What Church Should Be (4.3)


I’ll admit that one of my favorite teachers is still my pastor from Florida.  But since we left Florida over 8 years ago he also moved away and spent a few years pasturing a large church in Alabama before venturing out and planting a new church.  And for the past eight years I have continued to download and listen to Chris’ sermons in my iPod.

I’ve been working my way through a series he preached last summer entitled Proof of Life, and he made a comment in the sermon I listened to earlier this week that has just been stuck in my head for days (I even shared it on Facebook yesterday as my status!)  So here it is:

“See, here’s the issue, God has never expected anybody to clean up their life and THEN come to Christ. That’s a dead end street! Here’s what God says to people: ‘Come just like you are, come with all your hang-ups, faults, mistakes, sins, idiosyncrasies that you’re actively engaged in. Bring all of that stuff to me, the good, the bad, the ugly. I’LL cleanse you, I’LL wash you, I’LL change you, I’LL give you a new desire to do what’s right. You let ME begin working in and through you.'”

Go back and read that quote again.  How many times do we expect Christians to always have it together?  How many times do we prematurely judge or even condemn fellow believers because we perceive they have sin in their lives?

As part of my new job I am overseeing the professional development for the district’s instructional coaches (ICs) for grades K-8.  An IC is a person who is supposed to come in and support a teacher and help them grow by guiding.  But they are not supposed to evaluate the teacher.  This past week I sat with about 10 of them and we had an excellent conversation in the difference between evaluating a teaching, coaching a teacher, and making a judgment call on whether a teacher’s practices are effective or ineffective.  One of the marks of a good coach can be seen in the questions they ask – for the coach’s job is often more to draw the answer out of the teacher (helping them process through the question) than it is in giving them a solution.

If only we treated our fellow brothers and sisters in the church with the same attitude.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting we aren’t called to make a judgment call on believers when they are living in sin, and I’m not suggesting there is never a time to cut someone off if they refuse to repent.  What I am saying, though, is that I think we rush to judgment and condemnation, forgetting that we ourselves deserve the same condemnation we so willingly place on others.  Church needs to be a place where we can be honest about our struggles and sins, openly sharing them with trusted confidants who are there to support and guide us as we work to fully surrender ourselves to Christ working in us.

So ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I feel like I have people at church with whom I can be honest and open with without fearing condemnation?
  2. Am I a person who can love and support others as they work through their sin?
  3. If the answer to either of those questions is “No”, what needs to change so the answer can be “Yes”?

The answer to the last question tells you what you need to do now.

 

Goal Setting (3.15)


Many people use the beginning of a new year to set goals for the upcoming year.  Notice I don’t say “resolutions” because, in all frankness, most of the time resolutions are simply made to be broken!  But goals, if set correctly, can lead to real changes in our lives.  In order to set a goal you need to have a picture of where you want to be – and then determine how it is you’re going to get there.  And make sure that goal is measurable (meaning you can tell if you made it or not).  For example, a goal of “I’m going to exercise more” is pretty vague, but a goal of “I’m going to go for an early morning run three days a week” is much easier to know whether you meet it or not.  And when you can measure you’re goal it’s much more motivating to keep it (and reach it!).

Chris Goins, a pastor whom I enjoy listening to and reading, suggests asking yourself the question,  “Am I closer to God today than I was on January 1, 2010?”

While I’ll post more information and links on the blog (so you’ll definitely want to check this one out online), here are some places to start as you set your goals for the coming year.  Spend some time reflecting on and answering these questions, and I believe you’ll find 2011 could be one of your best yet!  These are borrowed from Chris’ blog

My Spiritual Life

  • What practices, ‘disciplines,’ or spiritual ‘graces’ will I build into my life in 2011 that will give me an opportunity to grow and become more like Jesus?
  • What small group will I be a part of?
  • Will I honor the “Sabbath” and regularly set aside a day for resting my body, recharging my emotions and refocusing my spirit?
  • Will I become an active part of a life-giving local church and invest my time, energy and resources into accomplishing the mission Jesus has established for the local church?

My Emotional Life

  • Is there someone I need to seek forgiveness from?
  • Is there someone I need to forgive?
  • Will I become an active part of a small group in order to fill my world with life-giving relationships?
  • Where is there “clutter” in my life that can be eliminated? My garage, attic, storage space, home closet(s), desk, filing cabinet, computer, car, truck, etc.? (Go ahead! Clean it out today!)

