RSS

Category Archives: Sanctification

Great Article on Journaling Your Prayers by Bill Hybels

51wdafk7lZL._AC_US436_QL65_.jpg

Note from Dr.David Craig – The book Honest To God? by Bill Hybels is unfortunately out of print. The article below is adapted from Chapter Two of the Book. I include it here with the hope that those who read it will be especially helped with regard to their prayer lives. I can still remember reading this chapter as a young youth pastor trying to develop an authentic and intimate prayer life with God. The example Hybels gives of journaling prayer has been immensely helpful to me over the last 28 years of life and ministry. May God use this article to help you connect intimately and authentically with God. 

*”A New Dimension in Spirituality” by Bill Hybels

I backed the car out of the driveway as I do every morning at 5:45. I switched the radio from a program on ethics to the Tokyo stock closing. While I drove through the neighborhood subdivision, I critiqued architectural designs. I bought coffee at the twenty-four-hour coffee shop and successfully avoided the talkative cashier. As I turned onto the church campus, I formulated a convincing defense for a ministry plan I hoped the staff would adopt. I climbed to my third floor office, wondering about the productivity of the nighttime maintenance crew. I shuffled through the mountain of mail on my desk and wished someone else could answer it.

I spun the my chair around and looked out the window at the church lake, steaming in the crispness of the morning. In that quiet moment I saw the previous quarter hour for what it had been—an hour tainted by purely human perspective. Not once during that hour had I seen the world through godly eyes. I had been more interested in international finances than in the moral demise of out nation. I thought more about houses than the people inside them. I had considered the tasks awaiting me more important than the woman who served my coffee. I had been more intent on logically supporting my plans than sincerely seeking God’s. I’d thought more about staff members’ productivity than their walk with the Lord or their family life. I’d viewed correspondence as a drudgery rather than a way to offer encouragement, counsel, or help.

It was 6:00 A.M. and I needed a renewed heart and mind. Like a compass out of adjustment, my thoughts and feelings were pointing in the wrong direction. They needed to be recalibrated—to be realigned with God’s accurate, perfect perspective.

You see, in the space of a day my relationship with Jesus Christ can fall from the heights to the depths, from vitality to superficiality, from life-changing interaction to meaningless ritual. That’s a humbling admission, but it’s true. In a mere twenty-four hours, I can slide from spiritual authenticity into spiritual inauthenticity.

Some years ago I got tired of this daily descent. I decided then to either do something to stop it, or to get out of the ministry. Christendom didn’t need another inauthentic leader.

I began to pray for guidance and to experience with various disciplines that would help me be more consistent. Eventually I developed a three-phased discipline that I employ every day to keep me truly “connected” to God. It’s not the only path to spiritual authenticity, but for me and many of my friends, coworkers, and church members, it’s proven to be a genuinely life-changing discipline.

YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?

Over the years, as I traveled and spoke at churches and conferences, I occasionally met leaders who somehow seemed to avoid the daily slide into artificial Christianity. Whenever I could, I asked what their secret was. In almost every case, they said “journaling”—the daily process of examining and evaluating their lives in written form.

Now if you think I heard that and ran out to buy a journal, you’re dead wrong. I thought the idea was ridiculous. I envisioned the saints of antiquity, with fragile parchments and ink-dipped quills, waxing eloquent in the flickering light of a candle. People who had time for that were not like me. They didn’t have my schedule or live with my kind of pressure. Besides, blank sheets of paper scared me. I’m not the “deep” type; I haven’t had an original thought in my life. What would I write?

Still I had to admit that too often I repeated the same mistakes again and again. Too often I went to bed with regrets about my actions. Too often I made decisions inconsistent with my professed values. In a rare moment of honesty, I faced the fact that I was living under the tyranny of an unexamined life.

At that time, I was chaplain for the Chicago Bears. Occasionally before the Monday morning Bible study, I’d join them at Halas Hall while they watched films and did postgame analysis! They would go over every play of the previous day’s game so they could learn from their mistakes and not repeat them in the next game.

Finally, I understood. The journal’s were simply telling me to do a postgame analysis! How could I expect to be conformed to the image of Christ without evaluating my mistakes and progress? How could I grow without examining my character, decision-making, ministry, marriage, child-rearing? Maybe journaling was for me.

YESTERDAY

I was still worried about facing a blank sheet of paper, but a well-known author offered a simple suggestion: Buy a spiral notebook and restrict yourself to one page a day. Every day start with the word “Yesterday.” Write a brief description of people you met with, decisions you made, thoughts or feelings you had, high points, low points, frustrations, Bible-reading—anything about the previous day. Then analyze it. Did you make good decisions, or bad? Did you use your time wisely or waste it? Should you have done anything differently?

Evaluating my day would help me avoid repeating my mistakes. But writing for five or ten minutes would also slow down my pace. I knew I needed that. I’m a morning person, and when I get to the office at 6 A.M., I’m ready to roll. The phone starts ringing, the adrenaline starts pumping, and there’s no stopping me. If journaling could slow me down, I would be ready to really connect with God.

I decided to try it. My first journal entry says this: “Yesterday I said I hated the concept of journals, and I still do. But if this is what it takes to rid myself of inauthentic spirituality, I’ll do it. If this is what it takes to reduce my RPM’s enough to talk and walk with Christ, I’ll do it. I’ll journal.

And I have—nearly every day. I’ve never written anything profound, but in simple terms I’ve chronicled the activity of God in my life, relationships, marriage, children, and ministry. I’ve also worked through feelings, confronted fears, and weighed decisions. And I’ve slowed down enough to meet with God.

NOW WHAT?

The only problem with slowing down and meeting with God was that I realized I didn’t have much to say. The second part of my path to spiritual authenticity, my prayer life, was amazingly weak, and had been for years.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to pray. I always had good intentions. I tried to pray. But I would get down on my knees and say, “Dear God…” and in five seconds my mind would be in outer space. I would start thinking of people I hadn’t seen in years, making up problems for solutions that didn’t exist, strategizing for new ministries, or planning family vacations. 

It was so frustrating. I normally have a tremendous ability to concentrate. I pride myself with an ability to stick with a project till it’s done. But prayer did me in every time. I would hear of people speak of praying for four hours, and I would feel terrible knowing I couldn’t pray for four minutes. 

I would probably still be a prayerless man if a friend hadn’t suggested his habit of writing out his prayers. He said God created him with a very active mind, and the only way he had been able to “capture” it and focus on God was to write out his prayers. I thought to myself, “That’s me! That’s what I need to do.” 

Another concern I had about my prayer life was imbalance. I knew how easy it was to fall into the “Please God” syndrome. “Please God give me…help me…comfort me…strengthen me…” I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to pray with balance.  So adopted a simple pattern of prayer that’s not original with me. But it includes the four sturdy legs of balanced prayer.

ADORATION

Each morning after filling out my “yesterday page,” I write a big A on the next page, then spend a few minutes writing a paragraph of praise to the Lord. Sometimes I paraphrase a psalm, or attempt to write a poem. Sometimes I write the words to a praise song, then sing it quietly in the privacy of my office. Often I focus on the attributes of God, sometimes listing them all, sometimes meditating on just one. 

Though I’ve been a Christian for years, I never privately worshiped God on a consistent basis—until I started writing out my prayers. Worship os foreign to us. We were made for it. Yet because of sin, worship doesn’t come naturally. We have to work at it; we have to be disciplined at it. And like any other learned activity, the first few times we try it, we feel awkward. But our sincerity, not our eloquence, is what matters to God.

There are several reasons for beginning prayer with worship. First, worship reminds us that we’re addressing the Holy Majestic God and prevents us from reducing prayer to a wish list—the “Please God…” syndrome again.

