Archive for November, 2010

If God is Sovereign, Why Pray?

One of our key distinctives at Second Mile Church is that we celebrate the sovereignty of God over everything. This means we believe that God is in absolute control of everything that happens.

In light of this, an obvious question, especially as we study about prayer is “If God is in control of everything and already knows everything that will come to pass, why bother praying?”

Bruce Ware has a chapter on this in the book For the Fame of God’s Name, and here’s one of my favorite paragraphs from his much more comprehensive answer:

One of the most startling and wondrous realizations that any Christian can have is that much of the purpose of prayer has to do with one simple thing: relationship–that is relationship coram Deo (before the face of God). One great and glorious reason God devised prayer was to use it as a mechanism to draw us to himself, to help us see how much we need him, to set before us constantly the realization that he is everything we are not and he possesses everything that we lack. We are weak, but he is strong; we are foolish, but he is wise; we are untrustworthy, but he is faithful; we are ignorant, but he is infinitely knowledgeable; we are poor and empty, but he is rich and full. Imagine this: although God does not need any of what we bring to him in prayer, he longs for us to bring everything that we do bring to him and so much more!


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How to Leave a Church

I met yesterday with a friend who is leaving our church. We had a good conversation about his reasons for leaving (they are legitimate) and then some discussion about how he can “leave well.” I told him that, based on my experience with people leaving our church or coming to our church after leaving another one, most people don’t leave well.

Here are a few ideas on how to leave a church well:

1. Have a good reason for leaving. Before you go, evaluate whether your reasons are good, legitimate and God-honoring. Here’s a thought-provoking post exploring good, possible, and bad reasons for leaving a church (and here’s a discussion about this post). I don’t think this list is comprehensive, but it’s good to make you think. If your reasons are good, go. If not, stay.

2. Communicate your decision to leave with the appropriate leaders. If you’re an active part of the church, leaders will need to know you’re leaving. If you are serving, communicate it to your Ministry Team leader. If you are in a Community Group, communicate it to the leader. If you are connected with an elder or pastor, communicate it with them. Personal communication is preferable to written communication, but make sure you communicate.

3. Tell these leaders the truth about why you’re leaving. If you have legitimate reasons to leave then you have nothing to hide or worry about. If the reasons for leaving will sting church leadership, deliver it in the spirit of Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Scripture commands us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), which means you don’t couch the real, sometimes difficult reasons behind a bunch of spiritualized nonsense. God may use your reasons for leaving to help the church or its leaders. I’ve had at least one “exit interview” that was immensely helpful to me as a leader — some of the truth of it stung, but it helped me grow. Whatever you do, don’t just leave without telling your leaders.

4. Appropriately transition or conclude your ministry commitments. If you’ve been an active part of ministry, your role will need to be transitioned. Hopefully you’ve been training and developing somebody to take your place anyway, but if you haven’t, give your leaders an appropriate time to find others to serve in your capacity. This period shouldn’t drag on, but you also should not just drop the ball on the people you’ve been committed to.

5. Leave graciously. In Ray Pritchard’s post on this topic, he writes:

“[Leaving] graciously means you refuse to speak evil of those who remain in the church. Look forward, not backward. Focus on your new church, not your old one. Think carefully before you speak about your former congregation. Don’t say anything that could be remotely construed as criticism. Even casual comments could stir up needless controversy. Let the Golden Rule guide all your comments public and private.”

If you’ve read this post and realize that you didn’t leave a church well in the past, it might be wise to circle back to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. If you have gossiped or stirred up division, you should make it right, apologizing not only to the leaders of that church but also to the people to whom you gossiped.

In the end, remember that Jesus loves the church you’re leaving and the one you’re going to — His blood was shed for both. Both churches are part of his bride. Do his bride the honor of leaving well.

Question: Is there anything else you’d recommend for somebody leaving a church?

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MPOW: Hosea 13 – Complacency With Abundance

NOTE: MPOW stands for Ministry Passage of the Week, and contains a verse that comes from Bible Boot Camp, an intensive leadership development course that I am teaching this fall to about 20 growing leaders. Click here for other MPOWs.

Hosea 13:6 — Complacency With Abundance

[4] But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. [5] It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; [6] but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.