My Relational World

  • On a scale of 1 – 10 (“1” being “in the Intensive Care Unit and in desperate need of resuscitation” and “10” being “hitting on all cylinders / totally awesome”), how would I rate my marriage?
  • What practices will I build into my marriage in 2011 to increase intimacy and fulfillment?
  • What books will me and my spouse read or what marriage conferences will we attend in order to build intimacy and fulfillment into our marriage in 2011?
  • On a scale of 1 – 10 (use the same pattern mentioned above), how am I doing as a parent? How would I rate the relationship I have with my kids? How would my kids rate the relationship we have?
  • What practices will I build into my family in 2011 to bring our family closer together and move our family closer to Christ?
  • Have I scheduled a date night with my spouse for the month of January? When? What will we do? Why not?

My Physical World

  • How much do I weigh? For my body type, is that amount of weight okay?
  • Am I honoring God with my body?
  • Do I have a complete physical scheduled between now and October 31?  If not, schedule one!
  • Do I need to change my eating habits? What healthy eating plan can I build into my life in 2011?
  • Do I exercise? What exercise plan will I adopt in 2011 in order to honor God with the body He has given to me?

My Financial World

  • Are my finances in order? Is personal debt strangling the life out of me?
  • Do I have a written budget? Have my spouse and I reviewed this budget and agreed upon it?
  • Do I have personal debt other than a reasonable mortgage? Is being debt free in 2011 a possible goal? What will we do to get there?

My Intellectual World

  • What books am I going to read in 2011? (Biography, Spiritual Formation, Classics, Fiction, Business)
  • What is my reading goal for 2011? How many books will I read each week / each month? How many hours will I read each day / week / month?
  • What seminars / classes will I attend in 2011 to continue honoring God with my mind by using my intellect?

My Personal Calling

  • What do I do best and how can I do more of it in 2011?
  • What is my calling? What is my mission? Am I pursuing it? Why not?
  • Who do I know or who could I know in a similar field that God might use as a mentor in my life?
  • What caused me the greatest amount of stress in 2010? What am I going to do to fix it?

Extra links (not included in the printed devotional) – also borrowed from Chris’ Blog:

Lifeway Spiritual Growth Inventory

Bible Reading Plans from YouVersion

Your Spiritual Growth Plan (article in Christianity Today written by John Ortberg)

Our Vision of God (Grace Notes Issue 2.21)


Cross Posted on Grace Notes

(note: this is a futher development of the blog entry entitled “How Big is Your God?”  While the beginning of this is the same as that entry – up through the quote, the rest of it has been further developed and completely re-written)

I heard this quote in a sermon this past week by one of my previous pastors, Chris Goins, and I can’t get the darn thing out of my head (thanks, Pastor Chris!)…. I just have to share it (it’s from James Montgomery Boice):

We do not have a strong church today, nor do we have many strong Christians. We can trace the cause to an acute lack of sound spiritual knowledge. Why is the church weak? Why are individual Christians weak? It is because they have allowed their minds to become conformed to the “spirit of this age,” with its mechanistic, godless thinking. They have forgotten what God is like and what he promises to do for those who trust him. Ask an average Christian to talk about God. After getting past the expected answers you will find that his god is a little god of vacillating sentiments. He is a god who would like to save the world, but who cannot. He would like to restrain evil, but somehow he finds it beyond his power. So he has withdrawn into semi-retirement, being willing to give good advice in a grandfatherly sort of way, but for the most part he has left his children to fend for themselves in a dangerous environment.

Such a god is not the God of the Bible. Those who know their God perceive the error in that kind of thinking and act accordingly. The God of the Bible is not weak; he is strong. He is all-mighty. Nothing happens without his permission or apart from his purposes — even evil. Nothing disturbs or puzzles him. His purposes are always accomplished. Therefore, those who know him rightly act with boldness, assured that God is with them to accomplish his own desirable purposes in their lives.

This quote has had me reflecting all week on how I see God.  As I reflect I find more and more truth in this quote (unfortunately).  As I talk with people I think they experience this as well.

I believe the reason for this rests not only on how we view God, but how we view prayer.  How many times have you heard someone say (or said yourself), “I prayed for so-and-so to get well, but they didn’t.  I guess God didn’t want to heal him.”  Or we ask for stuff in prayer – and we believe we’re asking in faith – but the answer we receive isn’t the one we want.