Second, worship establishes the identity of God. It reminds us that God has power to intervene in any situation, that He cares about us, and whether we are in a car, an office, or an airplane, He is always available to us.

Adoration also purges. After five or ten minutes in adoration, I find my spirit has been softened. My heart has been purified. My agenda changes. That burning issue I just had to bring to God’s attention suddenly seems less crucial. My sense of desperation subsides. I begin to say, and mean, “It is well with my soul. I am enjoying You, God. I am at peace.”

Finally, adoration is the appropriate introduction to prayer simply because God deserves it.

Begin to worship God when you pray. Be creative. Experiment. Use verses and psalms to get you started. Don’t worry if you feel clumsy at first. God’s heart is thrilled by even our most feeble attempts.

CONFESSION

I used to be an “oops” confessor. I would say an unkind word to someone, then say, “Oops, Lord, I’ll have to confess that to You later.” Then I would exaggerate a story, and say, “Oops, Lord, I’ll catch that one later too.” All day I would add the tally, fully intending to clear the bill later.

But later seldom came. When it did, I would make a blanket confession of “my many sins.” I thought I was wonderfully honest and humble, claiming my sins like that. In reality, it was a colossal cop-out.

You see, blanket confessions are nice, virtually painless. But they do nothing to transform our hearts. It seems confession has to hurt a bit, even embarrass us, before we’ll take it seriously. 

One way to make confession hurt is to write out specific sins. Do you know what it’s like to see your sins in print? Try writing something like this: “Yesterday I chose to wound Lynne with my words. I was cruel, insensitive, and sinful.” Or, “Last night I told Todd I would play ball with him, but I didn’t keep my word. I lied to my son.”

It’s easy to justify our behavior: “I had a rough day. I was busy. Lynne shouldn’t have expected so much from me.” Or, “I intended to play ball. It just didn’t work out.” But we need to see our sins for what they are. Writing them out helps.

In one particular Sunday message, I emphasized the fact that we’re all sinners who need a Savior. After the service, a salesman informed me that he didn’t consider himself a sinner. I asked If he had been faithful to his wife. “Well, I travel a lot you know…” Then I asked about his expense account. “Oh, everybody stretches the truth a little bit…” Finally, I questioned his sales techniques. Did he ever exaggerate or overstate a claim? “That’s standard in the industry…” “Well,” I said, “you just told me you’re an adulterer, a cheater, and a liar.” “How dare you call me those things?!” He was appalled by my “brash insensitivity.”

As hard as it was for him to hear those words, I believe I did him favor. I also believe I do myself a favor when I write in my journal, “I am a liar. I am greedy. I have a problem with lust. I am envious.: Two things happen when we confess our sins honestly.

First, we experience the freedom of forgiveness. For years I tried to run the race of faith with chains of unconfessed sin tangled around my legs. I didn’t know how much they were hindering me until I quit playing games and got honest with God.

Second, gratitude for God’s forgiveness motivates us to forsake our sin. Why hurt Someone who loves us that much? Why disobey Someone who extends so much grace to us?

There doesn’t appear to be much true confession in Christian circles. That’s a shame, because exciting things happen when God’s children get honest about their sin. Five days of having to call oneself a liar, a greedy person, a cheat, or whatever, is enough to drive any spiritually sensitive person to forsake that sin.

A man in my church recently began “confessing” in his journal. He said, “My sins didn’t bother me much before. Now I realize I have to take them seriously, and do my best to forsake them. When it comes to this sin business, I have to fish or cut bait.”

We all need to realize that sin is serious business and enlist the Holy Spirit’s help in forsaking it. Then we can make progress in rooting specific sins out of our lives, and we’ll know what the Scripture means when it says, “the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

THANKSGIVING

First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” For years I misunderstood this. I thought having feelings of gratitude toward God was the same as thanksgiving. It isn’t.

Do you remember the ten leapers described in Luke 17? They begged Jesus to heal them, but when He did, only one bothered to thank Him. Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine?”

I am confident that the other nine were thankful. They had to be. If you had a debilitating, terminal illness that rotted your limbs and made you a social outcast, and suddenly you were cleansed and healed, wouldn’t you have tremendous feelings of gratitude toward your Healer? Of course you would. But nine lepers didn’t take the time to say it. And that mattered to Jesus.

One summer I took my son Todd for a helicopter ride at a county fair. He was so excited he could hardly stand it. Later, I thought he was asleep in the car until he slid his arm around my shoulder and said, “Dad, I just want to thank you for taking me to that fair.” That expression of gratitude tempted me to turn the car around and go back to the fair for round two.

When I understood that distinction between feeling gratitude and expressing thanksgiving. I decided to become a more “thanks-giving” man. I want to be like the one leper who ran back and showered Jesus with thanks. I want to be like Todd, who warmed my heart with his gratitude.

We’re God’s children. We have the power to offer Him joy through thanksgiving. In my journal, I thank God for answered prayers, and for specific spiritual, relational, and material blessings. Almost everything in my life fits under one of those categories. By the time I finish my list. I’m ready to go back to adoration.

An added benefit of giving thanks is a transformed attitude. I used to be a very covetous man. I struggled hard with wanting more than I had. But a daily look at my blessings has led me from covetousness to contentment to awe at the abundance in my life.

SUPPLICATION

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). After adoring God, confessing our sins, and thanking Him for His goodness, we’re in the right frame of mind to ask God for what we need.

Nothing is too big for God to handle or too small for Him to be interested in. But sometimes I still wonder if my requests are legitimate. So I’m honest with God. I say, “God I have told You how I feel about this situation. You’ve asked me to make my requests known, so I have. I would love to see You do this. But if You have other plans, I don’t want to get in the way. If these requests are wrong, or the timing isn’t right, that’s fine. We’ll go Your way.”

Sometimes I don’t even know how to begin to pray about a certain situation. Then I say, “I don’t know what to say, Lord.” If You’ll tell me how to pray, I’ll pray that way.”

God honors that kind of prayer. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” 

I break my prayers into four categories: ministry, people, family, and personal. Under ministry I pray for my church. Under people I pray for my staff and elders, and I pray for my friends, both Christian and non-Christian. Under family I pray for Lynne, Todd, and Shauna. I pray that I would be a godly father and husband. I pray about finances, education, vacations, and other areas of my family life.  Under personal I pray about my character. I pray that God would help me be more righteous man. 

Make up your own categories of prayer. Then keep a list of what you’ve prayed about. After a few weeks, look back over it. You’ll be amazed at what God has done.

LISTENING

Journaling and writing out my prayers slow me down enough to hear God’s still, small voice. The third step in my daily discipline is to listen and ask God to speak to me.

Scripture says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). It’s these quiet moments after prayer that really matter. They nourish authentic Christianity. Power flows out of stillness, strength out of solitude. Decisions that change the course of our lives come out of these quiet times. 

I begin with these words: “Lord, You talked to Your children all through history, and You said You’re unchangeable God. Talk to me now. I’m listening. I’m open.”

Then I ask four questions. I never hear an audible voice, but often I get impressions that are so strong I write them down.

First, I ask, “What is the next step in my relationship with You?” Sometimes I sense nothing, and interpret that to mean, “We’re all right. Don’t worry. If I wanted to say something I would. Just relax in My presence.”

At other times He tells me I need to learn more about His character. One time I sensed God telling me to loosen up. I was too concerned with how to please Him, and had to learn to enjoy Him more.

Second, I ask, “What’s the next step in the development of my character?” I always get a response from this one. There seems to be plenty of rough edges for God to chip away at! “Honesty,” He’ll say, or “Humility,” or “purity.”

God has taught me that in regard to character, little things matter. At the office, I usually do only ministry-related correspondence; the church pays the postage. Occasionally, however, the distinctions between ministry and personal correspondence blurs. Once during my listening time, I sensed God telling me to be more scrupulous in distinguishing between ministry and personal mail.

