare to be a Guest Speaker


I am going to be speaking in a few weeks at another church. I wanted to know a bit more about the audience. So, I developed a few questions to help me learn. My list might help you if and when you are asked to be a guest speaker.

In order to help you prepare to better serve the audience or organization to whom you will be speaking, ask them to fill out the following questionnaire and return to you or your assistant.

1. Organization Name:

2. Address:

3. Phone Number:

4. Email Address:


5. Event Location: (if same as above, please enter “same”)

6. Name of Leader/Pastor:

7. Primary Contact Name:

8. Primary Contact Email Address:

9. Primary Contact Phone Number:

10. The date(s) of the event/time of event:

11. The type of event (church service, retreat, conference, seminar, etc.):

12. The number and length of time to teach:

13. Desired topic and/or text:

14. Order of service or schedule of program:

15. Anticipated attendance:

16. The anticipated target audience/congregation (i.e. age, socio-economic background, ethnicity):

17. The “dress code” for this event:

18. Preferred Bible translation for your church/organization:

19. Miscellaneous information:

20. We will pray that this event exceeds our expectation (Ephesians 3:20, 21). What goals/objectives are you hoping to meet?

Question: Any other items that you would add to this list?
 

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