So what’s the result?  Being the self-obsessed creatures we are, we conclude that the problem isn’t with us, it’s with God.  Instead of asking God what He wants, or surrendering to His will, we get mad and throw a temper tantrum like we’re undisciplined toddlers.  In an effort to spite God (and save face), we conclude that God isn’t interested, God doesn’t care, or God is unable.  We never for once consider that perhaps what we asked for wasn’t good for us.  We never once consider that the prayer may not have been answered because we have unconfessed sin or we’ve built a wall between us and God.  We never consider that God’s ways aren’t our ways.  In short, we won’t surrender to Him, so instead we blame Him and then limit Him.

This quote actually reminds me of another one of my favorite quotes (which I believe I’ve shared in the past):

There is a God we want, and there is a God who is and they are not the same God. The turning point of our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is. – Patrick Morley

In short, I think our answer is found in focusing less on ourselves and more on Him.  John Eldridge talks about going on the adventure with God.  But the thing about adventures is that they’re not only exciting but also scary – both feelings come from a sense of the unknown.    We can’t expect God to tell us everything or give us everything we think we deserve.  But we can count on Him to give us (and tell us) everything we need (and, truth be told, He’s given most of us far more than we need).

So instead of asking, “How big is your God?” (which is a very legitimate and important question), we should be asking ourselves, “What’s your vision of God?” or “What’s your vision of prayer?” (or even, “What’s my vision of myself?”– perhaps I’m too big).

Our Vision of God (2.21)


(note: this is a futher development of the blog entry entitled “How Big is Your God?”  While the beginning of this is the same as that entry – up through the quote, the rest of it has been further developed and completely re-written)

I heard this quote in a sermon this past week by one of my previous pastors, Chris Goins, and I can’t get the darn thing out of my head (thanks, Pastor Chris!)…. I just have to share it (it’s from James Montgomery Boice):

We do not have a strong church today, nor do we have many strong Christians. We can trace the cause to an acute lack of sound spiritual knowledge. Why is the church weak? Why are individual Christians weak? It is because they have allowed their minds to become conformed to the “spirit of this age,” with its mechanistic, godless thinking. They have forgotten what God is like and what he promises to do for those who trust him. Ask an average Christian to talk about God. After getting past the expected answers you will find that his god is a little god of vacillating sentiments. He is a god who would like to save the world, but who cannot. He would like to restrain evil, but somehow he finds it beyond his power. So he has withdrawn into semi-retirement, being willing to give good advice in a grandfatherly sort of way, but for the most part he has left his children to fend for themselves in a dangerous environment.

Such a god is not the God of the Bible. Those who know their God perceive the error in that kind of thinking and act accordingly. The God of the Bible is not weak; he is strong. He is all-mighty. Nothing happens without his permission or apart from his purposes — even evil. Nothing disturbs or puzzles him. His purposes are always accomplished. Therefore, those who know him rightly act with boldness, assured that God is with them to accomplish his own desirable purposes in their lives.

This quote has had me reflecting all week on how I see God.  As I reflect I find more and more truth in this quote (unfortunately).  As I talk with people I think they experience this as well.

I believe the reason for this rests not only on how we view God, but how we view prayer.  How many times have you heard someone say (or said yourself), “I prayed for so-and-so to get well, but they didn’t.  I guess God didn’t want to heal him.”  Or we ask for stuff in prayer – and we believe we’re asking in faith – but the answer we receive isn’t the one we want.

So what’s the result?  Being the self-obsessed creatures we are, we conclude that the problem isn’t with us, it’s with God.  Instead of asking God what He wants, or surrendering to His will, we get mad and throw a temper tantrum like we’re undisciplined toddlers.  In an effort to spite God (and save face), we conclude that God isn’t interested, God doesn’t care, or God is unable.  We never for once consider that perhaps what we asked for wasn’t good for us.  We never once consider that the prayer may not have been answered because we have unconfessed sin or we’ve built a wall between us and God.  We never consider that God’s ways aren’t our ways.  In short, we won’t surrender to Him, so instead we blame Him and then limit Him.

This quote actually reminds me of another one of my favorite quotes (which I believe I’ve shared in the past):

There is a God we want, and there is a God who is and they are not the same God. The turning point of our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is. – Patrick Morley

In short, I think our answer is found in focusing less on ourselves and more on Him.  John Eldridge talks about going on the adventure with God.  But the thing about adventures is that they’re not only exciting but also scary – both feelings come from a sense of the unknown.    We can’t expect God to tell us everything or give us everything we think we deserve.  But we can count on Him to give us (and tell us) everything we need (and, truth be told, He’s given most of us far more than we need).