That afternoon I taped quarters to two of my outgoing letters. My secretary said, “What’s this?” I said, “Just pay the meter. It’s important.” It’s such a little thing, but not to God.

Third, I ask, “What’s the next step in my family life?” Again, God gets specific. “Be more encouraging Lynne. Take time to serve her.” Or, “You’ve been out of town a lot. Plan a special getaway with the kids.” Being a godly husband and father is a tremendous challenge for me. I need God’s suggestions.

Finally, I ask “What’s the next step in my ministry?” I don’t know how anyone survives ministry without listening to God. Most of my illustrations, messages, and new ministry directions come out of this time of listening. I would have little creativity and insight without it. 

You might ask other questions: What’s the next step in my vocation? In my dating relationship? In my education?

Over time, you’ll become more adept at sensing God’s answers to these questions. You’ll receive Scripture verses, ideas, or insights that are just what you need. Those moments of inspiration will become precious memories you carry with you all day.

The great adventure of listening to God can be scary sometimes. Often God tells me to call or write someone, or apologize for something I’ve done, or give away a possession, or start a new ministry, and I think, “Why? I don’t understand?”

But I’ve learned to walk by faith, not by sight. God’s leadings don’t have to make sense. Some of the wisest direction I’ve received has been ridiculous from a human viewpoint. So If God tells you to write someone, write. if He tells you to serve somewhere, serve. Trust Him, and take the risk.

PURSUE THE DISCIPLINES

Several years ago, I played on a park district football team. During the warm-up before our first game, I learned that I would play middle linebacker on the defensive unit. That was fine with me; my favorite professional athlete is Mike Singletary, All_pro middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

The game started. When it was time for the defense to take the field, I stood in my middle linebacker position, determined to play with the same intensity and effectiveness I’d so often seen in Mike. Scenes of nationally televised Sunday afternoon football games flashed through my mind and psyched me for a major hit.

The opposing offensive unit approached the line to run the first play. Mimicking Mike, I crouched low and stared intently at the quarterback, readying myself to explode into the middle of the action in typical Singletary style. The battle raged…and reality struck with a vengeance. Using a simple head fake, the quarterback sent me in the opposite direction of the play, and the offense gained fifteen yards.

So went the rest of the game. By the fourth quarter I came to a brilliant conclusion: If I wanted to play football like Mike Singletary, I would have to do more than mimic his on-the-filed actions. I would have to get behind the scenes, and practice like he practiced. I would have to lift weights and run laps like he did. I would have to memorize plays and study films as he did. If I wanted his success on the field, I would have to pursue his disciplines off the field. Discipling is no less important on the field of Christian living.

One of the most positive trends in the contemporary church is the recent interest in the spiritual disciplines. Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, has been called “the book of the decade,” and I believe it is. After five years of journaling, writing out my prayers, and listening to God, I am delighted to discover additional disciplines to further enhance my pursuit of a consistent spiritual life.

Willard asserts that the key to being conformed to the image of Christ is to follow Him in the overall style of life He chose for Himself.

If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that he knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988, ix.).

If we want to be like Christ, we have to live as He lived. That doesn’t mean we focus on the special moments when His character and compassion shone in the public spotlight or try to mimic Him in the way I tried to mimic Mike Sigletary on the football field. It means we imitate His entire life, including the behind-the-scenes disciplines that prepared Him to shine when the pressure was on. It means we “practice the activities he practiced.”

What are these activities? The disciplines include “solitude and silence, prayer, simple and sacrificial living, intense study and meditation upon God’s Word and God’s way, and service to others (See Willard, ix).

Every true Christian wants to live like Jesus lived—to love the unlovely, to serve with grace, to resist temptation, to uphold conviction, exhibit power. But we can only live that way if we devote ourselves to the same disciplines He practiced. If Jesus pursued these disciplines to maintain spiritual authenticity, how much more must we.

In his book, Willard suggests disciplines of abstinence and engagement. The former include solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice. The latter include study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission (See Willard, 158). 

We have looked at the discipline of prayer. I conclude with a discussion of solitude and fasting.

SOLITUDE

The discipline of solitude isn’t entirely new to me. For years I’ve spent my first hour at the office alone, journaling, praying, and listening. After that, I spend time in quiet message preparation before meeting with other staff members. I’ve also made periodic use of brief getaways for solitary retreats.

Recently, however, I have incorporated even more solitude into my schedule. As I get in better touch with the natural ebb and flow of my life, I see a direct correlation between ministry effectiveness and the amount of time I spend alone. Solitude builds my emotional and spiritual reserves and increases my ability to help others.

I am a relational person. I thrive on the stimulation of being with people. I’m learning, however, that there is a danger in being with people too much. It can drain my spiritual vitality and dilute my effectiveness. I may still enjoy being with people, but I have nothing worthwhile to offer them. Lately, when I’ve noticed my life getting too crowded with people and activity, I’ve scheduled lunchtimes alone. I go to a local restaurant, eat by myself, and let God refresh me.

Because of the demands in my work, I was often tempted to schedule ministry appointments one after the other. If I had an evening meeting at church, I would return to my office immediately after dinner so I could “get some work done” before the meeting. I’ve learned however, than an hour of “disengaging” may be a better use of time. If I sit for an hour in my backyard, and enjoy the evening sun, I can attend the meeting refreshed and offer something worthwhile.

What do I do in these occasional hours of quietness? I step out of the day’s frantic pace, and focus my attention on God. I remind myself that He’s in control. I ask for the infilling power of the Holy Spirit. I dwell on His love. Sometimes I sit and watch my kids play, or just sit quietly with my wife. Sometimes I walk in the country. There are no set rules for making solitude count. Just be quiet. Let God do His work.

FASTING

I hesitate to write about fasting, because I’m such a novice at it. But if this book is to honestly chronicle the work of God in my life right now, I have to mention the tremendous impact that fasting has had on me.

There are numerous benefits to fasting. One is the purely physical benefit of cleansing our bodies; another is the psychological benefit of learning self-control and denial. But what has most benefitted me is the increased alertness to spiritual perspectives. Prayer, Bible study, and meditation on Scripture, worship—all are enhanced when I am fasting. I think I feel an inner abandonment that makes me a more usable vessel.

Once Jesus’ disciples complained because they were unable to cast out a certain demon. Jesus said, “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). I’m beginning to understand why Jesus said that. Spiritually motivated fasting seems to unlock a deeper dimension of spiritual power. Recently, I’ve sensed God working in and though me in ways I hadn’t previously experienced. I attribute the excitement and productivity in my ministry to this simple discipline of fasting.

Are you ready for a spiritual challenge that holds a storehouse of rewards? Try fasting. If you don’t know how to begin, read the fifth chapter of Stormie Omartian’s book, Greater Health God’s Way. She gives careful guidelines and thoroughly explains the physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits.

To people who have grown up in food-obsessed America, fasting sounds like a fate worse than death. In reality, it opens the door to freedom and strength.

A WHOLE NEW DIMENSION

I took a giant step on the path to spiritual authenticity when I started journaling, writing out my prayers, and listening to God. The disciplines of solitude and fasting have opened up new dimensions of that journey.

I can’t say what it will take for you to become spiritually authentic. But before I can say this: There are no shortcuts. Wishing for spirituality isn’t enough. Growth that produces power and consistency requires strategy and discipline.

*Adapted from Chapter Two in Honest To God by Bill Hybels, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , ,

Book Review of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.”

527807.jpg

“Insightful Thoughts From a Beautiful Follower of Jesus”

Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield (what a beautiful name) has written a delightful book highlighting her conversion to Christ and instruction on many topics that are thought provoking and insightful. Among the variety of topics covered in this book are evangelism; hospitality; education; homosexuality; church planting; male and female roles in complementarity; hermeneutics; dating; marriage; parenting; foster care; adoption; and worship.