Hosea 13 is a passage that most followers of Christ have lived and experienced, much to our regret. When things are comfortable and easy, we get proud and walk away from God.

Though we are quick to criticize the Israelites of the Old Testament for their faithlessness, we are prone to the same cycle.

Here’s how it went in the book of Judges, and it’s the same challenge we face today:

  1. Sin — the people sin against God.
  2. Servitude — they experience the enslavement and pain of their sin.
  3. Supplication — they cry out to God for help and deliverance.
  4. Salvation — God rescues them.
  5. Silence — they get complacent and stop trusting God. The leads back to #1.

This is why our current cultural climate can be so spiritually refreshing. Many of our comforts and things we place our security in have been and are being stripped away. It makes many people ripe for the gospel. And it makes us see our need for God.

But how will we keep our relationship with God passionate even when we’re experiencing blessing and seasons of comfort?

First, I’ve found it helpful to, as much as possible, never let yourself get to a place where everything is easy for you. Keep putting yourself in environments of risk–places where you’ll have to depend on God’s grace for what you need. It’s this process of stretching ourselves that is what makes us grow. Put yourself in a new place of service. Invest yourself in a set of relationships that will stretch you. Try something that is impossible without God’s help.

Also, do constant battle with your pride. Have a godly friend or two who will call you on your sin and point out when you’re getting a little too comfortable with yourself.

Question: What have you done to overcome this tendency towards complacency during times of blessing?

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What is Missional? (6 Videos in 15 Minutes)

Last week we looked at some key aspects of what it means to be a “missional” church. For our more visual learners, here are six videos that together help to paint a picture of what we’re talking about. Consider it a “crash course” in missional thinking

HT: Will Mancini


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What is a Missional Church? (Part 3)

Here’s the third crucial component of being a missional church (see part 1 and part 2)

Create a counter-culture that shows the world how the gospel radically changes us in every way, especially in regards to power, money, and sex.

Up to this point, being a missional church could rightly be accused of being just another re-packaged approach to seeker-sensitive ministry. But missional churches realize that just evangelizing people isn’t enough–we have to disciple them into maturity. Not only does this honor Christ, but it also provides a key apologetic aspect to our evangelistic ministry.

Jesus called us to be distinctive. He says we’re the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” intended to shine good works so that men will glorify God (Matt 5:13-16).

In order to faithfully demonstrate that God is our supreme treasure, we must live in a way that is counter-cultural.

This means that we view power differently. Rather than a way to control and subjugate people, power becomes an opportunity to serve.

This means we view money differently. Rather than a way to achieve the comfort, approval, security, and status we lust for, money becomes a tool to further God’s kingdom. It doesn’t master us.

This means that we view sex differently. Rather than a way to selfishly pursue personal pleasure, we view sex as a good thing created by a loving God to be deeply enjoyed in the context of a fulfilling intimate marriage.

Of course, this also means we view all kinds of other things differently too–but living as a counter-culture is an essential part of living as a faithful missionary.

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What is a Missional Church? (Part 2)

Here’s the second key idea related to what it means to be a “missional” church (see part 1 here)

Embrace evangelism as a community project.

In their book, Total Church, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis offer this helpful picture related to the Three Strands of Evangelism:

Chester and Timmis rightly point out that we usually only focus on evangelism as an individual project, where we only focus on the top two strands. Therefore–as not all people are strong at building relationships or sharing, illustrating, or defending the gospel–most people are left out and feel guilty about it.

But if we view evangelism as a community project, it unleashes a new kind of missionary power. Chester and Timmis write:

“Not all of us are eloquent or engaging. Not everyone can think on their feet. Some people are simply not good at speaking to strangers and forming new relationships. One of the practical benefits of the three-strand model of evangelism is that it gives a role to all of God’s people. By making evangelism a community project, it also takes seriously the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in distributing a variety of gifts among his people. Everyone has a part to play: the new Christian, the introvert, the extrovert, the eloquent, the stuttering, the intelligent, the awkward. I may be the one who has begun to build a relationship with my neighbor, but in introducing him to community, it is someone else who shares the gospel with him. That is not only legitimate; it is positively thrilling!”

What are some helpful ways you’ve found to introduce people into community?