So instead of asking, “How big is your God?” (which is a very legitimate and important question), we should be asking ourselves, “What’s your vision of God?” or “What’s your vision of prayer?” (or even, “What’s my vision of myself?”– perhaps I’m too big).

How Big is Your God?


Okay, I know that it’s mid-week and I only write these devotionals for the weekend newsletter, and this may develop into a full devotional, but I heard this quote in a sermon this past week by one of my previous pastors, Chris Goins, and I can’t get the darn thing out of my head (thanks, Pastor Chris!)…. I just have to share it (it’s from James Montgomery Boice):

We do not have a strong church today, nor do we have many strong Christians. We can trace the cause to an acute lack of sound spiritual knowledge. Why is the church weak? Why are individual Christians weak? It is because they have allowed their minds to become conformed to the “spirit of this age,” with its mechanistic, godless thinking. They have forgotten what God is like and what he promises to do for those who trust him. Ask an average Christian to talk about God. After getting past the expected answers you will find that his god is a little god of vacillating sentiments. He is a god who would like to save the world, but who cannot. He would like to restrain evil, but somehow he finds it beyond his power. So he has withdrawn into semi-retirement, being willing to give good advice in a grandfatherly sort of way, but for the most part he has left his children to fend for themselves in a dangerous environment.

Such a god is not the God of the Bible. Those who know their God perceive the error in that kind of thinking and act accordingly. The God of the Bible is not weak; he is strong. He is all-mighty. Nothing happens without his permission or apart from his purposes — even evil. Nothing disturbs or puzzles him. His purposes are always accomplished. Therefore, those who know him rightly act with boldness, assured that God is with them to accomplish his own desirable purposes in their lives. (if you’d like to read the quote in context click here.)

It’s really caused me to reflect on how I see God, and pray that I would see Him as He really is; it’s also caused me to reflect upon my own church and how we communicate God to others through our worship… It’s very convicting, and it’s driven me to spend some good time praying about it in the past several days. It actually reminds me of another one of my favorite quotes:

There is a God we want, and there is a God who is and they are not the same God. The turning point of our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is. – Patrick Morley

Wow… I’m, not sure I have anything else to say right now…

To Quote Someone Else (Issue 2.2)


Originally Written for 9/27/09

One thing I’ve come to enjoy over the years of being a music director is writing the weekly devotional for the choirs I serve.  But while I enjoy it, it does take time and effort and sometimes I have a hard time figuring out what to share and how to compose it.

As we prepare for this year’s Christmas canata, The Ornament, I will be taking a break from writing weekly devotionals.  That’s because there are devotionals written for groups that are preparing the musical – tied to the themes of the music and drama.  I figure, Why reinvent the wheel, so to speak.  So this will be my last devotional I write until Thanksgiving time (I plan to do my annual Thanksgiving list), and then I won’t write another one until after Christmas.

This week I do want to share some quotes that I’ve been meditating on over the past several weeks, though, and I hope you find they enrich your walk with your Saviour as they have mine.

“The open secret of healthy spiritual growth is to know and settle upon…Romans 8:28, 29.  When we see that all things are working together to make us more and more like the Lord Jesus, we will not be frustrated and upset when some of these ‘things’ are hard, difficult to understand, and often contain an element of death.” (Miles J. Stanford)

“Here is the ‘good’ for which God is working all things together – His original purpose of making us in His image, which is centered and expressed in His Son.” (Miles J. Stanford)

“[J]ust look at [Jesus].  Just be occupied with Him.  Forget about trying to be like Him.  Instead of letting that fill our mind and heart, let Him fill it.  Just behold Him, look upon Him through the Word.  Come to the Word for one purpose and that is to meet the Lord.  Not to get your mind crammed full of things about the sacred Word, but come to it to meet the Lord.  Make it to be a medium, not of Biblical scholarship, but of fellowship with Christ.” (Norman Douty)

“The effortless life is not the will-les slife.  We use our will to believe, to receive, but not to exert effort in trying to accomplish what only God can do.  Our hope for victory over sin is not ‘Christ plus my efforts,’ but ‘Christ plus my receiving.’  To receive victory from Him is to believe His Word that soley by His grace He is, this moment, freeing us from the dominion of sin.” (Charles Trumbull)

“We do not fight [spiritual battles] for victory, but from victory.” (Sorry, don’t remember who said this – either Chris Goins or Mark Driscoll)