The author writes in an entertaining way, and yet shares insights with tremendous depth and cogent logic. My wife and I have both enjoyed discussing the variety of topics brought forth by Butterfield and are grateful for her wisdom and biblical insight. Though we don’t agree with all of Butterfield’s conclusions we especially appreciated her honesty; critique of Christian legalism; and insights into reaching out to those who identify themselves in any way other than “Christian.”

As a pastor in a very secular community I was given many illustrations that will help me become better at reaching out to those who are “outsiders” of our church community. I am grateful that Rosaria has shared her “secret thoughts” publicly. As a result I think that my wife and I have been equipped to be “salt and light” in our community and will be more effective in our outreach to those who desperately need Christ (as do we) in our community.

Rosaria is to be commended for her service to our Lord as a Christian wife, mother, educator, evangelist, and disciple maker. Any follower of Christ would be encouraged in their pursuit of Christlikeness and better reflect His inner and outer beauty as a result of reading and practicing the wisdom articulated in this delightful book.

 

Tags: , ,

Book Review of Jammin Goggin & Kyle Strobel: “The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb”

022358.jpg

The Amazing Power of Weakness

Book Review By Dr. David P Craig

I can remember how discouraged I used to get when as a young pastor I would attend Pastor’s conferences and hear stories of pastor’s bragging about how “great” their ministries were. I would always come back from those conferences wondering if I was really “called” to ministry because I wasn’t experiencing the “greatness” these other pastors were experiencing. In my late twenties I took on a pastorate in a rural community that nobody (myself included) had ever heard of. About six months into my ministry I heard about a “rural pastors conference” and decided to see if this would help me in my new ministry. Before the first session, we had a “meet and greet” time and I remember everyone introducing themselves and trying to describe the area they were serving in – because nobody heard of each other, and nobody had what would be described as a “great” ministry.

There was such a liberating and freeing feeling being around pastors that knew they were weak, ministering in obscurity, and all recognized that if God didn’t show up – we were in big trouble. I love this book because all the examples in this book are encouraging. When you are around ego it deflates you, when you are around weakness it elates you! All of us pastors had nothing to prove, and nothing to brag about, but we all shared our need of the power of God to sustain and guide us in our respective ministries. Since that time I’ve primarily interacted with bi-vocational pastors and pastors of smaller churches because they are usually very real, humble, and focused on needing help from God – not on how they can help others be “great.”

It was at that conference that I realized that God calls most pastors to obscure places and average ordinary ministries. Most pastors will never make the cover of “Christianity Today” or write a book that makes a notable “best-seller” list. Honestly, I’m good with that. Enter Goggin and Strobel’s book. They aren’t down on mega churches (I don’t think they even use this word in their book). However, they give an excellent analysis of what makes for the ministry of the Lamb (ministering out of weakness – Kingdom ministry from above) versus ministry from the Dragon (ministering out of the flesh – from the Kingdom of Darkness and Satan).

I’ve experienced ministry out of the flesh driven by pride and ego; and I’ve experienced ministry that comes from weakness, brokenness, and of the Spirit. I think that once you experience the power of brokenness or ministering out of weakness you never want to go back to the “dark side.” I’ve been around pastors and churches where God doesn’t even have to show up and nothing would even have to be changed. The author’s do an excellent job of showing from the Bible how the way of power has infiltrated many churches today. It is not just dangerous – it’s demonic. This is a serious charge.

My favorite aspect of this book are the highlights from interviews that Goggin and Strobel share from several well respected faithful older Christians: J.I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, Jean Vanier, Dallas Willard, John Perkins, and Marva Dawn. Through the interviews and Scripture the author’s give a compelling case for why ministry in dependence on God rather than our own skills and resources are more powerful in the long haul of ministry. Power in ministry comes when the Holy Spirit is depended upon to show up because we are operating out of our relationship and satisfaction in Christ. Power is not about self, resources, skills, it’s evident from above when we humbly focus on exalting Jesus above all things.

I hope this book gets a wide reading. I think it is wise, biblical, and will encourage pastors and Christians who are serious about faithfully serving Christ in power out of weakness in dependence on Him for life-long ministry.

 

Tags: ,

BOOK REVIEW FOR STICKY CHURCH BY LARRY OSBORNE

“Assimilating and Making Disciples in the Local Church”

285083.jpg

Reviewed By Dr. David P. Craig

Larry Osborne is a pastor’s pastor and a leader’s leader. He has successfully made and multiplied disciples in the same local church for over thirty years. Whenever he writes a book I read it; re-read it; and make sure my staff and leaders read it as well. Larry started with a small struggling church and has successfully developed multiplying disciples of Christ in San Diego and all over the world through their simple church model of assimilation and discipleship through their intentional and strategic implementation of small groups.

In Sticky Church Osborne writes about a simple strategic process for developing a small group ministry that is extremely effective in assimilating attenders and new comers in the church and helping them become connected and committed to making and multiplying fully devoted followers of Christ for the long-haul.

Part 1 is composed of four chapters whereby Osborne makes a compelling case for a simple model and strategy in developing a “sticky church.” A sticky church is a church where people “stick” or stay because they immediately become convinced and unified around the vision; and live out this vision in the context of a small group. In Osborne’s church in Vista, California (a suburb of San Diego) 80% of church attenders (over 7,000 adults) become committed to their small groups – what they call “growth groups.” The whole idea of “stickiness” is keeping people in the church (what he calls “closing the back door”) so that you have a high retention of attenders who stay and grow because they commit to a small group that’s committed to their growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Here are some insightful quotes from the first four chapters:

“But we’ve often become so focused on reaching people that we’ve forgotten the importance of keeping people.”

“What does Jesus’ parable about the four soils have to say about the way we do church? To my thinking it says a lot. And one of the most important things it says about churches is that stickiness matters.”

“They [the principles in this book and the sermon-based model used by North Coast Church) worked just as well when we were a small church of less than two hundred adults as they do today in a multisite megachurch with more than seven thousand in weekend attendance.”

“Almost all our growth has come by word of mouth.”

“We’ve simply tried to serve our people so well that they’ll want to bring their friends, without needing to be asked to do so.”

“Everything we do is aimed at helping the Christians we already have grow stronger in Christ. But everything is done in such a way that their non-Christian friends will understand all that we’re saying and doing.”

“Bottom line: We’ve tried to create a perfect storm for come-and-see evangelism while velcroing newcomers for long-term spiritual growth.”

“In fact, the most important number to know about North Coast Church is not the weekend attendance. It’s the percentage of adults who participate in one of our small groups. Since 1985 that number has equaled 80 percent of our average weekend attendance.”

“It’s as though they assumed (people that think that sermon-based small groups only work in a megachurch) that North Coast was always big church—or at least became one overnight…Not so…North Coast grew quite slowly in the early days. It took five years to go from 130-180. It took another five years to reach 750.”

“This is not an anti-marketing or anti-programs book. It’s a pro-stickiness book.”

“What matters is not the size of the church or the slickness of the programming . What matters is that those who come find a ministry and relationships worthy of spontaneous word-of-mouth recommendations. When that happens, a church is primed to hold on to the people it already has and the people they bring with them.”

“A sticky church needs a healthy leadership team composed of people who genuinely like one another, share the same vision, and pull in the same direction (talking about the first big change necessary to developing a sticky church – retaining new comers).”

“The second big change was in the way I taught and led our congregation. Focusing on the front door aimed everything at two kinds of people: the not-yet Christian or the super saint who was ready to help me charge the hill. There wasn’t much room for people who came to Christ but didn’t grow at a fast enough pace or carried lots of old baggage.”