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What is a Missional Church? (Part 1)

At last week’s Acts29 Bootcamp, I taught a breakout on “Planting a Missional Church in the Suburbs.” Before I got into the specifics of suburban church planting, I highlighted some of the key basics of what it means to be a “missonal” church (which is a key value for us and distinctive for Acts29). Over the next few posts, I’ll explain those basics.

How do we live as a missional church?

First, develop the mindset of the church as a missionary force in culture.

The word “missional” is simply the adjective form of the noun “missionary.” By comparison, if somebody is being adversarial, you would know that this person is living like an adversary. If a person is being missional, they are living like a missionary.

A missionary is somebody who:

  1. relationally takes the unchanging gospel into a culture for the cause of Christ,
  2. understands people in that culture,
  3. learns the questions of that culture,
  4. understands the worldview of that culture, and
  5. begins a church in that culture that proclaims the unchanging truths of Scripture in the changing cultural context.

In the same way, a church that is “missional” views itself as a missionary to its culture, filled with ambassadors for Christ who take the gospel into every sphere of society.

How does this practically look? Tim Keller gives a helpful idea:

“A missional church avoids ever talking as if non-believing people are not present. If you speak and discourse as if your whole neighborhood is present (not just scattered Christians), eventually more and more of your neighborhood will find their way in or be invited.” (Tim Keller, “Missional Church”)

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Do I need to tell the person, “I forgive you”?

Forgiveness can be a complex issue, especially when it comes to deep or ongoing hurt. There’s definitely more to discuss than I had time to last Sunday, so here are some answers to common questions about forgiveness from Ray Pritchard’s, The Healing Power of Forgiveness.

Do I need to tell the person, “I forgive you”?

Not necessarily. Obviously, if a person asks for forgiveness, and if you intend to forgive him or her, then of course you should say, “I forgive you.” But most of the time, the people who hurt us are not seeking forgiveness or reconciliation. Sometimes it isn’t helpful to say, “I forgive you,” for then you end up picking a fight because the person responds, “I didn’t do anything that needs to be forgiven.” Remember, your forgiveness doesn’t depend on them. You don’t need their permission to forgive them. You don’t need their agreement that they were wrong. Just forgive them. Choose forgiveness in your heart, and then move on with your life.

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Does forgiveness always lead to reconciliation?

Forgiveness can be a complex issue, especially when it comes to deep or ongoing hurt. There’s definitely more to discuss than I had time to last Sunday, so here are some answers to common questions about forgiveness from Ray Pritchard’s, The Healing Power of Forgiveness.

Does forgiveness always lead to reconciliation?

The answer is no. Forgiveness is one thing, reconciliation is another. Reconciliation requires forgiveness, but forgiveness does not demand reconciliation. Forgiveness depends on you. Reconciliation depends on you plus the other person. It implies confession, repentance, forgiveness, restoration of trust, the passage of time, and a mutual desire to reconcile? Often reconciliation is not possible, and sometimes it is not wise (for instance a former husband who is still abusive, a former business partner who is still a crook, etc.).

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What about the person who says, “I can forgive but I can’t forget”?

Forgiveness can be a complex issue, especially when it comes to deep or ongoing hurt. There’s definitely more to discuss than I had time to last Sunday, so here are some answers to common questions about forgiveness from Ray Pritchard’s, The Healing Power of Forgiveness.

What about the person who says, “I can forgive but I can’t forget”?

This is a common problem and a common statement. In pondering this problem, my mind ran to a scripture in the book of Hebrews that speaks of God’s forgiveness of our sins. Surely if we have trouble forgetting, what about God, who never forgets anything? Hebrews 10:17 quotes God as saying, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” According to the phrase “I will remember their sins no more,” God chooses not to remember our sins.

That’s helpful, isn’t it? Forgiveness is a choice we make. It is not a feeling or a mood or a passing notion. Forgiveness does not mean we somehow wipe out of our mind the record of what happened. Forgiveness means we choose not to remember it. There is a big difference between remembering a painful event and dwelling on it.

Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, was talking with a friend one day when the name of a person they both knew came up. Years before, that person had acted meanly toward Clara. The friend asked Clara, “Don’t you remember when she did that to you?” “No,” Clara replied, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”