“The third change involved launching a small group ministry focus primarily on building significant relationships rather than growing the church.”

“Instead of celebrating how many people came, the most important measurement would be how many came back.”

“Churches that close the back door effectively do so by serving their congregations so well that the people don’t want to leave. And happy sheep are incurable word-of-mouth marketers.”

“Whatever you do to reach people you have to continue to do to keep them (this is why they keep their ministries simple, consistent, and excellent – North Coast doesn’t do a lot of special events or programming).”

“High-powered front-door programs can have the unintended consequences of sending a message that some weekends and programs are for brining guests—and the rest aren’t.”

“There’s a second unintended obstacle that highly programmed front-door churches can put in the way of natural evangelism. If most of the people who come to Christ come as a result of a complex and high-powered event, it sends a subtle message that it takes lots of time, planning, and money to lead someone to Christ.”

“Instead of complex assimilation programs, a sticky church simply needs to provide plenty of ministry on-ramps to which members can easily connect the friends they’ve invited.”

In Part 2 Osborne writes five chapters on “How Small Groups Change Everything.” Here are some important points from this section:

“Most spiritual growth doesn’t come as a result of a training program or set curriculum. It comes as a result of life putting us in what I like to call a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation.”

“The focus of a sermon based small group is not so much on the curriculum as it is on the process.”

“The ultimate goal of a sermon-based small group is simply to velcro people to the two things they will need most when faced with a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation: the Bible and other Christians.”

“When the New Testament was written, the typical church was so small that it was, in essence, a small group.”

“The best tool I’ve ever seen for connecting people to one another and engaging them with the Bible for the long haul is a sermon-based small group. It offers a format that fits the way we spiritually grow, while providing a framework for a healthy and sticky church. Nothing compares.

“While many church leaders claim that small groups are an integral part of their ministry, I’ve learned that two simple measurements will always tell me their real place in a ministry’s pecking order: (1) the percentage of adults who attend a small group, and  (2) the participation level of senior staff and key lay leaders.”

“Getting there (the key to reaching critical mass – that all-important stage at which the full power and benefits of a small group ministry begin to impact the ethos, DNA, and spiritual health of nearly everyone and everything in the church) usually requires that somewhere between 40 to 60 percent of the average weekend adult attendance be involved in a small group. If fewer people participate, small groups will still have a profound effect, but it will be primarily on the individuals in them, not on the entire church.”

“Small groups undercut this Holy Man myth (The Holy Man myth is the idea that pastors/clergy somehow have more of a direct hot line to God) because they typically meet in widely dispersed settings. This makes it impossible for the pastor (or any other staff member) to carry out all the pastoral roles and functions. They simply can’t be everywhere at once…As a result, small group leaders inevitably step up and assume roles of spiritual leadership that they would have otherwise deferred to the pastoral staff.”

“That not only changes the way small group leaders view themselves; it changes the congregation’s outlook as well. Once people begin to realize that God’s anointing and spiritual power aren’t restricted to the guy who speaks on Sunday, they whine a lot less when he’s not available.”

“Another spiritually crippling falsehood that began to lose its grip on our congregation was what I call the Holy Place myth. It’s the idea that God’s presence is somehow greater in some places than in others.”

“With the demise of both the Holy Man and the Holy Place myths, our ministry was, for the first time, genuinely unleashed. People started bringing God to the workplace and into their neighborhoods rather than trying to bring everyone to the church building.”

“Let’s face it: In most churches there aren’t many opportunities for high-impact, life on life ministry. There are usually few up-front teaching roles, a handful of worship leader positions, and some youth and Sunday school spots to be filled. After that, most roles are pretty much part of the supporting cast, designed more to keep the machine running than to touch lives.”

“Small groups open up lots of new opportunities for frontline ministry. At North Coast every group has a leader and a host, most often made up of two couples. That means in every group, we have four people who teach, counsel, disciple, pray, visit hospitals, lead in worship, provide communion, and even baptize members of their little flock—none of which they would do without the platform for ministry we call growth groups.”

“As a former youth pastor, I learned long ago that no one steps up until there’s a vacuum that needs to be filled. Every year when my seniors were about to graduate, I would wonder if we’d survive without their leadership. But as soon as they were gone, the juniors and sophomores stepped up—often doing a better job than their departing upperclassmen.”

“Still another powerful advantage that small groups can bring is a marked increase in the practice of spiritual disciplines. That’s because a small group takes our good intentions and puts them on the our calendar.”

“Here’s the irony: if we canceled our small groups and filled our facility once a week for a prayer meeting with standing-room-only crowds, we’d probably get some great write-ups in the Christian press. But in reality we’d have almost 70% fewer people praying than we already have in our small groups.”

“Our young adult dropout rate is a fraction of what I’ve seen in the past. And I’m convinced it’s because we’ve focused on giving our children and youth the powerful gift of a growing mom and dad.”

“Sermon-based small groups also made it much easier for our teaching team to keep the entire church focused and headed in the same direction. Whether we’re casting vision, clarifying direction, or simply dealing with an important issue, it’s much easier to get people on the same page and keep them there.”

“One reason I want my messages to be more memorable (on why sermon based small groups make the preacher a better preacher and make the sermon go further in people’s lives) is that I want people to apply the important truths and doctrines of the faith. I know that if I can change the way people think, it will change the way they live.”

“It’s a relatively short step (for a marginal attender) from listening to a sermon to joining a small group that discusses the sermon he’s already heard. But it’s a much bigger step into a traditional small group Bible study.”

“There’s still another advantage that comes with a sermon based small group model. It’s that most people (including the marginally interested and new Christians) come to the meeting far more prepared than they would if they were using a typical workbook or study guide.”

Part 3 recounts ten chapters on the Why’s and How’s of Sermon-Based Small Groups and why this model works better than some of the more popular models out there for small groups. Here are some practical realities of sermon based small groups:

“A group needs to be small enough that everyone has a chance to contribute, but large enough that no one feels forced to speak up or share more than they want to. That means the ideal size for a group of introverts will tend to be larger than the ideal size for a group of thin-it-and-immediately-say-it extroverts. One needs more people to break the silence. The other needs less people so that there will be some silence.”

“The ideal size for a group of married couples is usually twelve to fourteen people. For singles, eight to twelve can be ideal.”

“We’ve found that whenever a couples group reaches sixteen people (or a singles group reaches fourteen), attendance becomes predictably inconsistent. It’s strange, but we can have three groups of twelve people, and all thirty-six will be present at almost every meeting. But two groups of sixteen people will hardly ever have all thirty-two show up. Perhaps it has to do with those in the smaller group feeling more needed and feeling a greater sense of responsibility.”

“We’ve found that the sermon-based small groups that have the greater life-on-life impact and stay together the longest are always those in which the friendships are deepest. That’s why we tell people to choose a group primarily according to who else is in it rather than where or when it meets.”

“Although we allow people to pick any group they want as long as there’s room in the group, we’ve found that those who make their choice based on a convenient location or time have a much lower stick rate than those who look for a group with which they already share an interest or station in life.”

“In almost every case, the first thing you’d notice at one of our small group meetings is that it starts with some light refreshments as people arrive—especially something to drink.”

“Once the meeting starts, most groups spend fifteen to thirty minutes sharing prayer requests and updating one another on what has been going on in their lives…As a group jells, this part of the meeting tends to expand and move to a much deeper level. In new groups, it can be perfunctory and shallow at first. But that’s fine by us. We don’t try to force depth. We simply provide an opportunity for great depth and vulnerability t show up when both the group and the Holy Spirit are ready.”

“The next part of the meeting is dedicated to the study and discussion of the previous weekend’s sermon…To improve the quality of the discussion, we work hard to make sure that everyone comes with the answers to the study questions already filled out. One of the most effective ways we do this is by having our leaders periodically ask people to read what they’ve written down, especially if it appears that someone is deviating from their original answer.”

“The homework (discussion/study guide) always consists of three types of questions: Getting to Know Me (These questions offer a nonthreatening look into our past or current life situations. They’re designed to help us get to know each other at a safe but accelerated pace), Into the Bible (These questions take the group to biblical passages that are either complementary or parallel to the main text of the sermon but were not covered in the message), and Application (These are designed to take home the main point or points of the sermon and drive them home. They typically deal with attitudes or life-change issues).”

“We ask every group to take at least one service project a year (the ideal is two) and to have at least one social gathering per quarter).”

“As a rule of thumb, most people will participate in only two time slots per week. No matter what the third meeting is for or when it takes place, it’s hard to get anyone to show up.”

Osborne goes on to discuss how to overcome the time crunch of developing and sustaining leaders; determining your primary purpose; how groups can grow deeper; why dividing groups isn’t the best strategy; how to find and develop leaders; how to train leaders; and these five key questions to ask before starting small groups:

  1. “Who are you trying to reach?” By that I mean, “Specifically who do you imagine being in your small groups? Who is likely to opt out? Who are you willing to leave out?”
  2. “What you plan to do in your meetings?” The options are endless. But once I know what happens in a small group, I can predict with uncanny accuracy who will come and who won’t.
  3. “How well does who you want to reach match up with what you plan to do?”
  4. “How do you think people are best trained to live out the Christian life and best prepared for leadership?”
  5. The final question to ask before launching a new or revamped small group ministry is, “Who already does what we want to do well—and does it in a church we would go to if we lived in the area?”

There is a large appendix section in the back of the book containing helps for the following topics: (1) Writing Great Questions; (2) Sample Sermon Note Sheet and Study Questions; (3) Sample Growth Group Covenant; (4) End-of-the-quarter Evaluation Form; (5) Leader Training Topics; (6) Leader Responsibilities; (7) Host Responsibilities; (8) A List of NT “One Anothers.” The Last section contains a Study Guide of Follow Up Questions for each chapter in the book.

Osborne’s model is simple; practical, proven, and effective. I don’t know of a better model for helping a local church reach out; equip; serve; raise up leaders; and unleash people for multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ. I have used this model in three churches; and now about to embark on launching this model in another church. I am grateful for it’s simplicity and yet the profound impact it has made practically in so many lives that I have been in community with. It has made a profound impact on my own belief that discipleship is done best in community and is a process not an event.

 

Tags: , , , ,

Why The Gospel is The Key To Bringing Real Change to Your Life

THE GOSPEL: KEY TO CHANGE

Tim Keller seated image

By Tim Keller

The Greek term “gospel” (ev-angelion) distinguished the Christian message from that of other religions. An ‘ev-angel’ was news of a great historical event, such as a victory in war or the ascension of a new king, that changed the listeners’ condition and required a response from the listener. So the gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God. What is this news?

God has entered the world in Jesus Christ to achieve a salvation that we could not achieve for ourselves which now 1) converts and transforms individuals, forming them into a new humanity, and eventually 2) will renew the whole world and all creation. This is the ‘good news’—the gospel. And it is good news in three important ways.

1. The gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance. Jesus lived the life we should live. He also paid the penalty we owe for the rebellious life we do live. He did this in our place:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:4-10);

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21);

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

We are not reconciled to God through our efforts and record, as in all other religions, but through his efforts and record. Christians who trust in Christ for their acceptance with God, rather than in their own moral character, commitment, or performance, are simul justus et pecator – simultaneously sinful yet accepted. We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope at the same time.

Without this unique understanding of grace-salvation, religions have to paint God as either a demanding, holy God who is placated by back-breaking moral effort, or as what C.S. Lewis calls ‘a senile, old benevolence’ who tolerates everyone no matter how they live. The problem is that if I think I have a relationship with God because I am living morally according to his standards, it does not move me to the depths to think of my salvation. I earned it. There is no joy, amazement, or tears. I am not galvanized and transformed from the inside. On the other hand, if I think I have a relationship with God because the Divine just embraces us all, no matter what how we live— that also does not move me to the depths. I simply have the attitude of Voltaire, who, on his deathbed famously said, “Of course God forgives—that’s his job.” Any effort to take away the idea of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and replace it with a moralism (i.e., being moral, working for others, imitating Jesus) robs the gospel of its power to change us from the inside out.

The gospel is, therefore, radically different from religion. Religion operates on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted”. The gospel operates on the principle: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.” So the gospel differs from both religion and irreligion. Not only can you seek to be your own ‘lord and savior’ by breaking the law of God (i.e., through irreligion), you can also do so by keeping the law in order to earn your salvation (i.e., through religion). A lack of deep belief in the gospel is the main cause of spiritual deadness, fear, and pride in Christians, because our hearts continue to act on the basis “I obey, therefore, I am accepted.” If we fail to forgive others–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to believe we are saved by grace, too. If we lie in order to cover up a mistake–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to find our acceptance in God rather than in human approval. So we do not ‘get saved’ by believing the gospel and then ‘grow’ by trying hard to live according to Biblical principles. Believing the gospel is not only the way to meet God, but also the way to grow into him.

2. The gospel is the good news of changed lives. Paul says to Christians, ‘your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3), and in numerous places he says that we are now ‘in Him.’ This means, on the one hand, that the Father accepts us in Christ and treats us as if we had done all that Jesus has done (cf. Col 3:2a). But this is also means Christ’s life comes into us by the Spirit and shapes us into a new kind of person. The gospel is not just a truth about us that we affirm with our minds, it is also a reality we must experience in our hearts and souls. For example, In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul wants the people to give an offering to the poor. He says, “I don’t want to order you. I don’t want this offering to simply be the response to my demand.” He doesn’t put pressure directly on the will (saying ‘I’m an apostle and this is your duty to me!’) nor pressure directly on the emotions (telling them stories about how much the poor are suffering and how much more they have than the sufferers). Instead, Paul vividly and unforgettably says, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). When he says ‘you know the grace’—he uses a powerful image, bringing Jesus’ salvation into the realm of money and wealth and poverty. He moves them by a ‘spiritual recollection’ of the gospel. Paul is saying, ‘Think on his costly grace. Think on that grace until you are changed into generous people by the gospel in your hearts.’ So the solution to stinginess is a re-orientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, where he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to worry about money—the cross proves God’s care for you and gives you security. Now you don’t have to envy any one else’s money. Jesus’ love and salvation confers on you a remarkable status—one that money cannot give you.

Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 5:25ff, where he urges husbands to be faithful to their wives. What is the point? What makes you a sexually faithful spouse, a generous-not avaricious- person, a good parent and/or child is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding makes in your heart—the seat of your mind, will, and emotions. Faith in the gospel re-structures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting. The gospel changes your heart.

3. The gospel is the good news of the new world coming. The plot-line of the Bible is this: 1) God created the world,
2) The world and humanity fell into sin and decay, 3) But God sends his Son to redeem the world and create a new humanity, and 4) Eventually the whole world will be renewed. Death, decay, injustice, and suffering will be all removed.

The gospel then is not just about individual happiness and fulfillment. It is not just a wonderful plan for ‘my life’ but a wonderful plan for the world. It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew everything. Gospel-centered churches do not only urge individuals to be converted, but also to seek peace and justice in our cities and in our world

Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth via giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit that they are weak and lost. This pattern creates an ‘alternate kingdom’ or ‘city’ (Matt.5:14-16). in which there is a complete reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. When we understand that we are saved by sheer grace through Christ, we stop seeking salvation in these things. The reversal of the cross, therefore, liberates us from bondage to the power of material things and worldly status in our lives. The gospel, therefore, creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition–all these things are marks of living in the world, and are the opposite of the mindset of the kingdom (Luke 6:20-26).

Conclusion

All of the above are important ‘perspectives’ on the gospel. The first stresses the doctrinal content of the gospel. The gospel is the news that Jesus Christ died and rose for our salvation in history. The second stresses the personal individual impact of the gospel. The gospel is a transforming grace that changes our hearts and inmost motives. The third stresses the social impact of the gospel. The gospel brings a new ‘order’ in which believers no longer are controlled by material goods or worldly status and have solidarity with others across customary social barriers. These three ‘perspectives’ are all Biblical and should be kept together. There is a tendency for Christians and churches to focus on just one of these perspectives and ignore the others. However they are inseparable and inter-dependent on one another.

If, for example, you stressed the social perspective to the exclusion of others, you might call loudly for social justice, but your ministry will not convert people and give them the changed lives they need to persevere in humbly serving the needs of the poor. If you stress the doctrinal perspective to the exclusion of the experiential and social, you might have a ministry that is doctrinally accurate but it will not produce changed lives, so why should anyone believe your doctrine? If you over-stress the personal perspective, you might ‘psychologize’ the gospel so that it is presented as strictly a way for an individual to overcome his or her guilt and unhappiness. But it will not get the person out of him or herself—which is what you need most to be happy. We were built by God for service. All three perspectives are necessary. This full approach to the gospel creates a church that does not fit neatly into the traditional ‘conservative/sectarian’ nor ‘liberal/mainline’ categories.

The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social-change. Change won’t happen through ‘trying harder’ but only through encountering with the radical grace of God.

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Paul David Tripp on The Best Worship Service Ever

An Extended Meditation on Revelation 19:6-8

(These articles were composed by Paul David Tripp on October 6, 12, 20 @ http://www.paultripp.com/articles/)

12_article_graphic_worship_reclamation

Five Important Things

The Book of Revelation can be confusing and potentially intimidating. Many would prefer a simple Psalm or Proverb with our morning cup of coffee instead of the eschatological numbers, symbols and creatures that populate the final pages of Scripture.

All that imagery has significant meaning and relevant application to your life, but it does require a lot of study and understanding. So when people ask me about the Book of Revelation, I say that in its most simple form, it’s a glorious portrait of the risen King Christ.

THE BEST WORSHIP SERVICE EVER

I would argue that the best depiction of that glory is found in Revelation 19:6-8. Sometimes I close my eyes and try to imagine being in attendance at the most vibrant and exuberant worship service ever recorded. Check out these words:

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.” (ESV)

I love those three verses because it enables me to visualize the intimate and raucous celebration that is to come. But while I wait for that celebration, those verses also require that I re-evaluate my priorities. How so, you may ask? Think about this: those in the rejoicing multitude have lived life on earth and now exist eternally on the other side. By eavesdropping on their song, we can learn what’s truly important for us today.

FIVE IMPORTANT THINGS

There are 5 things that the great multitude is celebrating:

1. God Himself (vv. 6-7)

Those in the multitude celebrate that God exists. It sounds a bit dumb, doesn’t it? But, if you were to honestly assess your life, you would find streaks of “godlessness” every day. That doesn’t mean you’re temporarily an atheist or indulging in wild streaks of debauchery; it simply means that you’re making decisions that forget the presence of God.

Imagine how your relationships, your ministry, your work, your calendar, and your budget would be transformed if, before every desire, word, and deed, you remembered the presence of the Lord. But we’re amnesiacs, God-forgetful people; our hearts are prone to wander. Would you humbly admit that you forget God more than you should?

2. God’s Reign (v. 6)

Those in the multitude rejoice that God Almighty reigns with power and precision. How often do you and I forget about his sovereignty and try to work out life on our own? We wish we could turn back the clock and change the past; we try to manipulate people and locations in the present; we fret constantly over the future.

If you rested in the active reign of God, your life would be marked by peace and confidence, even in the darkest and most unpredictable of times. Would you humbly admit that you fearfully try to control more of your life than you should?

3. God’s Glory (v. 7)

Those in the multitude are intimately experiencing what they were made for: the glory of Another. It’s clear from Scripture that you and I were not designed to pursue and accumulate as many pleasures and treasures as we can, but to live for the glory of God.

Think about how many times you choose the kingdom of self over the kingdom of God. I’m not talking about big moments; I’m talking about the 10,000 little opportunities you have each week to pursue God’s kingdom. Would you humbly admit that you love little glories more than you love the Glory of God?

4. God’s Invitation (v. 7)

Those in the multitude recognize how significant their inclusion at the Marriage Supper is; they have made themselves ready. In other words, they’re celebrating redemption and the fact that their lives have been joined together with Christ.

There are some days when you and I are joyfully married to Jesus the Bridegroom, but there are many days when we treat our lives as if they belong to us. Remember, Christ died so that those who live may no longer live for themselves. Would you humbly admit that you don’t always want the invitation to live for Jesus?

5. God’s Grace (v. 8)

Finally, those in the multitude are celebrating their wardrobe, the fine, bright and pure linen they’re given to wear. This represents the grace of God that has transformed their heart from the inside out.

One day, you and I will experience completely pure and transformed hearts. But a filthy heart needs to be cleansed before it becomes pure, and that cleansing process – called sanctification – requires pressure and heat. I’ll be the first one to admit – I often struggle with God’s way of purifying my soul. Would you humbly admit that you don’t want sanctification as much as you say you do?

DON’T BE DISCOURAGED

As I reviewed these five important things that the great multitude celebrates, I was discouraged by how short I fall. I forget God; I try to control my future; I pursue self-glory; I’m not excited to die to self; and I don’t rejoice when sanctification comes my way.

But then I remembered – these people are on the other side. They no longer wrestle with sin like I do. One day I’ll be able to celebrate with unrestricted joy and passion!

Until then, every day will be a struggle. That’s why I encouraged to you five times to “humbly admit” your shortcomings. Remember, God gives grace to the humble, form-fit for the specific battle of that day. And, in the midst of your failing, Jesus will never turn his back on you; your the bride of Christ, and nothing can remove the love he has for you.

Value Clarification

Last week (above) I wrote about Five Important things to remember during our days on this earth. If we remember God, God’s reign, God’s glory, God’s invitation, and God’s grace, it can radically transform the way we live in the here and now.

I was inspired (and challenged) by the voices of those in great multitude, found in Revelation 19:6-8. Remember, these people have concluded their broken, earthly existence and now reside eternally with God. That means they see with clarity and value with purity what God sees and what God values.

By eavesdropping on what they have to say, we can receive the grace to see and hear where we’re so blind and deaf. Here’s one of those areas where we need help:

1. VALUE CLARIFICATION

Human beings are value-oriented. That means we assign value to people, places, objects and ideas and rearrange our behavior, schedule and finances to pursue those things that we have named as valuable. Our hopes and dreams are shaped by what we value. We find our identity in how successful (or unsuccessful) we are in pursuing those values.

There’s nothing wrong with being value-oriented; that’s the way God created us. Animals were designed to live by instinct; humans were designed to live with values.

However, we weren’t created to define our own values. Since we were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), we were created to live under God’s value system. But because of sin, we stray from those values, and humanity has been in trouble ever since.

You could argue that every single act of hurtful behavior in the history of the world has been a result of an incorrect value system. The evidence is everywhere: we need our values clarified.

HEAVENLY VALUES

Let’s read the song of the great multitude again:

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.” (Revelation 19:6-8)

Notice what they’re NOT celebrating:

– I was the most beautiful, most intelligent, and most popular person.

– I was married to the most beautiful, most intelligent, and most popular person.

– I had kids who were successful in 3 sports and won scholarships to the best colleges.

– I climbed the corporate ladder faster than any of my colleagues.

– I was always being recognized as the most successful individual in my department.

– I bought such a comfortable house and lived in such a great neighborhood.

– I had season tickets on the 50-yard-line during that Super Bowl season.

– I spent each summer at the sweetest vacation spots.

– I always wined and dined at the finest restaurants in the city.

If you follow my teaching, you should know that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with financial success or business renown. I also think there’s plenty of evidence in Scripture that reveals God’s desire to see his children enjoy the pleasure and comfort of the created world (as long as the heart is worshiping properly).

But, when we listen to the voices of those on the other side, they’re not celebrating success, renown, comfort and pleasure; they’re celebrating those Five Important Things:

(1) What God wanted was more important than what we wanted.

(2) What God decided was more important than our career path.

(3) What God received glory for was more important than our popularity.

(4) What God named as good was better than what we thought was good.

(5) What God brought into our life was more fulfilling than a lifestyle of comfort.

A CALL TO REMEMBER

I write these Articles for several reasons, but perhaps one of the most significant reasons is because you and I are amnesiacs. We’re forgetful people. Another way of saying that is to echo Robert Robinson’s hymn – “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

Today, would you humbly admit with me that you forget what’s truly important? Would you be willing to re-evaluate your priorities once more? Would you confess that your values need to be clarified, not just once more, but every single day?

Thankfully, God has given us his Word to remind us. He has provided us with thousands of reminders, scattered through the pages of Scripture.

On top of that, God has lavished us with grace: enabling grace to choose the right values, forgiving grace when we fail, and and perhaps my favorite – the grace of future completion (Philippians 1:6).

There will be a day when you and I, like the great multitude, will see Christ face to face and forever have our values clarified. Until then, we need all the grace God provides.

The past two weeks (above) we’ve been studying the “best worship service ever” found in Revelation 19:6-8. By eavesdropping on eternity, we’re reminded of what’s truly important in this life and what we won’t be celebrating in eternity.

The voices of those in the great multitude certainly help us with Value Clarification, but they also help us in this area:

2. WORSHIP RECLAMATION

I purposely chose the phrase Worship Reclamation instead of Worship Inception or Worship Commencement. Inception and commencement would mean that we need to launch or initiate our worship. Reclamation (to reclaim) means that our worship is already ongoing and needs to be recovered, rehabilitated and redirected.

You don’t need to learn how to worship or how to begin worshiping. By nature and hard-wiring, you ARE a worshiper. Every human being has been designed by God to worship during every minute of every day.

In a perfect world (literally), God was meant to be the constant recipient of our worship, but Romans 1:25 says that sinners now exchange worship and service of the Creator for worship and service of the creation. That’s why we need our worship reclaimed – because it’s currently directed at something other than the One who is alone worthy of our worship.

WORSHIP AS AN IDENTITY

When we read Romans 1:25, I think our immediate tendency is to find practical ways to “worship and serve” God more. For example, we look for areas where we can spend less money and time on us and commit that money and time to the ministry of the local church.

I want to encourage those actions, because they’re biblical, but you need to consider your worship as an identity before you think of it as an activity. You, the worshiper, are always attaching your identity – your meaning, well-being and sense of purpose – to something or someone. And where a worshiper finds his or her identity, there they’ll find practical ways to worship.

Another way of saying that is this: something, or someone, is always ruling the heart of a worshiper. Since the Bible says the heart is the control center of the human being, whatever rules your heart will automatically exercise control over your desires, thoughts, words and actions.

The summary question of this Article is this: where are you finding your identity, and how is your identity shaping your worship?

DANGEROUS PLACES TO FIND IDENTITY

Last week (above) I wrote about 9 things you won’t be celebrating in eternity. I think that list is helpful to review again, because if we won’t be celebrating those things in eternity, we shouldn’t be worshiping them today. If we don’t want to worship them today, we should avoid placing our identity in those things.

Here’s that list again, phrased slightly differently, and why we need to place our identity, and consequently, our worship, in God alone:

(1) SELF – This life is not about you. You were brought into a world that is, by definition, a celebration of the beauty and intelligence of God.

(2) MARRIAGE – No human being can satisfy your soul; only God can. If you place your identity in your spouse – or any other person, for that matter – you’ll always be disappointed.

(3) KIDS – Your children are not actually your children; you gave birth to them, but they don’t belong to you. Your kids are from God, they exist through God, and the glory of their lives points to God.

(4) SUCCESS – God calls you to be fruitful and productive, but the moment you take on your success as an identity, you’ll become a slave to a never-ending stream of potential opportunities.

(5) RENOWN – Again, this life is not about you. Your primary job description is to be an ambassador for and herald of the glory and renown of your Heavenly King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

(6) COMFORT – Comfort is not sinful, but you’ll never find paradise in a fallen world. Also, the work of the gospel will often call you to uncomfortable people in uncomfortable places.

(7) EXCITEMENT – Go ahead and buy season tickets for your favorite football team, but if a touchdown excites you more than the life-transforming ministry of the local church, you need to re-evaluate your eternal priorities.

(8) LEISURE – Again, this world will never be a paradise. It’s not sinful to enjoy a vacation, but remember that this life is a preparation for your final destination.

(9) PLEASURE – Pleasure was created by God for you, but the created pleasures of this world are meant to be a finger pointing to the ultimate pleasure – an intimate relationship with the Creator.

We need to remember again that God is the only One who exists in the universe who is worthy of our worship. Additionally, he’s the only safe place to seek identity. All forms of worship and service to the creation come with life-threatening danger, but worship and service of God come with the promise of life, both now and forever more.

Would you admit with me today that it’s tempting to seek identity in all the wrong places? And would you admit with me today that no matter how long you’ve walked with Jesus, your worship needs to be reclaimed? God gives grace to humble and will never withhold love and forgiveness from the repentant hearts of his idolatrous children.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: Kevin DeYoung’s “Just Do Something”

Doing What God Has Revealed In The Bible

Unknown

A Book Review by David P. Craig

When I was in my teens I read a great book (still in print) called Decision Making and the Will of God by Gary Friesen and Robin Maxon. It was a watershed book for me in helping me with how to make biblically informed decisions. Over the years I’ve recommended the book to many who have have sought my counsel on the question “How can I know the will of God for my life?”. The problem with the book by Friesen and Maxon is it’s length (It was based on Friesen’s doctoral dissertation at Dallas Theological Seminary). It’s a great book, but it’s length is prohibitive for many. Here’s the distinct advantage of DeYoung’s book – essentially the same principles and content – in 300 pages less!

DeYoung focuses on the facts of what God has revealed in the Scriptures so that we can best discern wisely what he wants from us. He makes a good case that God never intends for us to know “specifically” what He wants us to do (vocation), where He wants us to live, or who to marry (among many other questions we ask); however, DeYoung shows what God wants us to be like (Jesus) and how this purpose (sanctification) informs our decision-making. In the final analysis DeYoung writes: “Live for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God…the will of God for your life is pretty straightforward: Be holy like Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, for the glory of God.”

The author does a wonderful job of using practical illustrations to show how we worry, procrastinate, and flat-out sin by not doing what we know to do, as we put out fleeces, wait for signs, and pray as we wait for God’s discernment. He shows that oftentimes we are paralyzed by the fear of making a wrong decision or being out of God’s will, when what we really need to do is focus on what God has revealed in the Scriptures clearly that we are to do (principles, commands, and boundaries). Just Do Something is biblical, practical, theologically astute, and can be read in a few hours. I highly recommend it for any Christian of any age whose chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. This will now be my new “go-to” book when people ask me: “How can I know God’s will for my life?”

 

 

Tags: , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: