If you’re visiting CLC this Easter…

I’ve been praying for & thinking about the folks who will visit us for the first time this Easter. I know that going into any church or public event for the first time can be intimidating, especially if you’re not sure what to expect.

So with a nudge from fellow blogger/pastor Ron Edmondson & his excellent post yesterday, I thought I’d answer some questions our guests may have.

Here are 7 frequently asked questions about visiting Easter Sunday:

What should I wear?

Any Sunday at CLC, you’ll see all styles of dress. Some will wear suit and tie and dresses for women. Some will wear jeans and t-shirts.  To answer your question, choose an outfit you already own, one you feel comfortable in, and join us.

What will we do? What can I expect?

We will have a fairly typical worship schedule. We will sing some songs, have a short greeting time, I’ll share a message (my intent will be to share hope), we will sing again. In case you’re wondering, we will receive an offering to support the full range of ministries we offer in the church, community, and around the world. However, you are not required or expected to participate in the offering unless you choose to do so.

Will you embarrass me?

I certainly hope not. We really try to make you as comfortable as possible! You WILL NOT be singled out as a visitor. We don’t make visitors stand, raise their hand, or even fill out a card if you choose not to do so.

How long will the service last?

About an hour and 15 minutes. Of course, you may stay longer to chat with the new friends we’re hoping you’ll meet, but that would be your choice.

What time should I arrive?

That’s a great question. And, I’m really trying to help when I suggest you get here a few minutes early. Maybe even as many as 10 or 15 minutes early. It takes a little while to make your way through our building, especially if you have children to check into our children’s areas or this is your first time. We especially want you to find a seat where you are most comfortable (some want up close — some want in the middle), and you’ll feel more comfortable if you have a few minutes to adjust before the service begins. We have a special Easter bulletin you can be reading while you wait for the service to start.

Do you have something for children?

Absolutely. Birth through 5th grade have their own activities designed especially for them. They will enjoy a worship experience that will engage them at their level. Of course, we don’t keep you from bringing children with you in the worship service if that is more comfortable on a first visit, but our experience is that they truly do enjoy the service designed for them. On Easter Sunday, their service will include an Easter Egg Hunt with some terrific prizes & other activities – we want them to have FUN and learn about Jesus, too. Either way, we love when entire families join us Easter Sunday.

Can I only come one time? Really, for what am I signing up when I come Easter Sunday?

There’s no obligation beyond Easter Sunday. We do ask you to fill out a connection card and, if you do, we will follow up with you, but we won’t come visiting you at home or pester you with junk mail. And I hope you do fill out the card, because I love seeing who God brought to us as visitors. I love meeting visitors. We won’t put any unfair pressure on you to ever come again. We hope you will, and we’d love if Easter triggered that desire in you, but that’s your call — not ours.

I hope that answers some questions of those who think about visiting our church. I’d be honored if you are our guest, this Sunday or any Sunday.

P.S. If you’re a ‘regular’ at CLC, today is your LAST CHANCE to invite a friend, co-worker or family member to join you this Easter (preferably on Friday or Saturday evening, as we expect all 3 services on Sunday to be FULL!) Just think: the last person you invite might be someone whose life will be changed foreverall because of your invitation!

Ask the Pastor

No one submitted a question this week, so I’ll take this moment to post an article by my Jewish friend, Jonathan Feldstein, who serves a great organization in Israel called “Heart to Heart”.  His article could go to the heart of a question that many may be asking about some recent prophecy teachings about end-time events.

You can read his article here.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

The latest question submitted to me is gut-wrenchingly honest: “I struggle feeling disgust towards homosexuals; is that wrong? I know nowadays it’s not politically correct to openly express that, but what does the Bible say regarding that?”

Wow.  Not only is it not ‘politically correct’, but you could probably go to prison for ‘hate speech’ or face other criminal charges for such homophobic views today in this country.  Nonetheless, you were brave enough to ask the question, so I’ll be brave enough to answer from Scripture:

  • It is never wrong to struggle with our feelings, because that’s all they are, feelings.  BUT it’s VERY important that you do recognize how wrong those feelings are and continue to battle against them until you win!  Having feelings or thoughts that you know are not pleasing to God is part of our battle against our flesh, and Jesus made it clear that the only way to win is to crucify our flesh; i.e., die to our own natural tendencies, thoughts or actions in order to please Him! (see Matthew 16:23-25)
  • The Bible is VERY clear that we are to LOVE all people, regardless of their lifestyle choices, sexual preferences, race, religion, etc.  In fact, we’re even told to love our enemy! (see Luke 6:27-30)
  • The phrase that many Christian leaders use in this regard is “hate the sin, but love the sinner!”  In other words, in our heart and in our actions, we are called to love  everyone, even though we should hate how sin prevents them from being all that God has created and called them to be.  That’s true whether we’re talking about addictive behaviors, poor choices, or lifestyle decisions that are contrary to God’s Word and His good will for us.

I hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

This week’s question is ”How come we only hear about Jesus as a baby and the last few years of his life ? What about the time between those periods?”

Ahhh, someone’s been reading their Bible!  Let me try to answer:

First, the Bible itself promises that it contains everything we need to be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2Tim. 3:16-17)and we also know that God has given us  everything we need for living a godly life (2Peter 1:3), so perhaps the BEST and most accurate answer is that God didn’t feel we needed to know about the period in Jesus’ life between age 12 and age 30.  (I understand your curiosity, but I also know that God knows best and He chose NOT to give us this information)

Second, your question is not entirely accurate, because the Bible does give us glimpses  into his life between his birth and his ministry: read Luke 2:39-52, and notice specifically:

  • Jesus grew up healthy & strong in Nazareth, and God’s favor was on him.  Since his adopted father (Joseph) was a carpenter (Matt. 13:55), we can safely assume that he learned carpentry as a boy as well, after the custom of that day.
  • He must have made an annual trek to Jerusalem from his home in Nazareth, and by the age of 12, he already knew His mission on earth(Luke 2:49)
  • Even though he knew his mission, he submitted to his earthly parents, and continued to grow physically, mentally, spiritually and socially (Luke 2:52)
  • That’s all we’re told until he began his public ministry at age 30 (Luke 3:23)

Finally, one of the Gospel writers, John, does shed light on WHY God gave us the information about Jesus that we do have – read for yourself in John 20:30-31.  Simply put, the Gospels didn’t attempt to give us a full biography of Jesus, as some historian might, but instead gave us what we need to know in order to put our trust in Him as Savior and Lord, and receive the eternal life that He provided through His death on the Cross!

P.S. There are some ancient books that claim to offer (among other things) an account of the boy Jesus, but each of those (sometimes called “Gnostic Gospels“) was rejected by the leaders of the early Church as not being inspired by God, and thus they are not included in the Canon of Scripture.

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A CLC’er who has recently joined our Blue Island Launch team asks, “What is God’s response or what does the Bible say regarding illnesses? Does praying really help? And why does God allow it to happen? (Like a baby who has cancer?)”

Great questions!  Especially because these questions are often asked by skeptics and even sincere unbelievers who struggle to believe in a good God in view of some of the pain and heartache in our fallen world.  Let me try to answer, briefly and in order:

  • Sickness and disease is part of the curse that resulted from Man’s Fall in the Garden of Eden. So keep in mind that sickness did not come from God; it came from Satan and is a direct result of man’s sin.
  • However, the Bible is filled with promises that God is our Healer! (see Exodus 15:26; Deuteronomy 32:39; 2Chronicles 30:20; Psalm 103:3, 107:20; Isaiah 38:20, 53:5; Jeremiah 30:17; Matthew 8:1-3, 10:1, 10:8; James 5:14-15)
  • In view of those verses and others like them, ABSOLUTELY prayer really helps!  I’ve personally witnessed people healed instantly of such afflictions as broken bones, blindness, deafness, and more, as well as progressive(i.e., greatly accelerated recovery from sickness & disease after prayer) in my years of ministry.
  • As to why God allows it to happen, the only answer I can give you is that we still live in a fallen world.  As I said above, sickness did not originate with God, who created man to live forever – but resulted from Man’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden.  Our fallen world includes hatred, racism, violence, wars, cruelty, abuse, rape and many things besides illness that God never wanted or designed for any of us to experience – but they are part of this fallen world – and really are a reflection of the enemy who came to stealkill, and destroy (see John 10:10)

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

There were NO questions again this week, so I’m re-posting this “Ask the Pastor” from November of 2008:

Someone asked about this verse this week, specifically, why do pastors and believers try so hard to draw people to salvation, or even warn them of the danger of not accepting Christ, if the Spirit is not drawing them?  It’s another important question, and I hope my simple answer will suffice.

As I understand Scripture, Jesus was simply saying that salvation is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.  We can and we should be a witness to unsaved people, both with our lifestyle and with our words, and we can pray and encourage and challenge people to be saved – but ultimately it requires a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to change someone’s heart and draw them to Him.

So even though no one can come to Christ unless the Spirit is at work to draw them, the truth remains that the Holy Spirit does use our hands and our feet and our mouths as His instruments to do that drawing.  Otherwise, there would be no need to send missionaries (I’m writing this from India, and I assure you that I wouldn’t go to all of this trouble and physical inconvenience unless I knew that my efforts were making a difference!) or conduct evangelistic campaigns or do almost any of the things that we do as believers in order to reach out to others.  Thank God that we can be His representatives to help bring people to God!  In fact, He has given us that privilege and responsibility!

Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

NO questions were submitted this week, so I’m re-posting this one from 2007:

Last Friday’s post got piqued some interest on the subject of tithing – here’s today’s question: A lot of people feel that tithing was something that was done in the Old Testament and we don’t really have to tithe anymore. Can you give me some scriptures in the New Testament that shows that we are still obligated to pay tithes?”

Such a great question.  Like you, I’ve heard all those comments, and I know good people who’ve bought in to that error, and thus miss out on God’s promised blessings.  Here are a few New Testament Scriptures regarding tithing:

  • Matthew 23:23 – notice that our Lord Jesus Himself said about tithing, we “ought” to do.  That’s a strong word – tithing is something we are morally obligated (ought) to do!
  • 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 – here is the New Testament pattern (Paul was teaching all the churches to do this) – their giving was to be done “in proportion” to what they had received.  That means they were to give a set percentage of their income.  What would that percentage be?  Obviously, the entire Old Testament had prescribed 10%, so there was no need for Paul to repeat that information again – they already knew that!
  • Hebrews 7:7-15 – please note that Paul speaks of tithing in the present tense (‘we pay tithes’) which means tithing was still being practiced in the New Testament Church and his argument is that Melchizidek never died, so he’s still receiving tithes.  (Since Melchizidek is a type of Jesus, you could say that Jesus is receiving our tithes!)

Matthew 5:17-22, 27-48 addresses that whole argument better than anything.  Whoever says that we are not under the law anymore obviously doesn’t understand – Jesus didn’t come to destroy or contradict the law; He came to fulfill it!

Would any Christian today commit murder and then say, “well, I’m not under the law anymore, so it’s ok for me to kill someone.” NO!  Would any believer commit adultery and then say when confronted, “I’m not under the law, so I don’t have to live by that commandment anymore” - Of course not.

In fact, as you notice in those verses from the Sermon on the Mount, while the law of Moses had imposed several requirements on God’s people, Jesus emphatically added more – instead of “don’t kill”, in the New Testament, it’s “don’t hate”; instead of “don’t commit adultery”, in the New Testament, it’s “don’t look with lust”; in other words, in this New Testament time of grace (remember grace and truth came by Jesus Christ – John 1:17), Christians do more than the minimal requirements of the Law.

When people tell me that they’re not under the Law and don’t have to tithe, I say, “oh, so you give more than 10% out of love for what God has done by His grace”!

The real issue behind those objections and arguments is a lack of trust in God’s Word and/or a stronghold of mammon.  I don’t have time in this post to develop that further, but the truth is, we don’t tithe to the Lord because we have to, we tithe our income to the Lord because we want to honor Him for what He’s done for us! (Prov. 3:9-10; Exodus 13)

Hope that helps.  Now, what would you like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A long-time friend of our ministry writes, “Pastor, if a man’s wife really likes people like Elvis, is that ok? What if there are singers that she goes to their concerts; swoons over them;  listens to their music, etc.? What if her newfound artist brings her husband more sex but then he wonders who she is thinking about? At what point is it idolatry or even adultery (in her mind) (maybe in her body if she could). Does that not leave the husband trying to compete against an unfair standard?”

Wow.  Double wow.  That is a first for me – but I can imagine that other couples have faced similar concerns, so let me try to apply some Scripture to it:

  • first, this sounds like a real problem, in which case I would certainly recommend some no-holds-barred, honest conversation between husband & wife – and if that didn’t resolve the situation, probably seeing a marriage counselor is best.
  • I don’t think there’s anything in Scripture that directly addresses which artist we are allowed to enjoy or whether we can attend a concert, etc.
  • BUT, you bring up very real Biblical concerns regarding both idolatry (an idol can be anything or anyone that comes between us and God – Exodus 20:3 - and that could include entertainment artists.  Seems like one TV show is called, “American  Idol“) and adultery (Matt. 5:27-28 is pretty clear!)  Only your wife knows if she has crossed those lines.
  • Here’s the deal: in my limited experience with marriage counseling, in situations like this it’s usually a spouse being concerned while their partner thinks it’s no big deal, and that’s where the rub comes in.  The bottom-line for me is 1Cor. 7:33-34 - in marriage, we are called to please our spouse.  So if the husband feels he is competing against an unfair standard, his wife needs to respect that and they must make some compromises to insure the health of their marriage.
  • I think Jimmy Evans said it as well as it can be said during our Valentine’s weekend message about “Becoming One”: marriage only works when it’s first! If a husband or wife is NOT priority to their spouse, there will be problems. My prayer is that you & your wife can come to an acceptable agreement about this issue – and  please each other!
Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLC’er writes, ”It’s been a while since I’ve written. A friend of mine brought something very disturbing to my attention. Before I get too bent out of shape about it, I wanted to share it with you. Please review the segments on the following links:

It seems as though the devil is trying to snare our young people through “pop” music. I’ve started to turn it off in our house but get the eye roll and “I’m over reacting; it’s just a song thing.” Help!

Ouch.  I feel your pain as a parent, and I want to help.  Unfortunately, I did NOT have time to review the two videos in their entirety, so my response is more about my pastoral advice than about the specifics raised in the videos:

  • Sinners sin, and we shouldn’t expect anything different.  I’m not a fan of Christian websites that ‘blast’ specific individuals for sinful behavior – so I am not encouraging anyone to view the two sides you cited.
  • For far too long, most churches have been known for what we are against, instead of what we stand for.  As Jesus Himself pointed out in John 3:17, our role is to reach the world, not to condemn it’s behavior!

Having established those 2 important considerations, there is NO question that today’s entertainment world is pushing the envelope beyond ANY reasonable believer’s ability to accept.  I personally would not subject my own spirit to such defilement OR allow my eyes to cause my mind or body to sin through the influence of such performances as you listed (see 2Pet. 2:7-8) – AND I’m a 61-year old pastor – so I promise you that NO vulnerable, impressionable teen (or pre-teen) should ever be allowed free access to such entertainment if we parents are really trying to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

So the real question becomes, ‘how do we handle this with our children?’ and I think the verse I just cited contains an important key, as Eph. 6:4 opens by warning parents not to ‘exasperate’ their children by coming down hard on them. When our approach to these issues becomes shrill, argumentative, or defiant, we are losing the battle.  Instead, the Message translation says ‘take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master’. In other words, talk to your children about this issue personally, with love, explaining why this music is (a) corrupting God’s design for our bodies; (b) opening the door for immoral behavior; and (c) displeasing to the Lord who bought us with His own blood.

I would especially encourage you to have a real conversation – a dialogue – with your children, instead of lecturing them.  Let them ask questions.  Encourage them to express their views.  But give them the benefit of your maturity and wisdom in answering their objections with grace and sound reasoning.  Granted, that approach is more difficult than “because I said so”, but it’s your best chance of persuading them to follow you instead of their peers.

Finally, I would encourage EVERY parent reading this to help your teens (and pre-teens) to get active in your local church and youth ministry.  As I’ve said before from the pulpit, your local church is a parent’s best friend when it comes to raising teens!  Not only does your Youth Pastor reinforce what you teach your children at home, but they will also make friendships with other youth who seek to live godly, rather than following mindlessly in the ways of our increasingly perverted culture.

Any parents who have successfully dealt with this challenge with your teens, PLEASE leave your comments below, to help those who are still in the fight!

I hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLC’ers in Atlanta (once a CLC’er, always a CLC’er!) wrote, “Well, since we are on the subject of Matthew and the parables, the one that got me a little confused yesterday was the woman with the leaven. I’ve read that the leaven (i.e. yeast) is what is making the kingdom grow but then I also read that while leaven is mentioned about 88 times in the Bible, it never refers to good, only evil. And therefore the leaven in this parable is actually evil being grown. But I guess the thing that stumps me the most is the parable starts “the Kingdom of Heaven is like”. So is Jesus saying the kingdom of heaven is this big vat of growing evil? Or (revelation perhaps?) The woman who hides the leaven where it grows is in fact the evil being sown while the parable right before that one where the man sows the mustard seed is the good being sown? So maybe while separate, they go hand in hand? I don’t know, maybe I’ve confused myself even more. Pastor, please untangle my lines.”

Wow.  Great question that almost got me confused for a moment.  Let me try to straighten this out for all of us:

  • although it may sound counter-intuitive, the expression “kingdom of heaven”  usually refers to the visible kingdom on earth, which is comprised of both good and bad, as we see in the parable of the weeds (‘tares’ for those of us raised on the KJV) in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and the parable of the fishing net in Matthew 13:47-51.  In other words, the visible Church includes both saved & unsaved folks  (everybody that goes to church isn’t a child of God!).
  • Anyone who knows me or who reads this blog should know that there’s not a male chauvinist bone in my body and that I’m an outspoken advocate for women in leadership – BUT, I must say that when women are used in Scripture in a prophetic way (such as this parable), it almost always speaks of wickedness, as if something is out of order.  So the woman in the parable, in my understanding, speaks of a religious system that is not godly.
  • You are correct that leaven speaks of evil, and specifically can refer to deceptive teaching, as in Matthew 16:5-12, when Jesus warned His disciples of the doctrine of the Pharisees.
  • So, the prevailing interpretation of this parable (and the one I lean toward) is that Jesus was warning us that false teachings would enter His Church and, like yeast,  could quickly permeate the whole.  (Most scholars see that fulfilled in the church of Rome who introduced false teachings like the Immaculate Conception, purgatory, trans-substantiation, etc. that quickly turned the true Church into a state religion)
  • However, other scholars believe that the leaven in this story is not an evil reference, and instead focus on its ability to quickly spread.  Their interpretation is that the Gospel of the Kingdom, like yeast, is unstoppable, and they see this parable as a triumphant declaration that the Word of God would spread rapidly, just as we saw in the book of Acts, so that in a few short years the Church expanded beyond the Roman Empire into all of the then-known world.
  • Bottom-line is that this parable can either serve as a warning about the danger of false teachings, or as an encouragement about the power of the Gospel to spread throughout the earth.  Both are true!

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

 

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLC’er writes, I was reading in Genesis about Noah and the ark.  What is the significance of the raven and the dove that were sent out when the waters began to recede?  I am mostly curious about the raven.  He sent the raven only once but sent the dove twice?  Why?  What does the raven symbolize?”

Great question.  Let’s take a look at the full story in Genesis 8:1-12.  Then note:

  • verse 11 gives an indication of why Noah released the 2 birds; namely, to see if the floodwaters were gone (since apparently there was only one window in the top of the boat, he couldn’t see the surroundings).
  • The raven was said to have flown ‘back & forth’ (verse 7).  Since the raven was a bird of prey, we can assume that it feed upon carcases that floated and returned to rest on the Ark, but never came back inside.  (No wonder the raven was included in the list of ‘unclean’ birds in the Old Testament, forbidden for the Jews to eat – see Leviticus 11:13-15 and Deuteronomy 14:11-14)
  • The dove on the other hand, doesn’t feed on dead things, but is symbolic of purity(it was the ONLY ‘clean’ bird in the Old Testament, acceptable for sacrifice – see Leviticus 12:8; Luke 2:21-24and innocence(Song of Solomon 6:9; Matt. 10:16)  and is even a symbol of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:22).  So when Noah released it and it could find no rest (since the waters were still high), it returned to the Ark (verses 8-9).  When he released it a week later, it returned with a fresh-plucked leaf in its mouth (verses 10-11), a clear indication of fresh vegetation beginning to grow after the Flood, and when he released it another week later, the dove never returned (verse 12), which let Noah know that it was now safe to disembark and begin life in a new world, cleansed by the Flood.

I still remember a sermon I heard about 45 years ago from one of my heroes (he ordained Chris & me in 1974), T.F. Tenney, father of the author, Tommy Tenney of “God Chasers” fame.  He called the sermon, “Lord, Give Us Dove’s Feet” and exhorted us to not be satisfied with the unclean things the world has to offer, but seek the fresh & new things that fit us as God’s new creation!  I don’t think I can improve on that message as far as what this story could symbolize for us.

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLC’er writes, “During my daily devotional I came across Matthew 13:31.        I was really stumped by this parable. Please help me understand how the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed planted in a field?

I’d love to.  Matthew 13 is such a neat chapter, in that it records not only the most important of all Jesus’ parables (the one we’re using as our text for the “Deeper” series),  but it also includes six other parables, including this one.  Let’s get the full text first – Matthew 13:31-32 in the Amplified version.

So Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God starts small, like the tiniest of seeds – but it grows large (the tree he referenced can grow to be 15′ tall, according to the experts).

There are two popular interpretations of this parable (since, unlike the story of the seed and the sower, Jesus did not explain this one for us):

  • some think Jesus was simply emphasizing the historical truth that the Church started quite small (He chose only 12 disciples, and one of them was lost; at the birthday of the Church there were only 120 present) but it has grown into literally millions of believers around the world today.  As He told us in other passages, the mustard seed may be the smallest of all seeds, but it has great potential (see Matthew 17:20).  In fact, even in the life of any believer, the Kingdom starts small like a seed, but can & should grow in us as we become all that God planned!
  • other commentators get a different message, primarily because of the birds mentioned as “lodging in it’s branches”.  Their contention is that the birds represent evil, as we saw in the first parable when the birds spoke of the enemy who quickly stole the seed from the footpath (see Matthew 13:4, 18-19).  So their interpretation of the mustard seed parable is that while the Kingdom of God starts small, as it grows huge there is room in it for evil to co-exist (e.g., for wolves to get inside & ravage the sheep; for false teachers & false prophets to lead many astray; for religious institutions that have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof to be included alongside the truth church).

Since you asked me, I guess I have to take a position – but I’m inclined to say both interpretations are true.  There’s NO question how the Kingdom of God has grown into a huge enterprise, but it’s just as true that the enemy has infiltrated and that we can see evil alongside the good, not only in the invisible Kingdom of God, but even often times within denominations and local churches. (You can see this clearly in the parable of the weeds – Matt. 13:24-30, 36-40)

I hope this helped.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S. I hope everyone reading this will join us this Sunday for the final installment of “Deeper” when we’ll examine what I believe is the most dangerous category of hearer and how all of us can become ‘good ground’ for the Word!

Ask the Pastor

There were no questions submitted this week, so I’m re-posting from 2008, when a CLCer asked: “What is the difference between praise & worship?”

Good question.  In my humble opinion, you’ve hit on one of those areas where preachers sometimes make more out of something than Scripture does.  By that I mean that I’ve heard teachings about this and read a lot of different opinions about this (Google it and you’ll see what I mean) – but I do not find such clear differences in Scripture, so I think the terms are at least somewhat interchangeable.

Probably the best I could do from a Biblical standpoint is say that all praise is worship, but all worship is not praise.  Worship in Scripture would include acts of service or sacrifice; in fact, our daily lives, whether on our job or interacting with our family or whatever – all of it can be worship unto the Lord, because worship means we are showing reverence to our Maker.

Praise, on the other hand, is an action of giving God honor: singing, praying, lifting hands, bowing before Him, etc.

I’ve sometimes heard preachers say that “praise is thanking God for what He has done; worship is honoring God for who He is“.  Others say praise is what we do to get into God’s presence and worship is what we do once we’re there.  I think it was the late Judson Cornwall (one of my favorites on this subject) who wrote, “You can praise God at a distance, but you cannot worship Him from afar”.

Bottom-line: the differences between the two at best would be subtle and I don’t know that there’s much value in trying to split hairs about it.  What is important is that each of us as believers practice a lifestyle that includes praise & worship – for reasons that can easily become a Bible study in themselves.  In fact, I’d encourage you to do a study of the benefits of worship – it will change you!

Now, what would you like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A pastor friend who read last week’s post writes, “Follow-up question, and one that thirty years ago I really didn’t expect to deal with in North America: A person comes to Christ. That person is in a long-term monogamous relationship and has children but the couple has never had the benefit of a marriage ceremony. The new Christian’s partner, who has not come to Christ, says “No need for marriage ceremony, don’t want one, won’t do that.” What counsel would you give the new Christian?”

I’m sure this is more than a hypothetical question, but it’s also one that all life-giving churches will probably face in the future.  Here’s my best shot:

  • While we must always approach people in love and kindness (“wise as serpents but harmless as doves”, Jesus said), I don’t see how we could excuse this situation, new Christian or not.  So my counsel would be to speak to the couple, either together, or, if circumstances dictate, to the new believer and give him/her the Biblical position that I outlined last week.  I would seek to insure that he/she  understood God’s Word on this subject first.
  • Then I would counsel that believer that he/she should sit down with their partner, in love - not in an emotional, tense appeal (I can’t over-emphasize that!) and explain to their partner why this is important to them because of their intent to please God by walking in obedience to His Word, and ask that they get legally married as soon as possible.
  • If the unbeliever persists in his/her feeling that this was all unnecessary, then I would lovingly counsel the new convert to separate in the spirit of Acts 5:32.

That’s what would do.  How would you recommend handling this issue?  I’d love to hear your thoughts below-

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLC’ers writes, “I have a friend who has lived with her significant other for over 10 years. They are in an exclusive, committed relationship, but they have never formally married. They also have a son together and her sig has been instrumental in raising her children from a past marriage. According to the law of the land, they have a “common law” marriage, but what does God say about their relationship? Does he honor it as a marriage, too?”

Interesting question, especially because (surprisingly enough) I’ve never been asked it before.  And in a country where couples living together before marriage is the new norm, with much higher percentage than couples who marry first, then live together, you would expect that other believers would be asking this same question.  So for all of you who haven’t asked, but perhaps are wondering, here goes:

  • Call me old-fashioned, narrow-minded, or out-of-touch if you will, but I’m convinced that even the kind of long-term, committed relationship you described above is still adultery in God’s eyes.
  • If not, then when would pre-marital sex ever be considered wrong?  Only after we wait to see if the couple sticks together for several years?  After all, if it’s not sin  because they’ve been committed for a long-time, then how and when would anyone determine when it was sinful behavior for unmarried couples to have sex?
  • Lest anyone think all of that is just an old tradition that no longer applies to our modern culture, let me list just a few verses where God expressed His disapproval of sexual relationships outside of marriage to New Testament believers: Gal. 5:19;  1Cor. 6:9-11; 1Cor. 6:18-20; James 2:10-11; Heb. 13:4

Having said this, let me quickly add that I do think it’s commendable that the couple has been committed to each other long-term, and especially that the man has been responsible to provide for the family.  It seems they have practiced the basic principles of a good marriage, without making things right in the sight of God.  I’ve personally faced situations like that numerous times in ministry, and often it’s simply because the parties involved did not know what God’s Word said on the subject, or had allowed some misunderstanding to prevent them from getting married.  I’ve had the privilege in numerous cases to officially join them together as husband-and-wife, and it’s always a beautiful thing.  I pray that your friends will soon experience God’s grace for their lives as well.

Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A favorite CLC’er who missed God a few years ago and moved away from Chicago (just kidding) writes, “I want to ask a question about Hannah in 1Samuel 1:12-14.  As I was reading this chapter I found myself going back to this part.  My question is did Eli not hear a sound or did he hear a sound he didn’t know?  Could this be viewed as a prayer language?”

Great question, especially because it helps explain one of the Rules of Interpretation when it comes to understanding Scripture. In fact, it’s the first rule to apply; namely, the literal rule of interpretation says that we are to follow the customary usages of the language.  In other words,  unless the passage says otherwise, or is clearly using metaphorical language, we must give and accept the literal meaning of scripture. It is a well stated rule, “If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense.”

In Hannah’s case, there is no reason to think that when the Bible says Eli didn’t hear a sound that it might mean something else.  In fact, other translations of verse 13 make it clear: Hannah was praying in her heart, but although her lips moved, no sound was coming from her mouth. That’s the literal and obvious meaning of this verse.

Now, your second question is even more interesting.  The correct answer is ‘No’, this could not be an example of a prayer language, because the practice of speaking in tongues (which we usually call ‘a prayer language’ since some people get freaked out at the idea of speaking in tongues) did not begin until Acts 2. In fact, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit (who enables any prayer language) could not be given until after Jesus was glorified (see John 7:38-39).

However, I do know that preachers often use a good bit of ‘dramatic license’ to make a point, and I’m guessing some preacher has used Hannah’s story to illustrate the idea of a prayer language.  (Personally, I get uncomfortable when preachers stretch the Bible in that way, because I’m not sure their listeners always understand that they don’t mean it literally, but are using dramatic license to make their point.) Sometimes that practice makes for great sermon fodder and can move a crowd emotionally, but please keep in mind that it is drama, and not a valid interpretation of Scripture.

That was fun – hope it helped!  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

I recently received this question from a CLC attender: “I have enjoyed the experience at CLC, I have attended on and off for about two years and am now ready to cement my commitment to the ministry. My issue is that my family (wife and three daughters) are not used to the worship experience there. They prefer the traditional black church, the gospel music, and order of service that goes with it. What can I do to get them to see all that CLC has to offer to a family?”

Hmmm.  That’s a question I’ve never faced before, which is surprising, considering our racial make-up at CLC.  Personally, I’m so hard-core & passionate when it comes to being a multi-cultural church, I’m convinced that in an area like Chicago where the demographics include people of different races, it’s flat-out wrong for a church to only appeal to one race.  (I’ll exclude churches that conduct services in other languages, like our Spanish congregation.) I really feel that to have an all-black or all-white or all-Asian congregation smacks of racism, or at the very least, an unwillingness to get out of your own comfort zone, to reach people who are different from you.  I could give you many Biblical reasons why I feel this way, but honestly, I doubt my approach will help at all if your family has already insisted that they prefer an all-black experience.  So I asked our Worship Pastor, Jon Jones, and our Tinley Park Campus Pastors, Tony & Angie Gilmore, to help with answering this one.  (I’d also encourage any African-American members of CLC to weigh in with your comments below)  Here’s their thoughts:

  • Pastor Jon felt the best approach would be to ask your family as head of the household to ‘try this’ on a consistent basis for, say, three months of faithful attendance, to really get the heart of the ministry and participate in the specialized ministries.  (I think that’s an excellent idea, since every church has good days & bad days, so by attending consistently over several weeks like that, you really get an accurate view of the ministry.)  He added, I know that sometimes making a decision for the family may not be popular… But if you feel it’s HIS leading you must do it… & HIS results will come!”
  • Pastor Tony  says, “I want to piggy back on Jon’s answer and encourage your family to give us a real look by truly getting involved. You could try a Life Group, serve on one of our teams, and get your kids involved in KidsLife or Consumed to take a look under our hood. Basically, you need to do more than just Sunday morning services to get a real feel. I believe we offer one of the best ways to do church in the country but it requires more than Sunday morning to experience it. Although I know every church isn’t for every family, you could at least get the full experience before making your decision. Ultimately, we want you to be where God wants you to be, because in that lies the blessing for both you and us!
  • Pastor Angie added, “First, I must say that I’m very excited about your interest in CLC and your desire to cement your commitment by becoming a member. Although, I do understand your challenge. As the leader of your household, you are responsible for the spiritual growth of your family. This can be somewhat of a challenge if you and your family have different preferences concerning which church to attend.My suggestion would be to ask both your wife and daughters to participate in some of the groups and activities that are offered to help them get engaged. We have a Heart to Heart ministry for women which will enable your wife to connect with other women, including some who have also experienced the same transition from a traditional black church to more of a contemporary church.

    It sounds like your daughters may be a little older since they’ve formed a preference as well. We have Consumed which is our ministry for 6th grade to 12th grade. We also have The Link which is for our young adults ages 18-29. Both groups are in place to encourage the spiritual growth of the individual while at the same time creating God friendships that the students can pull from for a lifetime.

    The most important advice I can give as you walk through this decision is to engage your family in daily prayer. Seek God and ask him for clarity, an open heart to new people, places, and ideas.

So there’s our thoughts.  Hope it helps!  Pastor Tony also recommended this article.    If any other CLC’ers has a story or suggestion to share, please do so below.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of our faithful CLC-NWI members writes, You recently pointed to a link of steps someone should follow when leaving a church under difficult circumstances.  You also faced a difficult situation with a specific denomination. I’d like to have you comment on the steps you could or did not follow and how forgiveness played a part.”

Interesting question….I honestly hadn’t thought of it in regards to my experience in leaving the denomination in which I was raised.  First, here’s the link I cited before.

Now, here are the 5 actions recommended by the writer & my personal experience:

  • Share your reasons & thinking with the leaders.  I did this, kinda.  By that I mean I did share my thoughts and heart with some other ministers prior to leaving, including some in positions of authority.  But I did not seek out the specific leaders in authority over me, because my issue was doctrinal and I had no expectation of changing the entire denomination’s stance on those issues.  I guess I felt that if I couldn’t support the denomination’s teaching, I should just leave.  So I did.
  • Resolve any outstanding conflicts.  I guess I could say I did this, because I honestly had no conflicts with the denomination or it’s officials on a personal level.  There really was nothing for me to forgive, because I wasn’t offended.
  • Express appreciation for the church’s ministry in your life.  Yes, I did this, both to various ministers that I knew then, and at times, even to this day.  (I will admit that I probably should do this more, for in spite of what I perceive as legalisms and Biblical errors that I no longer support, I am very grateful for what my faith family deposited in my life that helped shape me into the man I am today)
  • Say “goodbye” to friends & family.  I did not really do this, and if I have any regrets for how I left my denomination, this would be it.  At the time, I didn’t want to influence anyone else or try to persuade them to leave with me, since my decision to leave was based on the fact that I could no longer uphold the established teachings of the denomination, so rather than hurt or influence friends, I just chose to leave. Looking back now, I’d say my motives were right but probably my actions were not, since my failure to communicate no doubt caused some confusion among my friends.
  • Be Honest with Yourself about Your Own Efforts, Motives & Failings.  This I did, because the main reason it took me so long in making my decision to leave (probably at least 4 years) was me making sure that I was hearing God, and not acting out of any other motives.  I distinctly recall conversations with some of my minister friends who were leaving the fellowship at that same time for what I considered insufficient reasons – things like church politics or their family’s desire not to keep the ‘dress codes’ any longer.  I made it clear to them that I would only leave if I became truly convinced that our teachings were not Biblical and that God was leading me to leave.
Don’t know if this helped anyone or not – I hope so.  But it was a good exercise for me personally to reflect on the decision I made over 20 years ago.  By the way, it took me a while to make the decision, but it’s one that I’ve never looked back on with regret.  Thank God for what HE is doing at CLC, and for where HE is taking us together!
Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLC’er writes, “What would God say if I think a family member is engaging in destructive behavior but I don’t want to push him away? Should i confront him or investigate on my own, even though there are a chance i could be wrong?”

Good question, and one that probably many others have asked.  Here’s my thoughts, since I’m not aware of any Scriptural examples dealing with this:

  • The Biblical principle is found in both Old Testament (Lev. 19:18) and New Testament (James 2:8).  So ask yourself, “if I were engaged in destructive behavior, how would I want my family to respond?”
  • The Golden Rule is my best advice: treat them as you would want to be treated.  Personally, I doubt that would be a dramatic confrontation or so-called ‘intervention’, especially when all you have is suspicion.  I would instead suggest you approach that family member, in love, to express your concern, based on what you’ve heard or observed, and ASK them some questions, rather than accusing them.  Then respond accordingly.
  • Love is risky.  There is always a chance that when you try to bring correction to anyone for any reason, that they will not receive it and that you’ll lose the relationship.  That’s why I wouldn’t investigate on your own – too many chances that it could get back to the family member, and that’s worse than a direct confrontation.

I hope this helps, and, even more so, I pray that the family member receives your love and concern, and changes their behavior.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of CLC’s faithful worshipers asked, “My sister has been a lesbian for a very long time.  I love her very much, but I don’t love her lifestyle choice!  Since IL has succumbed to the moral decay all around us, here’s my question: if she & her partner decide to marry, I would not want to go to her wedding.  I think that it would say that I support her lifestyle & that’s it’s okay with me that she marry another woman.  It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m preparing myself in the event it does. What should I say?  How do I handle this without causing WWIII?”

No doubt yours is a question that we’ll be facing often in the future.  I feel certain that my answer will not be popular with many, and may even cause a backlash here – but since you asked me, I’m going to give you my honest, heartfelt & prayerful response:

Actually, before I begin, I should probably say that you’ve already expressed your thoughts about attending her wedding, and it is certainly your right to choose not to attend.

However, if you’re asking me whether you should, I would say, ‘Yes’.  Here’s a few reasons why I say that:

  • Jesus, our Supreme Example, ate with“publicans & sinners” who were considered the ‘scum’ of society – see Matthew 9:10-12 for just one example.  It’s true that He was ‘set apart’ from sinners (Heb. 7:26), but that separation was internal, certainly not physical, seeing how He loved to associate with them.
  • Paul, the greatest of the Apostles, said that in order to avoid immoral people we would have to leave this world! (see 1Cor. 5:9-13)
  • While your question is not directly addressed in Scripture, I don’t think I’d be out of line to compare your situation to 1Cor. 7:16, where Paul addressed believers who have an unsaved spouse and basically says that the believing spouse may be the best chance that unbelieving spouse has of ever being saved!
  • As Christians, we are not only to “work at living a holy life”, but also to “work at living in peace with everyone”. (Heb. 12:14)  In my years as a pastor, I’ve listened to some painful stories from families who drew a line in the sand over a family member’s choice of marriage partners, etc., and lived to regret the hurt & division in the family that lasted for years afterward, and, in some cases, was never resolved/reconciled.

It is my opinion that your sister knows quite well by now that you do not approve of her lifestyle – and I don’t think you attending her wedding will change that.

But your attendance would declare quite loudly that you love her and that you are her sister, despite her choices.  And love covers a multitude of sins. (see 1Pet. 4:8)

I could have just cut right to the chase and said the standard cliche’, but with deep conviction: hate the sin; love the sinner!  But I thought your question deserved a more thorough answer.

You don’t have to agree.  But I hope I’ve given you some things to consider prayerfully, should you ever be faced with this scenario.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Once again, I’m reaching back to 2008 to re-post this question, which I thought might be helpful as we enter into the Christmas shopping season:

i was wondering, now that times are getting harder with everyones funds… i know God does not look kindly on debt, but He also doesn’t look kindly on being disobedient and not tithing 10%. so i find myself wondering would God rather have me in no debt with less tithe money or tithe regularly and accrue more debt. maybe later on i will be greatly blessed and be able to pay off the credit card bills? is that what i should expect? or maybe its a blessing from God that i have the option to move back home? what do you think pastor? i know you will say keep tithing but then is debt okay????

I think perhaps you’ve missed the main point about tithing – and I don’t think you’re alone; I think many of us often reduce tithing to a math formula of giving God His 10%.  Please think about this with me: does God need your money?  Obviously, the answer is no.  Tithing, as I understand it, is not (never has been) a financial issue.  It’s a trust issue.  It’s a faith issue.  You might even call it a test (Jesus did in Luke 16)

As my pastor used to remind us regularly, “It doesn’t work just because it’s in the Bible; it works when you believe it!”  Your question as to which is worse (so to speak), debt or not tithing, tells me that you are looking at your situation from a human viewpoint, rationalizing that you simply cannot afford to tithe without going into further debt.  My response is (assuming that you’re obeying other Biblical principles about wise management, etc) if you truly put God first in your finances and trust Him to provide for you better than you can provide for yourself, His BLESSING will amaze you and you’ll discover that you don’t have to incure further debt.  I say that from 40 years of personal experience and countless testimonies of people I’ve known and pastored.

Each story is different: sometimes, God blesses with unexpected income.  Sometimes He opens a new door of employment or promotion at the current job, that significantly increases income.  Sometimes He provides by having other people give us stuff that we don’t have to pay for.  Sometimes our dollars just seem to stretch in ways we can’t even understand.  Sometimes we can’t even figure out how it’s working; we just see that it is.  That’s what happens when we trust Him with our finances, as Lord of our lives.

The question about “God doesn’t like debt, but neither does He like our not tithing” reminds me of people who quote the verse in Malachi that “God hates divorce” – in that I think both quotes have missed the point.  God doesn’t just dislike debt or hate divorce, per se; He hates the effect each has on us – the heartache and trauma that result to the individuals involved, the bondage we find ourselves in, the damage it does to us.  It’s US He cares about, not money.

In one sense, you’re correct: I would encourage you to keep tithing.  But I’d just as quickly say, don’t just tithe….TRUST.  Believe that God’s word is true, and that it will work for you.  Confess your faith in what He’s said, even as you write your tithe check and place it in the offering, and then start looking for how He’s going to provide for you.

Now, what’s your question?

Ask the Pastor

No new questions were submitted this week, so I’m re-posting a question from 2009:

A reader asks, “I have heard people say that when we die, we are only asleep until the resurrection and judgement, and that our spirit knows nothing. On the other hand, I have heard that when we die as believers, our spirit goes straight to be with the Lord, and that we know exactly what is happening on earth. Some people say that our loved ones who died in Christ are even rooting for us to make it. I’ve been reading Job 14:10 and 14:12, and it seems he makes some reference to what goes on after death. Can you shed some light on this for me? Also, if as believers, we go straight to be with the Lord, when is the judgment for us and on the day of the resurrection, aren’t our bodies suppose to rise? If so, where will our spirits be?”

Allrighty then…no softballs from this crowd!  All great questions; just hoping my answers will satisfy!

Let me begin by saying that (at least in my mind) it can be difficult to sort all of this out, because the Bible gives bits and pieces of information regarding what happens after death in numerous different places.  However, my understanding of Scripture is as follows (taking your questions in order):

1.  Keeping in mind that humans are tripartite beings; i.e., we are body, soul and spirit, the verses that speak of us being asleep are referring to our physical bodies (Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2;Matt. 9:23-25; John 11:11-13).  As far as our bodies are concerned, we are at rest after death, awaiting the Resurrection.

2.  When a believer dies, our spirit goes immediately into the Presence of the Lord  (2Cor 5:6, 8; Luke 16:22)

3.  As far as us knowing what is happening on earth, the only Scripture that may shed light on that is the story Jesus told about the poor man named Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 – I say ‘may’, since I’m not sure if the rich man saw from hell what was happening with his brothers, or if he merely requested for them because of prior memory.

4.  The only Scripture that might imply that our loved ones in heaven are ‘rooting’ for us would be Heb 12:1, although I really think this concept is more ‘preacher-talk’ than a literal Biblical interpretation of that verse.

5.  Regarding Job 14:0, 12, I would simply say that I’d hesitate to build a doctrine around Job’s statements.  I don’t think he was trying to teach us about the afterlife; I think his statement was intended to convey the preciousness of life and the finality of death.

6.  Finally, one that I’m certain about: as born-again believers, the only ‘judgment’ we experience is the Judgment Seat of Christ, which is not about heaven or hell, but rather the administration of rewards.  There are at least 5 different ‘crowns’ mentioned in Scripture that we could receive at that Judgement Seat (the Greek word, ‘bema’), which was used to describe the Olympic judging stand where the winners stand to receive their medals! (see Rom 14:10 and 2Cor 5:9-10)

7.  At the Resurrection, our spirits (which went to be with the Lord at death – Ecc 12:7) are reunited with our bodies – in fact, that’s how Resurrection happens: our dead bodies are brought back to life when the spirit returns.

Hope that cleared things up at least a little bit!

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Well, there were no questions submitted this week, so I’m re-posting a question from 2009, when one of my readers asked, “In the Old Testament, did God speak to people in a human voice or did He speak to their hearts?  It seems like He would carry on a whole conversation, and when he spoke with the prophets, they acted like it was something not uncommon. Does God still speak to His people like that?”

Excellent question!  Unfortunately, the Bible does not specifiy how people heard God’s voice, in most instances.  (There are passages like Acts 9:4-7 and John 12:28-29 which leave no doubt that there was an audible voice.) It’s certainly possible that the prophets of the OT heard him in a conversation-style dialogue.  It’s also quite possible that some heard Him through dreams, visions or impressions in their spirit - which seems to be the most common way He speaks today.

I know people who say they have heard God’s audible voice, although I’ve never had that experience myself.  But I know that I know that I know He does still speak today.  I’ve “heard” Him so many times through the years, usually in the form of thoughts that I just knew did not originate in my brain, and at other times when I’ve just had a ‘sense’ or ‘impression’ that I should take certain actions.

And of course, He can speak to us through other people.  Many times I’ve ‘heard God’ through some other believer, or an anointed prophet.  But without a doubt, the #1 best way that He speaks to us today (and the ONLY way that is infallible and without possibility of error) is through His written word (Heb. 1:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21)

The bottom-line? I don’t need to hear God’s audible voice today, because I have His written Word that is forever settled in heaven (Psa. 119:89; 1Thess 2:13; Heb. 4:12; Matt. 24:35)

Now, what would you like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S. I believe anyone who comes to CLC this Sunday for the kick-off of “Honor U” is going to hear from God!

Ask the Pastor

No one submitted a question this week, so I’m re-posting from July, 2008:

i was wondering, now that times are getting harder with everyones funds… i know God does not look kindly on debt, but He also doesn’t look kindly on being disobedient and not tithing 10%. so i find myself wondering would God rather have me in no debt with less tithe money or tithe regularly and accrue more debt. maybe later on i will be greatly blessed and be able to pay off the credit card bills? is that what i should expect? or maybe its a blessing from God that i have the option to move back home? what do you think pastor? i know you will say keep tithing but then is debt okay????

I think perhaps you’ve missed the main point about tithing – and I don’t think you’re alone; I think many of us often mistakenly reduce tithing to a math formula of giving God His 10%. Please think about this with me: does God need your money? Obviously, the answer is no. Tithing, as I understand it, is not (never has been) a financial issue. It’s a trust issue. It’s a faith issue. You might even call it a test (Jesus did in Luke 16)

As my pastor used to remind us regularly, “It doesn’t work just because it’s in the Bible; it works when you believe it!” Your question as to which is worse (so to speak), debt or not tithing, tells me that you are looking at your situation from a human viewpoint, rationalizing that you simply cannot afford to tithe without going into further debt. My response is (assuming that you’re obeying other Biblical principles about wise management, etc) if you truly put God first in your finances and trust Him to provide for you better than you can provide for yourself, His BLESSING will amaze you and you’ll discover that you don’t have to incur further debt. I say that from 40 years of personal experience and countless testimonies of people I’ve known and pastored.

Each story is different: sometimes, God blesses with unexpected income. Sometimes He opens a new door of employment or promotion at the current job, that significantly increases income. Sometimes He provides by having other people give us stuff that we don’t have to pay for. Sometimes our dollars just seem to stretch in ways we can’t even understand. Sometimes we can’t even figure out how it’s working; we just see that it is. That’s what happens when we trust Him with our finances, as Lord of our lives.

The question about “God doesn’t like debt, but neither does He like our not tithing” reminds me of people who quote the verse in Malachi that “God hates divorce” – in that I think both quotes have missed the point. God doesn’t dislike debt or hate divorce, per se; He hates the effect each has on us – the heartache and trauma that result to the individuals involved, the bondage we find ourselves in, the damage it does to us. It’s US He cares about, not money.

In one sense, you’re correct: I would encourage you to keep tithing. But I’d just as quickly say, don’t just tithe….TRUST. Believe that God’s word is true, and that it will work for you. Confess your faith in what He’s said, even as you write your tithe check and place it in the offering, and then start looking for how He’s going to provide for you.

Whew….sorry for being long-winded, but hope it helps.  Now, what’s YOUR question?

Ask the Pastor

When I announced our newest series here, I received several questions that we may not have addressed last Sunday in the message, “Living Single”, so let’s try here:

  1. One question had to do with “the church” as a place to potentially find one’s future mate – if the church is not a welcoming environment, then where & how can a Jesus-follow look for their mate? 
  • Personally, I don’t think there’s any better place to find a mate.  Chris & I met in church, and so have innumerable other happy husbands-and-wives.  If the church you attend frowns on that, I’d have a respectful conversation with the pastor to find out why.  Of course, there are cyber options out there - but be careful!
2. Another reader wrote, “I’m 38, never married, no children, professionally successful & a home owner…..how do I present myself as not being “too independent” to a suitor while still continuing to “handle my business” for my home?
  • Honestly, call me naive I guess, but I can’t imagine any ‘Mr. Right’ having an issue with a successful woman.  And if he is intimidated or scared-off by your facts, in my opinion, he’s not the man of your dreams.  For sure, I wouldn’t go ghetto’ to try to attract a man!

3.  Another CLCer said, ”We have been together for 10 years,have children together, joint bank accounts, live together,etc…but he won’t marry me!”

  • I don’t see a question there.  Probably because you already have your answer: if he’s getting what he wants without making a commitment to marry you, he’s not likely to ever get married.  Quit putting out and see what happens.  As I said last Sunday, God’s “rules” are for our good.  Living together outside of marriage may be culturally acceptable, but it’s NOT God’s plan, and it won’t lead to what you want in life.

4.  A faithful CLCer wrote, “As a single woman who’s never been married & doesn’t have children, I struggle constantly with the “why not me, God?” question. Honestly, I feel as if God blessed me with this immense compassion & ability to love, yet I haven’t met the right man to share that love with & have a family with. I’m 35 and every year that passes, I become more & more discouraged & feel that I will forever be single. It’s frustrating because I ask God & myself why did He build my heart this way & not lead me to the one earthly man that I could share it with?

  • This is the kind of heart-cry that gets to me.  I feel your pain; I’ve heard it from so many singles thru the years.  I really only have 3 responses: (1) 1Cor. 7:17 that we opened & closed with last Sunday.  Your marital status does NOT define your life!   (2) I do NOT believe the Bible teaches that there is “one earthly man” for you; i.e., I don’t find the concept of “soul-mate” in Scripture.  Instead, I believe that there are potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of loving, godly, male followers of Christ that you could build a happy life with – not just one.  In some instances, that may have been the problem – that you’ve been looking for Mr. Perfect, instead of Mr. Right. and (3) Don’t give up!  Keep praying & stay hopeful.  I’ve known many believers who married the person of their dreams later in life, and found true happiness together – perhaps in part because they were each more mature, more complete in themselves and more ready to share their joy with another.

I hope this helps a bit.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S.  Hope you’ll join us this Sunday when we’re going to try to help married couples AND everyone else with some more ‘rules of engagement’.  In fact, our introduction to the message could be life-changing for many – married, single or whatever.  Join us!

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLC’er writes, Please explain what it means to be ‘unequally yoked’, in your opinion. Does this mean that a person who has been saved since childhood should not consider dating and/or marrying a “new” Christian? Or is it more your walk with Christ vs. Their walk with Christ? In other words, someone could have been saved for years but their spiritual walk stagnated vs someone who hasn’t been saved long but is growing by leaps and bounds. This has come up in singles discussion so I would like a better understanding, please.”

Great question, because it affects so many.  It’s actually a question that I wish more people were asking before getting so emotionally involved that they can’t look at things rationally anymore.

First off, as you asked, this is my opinion.  I say that because that term is only used one time in the entire Bible, namely 2Cor. 6:14.  Please note that it specifically says we are not to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever.  That’s all.  The additional phrases used for the next few verses maintain that same emphasis: lawlessness; darkness; Belial; unbeliever; idols - each of which speaks of someone who has no relationship with God.

So, from a Biblical standpoint, that’s the prohibition: no Christian should marry an unbeliever. Period.

I know. I know.  I’ve heard stories of people who practiced what I call “missionary dating”, where they courted someone who was not a Christian and through their influence were able to lead that unbeliever to the Lord, and have had a happy marriage ever since.

But for every ONE story like that, I can tell you dozens of believers I’ve known (usually women, but not always) who have been ‘stuck’ in a difficult, unhappy marriage because they cannot share with their spouse the most important thing in the world – their relationship with the Lord, or worse, they face ridicule, threats or resentment from their unbelieving spouse about their church and their faith.

For that reason, as a pastor for the past 40 years and having observed enough heartache and difficulty in the marriages of those that I serve, I’d like to offer additional guidelines besides “don’t date an unbeliever”.  Based on my experience: I think it best to date those with whom we are spiritually compatible.  In other words, it is about both parties relationship with the Lord.  If you are a committed believer who puts Jesus first, and the person you’re dating is a nominal Christian or perhaps a carnal believer, the chances are it will only get worse in marriage, and you’ll find yourself constantly torn because you do not have similar values about church attendance, child-rearing, financial management, or any other number of daily and weekly decisions.

I don’t think the length of time that someone has been a Christian necessarily has a lot to do with it (as you asked) – it’s really all about their relationship.

Obviously, you probably can’t detect that prior to dating or even on the first date.  But, in my humble opinion, once you recognize the discrepancy between their walk and your walk, I think it’s time to walk. (pun intended)

By the way, THIS Sunday, October 20 my wife & I begin a new series, “Rules of Engagement” and the opening message is all about ‘Singles Rules’.  I think it’ll be helpful and fun, too.

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLC’ers asked, “Does the bible say anything specific about events such as Halloween? My daughter asked me the other day, “is Halloween from the devil?” I was not sure how to respond to this in a correct, appropriate and Christian way. I want to make sure that I am giving her accurate information. I’ve talked to other Christian’s about this but I am getting mixed reviews.”

Great question, because certainly many have asked before you – and I’m not at all surprised that you’re getting ‘mixed reviews’, since I don’t think the Scripture gives us a clear, definitive answer on this subject.

Instead, at least in my understanding of the Bible, this is one of those topics that is left for us to decide upon.  Of course, there are passages like the entire 14th chapter of Romans that provide us with principles, but I’m not aware of any direct prohibition or affirmation of Halloween in Scripture.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Surely we can agree that some Halloween festivities are not God-honoring, but rather honoring to stuff that Christians cannot endorse (witches, goblins, vampires, demons & the like – none of which are laughing matters).
  • Some believers would try to point out Satanic or occult origins of the holiday, but personally, I think that’s a slippery slope, since there are pagan origins for virtually everything in our world, including the days of the week, our calendar, etc. if we start “majoring on minors” it won’t be long until you can’t observe any holiday or enjoy almost any tradition – because almost all of them have some kind of pagan roots somewhere.  Most of this is so because after the Roman Empower Constantine declared himself a Christian in the early 300′s A.D., the Roman church made it a ‘strategy’ whenever engaging in missionary activity among the heathens to incorporate any of the pagan’s holidays & beliefs into their practice of Christianity.  That strategy or practice is usually called syncretism.
  • For these reasons and more, I think Romans 14:21-23 will have to be a parent’s guide as to how to handle this holiday with their children.
When our own children were small, we chose to allow them to participate in what we considered ‘non-offensive’ ways (no spooky or demonic-type costumes, etc.) and to collect candy from house-to-house (as long as they shared with their dad).  At CLC, we’ve always provided some fun alternative for our kids around that time of year, so they don’t feel deprived.

Pastor Mark Beeson from Granger Community Church took a different approach with his family, and has a great post on his blog about this very issue.

Bottom-line?  Be fully persuaded in your own mind.

Hope this helped.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

No new questions were submitted this week, so I’m reposting a question from August of 2008 when a faithful CLCer asked, “Is there Biblical criteria for how sheep can know their shepherds are on track? How should concerns be addressed?”

(Those questions are so good and so valid, I only hope my answer will be as helpful!)

1.  I think church members (sheep) have a right to expect each of the benefits we see in Scripture - it’s the shepherds job to feed them, to care for them, to protect them, etc.  Most of those needs should be met through the public ministry AND the way the church is led and administrated.  (By that I mean that it is the pastor’s job to insure that the sheep are being cared for, not that the pastor personally does all of that care himself!  Even literal shepherds employ ‘sheep dogs’ to assist them, as well as the use of various tools such as their staff, in order to care for the sheep).

My observation through the years is that many times when sheep are truly not getting their needs met, it’s simply because the pastor was unaware.  (Sometimes we pastors get supernatural insight from the Lord, but not always, so it’s much safer for you to communicate so we know if there’s a need not being met.)  Regardless, if those biblical needs are being neglected, I would encourage any member to communicate with their pastors to express their need.

As to Biblical criteria as to whether shepherds are ‘on track’, here are a few: John 10:41Cor. 11:1Col. 3:15.  Putting those verses together, the questions are:

  • am I hearing the voice of Jesus through my pastor’s ministry, or does his teaching seem contradictory with Christ;
  • is my pastor following the example of Christ, or is his/her conduct or is his/her life contrary to Christ’s example; and
  • do I have peace in regard to all of this?  While the enemy can and does plant troubling thoughts and fears in our mind, the ‘umpire’ in every decision is peace, and if I just cannot get peace about my pastor’s teaching or lifestyle, then at best it’s time for a personal discussion with them.

Which leads to the final question as to whom those concerns should be addressed.  As someone who has pastored for over 40 years, I can certainly give you my preferences in that regard:

1.  Make an appointment.  I’m never at my best when I’m caught in the hallway between services, or even just before or after a service.  (I’ve heard from enough fellow-shepherds in this regard to know that after we have ‘delivered our soul’ as the old-timers put it, by preaching or teaching and praying over folks, we are usually spent, physically and emotionally, so the last thing we need is a difficult conversation or a demand that we defend ourselves against some accusation.)

2.   Approach your pastor with love and respect.  We know we’re not perfect, and, if given a chance, we’re more than willing to repent, apologize, receive correction, etc. – but when attacked in anger or self-righteousness, we’re probably human enough to react in the flesh instead of responding in the Spirit!

3.  Express your concerns specifically.  If it’s a teaching you’re concerned about, ask for Biblical support or share specific verses that caused your concern.  If it’s a practice or lifestyle issue, ask for clarity.  (I couldn’t tell you how many times through the years that someone has been concerned over something that wasn’t even true – but they had heard something somewhere and pre-judged the situation without inquiring.)

4.  Seek to understand, more than to be understood.  Have an open mind to receive your pastor’s response to your concerns.  Consider what he/she says in reply, or any requests he/she may make.  PRAY.

5.  If you’ve sincerely done all of that, and your concerns remain, it’s probably time to find another shepherd. If so, don’t just ‘disappear’.  Inform your pastor of your decision, and ask for his/her blessing as you leave.  (That doesn’t mean you cannot leave if your pastor refuses to bless you – I’ve known too many insecure shepherds who could never release someone from their flock, and that’s their problem, not yours!)  Just as importantly, seek God’s guidance as to where you should be planted, and do NOT try to influence others to leave your former church to go with you.  That kind of behavior always brings division and strife and puts a smile on the devil’s face as much as it saddens the Lord and rips the heart of any honest shepherd.

I think that’s it for this week.  Now, what would YOU like to ask the pastor?

Ask the Pastor

This week’s question comes from a faithful CLC’er who writes, “I have been very hesitant to date a person who has been through a divorce, based on Luke 16:18 & Matthew 19:6. I’ve always believed that just because someone decides to end their marriage legally in the eyes of men doesn’t mean that the marriage is over in the eyes of God. Can two people who took vows to become one flesh become two separate people again? Would I become an adulterer if I marry someone who is divorced (Luke 16:18) or am I taking this all out of context? Can the marriage covenant (Malachi 2:14) really ever be broken?”

Finally.  The. thorniest. question. anyone. can. ask. me.

Seriously, questions about marriage & divorce, and this issue in particular, are most difficult for me, in part because so MANY people are affected.  The statement you referenced in Luke 16:18 seems so cut-and-dried, but here’s what I do know about interpreting Scripture: no verse of Scripture stands by itself.  In fact, the BEST way to interpret Scripture is to let the Bible interpret itself, by comparing all the passages on a particular topic, to get the whole message.

In this case, while Luke 16:18 sounds so adamant that divorce is never permitted, other verses do give us exceptions to that rule: Matthew 19:9; Matthew 5:32, 1Cor. 7:15 list some; namely, sexual sin and abandonment.  So, in my understanding of Scripture, if a spouse commits sexual sin or abandons their partner, a believer has a Biblical ‘right’ to divorce and remarry.

Now, let’s tackle your specific questions, in order:

  • yes, I believe 2 people who took vows to become one flesh can become 2 separate people again, either by means of death or sexual immorality or abandonment. See 1Cor. 7:15, 39 as well as Matthew 5:32, 19:9(By the way, I have heard some reason that even though the Bible says we are ‘loosed’ from our marriage by such actions, we do not have the right to remarry – but that makes no sense to me at all, given my understanding of the goodness of God.  Why would He ‘punish’ the innocent spouse by insisting they remain celibate & alone for the rest of their life when their marriage partner violated their vows?)
  • no, I do not believe you would be an adulteress if you married a divorced man, especially if he had a Biblical right to a divorce (meaning, his wife committed adultery or abandoned the marriage).  
  • The context of Luke 16:18 is interesting, in that Jesus had just talked to them about the importance of the Law, and then uses marriage as an example (verses 17-18).  From my study, it seems that some Pharisees taught that a man could divorce his wife for just any reason – Jewish history even gives the example of a man divorcing his wife because she burned his food!  Some men were using divorce as a license for their lust, putting away their first wife simply because they saw another woman they wanted, and thus by divorcing the first they thought they technically were not committing adultery.  So Jesus combated that popular idea by insisting it was not so.
  • Yes, the marriage covenant can definitely be broken, just like ANY covenant can be broken, if one of the partners chooses not to abide by the covenant agreement.

Having said all of this, let me close by reminding you of Colossians 3:15 & Romans 14:23.  I’ve given you what I believe the Bible teaches about this issue, but YOU must have peace and confidence that this is ok for you.  If you do not have peace in your mind & heart, no matter how logical or Biblically accurate my answer has been, then you should not act.

I hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

 

Ask the Pastor

This week’s question comes from a concerned mother who writes, “The older I get the more I seem to recognize the evils in the world. My kids think I’m over the top with my warnings and pleadings to be careful what they listen to and expose themselves to. How were you able to keep your children informed but not scare them at the same time?”

Great question.  My first thought upon reading it was, “what makes you think we didn’t scare our children?”  [just kidding]

Seriously, I think your question is one that more parents need to be asking.  Besides the clear teaching in Scripture (especially the book of Proverbs) about the influence of friends (which often has a LOT to do with the music & media that our kids choose), it’s just becoming so obvious in our culture that the computer slang, ‘garbage in; garbage out’ is true of us humans, too!

While I fully understand your desire NOT to be ‘over the top’ or scare your children (while also not have them turn you off) – I think the Bible indicates that one of your primary responsibilities as a parent is to provide the very guidance and warning that you’re talking about. (see Proverbs 1:20; Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 15:4-6; Proverbs 23:23-25; Eph. 6:1)

Finally, my wife & I had conversations with our kids about these issues (not lectures; conversations where they could also talk & we could discuss the issues.)  This was especially effective when there were items in the news (the recent incident with Miley Cyrus would be a great example) or even stories from their own peers that help make your point.  These kind of conversations provide ‘teaching moments’ that will be much more effective than any lecture you could give.

Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

This was another week with no questions submitted, so I’m repeating a post from 2008, when a new attender of CLC asked, “how is CLC different than a Pentecostal church?”

In some ways, it’s difficult or impossible to answer that one, because “Pentecostal” churches come in such a wide variety of ‘flavors’ – but since you asked, I’ll take my best shot at it. Please keep in mind that I was born & raised and ministered for over 20 years in one ‘stream’ of Pentecostalism – so my views will not apply to all others:

In general, Pentecostal churches place a great deal of emphasis on the ‘second work of grace’; i.e., after salvation, one can/should be empowered by receiving what is usually known as “the Baptism of the Holy Spirit”, and almost all Pentecostal churches would insist that the ‘initial evidence’ of that baptism is “speaking in tongues”. There is certainly a lot of Scriptural basis for these beliefs: Acts 2:1-4, Acts 10:44-48, Acts 19:1-6 and others.

While CLC wholeheartedly espouses that everyone should receive that empowering of the Holy Spirit, we prefer to focus on the many benefits of having a ‘prayer language’ rather than debating whether ‘tongues’ is the initial ‘evidence’ – mainly because my experience with such arguments is that it usually only resulted in arguments. The bottom-line is probably the same, both Pentecostals and CLCers want people to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, but how we get there might be a little different.

Another area of difference has to do with denominational affiliation. Most Pentecostal churches have an allegiance to one of the many Pentecostal denominations (Church of God in Christ, Assemblies of God, Foursquare, Church of God – Cleveland, TN, United Pentecostal Church, Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, etc, etc, etc). For the 23 years that I officially served as part of a denomination, there was a great deal of loyalty to the denominational programs and promotions, some of which dictated to a certain degree how we operated within the local church.

At CLC, because we are not part of that heirarchy, we are ‘free’ to pursue whatever path we feel led by the Lord, and our church is autonomous and self-governing.

Finally, from my observation from the 23 years that I served my denomination, most Pentecostal groups have some culture and legalisms that, in my humble opinion, cannot be substantiated from Scripture, but rather was handed down to them by tradition or history.

At CLC, since we are not part of that denominational heirarchy, our culture is what we ourselves have created and our legalisms are our own – be that good or bad :-)

Finally, let me say that we certainly embrace Pentecostals as our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ and thank God for the incredibly wonderful things they have contributed to the work of God around the world. At CLC, we simply believe that what God is doing today transcends denominations, and we prefer to place our loyalty only in God’s Word. I hope nothing I’ve written will be misunderstood – we certainly aren’t interested in throwing stones at any Pentecostal church, or for that matter, at any Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching church that is seeking to reach the lost – we want to link arms with you!

I hope that helps – now: what would you like to ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

An anonymous reader writes, “I’ve been enjoying visiting and worshipping with CLC. I understand that CLC is a non-denominational church, but I would like to know more about the church beliefs. What does CLC teach as it relates to a “oneness” or “trinitarian” doctrine? What is your mode for water baptism? Does the church teach holiness and sanctification as a way of life? Can you expound on this?”

It’s unfortunate that you didn’t include a name or email where I could have tried to give you a more satisfactory answer personally, because based on my previous experience, I’ve got a feeling you won’t like my answer here, regardless of your background.  Nonetheless, I’ll give it my best shot, in order:

1.  In over 23 years as pastor of CLC, I’ve taught on the ‘Godhead issue’ about two or maybe three times, and what I’ve said each time is that, in my humble opinion, the debate between the ‘oneness’ view and the ‘trinitarian’ view is a matter of semantics.  I was raised and spent the first 22 years of my ministry in the Oneness camp, and during that time, plus the last 23 years at CLC I’ve listened carefully to Trinitarian views, and I have yet to hear any Christian leader truly disagree about the Biblical truth that there is only One God.

Folks from my background described that One God by using the term ‘manifestations’ while Trinitarians use the word ‘persons’, but at the end of the day, both are saying the same thing.  At CLC (and this is what I’ve said each time I’ve taught on this subject) we have chosen not to divide the Body of Christ over this issue.  Personally, I wonder how much more good would have been accomplished thru the years had this issue not caused a division in the Pentecostal movement in the early 1900′s, and instead both ‘camps’ would have worked together!

2.  At CLC, because of our understanding of Scripture, we only baptize by full immersion.  We believe that is the only Biblical practice and we encourage those who were baptized thru sprinkling or pouring water to be re-baptized by immersion.  (If your question has to do with what some call a ‘baptismal formula’, we use the name of Jesus in all our baptisms – BUT, we do not view that as a ‘test of fellowship’, and we accept into membership those who were baptized by immersion after coming to faith in Christ, regardless of what ‘formula’ the minister baptizing them used.) Again, we refuse to be divisive over non-essential issues.

3.  We certainly teach holiness and sanctification as a way of life at CLC, since the Bible does.  My guess is that your question has to do with specific applications of those teachings, and since I couldn’t contact you to learn what specifics you have in mind, it’s impossible to answer this question.  My understanding of Scripture is that every believer is to be sanctified (“set apart”) from the world and walk in holiness, since those who are not holy will not see the Lord (see Hebrews 12:14)

I doubt this helped much, but I’d be happy to address your specific concerns if you’ll call the office (708.429.7729) or email me directly.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLC’er writes, “Does a promotion (more title, more responsibility  more income) always mean “this is what God has for you” OR “This is where God wants you”? Can a promotion keep you where God doesn’t want you? If so, what real steps does one take to be sure?”

Great questions, especially since so many believers have asked themselves that same question about their career or workplace.  Let’s try them in order:

1.  Definitely NOT.  I heard a story once about a certain harbor in Italy could only be reached by sailing up a narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals. Over the years, many ships have been wrecked there, and navigation is extremely hazardous. To guide the ships safely into port, three lights have been mounted on three huge poles in the harbor. When the three lights are perfectly lined up and seen as one, the ship can safely turn to begin navigation up the narrow channel. If the pilot sees two or three lights separately, he knows that he is off course and in danger! He must continue to maneuver his vessel until the lights perfectly line up before he can safely turn into the harbor.

For our safety in navigating our ship of life, God has provided three beacons to guide us. The same rules of navigation apply to us as to the harbor pilot. The three lights must be perfectly lined up as one before it is safe for us to proceed up the channel. The three harbor lights of guidance are:

  • The Word of God (objective standard)
  • The Holy Spirit (subjective witness)
  • Circumstances (divine providence)

So the fact that a promotion or pay raise is offered is great, but that’s only one light!  And of the three, circumstances is probably the one that can lead us astray most easily.  My favorite example is Acts 27:13 where circumstances appeared to be favorable, but just one verse later, everything had changed drastically.  Circumstances alone are not reliable because they are so changeable!  Make sure your decision doesn’t violate God’s Word or the direction you receive from his Holy Spirit.

2.  In my opinion, yes, a promotion could be the enemy’s trick to keep you from God’s best(see 1John 2:15-17)  For instance, I’ve know people were happy and fulfilled in ministry and their family was growing in the Lord, but they left that church in order to take a promotion or new job offer, only to not find a spiritual home in the new city and suffering real harm to their relationship with Christ.

3.  The #1 best counsel I can give anyone in regards to decision-making, including a job promotion, is Colossians 3:15.  The world ‘rule’ there means ‘umpire’ and if you follow baseball at all, you know that whatever the umpire says is all that matters – ball or strike, safe or out – it doesn’t matter what you think, it’s whatever the umpire calls it!  In other words, the question is: do you have peace about this decision?  If you do not, no matter how attractive it might be financially or geographically or logically, if you don’t have peace, I say don’t do it!  On the other hand, if you do have peace, no matter how illogical it seems, you can’t go wrong by following the peace of God in your heart.

I’d better stop before this becomes a book, but I hope this helped a bit.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

No question was submitted again this week, so I’m reaching back to 2008 for this one:

How exactly do you fulfill the Commandment to ‘honor your father and mother’, when your parent is seemingly undeserving of honor?  I know the Godly thing to do is to forgive, seek peace within and continue to pray for the individual.  But because it is your parent is there some obligation that you need to have them be a part of your life?  Even when that involvement is not healthy mentally and causes stress on your family?  Is it possible to “honor” them from afar?  And if so how do you do that?  What exactly does honor mean?

Great question, especially because so many people have similar stories.  The word ‘honor’ there in Hebrew literally means “to be heavy”, and, interestingly enough, has both negative connotations (‘burdensome’) and positive connotations (honorable).  Everything that I know of Scripture would tell me the primary purpose of the commandment was to let us know in our youth the importance (weighty) role that our parents play in our lives, and our regard for them because of that.

However, when parents have abdicated or abused their God-given, God-intended role, and actually caused emotional harm to their children, when we grow into adulthood we can certainly choose to protect ourselves from further harm.  Please understand: I say that in the context of what you’re written about ‘forgiving, seeking peace, and praying for them’ – that’s a must!

But as an adult, if your continued involvement with that parent only causes you (and your own family) more stress and grief, I think you have a right to kindly but firmly withdraw yourself from that harm.

Having said that, I will also quickly add that we never outgrow the desire for good relations with our parents – and my experience has been that, despite all the hurt, when it comes to significant events like graduations and weddings, etc. – there is still a hunger to have the family participate – so be very cautious about closing that door completely.  (Besides, God still does do miracles, and I’ve known of more than one abusive parent whose heart was changed, even late in life!)

Bottom-line: if your heart is clean before God (and you know if it is, or if you’re harboring ‘stuff’), then as an adult I don’t think you have to worry about ‘honoring from afar’.  Leave it in God’s hands and let Him work it out for His glory and your benefit.  Hope that helps!

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

No one submitted a question to me this week, so I’m reprinting a post from September 23, 2011.  Enjoy!

A faithful CLCer writes, “We got into a philosophical discussion with some friends the other night and wanted your opinion. The discussion centered around the existence of Heaven and Hell. Knowing that God is a loving and giving God, many questioned how so many horrid, painful, and devastating events happen in our world. The question then became, “Is the world in which we live really “Hell,” and the task set before us, a testing ground to get into Heaven?” Are these trials and tribulations placed in our path to challenge and build our faith? Are there really coincidences in life, or are these events merely parts of the ultimate plan for our lives?”

Excellent question – and one that many people have asked.  Let me try to shed a little light:

  • First of all, on the assumption that your friends were serious & not speaking in hyperbole, NO, I assure you that the world we live in is NOT hell – not by a long shot.  The Bible clearly speaks of hell as a place of everlasting torment, where the fire is not quenched and yet where no one dies (Mark 9:43-48; Luke16:22-24)
  • Secondly, and most assuredly, there is NO “testing ground” to get into Heaven, because there is NOTHING that we can do to ‘earn’ or ‘deserve’ entrance there.  What determines who gets into heaven has nothing to do with our performance; it’s solely based on what Jesus has done for us.  It’s ONLY because of His shed blood that we can enter heaven, and ONLY because we place our whole trust on Him, not on any works of our own.  (I know; I’ve heard all the jokes about Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates offering various ‘tests’ to see if souls can enter heaven – but those are just misguided jokes, with no basis in reality. Scripture could not be clearer on this subject – see 1Corinthians 15:21-22 or Ephesians 2:8-9 or Galatians 2:16)  There is NO salvation except through Jesus Christ! (Acts 4:12)
  • The third question is a bit more difficult, in that many believers will disagree as to the source of “trials & tribulations”Some Christians would see them as God’s way of building our faith, while others would argue that only Satan would send trials & tribulations in our path.  There are Scriptures that seem to support either view.  Personally, my opinion is that there are 3 possible sources of trials for the believer: sometimes God allows; sometimes the devil sends; and sometimes life happens – keep in mind we do live in a fallen world, and some things, in my humble opinion, are just the result of sin that entered the world thru Adam & Eve.  What I can say with assurance is that regardless of the source, it is God’s plan that our trials would strengthen our faith! (see 1Peter 1:6-7 or James 1:2-4)
  • The final question is also debatable, so I will give you my opinion again: while some would argue that everything happens for a reason, I’m not sure that Scripture backs that up.  Again, I’m convinced that some things happen simply because we live in an imperfect, fallen world.  However, for the believer, that’s NOT discouraging, because the truth of Romans 8:28 trumps it all!  It may have originated with the enemy, or it might be an ugly coincidence of our fallen world, but my God promises to make it work together ultimately for my good!  (By the way, the ‘good’ He has in mind is that we would become more like Jesus – see Romans 8:29)  For more on how God can take even the worst of situations and turn it around, look at Genesis 45:3-8 and Genesis 50:14-21.

Whew….heavy stuff.  I hope this helps a bit.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

 

Ask the Pastor

My favorite questioner is back!  She writes, “In Matthew 4:1-11 it speaks of Satan trying to tempt Jesus.  So why did the devil think he could tempt Jesus when Jesus already had everything He ever needed? Since Jesus came to earth as a regular man, was there any chance that He could have fallen into temptation? And if so, what would that have led to? Considering Luke 10:18, what gave the devil the audacity to even go there with Jesus when he knew he would never succeed?”

Interesting questions, all.  Let’s take them in order:

  1. Scripture doesn’t necessarily give us insight into the devil’s thinking then, but for sure he was probing and testing Jesus’ relationship (“IF you are the son of God…”), just as he challenges us today.  And his efforts seem to be intended to get Jesus to take a shortcut; i.e., to gain the world’s allegiance without having to experience the Cross.
  2. Again, the Bible doesn’t say, but hypothetically, if Jesus had fallen into sin, it would have destroyed God’s plan for our salvation, for it was only as the sinless, perfect Lamb of God that His death is able to take away our sin.  So in the plan & will of God, I don’t believe He could ever have succumbed to temptation – but that didn’t prevent the enemy from trying.
  3. Satan is not omniscient.  (We sometimes give him more credit than he deserves).  According to Paul, the ‘rulers of this age’ (referring to the devil & his forces) did not know God’s plan, for if they had, they would never have crucified Jesus!  (see 1Corinthians 2:7-8)  I’m concluding from those verses that Satan did not know that he stood no chance against Jesus.  (No wonder the Bible says pride goes before destruction!)
Hope that helps.  And I especially hope for each reader that you are able to overcome every temptation of the enemy in the same way Jesus did: thru the Word of God!
Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?  Leave your question below-

Ask the Pastor

I heard this week from a long-time CLCer who moved away a few years ago, and writes: “My question deals with tithes — if a christian is not attending church regularly because they are in-between churches what should they do with their tithes? Should they save it until they find a good church to sow into, bless others in need, etc?”

Great question, especially because so many believers find themselves in this situation at one time or another, due to job changes, schooling, etc.  Let me try to help:

1.  First, unfortunately, the Bible does not address this question directly, since there is no example in Scripture of someone who was “in-between” churches.  The closest to that scenario would be in Deuteronomy 14:24-25 where God made an exception for those who lived too far from the Tabernacle to carry their tithes there. (Remember in an agrarian society, their tithes consisted of animals and crops harvested)  His provision for them was to sell their tithes and set the money aside until they did visit His House, when it could be offered as usual.

2.  From that one passage, plus the fact that tithes are referred to so many times in Scripture as ‘first-fruits’, I do have strong convictions that we are not to use the tithes for any other purpose (see Deuteronomy 26:13-15), so here are my suggestions:

  • From Malachi 3:10 we learn that our tithes belong in the storehouse where we are fed.  So, I’ve known believers who simply calculate their tithes and give them  wherever they are receiving spiritual nourishment.  In other words, if they are visiting several different churches in search of a new home, they give their tithes at whichever church they happen to attend that week.  If they are unable to attend physically, they send a check or use online giving to offer their tithes to ministries that are feeding them electronically - whether internet, radio or television.  (I think this is a good solution so long as it’s temporary and we don’t get into the habit of not gathering with God’s people (see Hebrews 10:24-25)
  • I’ve known other strong believers who chose instead of save their tithesuntil they sensed the Lord directing them as to where they should be planted.  In other words, while they were actively searching for a church home, visiting several different congregations, they did not give their tithes, but allowed them to accumulate, and then offering those accumulated tithes once they settled at their new church home.  I think this is also a valid solution, so long as the tithes are truly ‘saved’ (my suggestion would be to deposit them into a separate bank account so you aren’t tempted to use them for any other purpose while you wait for direction).
  • The bottom-line, in my humble opinion, is that there is no set answer in Scripture, so your best solution is to pray personally or as a family, and ask the Lord what YOU should do – then follow His instructions.  If you don’t feel you have clarity from the Lord, I think either of the suggestions above are acceptable solutions to a  temporary problem.

I hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Fun questions

No one asked me any questions this week, so I’m reaching back into the archives and re-posting from May of 2008, when a new member of CLC asked some personal questions, to get to know more about me & Chris: (I’ve updated some of the answers to be more accurate with who we are now):

  • What do you like to do in your personal time? What’s that? To be honest, that is one of my biggest weaknesses, and both my wife & our Board of Directors have been on my case about it for years. I really don’t have any particular hobbies to occupy my leisure time. I do enjoy travel (well, not the traveling part, folded-up into an economy seat in the cattle-car section of the plane) – the part of meeting new people and trying new foods, etc.
  • How do you spend your time when you are just being Jerry? On our regular day off each week, you can usually find us hanging out at Barnes & Noble with some fun books (mystery novels, mostly) since we both love to read, and we like to catch a movie probably 2-3 times a month (here’s what we hope to see next)
  • What’s your absolute favorite meal?  I’m too much of a food-lover to have one favorite, but here’s a list in no particular order: steak & baked potato at Saltgrass (I’d give anything if they’d bring this chain to Chicago!); pizza from either Pasquale’s (my wife’s old stompin’ grounds and the scene of our 3rd date, when she finally ‘fell’ for me) OR Lahaina Pizza Company in LaHaina, Maui (I don’t know if it’s the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, or if I’m swayed by the view of the Pacific Ocean right across the street in our favorite spot in Maui – but you seriously have to eat there!) OR Big Daddy’s Pizzeria in the Smoky Mountains (sorry, Chicago, but it’s yum!); lettuce wraps from P.F. Chang’s; barbeque ribs from Hickory Log (my wife disagrees, because she prefers the more traditional ones rather than these ‘dry’ ribs, but I say you haven’t lived until you’ve tried Hickory Log – so when Jen moved to Dallas last year we drove an hour out of our way just to relive those mouth-watering memories!); most anything on the menu at the Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge, TN, and I dare not forget In-n-Out burgers anywhere, anytime! (Hey, this was fun – I like talking about food!) I also love fresh-baked pita bread anywhere in the Middle East, and the Turkish kebob’s (in Ankara or Istanbul, at least) are wonderful!
  • What’s a place you like to travel to for fun?  Well, Maui is far & away our favorite spot to relax….for something more affordable nearby, we really like New Buffalo, MI and the Harbor Grand (that reminds me, we haven’t been there in probably 2 years!) We also bought a timeshare about a year ago, so now we’re looking at a variety of places that are included for some future getaways!  I must say that St. Petersburg, Russia is an awesome place to visit, and we’re planning a CLC missions trip there in 2014, so start saving your money!
  • How many children do you have? We have 3 terrific kids: Chad, the eldest at 36, is an accountant on assignment in Manhattan (and a house in Los Angeles, since he works in the television industry), who has been married for 5 years to the beautiful nurse/model, Dorothy; Jen, our only daughter is 35, and she serves as an Event Coordinator for Gateway Church in the Dallas area; & our youngest son, Brent, is 28, and has been married for 6 years to his lovely Latina wife, Sol, whom he met during a missions internship in Mexico City, and they serve as our Children’s Pastors at CLC. (They’ve also given us our two adorable grandsons, Jaeden, who’s 3 and Bennett, who is 14 months)
  • How long have you been married? Chris and I have been married for 40+ years (12/16/72) – it’s a miracle she’s put up with me that long!
  • Where and how did you two meet? Ahh, our favorite story – here’s the Reader’s Digest version: in Troy, MI, on my first day at the first church I served after Bible School (it was her home church in suburban Detroit) I saw her picture on the church bulletin board and (believe it or not) something said to me, “that’s the girl you’re going to marry“. It was a few days later, at the end of the Youth Revival I had preached there, that I asked her out, and the rest, as they say, is history.

That’s probably “TMI” and more than anyone really wanted to know, but I sure had fun…can’t wait until next Friday’s edition of “Ask the Pastor” (anybody got a Bible question?)

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLCer writes, “My question is in reference to Genesis 4:16-17. The Bible states Cain settled in the land of Nod after killing his brother Abel. The Bible goes on to inform us that Cain KNEW his wife and began a family. Did Cain marry his sister or cousin?. Did these people in the land of Nod originate from Adam and Eve? who are the people of Nod? Does anyone know the answer. Where do you think the people of Nod came from God in heaven created the Nod people right? Explain.”

Ahhh, the good ‘ole, ‘where did Cain get his wife’ question. It’s probably the most frequently asked question of all – at least, through the years, I’ve been asked it dozens & dozens of times.

First, let’s be clear: the Bible doesn’t say.

So, in actuality, there is no definitive answer to this question, and we are left with the opinions of man, which can be right or wrong (or partly right & partly wrong). Since you asked me, I’ll give you my opinion:

I personally don’t see any other option than that Cain married one of his sisters. I say that for two reasons: (a) nowhere in the Bible do we see any ‘hint’ that God created people other than Adam & Eve; in fact, I think the opposite is true; i.e., Scripture indicates that all of mankind descended from them (see Acts 17:24-26 and Rom. 5:12-19 and 1Cor. 15:22); and (b) in the early years of man’s history women were seldom mentioned, and it only seems logical in the propagation of the human race that Adam & Eve would have borne daughters as well as sons, and for them to “be fruitful and multiply” would require that some married their own siblings or cousins until there was sufficient population for that to no longer be necessary.

As to the ‘people of Nod’, yes – obviously, I believe that they were descendants of Adam & Eve as well – as I said above, I don’t see any other humans created by God.

I know my answer isn’t as exotic as some, but it’s the only option I see that would be consistent with the whole of Scripture.

Hope that helps. Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLCers writes, “Every year when I read through the Bible I have the same question – when and why did Israel break into Judah and Israel?”

Great question!  (I like it when someone throws me a softball)  But seriously, I’m sure there are many others reading who wonder about this as well.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The why Israel was divided was actually a form of God’s judgment for disobedience, and specifically, the disobedience of their third king, Solomon (1Kings 11:7-13).
  • Notice that God said there I will not remove the kingdom from your family while you are alive, because of your father DavidAND I will not remove the entire kingdom, but I will leave one tribe with your family because of My Promise to your father David (read 2Samuel 7:12-16 to see the promise He had made to David earlier.)
  • The when took place (as promised above) after Solomon’s death, when his son Rehoboam assumed the throne of Israel.  The entire nation appealed to Rehoboam for tax relief, since their father had taxed the people heavily for all the construction projects he had completed.  When Rehoboam rejected their appeals and answered them harshly, ten tribes revolted and chose a new king, Jeroboam, to lead the new nation of Israel, while 2 tribes, namely Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to David’s family and became known as the nation of Judah (since Judah was the larger tribe). (Read 1Kings 11:42-12:24 to get the full picture)
  • That division lasted for the remainder of the Old Testament, until each nation eventually went into captivity.  The Northern Kingdom of Israel made it’s capital in Samaria and was ruled over by a succession of 20 different kings, each of whom was bad.  It was all downhill for them for about 200 years until they were taken captive by the Assyrians around 722 B.C.  The Southern Kingdom of Judah kept their capital in Jerusalem, and they were also ruled over by a succession of 20 different kings, most of whom were bad, but a few were good men who tried to bring revival to God’s people until they were taken captive into Babylon about 586 B.C.  The Northern Kingdom of Israel was scattered to the nations after their captivity in Assyria, while the Southern Kingdom returned to Israel after 70 years of captivity in Babylon (as had been predicted by Jeremiah).

Hope that helps!  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?  Leave your questions below and we’ll answer them in a future Friday post-

P.S.  One last thing: WHO are you inviting to this Sunday’s installment of “God@the Movies”?  It’s gonna be life-changing!

 

Ask the Pastor

Since my readers asked no questions (for the second week in a row), I am re-posting an earlier question that originally appeared here on May 15, 2009:

This week I had not one, but three different CLCers asking about the same general subject: how does CLC differ (doctrinally) from other evangelical churches?

First, I’d much prefer to focus on what we have in common….because there’s already WAY too much division in the body of Christ. At CLC, we honor every church that is preaching Jesus Christ as the world’s only means of salvation! We stand in unity with them regarding all of the major doctrines of Scripture: the Virgin Birth, the infallibility of Scripture, His atoning death at Calvary, the priesthood of the believer, etc., etc., etc.

But since you’ve asked (and some were quite specific about the gifts of the Spirit, etc.), the primary area in which we differ with some is in regards to the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the church today, and probably more specifically, the role of speaking in tongues. In that regard, at CLC we are unashamedly and unabashedly charismatic, which means we embrace all the “charisma” (Greek word for ‘gifts’ in 1Cor. 12 and elsewhere in the New Testament)

I’ll try to address that as briefly as I can:

First (because some asked in regards to ‘defending’ our position with those who don’t agree) – if you’re trying to convince someone who’s mind is made up by their previous teaching against speaking in tongues, etc., then my personal opinion is that you’re probably wasting your breath. Most of us who have been around church long have accepted our interpretation of Scriptures and aren’t very open to other views (at least in my experience).

But if you’re trying to help someone who sincerely wants to understand these issues, here are a few principles:

1. Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever. (Heb. 13:8) There is NO Biblical reason to think that what happened in Acts no longer happens today.

2. The only passage ever cited by those who think the ‘gifts’ ended with the Apostles is 1Cor. 13:8-12, and the ‘argument’ is that we only ‘needed’ tongues and the other gifts of the Spirit to authenticate the teachings of the Apostles before there was a written Bible. Once the New Testament was written (and we have ‘perfect understanding’), tongues and the other gifts would cease to exist. Very few scholars today would try to use this logic, and almost everyone agrees that passage refers to the fact that we won’t need the gifts when we get to heaven, for we will have perfect understanding then. But for now, while we still have only partial understanding, we still need and utilize ALL of the Holy Spirit’s giftings.

3. At CLC, we don’t insist on what is commonly called “the evidence doctrine”; i.e., that speaking in tongues is a necessary or initial evidence that someone has been baptized in the Holy Spirit. While I think you can build a strong case for that understanding using the verses in Acts cited above, my experience has been that argument primarily just produces arguments! :-)

Instead, I much prefer to focus on the many wonderful benefits of speaking in tongues as a devotional aid, which we usually refer to as a “prayer language”. Those benefits are numerous, but you can read a few of them for yourself here: 1 Cor. 14:2, 4; 1 Cor 14:15, 18; Rom. 8:26-27; Jude 20; 1Cor.. 14:5, 18, 11:1

Beyond that, I’d highly recommend a few books: They Speak with Other Tongues by John Sherrill (the classic in this regard!), The Beauty of Spiritual Language by Dr. Jack Hayford, and, for the whole issue of the gifts of the Spirit in operation today (not specifically about tongues), the best I’ve ever read is Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere.

I’ve also addressed these topics at CLC several times, and you might want to order the CD’s of my teachings on “Charismatic Conclusions” (08/09/04); “Do What Again?” (05/20/06); “Holy Spirit Fulness” (05/20/07); and “Using Your Gift of Spiritual Language” (07/27/08).

That’s a lot longer than I intended, but I hope it’s helpful.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Well, for the second week in a row there were no questions submitted (I suspect we’re all enjoying summer!), but I found one final question leftover from our midweek series last December, from a faithful CLC’er who wrote, “I need more understanding of Kings – I tried reading it, but it’s all about war and fighting and I don’t understand it.”

Great question; one that I’ve heard many variations of through the years: “why all the bloodshed in the Old Testament?”; “why does God seem so mean in the OT and so loving in the NT?”; “why all the genealogies in the OT?”

I understand your frustration and confusion – the Bible can seem overwhelming at times.  Let me try to help a little bit in this short post:

  • The OT, including 1Kings & 2Kings is written for us, as we saw in our “Remember the Story” series at CLC.  In part, that means the OT shows us the entirety of God’s plan for redeeming His people, which ultimately came to fruition in Jesus.  In other words, the main purpose of the OT is to show us man’s depravity and to bring us to Christ as our only hope!
  • The fighting and bloodshed and gore that so many find offensive is really NOT a reflection of God, but rather the reality of man’s fallen nature.  It was people who caused all the wars, fighting and bloodshed, not God.  For instance, read these verses in the OT: Ezekiel 33:11 and Ezekiel 18:32, which sound pretty similar to the NT reality of 2Peter 3:9.  The book of Jonah in the OT demonstrates clearly that God gave people time and ample opportunity to repent of their ways before judgment.
  • The OT, including the books of Kings, gives us predictions or prophecies concerning Jesus, and you’ll find individual heroes in those OT stories that point the way to Jesus (although in an imperfect way, of course).  There are also many lessons for us as we look at the lives of people in the OT (see Rom 15:4).
  • To answer your question specifically about 1st & 2nd Kings, those books give the history of the Kingdom of Israel, starting with the “United” kingdom (the 120 years when all of Israel was united under Saul, David and Solomon) and continuing through the “Divided” kingdom (the period when the nation was divided into 10 tribes known as “Israel” and 2 tribes known as “Judah”), and, honestly, if you enjoy history, those are some of the most fascinating stories in Scripture, showing us the danger of straying away from God’s Word and yet His mercy and power which was demonstrated through such heroic figures as Elijah and Elisha.  Don’t get hung-up on the fighting; enjoy the history and look for examples or warnings for yourself, and the books of Kings just may wind up being among your favorites in Scripture!
Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

This was an unusual week in that NO ONE sent me a question, so I’m going to answer one that several people have asked me in person since we announced plans to launch our newest campus in NW Indiana this September, where the teaching will be delivered via live video on about 90% of the Sundays.  The question, of course, is “WHY video teaching?  Why not have the pastor preach each week?”

Great questions.  Expected questions, especially since almost everyone who hears of the plan to use video thinks“I wouldn’t like that; it wouldn’t feel like I had gone to church”, but the truth all around the country is that once people try it, they forget that it’s video and find it’s just like being in the room where the pastor is preaching live!

In fact, it’s been quite amusing to me that on those occasions that we’ve delivered the message via video in Tinley Park, how much people receive it just like ‘live’ teaching – laughing at my jokes, raising their hands when I ask a question, etc.  The first time we used video when I was absent, one of our elders told me the service was almost over before he figured out that I was not on stage – because everything seemed so normal on screen!

My favorite story, though, came early this year when I got sick during the holidays and all our pastors were on their Christmas break, so no one was prepared to fill in for me.  I got out of bed to preach the first service (which our Media team videotaped), then went home & right back to bed while the video delivered the Word for the next 2 services.  I later learned that after the second service one of our staffers went to brunch with two of her friends, and when she said something about the video teaching, they both argued with her that I was present & teaching live that morning!  When she reminded them that I had even mentioned in the message that I was going straight home to bed after service and let the other services receive video teaching, they both argued that I had said that ‘live’ in their service and only the last service would get video!  My point is not to have a laugh at their expense; my point is that people who sit in a video-teaching generally don’t even think about it – especially since most people are looking at the speaker on the big screens anyway.

Here’s just a few of the reasons that we’ve decided to use video teaching from our Tinley Park campus (after MUCH thought, prayer & discussion, I might add):

  • I normally spend about 20 hours a week preparing the Sunday message. That’s 20 hours that a Campus pastor will instead be able to spend in community outreach, pastoral care, training leaders, etc. instead of locked away in his office prepping for the sermon! This basically doubles his available workweek to make an impact in the community!
  • If we are to remain “one church” meeting in “multiple locations”, it’s essential that we be on the same page; otherwise, division is almost certain to result. Since each campus will hear the same teaching each Sunday, we can grow together and move forward as one body. (At CLC, we’ve already seen the ‘separation’ that can result when each campus is not hearing from This House regularly)
  • All the experts agree: it’s much easier to train someone to provide good pastoral care than it is to produce a good communicator. If we could only add a new campus when we have a teaching pastor in place who could deliver the Word and hold people’s attention each week, we would be severely limited as to how many campuses we could open and how soon it could happen.
  • Speaking specifically of NW Indiana and Pastor Sam Hamstra, as those of you who attend CLC know, he already has the makings of a great communicator, so we’re bringing him onto our Sunday teaching team at CLC. That means sometimes he will be preaching live in NW Indiana, and WE will be watching him on video at the Tinley Park campus!
  • By the way (in case you’re wondering), Sam will truly be the Campus Pastor in every sense of the word, since he will perform weddings & funerals, do pastoral counseling, provide leadership training, help with discipleship, lead the services, make altar calls, do baptisms, etc. Believe me, he will have plenty of opportunities to speak to the congregation in NW Indiana, even though most Sundays the teaching will be delivered on the big screens.
  • BONUS: the video format also means that when we bring gifted teachers to Tinley Park (some of whom have ministries that are in such demand that they can only accept invitations to larger churches in order to maximize their reach), each campus, no matter it’s size, will also be able to enjoy those ministries, because of technology.

Hope that helps – especially those of you who perhaps didn’t know how to ask about this.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

This week’s question was submitted last December during our “You Asked for It” midweek series, but we didn’t have time to cover it in service: “Can you clarify exactly what/who the parable in Luke 13:6-9 is referring to?”

Great question!  In fact, after I looked up the passage, I think I know why I didn’t find time to answer this one in December!  I’ve used the parable myself, and heard others use the parable, but I don’t think I’d ever studied to see to whom Jesus may have been referring when he originally spoke the parable.  Not to panic; that’s why there are scholars and Bible study helps!  According to the scholars I read:

  • (Well, this part I knew already) The fig tree is often a symbol in Scripture of Israel(see Isaiah 5 or even Matthew 24:32-33.  So it’s possible that Jesus was warning the nation of Israel that even though they were God’s chosen people, if they didn’t respond to His efforts to reach them, they could be set aside.  (Some scholars even think the “3 years” refer to the period of Jesus’ earthly ministry among them.)
  • Most of the scholars I consulted feel this parable illustrates the point made in verses 1–5 that judgment comes on those who do not repent.  This certainly makes sense, since it fits the context so well.
  • Finally, it seems the parable could refer to any one of us as believers, since the fig tree clearly had many advantages of belonging to the Master who had deliberately planted it in His vineyard and cared for it with great diligence.  But still it was not fruitful – despite everything He had done to make it so.  AND, even though He was right and fair in deciding it was time to cut it down, the intercessor (Christ, our great High-Priest) pleaded for more time before judgment would fall.
  • If indeed the final option is the primary intended one, I find it a very good parable to speak to each of us, that our Lord who has taken such great pains to insure that we are fruitful, and who even today is going the ‘extra mile’ to make us fruitful, will someday judge us on the basis of our fruitfulness! (Methinks we should start bearing fruit – and John 15:1-8 tells us HOW that happens!)

I hope that helps.  I know it spoke to me!

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Today’s question comes from a faithful CLC’er, and is one I’ve never been asked before: “Does it hurt to die? Act 2:24 mentioned the pangs of death.”

Interesting question, for several reasons, but especially because each of us will face death someday, unless we are alive when Jesus returns to the earth (1Thess 4:16-18).

I’d never given thought to this subject until your question came, but here’s what I know:

  • I don’t think this passage addresses the concept of physical pain that may or may not be associated with death.  (Obviously, the cause of death could have a lot to do with whether a person experiences pain, so I assume your question is whether death itself is painful, and this verse actually speaks to a different idea than that.)
  • ‘pangs’ is used by the KJV and the AMP versions, but most of the more modern translations use other words, including “pains” and “horrors”.
  • The Greek words translated as pangs of death’ literally refer to the ‘birth pains’ of a women in travail as she delivers her child.
  • It seems the ‘pangs of death’ in this verse specifically refer to the fact that death has held mankind captive – all of us face it someday; none have been able to escape it – until JESUS!  His resurrection loosed us from the terror of death, since we will also be resurrected someday!
  • Because HE overcame the ‘pangs of death’, we no longer need live in fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15)
  • So the bottom-line for me is that Acts 2:24 is primarily about the Resurrection and that Jesus overcame death for us.  The ‘pangs’ of death referring to ‘birth pains’ could even be a word-play that He experienced the ‘pain of childbirth’ to deliver us from the fear of death!

Hope that helps.  (It made me dig a little, and that’s always good)

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLCer writes, “I have a friend that used to be on fire for the Lord. She now says she believes in God, but not the White man’s Jesus. She speaks of this African ‘voudom’ that she says early white Americans demonized to ‘voodoo’ to push Jesus on black slaves. She writes mean things about us now on Facebook. I recently asked her if she still had her Bibles and if I could have it. She responded that she had a Bible she would give me. I asked. ”is it the one you have all your notes and highlights in?” She said, “oh no you cannot have that one.” I smiled and thought ‘right, she doesn’t want to give up her Good Word of knowledge and revelation’. What would cause a person to leave what gave them life and happiness? I don’t understand this.”

Sad.  But a very valid question, because probably all of us have known individuals who once walked with the Lord but are far from Him today.  Obviously, I cannot answer with any certainty about your friend specifically, but I can give you several possibilities:

  • actually, this one is a certaintyshe has been deceived.  As always, the problem with deception is that when you’re in it, you don’t realize it!  The Bible speaks of ‘seducing spirits’ (KJV) - 1Tim. 4:1, which sounds clearly to be the case with your friend.  Certainly some people go astray because of demonic influence that deceives them.
  • Paul also warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would arise to ‘distort the truth’ (Acts 20:29-32), specifically to draw a following.  I’ve lived long enough to see those verses fulfilled by misguided teachers who were more interested in having people follow them than in teaching truth from God’s Word.
  • Some people who once walked with God turn away because they love the things of this world more than the one to come.  See 2Tim. 4:10.
  • Some Christians just get weary of resisting sin, & eventually walk away (Heb 12:3-5; Matthew 24:11-12)

It saddens us to reflect on these things, and especially the memory of our fellowship with people who once walked closely with the Lord – but there is one protection for all of us, and that is to fall so deeply and completely in love with Jesus that NOTHING could ever separate us from Him (Rom. 8:38)

Can you think of other reasons that would cause someone to walk away from Christ?  If so, leave a comment below, please-

Hope this helps a bit.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Today’s question was submitted back in December during our “You Asked for It” midweek series: “Please explain Acts 1:5 and Acts 11:16“.

Gladly.  Especially since next Sunday (May 19) is Pentecost Sunday, which is arguably the 3rd biggest day on The Church calendar, right behind Christmas (when we celebrate the coming of the Messiah into our world) and Easter (when we celebrate His death, burial and resurrection).  

Pentecost Sunday is the day The Church was born, when about 120 disciples were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4)  (If you’re not already familiar, I suggest you click that link and read the verses slowly and carefully)

The first verse you asked about occurred after Jesus’ resurrection, shortly before He returned to heaven.  He commanded His followers to not leave Jerusalem until they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5)and He told them why (Acts 1:8); namely, that they would receive the power to be His witnesses throughout the earth!

The second verse you asked about came during Peter’s explanation to the Jerusalem church as to why he had ministered to the Gentiles gathered at the home of Cornelius (Acts 11:14-16).  According to Peter, the Gentiles (whom the Jews considered ‘heathen’ or unclean) were baptized in the Holy Spirit in the same way that the followers of Jesus had been back in Acts 2!

So both of the verses in question speak of this ‘baptism of power’ that comes to us through the Holy Spirit.  Let me remind you that there are actually 3 baptisms in the New Testament that every child of God should experience:

  • When we receive Jesus as our Savior by turning from sin and believing on Him, we are baptized into His body (1Corinthians 12:13).  This baptism is what Jesus called being “born again”(John 3:3-5) and it’s the identification that we belong to Christ (we are “saved” – Ephesians 1:13-14).  It’s the Holy Spirit who baptizes us into Christ.
  • To celebrate our salvation from sin, we bury our past and ‘announce’ that we now belong to Christ through a baptism in water (Romans 6:4) It’s usually a minister or elder who baptizes us in water.
  • We are baptized in the Holy Spirit to empower us to be Christ’s witnesses in a subsequent experience that is usually accompanied by the phenomenon known in Scripture as ‘speaking in tongues’ (at CLC, we usually call it a ‘prayer language’), whose primary benefit is to enable more intimate communication with the Lord, strengthening and refreshing us in our relationship with Him.  This is the baptism discussed by the original questions in this post, and it’s Jesus who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. (John 1:33-34Acts 2:4; 1Cor 14:4)

My suggestion today for any reader is that if you have not experienced each of these three baptisms, you can and you should! (I also invite you to join us on May 19 for a fuller look at this subject as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday together!)

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Today’s question is a doozie: “my question is in regards to remarriage after divorce. Though we see it everyday, is it ok? Is it simply a matter of repenting for the divorce (and everything that caused it)? How does 1st Corinthians 7:11 & 39 play into the situation?”

Oh my.  No softballs today.  I hope this isn’t a repeat of Matthew 19:3, because I don’t like traps! In faith that this is a sincere question, let’s dive in:

  • First, I don’t personally know of a thornier question anyone could ask me.  I say that in part because there seems to be some leeway in Scripture (albeit limited) and especially because of what I see in today’s Church, as well as the overall concept of God’s grace and kindness.
  • Having said that, I also plead with every reader NOT to use this post as personal guidance, since every situation is different and this issue is definitely NOT ‘one-size-fits-all’!  If you are contemplating divorce OR remarriage, I urge you to get counsel from your pastor!
  • Most believers would agree that there are some Biblical grounds for divorce, after which a remarriage could certainly be in order.  The rub comes when we try to agree on what those ‘Biblical grounds’ are.  In my understanding of Scripture (Free community service announcement: I don’t expect others to agree with me, so please don’t fill up the comment box with your interpretations – use your own blog for that, please), those Biblical grounds would include sexual unfaithfulness and abandonment for sure (Matthew 19:9; 1Corinthians 7:15)
  • However, please don’t forget Malachi 2:15-16 and Matthew 19:7-8.  Just because a divorce is ‘allowed’ under some circumstances doesn’t mean it’s ‘advisable’.  My counsel is always that if the injured party is able to forgive and release their spouse and move on after infidelity, that’s the best solution.  Only in those cases where the ‘guilty’ spouse is unrepentant and/or the injured spouse is simply not able to forgive and trust again would a divorce be recommended.
  • Some have made remarriage the issue, but I don’t personally follow that.  IF a person has Biblical grounds to divorce, then I certainly think they have the right to remarry.
  • In regards to the specific question concerning 1Cor. 7:10-11, my understanding is that this applies to those cases where there is no Biblical grounds for divorce.  In that case, reconciliation is the only proper solution – or remain single.  Verse 39 seems to confirm that.  However, please do not use my words OR these Scriptures to judge someone else’s marriage – you don’t know all the circumstances, and John 8:7 still fits today!
  • That’s about as much trouble as I should get into for one day, but let me close with great parting advice from the Apostle Paul: 1Corinthians 7:26-28.

Hope that helped.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S. Don’t miss THIS Sunday at CLC when the John Tiller family will be our guests to share their story that is sure to inspire you!  Invite a friend-

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLC’ers emailed me this week’s question: “I was reading in Matt 17:10-13 when the disciples ask Jesus why the teachers of law insist that Elijah must come before the Messiah. And Jesus says that he already came but was essentially ignored. Then Matthew says that the disciples then realized he was talking about John the Baptist. I know we don’t believe in reincarnation, so how can that prophecy be fulfilled through John the Baptist?  Was scripture speaking of the Spirit of Elijah resting on John the Baptist, thereby fulfilling scripture?  Or am I missing the point completely?”

Well, you’re right that the Bible doesn’t embrace reincarnation, so we know that this Scripture could not have been speaking literally.  (I mention that before one of the primary rules of interpreting Scripture is that we should always use the literal interpretation UNLESS there is a clear reason not to do so.  In this case, the literal interpretation would force us to accept the false idea of reincarnation.)

So what did Jesus mean?  As always, it’s best to let Scripture interpret Scripture.  In this case, Luke 1:13 speaks prophetically of the birth of John the Baptist, and in verse 17 we are told that he will come in the “spirit and power of Elijah”! 

Not only that, but verse 17 also shows that John the Baptist would fulfill the prophecy of Malachi 4:5-6.  So clearly Jesus was comparing John the Baptist to Elijah because of the similarity of their ministry and spirit.

Wish all your questions were this easy to resolve!  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

By the way, there’s still time for YOU to invite someone to be your guest this Sunday for the clearest presentation of the Gospel that I’ve ever given, as we wrap-up our “Remember the Story” series.  Can’t wait to see what God will do!

 

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This week’s question comes from a reader who wrote, “Just reading your answer about continuous prayer in asking God for blessings. I’ve never told people to stop praying for something, nor have I stopped. But, I have told people that you only need to pray once for forgiveness of a particular sin, and stop doing that sin and God will forgive you. Would that be correct?”

Great question, because so many people, including born-again Christians, still struggle unnecessarily with guilt and shame.  And while my previous post that you refer to addresses the broader subject of perseverance in prayer, the prayer for forgiveness is entirely different, and you are totally correct that asking once in faith is enough!  Probably my favorite verse on that subject is Proverbs 28:13.

Here are a few verses to verify that wonderful promise: 1John 1:8-10; 1John 2:1-2; 1John 2:12 (note: they ‘have been’ forgiven – already!)

Note also Psalm 103:8-12; Psalm 86:5 and Hebrews 8:12, where HE promised to never again remember our sins!  Hebrews 10:11-18 adds to that promise!  What a wonderful, merciful, forgiving God we serve!

Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

 

 

Ask the Pastor

Today’s question comes from a friend of CLC: “what are the requirements of being ordained and installed into the ministry after you feel that calling is on your life?  Is it possible for a old person to step into leadership?”

Two great questions!  Let’s take them in reverse order:

  • The Bible is full of examples of people who stepped into leadership at an old age: Abraham was 100 when his promised son was finally born (Sarah was 90!); Moses was 80 years old when he began to lead Israel out of Egyptian bondage.  I could go on with other examples, but the bottom line is that we are never too old to obey God, so if HE’s calling you into leadership at any age, jump in!
  • The word ordain in the Bible refers to “an appointmenta setting in place or designation”; for example,  deacons were “ordained” to serve the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1-6); and pastors were “ordained” in each city in Crete (Titus 1:5). In none of these cases is the mode of ordination specified, nor is any ceremony detailed; the “ordinations” are simply appointments.

There’s a great example of this in Acts 13:2-4.  Please note:

  • It is God Himself who calls the men to the ministry and qualifies them with gifts (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11).
  • The members of the church recognize God’s clear leading and embrace it.
  • With prayer and fasting, the church lays hands on Paul and Barnabas to demonstrate their commissioning (compare with Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:22).
  • God works through the church, as both the church and the Spirit are said to “send” the missionaries.

Paul regularly ordained pastors for the churches he planted. He and Barnabas directed the appointment or ordination of elders “in each church” in Galatia (Acts 14:23). He instructed Titus to “appoint elders in every town” on Crete (Titus 1:5). Titus himself had been ordained earlier, when “he was chosen by the churches” (2 Cor. 8:19). The apostles and the congregations knew whom the Spirit had chosen, and they responded by placing those men in leadership. When God calls and qualifies someone for ministry, it should be apparent both to that person and to the rest of the church. The would-be minister will meet the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, and he will possess a consuming desire to preach (1 Cor. 9:16). The church recognizes, accepts and affirms that calling.

I do want to quickly add that there is an impartation that happens during ordination. The ‘laying on of hands’ in the New Testament is NEVER just a symbolic action. Hands are for giving, or transferring something from one person to another. Thus, as the presbytery lays hands on the minister being ordained, there is often a prophetic release (that can serve as confirmation OR direction for the minister), as well as a spiritual impartation that takes place. Since the minister is being appointed to a new role or position of ministry, there is a demand for new anointing/authority! (see 2Tim 1:6; 1Tim 4:14; Rom 1:11)

Finally, I feel it important to point out that ordination is NOT a “Christian status-symbol” or a sanctified way to say, “I’ve arrived”.  Jesus himself warned us about the dangers of ‘title power’ in Mark 10:42-45, and Matt 23:6-10 .  If we are to minister in His Name, we are to have a servant-heart, not a desire for titles/recognition. It is very unfortunate that religion has fallen prey to man’s innate desire for titles: The Pope, His Holiness, His Excellency, Mother Superior, Cardinals, Arch-Bishops, Father – even ‘Reverend’ or ‘Pastor’ is unnecessary at best, blasphemy at worst.

(I learned early-on that ‘Reverend’ appears only once in Scripture – Psa 111:9, where we’re told that holy and reverend is HIS name. I figured that if HIS name is reverend, mine isn’t, and I NEVER use that designation personally. Even ‘Pastor’ could become a problem – don’t seek the title, seek the anointing!) Some would argue that titles are important to have respect from people. However, it is possible to have numerous titles and still not have respect OR to have respect without any title. Focus your attention on doing the work of ministry, producing the fruit of ministry & recognition will come – ordination will seek you!

Whew!  Sorry for the long answer, but I have strong feelings about ordination, especially because I’ve seen so many who seek it for all the wrong reasons.  I hope this helped.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Today’s question was submitted in December during our “You Asked For It!” midweek series, but we weren’t able to answer it publicly due to time constraints: “How do I maintain patience as a single mom in waiting for my husband?”

Very good question, since there are many like you facing that same challenge.  While the Bible doesn’t necessarily address that issue directly, it does give us principles:

  • Pray.  At the risk of oversimplification, I believe Scripture teaches that a good man’s (or woman’s) steps are ordered by the Lord.  Genesis 24 is a great example of how God can lead us to the right.
  • Prepare yourself.  Sometimes I think we spend so much time trying to find the right mate that we forget that we must also be the right mate.  Why would “Mr. Wonderful” want to find you, unless you have already done your part to develop yourself into an interesting person – a person who can engage in encouraging conversation; a person of strong faith; a person who would be an asset to any man as his help-mate.  Use this time while you are waiting as a single mom to develop yourself into the ideal wife for some man who will know that he has found a ‘good thing’ because of the favor of the Lord (Prov. 18:22)
  • Take advantage of opportunities you have now.  1Cor. 7:32-35 points out that this season of your life presents you with an opportunity to serve the Lord without distraction, whereas if you were married, you would have to divide your time & attention with your husband.  Not only is this season a great opportunity for you spiritually – to grow close to God, to be involved in ministries, to take missions trips, etc. – but it’s also an opportunity for you to pursue other interests that you likely won’t have time for later, with a husband.  Go back to school to take some courses you’re interested in.  Build some close friendships with other women your age, or even older women who could offer you mentoring and encouragement.  Don’t just sit and wait for Mr. Wonderful to appear!

I know this is a more complicated subject with few easy answers, but I hope this has helped a bit.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

This week’s question was submitted anonymously during our “You Asked For It!” midweek series back in December, but we weren’t able to cover it publicly then: “It is a sin to be depressed?”

Great question, simply because so many Americans (and believers) suffer from depression.  I think I’d be safe in saying that almost all of us deal with it from time to time.  Here’s my answer:

  • If depression is a sin, then a LOT of Bible ‘heroes’ were big-time sinners (like us) because Moses (Exodus 5:22-6:12), David (Psa 42:3-11), Elijah (IKings 19:3-14) and even Jesus (Matthew 26:37-39) experienced moments that we would probably call depression!
  • In addition, I’ve learned from my wife (the licensed counselor) that some depression is clinical, which means there is a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes the depression.  I don’t think any of us would say that diabetes is a sin, or that high cholesterol is a sin, so why would we classify someone with clinical depression as sinful?
  • On the other hand, most depression is caused by circumstances (Numbers 21:4; Lamentations 1:12-20), and while most of us have experienced moments of despair when we don’t see a way out of our situation, as believers we must admit that such a viewpoint is not of faith, since nothing is impossible with our God.
  • So when it comes to circumstantial depression, no believer should wallow there for long, because the Word of God and worship are mighty weapons (2Cor 10:4-5) to help us see beyond our present circumstances to the glorious plan He has for us!  (2Cor 4:16-18).  That was Jesus’ secret (see Isa. 42:4; Heb. 12:2)

In fact, this message of HOPE is what Easter is all about, for the Resurrection is God’s greatest object lesson: if He can do that, He can do anything! (see Ephesians 1:17-21) – and we’re going to CELEBRATE that fact in all 5 of our Easter Experiences this weekend (Saturday at 5pm & 6:30pm; Sunday at 8:30am, 10am & 12noon) - I hope you’ll reach out one more time to invite someone to be your guest!

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Today’s question was submitted several weeks ago during our “You Asked for It” midweek series: ”When a person chooses celibacy/becomes a secondary virgin, does God forgive a person having sex outside of marriage?”

Great question, because I’m sure many Christians have asked it.

Actually, I’m not sure if you’re asking if God forgives us for making a vow of celibacy or whether He forgives a person for sexual activity outside of their marriage – but it really doesn’t matter, because the answer to either of those questions is unequivocally, YES!

I could go a step further and say that God will forgive any sin, no matter how small or how grievous in the eyes of man – IF we turn to Him in repentance.  Keep in mind that repentance in Scripture is NOT just being “sorry I got caught” (like many of the politicians or celebrities we’ve seen), but Biblical repentance is a “change of mind”; i.e., we have a change of mind and heart that results in a change of conduct as well.

Of course, I don’t recommend that you make a vow of celibacy with the thought in mind that “God will always forgive me”, because the Bible does warn us of the sin of presumption, and I certainly don’t want to take His grace for granted.

Let me close with the only Scripture you really need for this question: 1John 1:8-2:2.  And let me add, thank God for His grace, because without it/Him, we would all be lost!

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

My favorite questioner writes, “I have a question regarding “Praying in the Spirit”. I hear that phrase so much and I’m starting to wonder if I know the full meaning of it.. When people suggest that we pray in the spirit, does it mean to pray in tongues during our prayer or does it mean to put our whole self into our prayer? I’ve always thought that it means to pray in tongues but there are some dominations or churches who are not familiar with speaking in tongues and/or don’t really teach about speaking in tongues. But most churches or dominations I’ve ever encountered fully believe in the Holy Spirit. So, I would like your explanation of “Praying in the Spirit”.

Great question.  As you mention, there are many churches/denominations who do not practice speaking in tongues, but ALL Christian churches/denominations believe in the Holy Spirit.  For my views on tongues (which I often refer to as a ‘prayer language’, since it’s primary purpose is to enhance our prayers), you can read previous posts here and here and here.

As to the meaning of “praying in the Spirit”, I think there can be two different meanings.  If we’re just talking about the anointing of the Holy Spirit on various actions, we can say of certain musicians, “they were really playing in the Spirit”, just as I hope to preach or teach “in the Spirit” each week, or someone else was really “in the Spirit” when they prayed.  All of those examples are just man’s way of expressing the idea that someone was anointed by the Spirit to do what they did, much like you said, “put our whole self into prayer”.

However, if you’re asking about the term “praying in the Spirit” as it appears in the Bible, then I must say that it certainly appears to be a synonym for “praying in tongues”.  I say that because the phrase “in the Spirit” in regards to prayer ONLY appears in Paul’s writings to the churches.  Notice in 1Cor 14:1-3 and especially 1Cor. 14:14-17, where it seems quite clear (to me) that the Apostle Paul contrasts “praying in the Spirit” with “praying in words I understand”.  

The ONLY other time that phrase appears in Scripture is in Eph. 6:18, where Paul did not explain it further, neither did the context give us additional insight – so I am left to believe that his meaning didn’t change; i.e., since praying “in the Spirit” in 1Corinthians clearly means praying “in tongues”, it stands to reason that praying “in the Spirit” in Ephesians also means praying “in tongues”.

The bottom-line, really, is that every believer should pray at times in their own language, with their understanding, AND at times in their “prayer language” (speaking in tongues) for all the reasons we’ve stated before.  I practice both daily, and it’s a blessing to my life!

Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Today’s question came from someone who listened to Joel Osteen when he said, “…God has already given you the right gifts, the talent and the ability to fulfill the dreams He has placed in your heart.” (Joel Osteen) IF this is true, can/does not being in weekly attendance at the local church, block, diminish or hinder the destiny that God has for you and even more specifically, if “that” which God has placed in our heart is kingdom building, church work, ministry?

Great question…..well, great for a pastor, because you just lobbed a big softball at me and now I get to hit it out of the park!

Let’s begin with Pastor Joel’s quote.  I definitely agree with him that the Bible teaches God has already given us what we need to fulfill our dreams – read Phil. 2:13 for just one verse on that subject.

Since that is true, I can definitely attest that being absent from the local church can hinder your destiny (at best) or block it altogether (at worst).  

As a pastor, I have long sensed that many of today’s believers haven’t fully grasped the significance of what happens each week when we gather together to worship the Lord:

  • we meet with God, and in His Presence, wonderful things can happen to unlock our destiny! (see Genesis 28:16-17 for a foreshadow of what can happen each week)
  • we hear from God through His preached Word, which can reveal or confirm our destiny! (see 1Thess. 2:13 for just one example of it’s potential)
  • we fellowship with other believers, and in those gatherings is the opportunity for us to share spiritual realities that can change the course of our lives & enable our destiny to be fulfilled! (see 1Cor. 14:26 for an example)
  • no wonder then that the Apostle stressed the importance of not neglecting this awesome privilege we have to gather together weekly! (see Hebrews 10)
Hope that helps.  And I hope you won’t forget to set your clocks ahead by one hour this Saturday night so you can be on time at CLC for our new service schedule: 8:30am, 10am, and 12noon, as we gather to “Remember the Story”!
Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Our THRIVE’ series is now history, but last week one of our most faithful CLC’ers asked a question that others have asked her: ”As believers, how are we to respond to the flood of requests to give – from various charities & organizations in our mailbox, to special offerings at church – it seems like every time we turn around we’re being asked to give again.  What are we supposed to do?”

Such an excellent question – and I’m sure one that many have wanted to ask, but perhaps been hesitant to put into words, for fear of being thought stingy.  I really want to help today, and the good news is that this question IS directly addressed in God’s Word.

2 Corinthians 9:5-8 is the clearest instruction about giving in Scripture, and it directly addresses whenwhyhow to give, as well has how not to give, if we want God’s blessing.  Read the passage again slowly and carefully.  Notice:

  • my giving should only be done with a willing heart, never when it feels like extortion or that it’s being wrung out of me! (verse 5)
  • when I give grudgingly, Paul says I will reap grudgingly but if I give in order that others will be blessed, then I will reap with blessing (verse 6)
  • note especially verse 7, where we are told to give as we decide in our own mind & purpose in our heart, and NEVER reluctantly or sorrowfully or ‘under compulsion’ (feeling as though we’re being pressured or forced to give!)
  • Instead, that same verse tells us that God ‘loves’, ‘prizes’, ‘takes pleasure in’ & will not ‘abandon’ a person who gives cheerfully, joyously, “prompt to do it” and whose heart is in his giving!
  • Finally, when we give like that, verse 8 gives us some of the most wonderful promises in Scripture about our giving.

So with those clear guidelines in Scripture, my conclusion (and recommendation) is that you give when you can do so willingly, feeling ‘good’ about the opportunity to sow into a ministry or cause, but that you keep your money in your pocket when you can’t feel good in your heart about that particular offering or opportunity.

I’ve actually put money back in my pocket that I had intended to give, simply because the person receiving the offering put so much pressure on the audience in an attempt to manipulate us to give more – and I knew I couldn’t do so willingly in compliance with the verses above.

Personally, I’m a ”local church” guy, so as a general rule I don’t respond to all the pleas from various charities, because I’ve seen the good that can be done through the Body of Christ around the world and prefer to invest my money there – but that’s just me.  If you can apply 2Cor. 9 to secular organizations or charities, then certainly you can give with freedom & generosity.

At CLC, when you give your tithes & offerings, you can also know that 10 cents of every dollar is going to help fulfill the Great Commission, which I hope gives you an added reason for your ‘heart to be in your giving’!

By the way, one good way to ensure that you’re not being manipulated by emotion or giving because of “the heat of the moment”, is to automate the important by setting up automatic debit through online giving.  Your bank account will carry out your heartfelt desires every payday (or however often you choose) with no possibility of reluctance or compulsion.

Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Today’s question comes from a faithful CLC who writes, “Keeping in tune with our current sermon series, I decided to step out and up and be a better steward of God’s money. I set my tithe up for auto debit for the proper amount and not what I have left over each pay week. In doing so, I was sharing with another believer (non-CLC’er) what I am doing. She stated that she “felt paying via auto debit or in a lump sum says that you are no longer “presenting” your tithes to God but are paying him like a bill. He has the right to reject or accept your offering”. I was attempting to explain that in my opinion as long as you are paying / presenting your tithes with a clean, open and loving heart it shouldn’t matter (how) they are paid. I too was raised in the traditional church she currently attends and understand the logic behind what she is saying, but also believe that times are changing and paying by auto debit is the same as bringing my check / cash into service on Sunday as long as it is done in reverence to its true purpose. Am I wrong?”

I’m so glad you asked this, because I’m sure other people struggle with the same worry and it gives me a chance to help them as well as you.

The quick answer is, ‘No, you’re right! I pay my tithes thru an automatic debit online! I certainly don’t think online giving violates in any way the OT concept of bringing my tithes to the Lord. What it does do is insure that I don’t forget to write a check or get sick or go out of town on weekend and as a result get behind on giving to God first.

As you’ve probably heard about my past, I came out of a very legalistic denomination, so I think I can spot “religion” a mile away, and honestly, when I read your email about your friend’s response and the church that you used to attend, that was my first thought: ‘religion’ strikes again. I’m saddened that she (and a million others like her) is caught up in a legalistic, religious way of doing things that says “my way or the highway”, based on the tradition of men only – when the reality is that the main point of Scripture is that we give to God first; not how we deliver it.  In fact, when the Bible spoke of tithing, there was no such thing as writing a check or putting cash in a church offering envelope & bringing it to the Lord!  Their tithes were literally newly-harvested crops and the firstborn of their livestock, which they brought to the priest.

If we were to take the attitude or approach that we shouldn’t use technology to accomplish tithing today, we probably need to re-think a lot of things we do in church: let’s see: how about no air conditioning in the summer; no audio/video system; no indoor rest rooms, etc. – since they obviously didn’t have any of those modern conveniences in the Bible either.  Wonder why no churches teach against those practices?

Now, I will tell you one thing that I do – not because I need to feel like I’m ‘presenting’ my tithes to the Lord, but because I’m conscious of the fact that others are always watching me as pastor and I want to be an example: I fill out an offering envelope each week and write in the amount that I’ve given online & what it was for (tithes, missions, Kingdom Expansion, etc) and then in the box where it says “total”, I write “ONLINE”. I then submit my offering envelope along with everyone else during that part of the service. That way I am participating in the offering along with everyone else, even though my monies have in reality already been transferred to the church electronically. If you have any misgivings about not ‘presenting’ your tithes, you could always do that as well.

Bottom-line: I think we should take advantage of technology wherever we can to be more effective in the Lord’s work, and this is certainly one of them.  By giving tithes & offerings electronically, we free up our volunteers from hours of counting & recording our gifts AND we enable the Church to more accurately project our income for budgeting purposes, since the gifts are consistent instead of haphazard.  I encourage every CLC’er to consider online giving!  In fact, you can enroll here right now.

Hope that helps.  Don’t forget our “THRIVE” series comes to a close this Sunday as special guest Joe Sangl will encourage us to believe God for financial MIRACLES in all 3 morning services AND then share his free seminar, “Financial Learning Experience” from 5-7pm.

Now what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Today’s question was submitted during our “You Asked for It” midweek series in December, but we weren’t able to answer it then.  A CLC writes, “I really need help with disciplining my son.  I failed utterly w/my older son & don’t want to make the same mistake.  I’ve tried everything I can think of – I need help!”

Since it’s been so long since I’ve had to discipline children (and my wife will tell you it wasn’t my best area, even then), I’ve asked our KidsLife Director, Brent McQuay, to be our guest today in responding to this very important question:

That is a great question, and one we like to talk about a lot on the Kidslife Blog. We actually have 3 posts on Discipline you can check out: “Time to talk about the “D” word”“Creative Discipline Ideas” & “Top 10 Things Children Want Their Parents To Do With Them”

The Bible is pretty clear on the benefits of discipline and even the dangers of not disciplining our kids, one of my favorites is Proverbs 29:17 ESV.  How does that sound as a parent: to have a child that gives you rest instead of stress, and brings joy instead of frustration!

I could talk about this subject for days but for the sake of time I believe that “healthy” discipline really requires two things, LOVE & CONSISTENCY.

Love has to be the motivation and foundation of your discipline. It needs to be communicated clearly to your child repeatedly. “I am doing this because I love you” As your child grows, add to the statement, “I am doing this because I love you, and I want you to succeed in life” or “I am doing this because I love you, and I don’t want you to repeat my mistakes.” Be open and honest with them and above all let them KNOW, not just HEAR that you love them, especially when you are disciplining them.

I have seen well-meaning parents discipline out of principle, and out of frustration, or out of a desire to enforce the rules, and while I don’t doubt that they love their kids, they simply failed to express their love in the midst of discipline. I have seen this “discipline without love” lead to rebellion, especially in teenagers!

The second thing I believe your discipline needs is consistency. This applies to both WHEN you discipline and HOW you discipline, and needs to be the same no matter WHO is doing the discipline; i.e., Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, whoever!

Consistent discipline means every time you see a certain action that you have decided needs correction, you discipline the child and you use the same type of discipline. If talking back to you on Monday earns the child a 5-minute time out, but on Wednesday it earns a “Go to your room without dinner” there is no consistency and it can create confusion. And even worse is when on Monday it earns “X Discipline” and on Wednesday it is ignored. This creates a mentality that this behavior is sometimes ok, or the feeling that sometimes they can get away with it.

Sit down with your kids and let them know what behavior is NOT OK, and let them know what to expect when they misbehave. When there are clear expectations it is easier for you as a parent to discipline because their are no surprises.  It even removes a lot of the argument that typically takes place when disciplining older children (although nothing can remove all chance for argument from a teen)

Setting up clear expectations and pre-defined consequences can also help you when you start to lose your parenting cool. Let’s say Johnny has picked the wrong day to misbehave, you are already tired and frustrated and then he goes and does the 1 thing that bothers you more than anything else. Sticking to the pre-defined consequences can protect you from “going off” on your kids.

Discipline is rarely easy to receive or to give for anybody but there are a lot of resources out there. For my own parenting journey I use the resources provided by Focus On The Family almost daily! They have an incredible series of articles on “EFFECTIVE BIBLICAL DISCIPLINE”. If you are really struggling in this area, take the time to read some of those articles. Also know that the Kidslife staff is here for you, if you ever need someone to talk to give us a call, shoot us an email, or just stop by, We are here for you!

Hope that helps!  For all you parents, my son posts regularly at his blog, and I encourage you to subscribe here – just add your email in the “Follow by email” box and submit.

By the way, financial pressure affect even our children, too – it’s not too late to sign up for the Financial Learning Experience on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 5pm

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLCers writes, “I’ve heard it said by at least a few biblical scholars that there are promises throughout the Old Testament given specifically to “Israel” and not the Church. My understanding is that ALL of God’s promises are “YES and AMEN” in Christ and that we, as believers, can pray and decree ANY promise God has made in His Word when our hearts are right with Him. Please clarify.”

Excellent question.  Reminds me of a chorus we used to sing in my early years of ministry: “Every promise in the Book is mine; Every chapter, every verse, every line; I am trusting in His Word Divine; Every promise in the Book is mine!”

Great chorus; not-so-great theology, in the sense that we don’t even WANT every promise in the Bible, since a lot of them have to do with judgment & destruction!

But I digress.  The best answer to your question is that (a) there are promises to Israel in the Scripture that some Christians have tried to apply to the Church instead of Israel – and that’s wrong.  God may have turned from His people Israel for a season, but He has not forgotten her, and He will fulfill the promises made to Israel long ago.

But what is true is that (b) as believers, we can appropriate promises made in Scripture to ourselves, at least partially because of the verse you cited, 2Cor. 1:20 (AMP) or MSG or the NIV translation.  What Paul asserts is simply this: Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises – HE says ‘yes’ to them; and we as believers add the “Amen”, which means, “so be it!”  In other words, God makes a promise; Jesus says ‘yes, I’ll fulfill that’, and we claim it for ourselves by adding our ‘Amen’ – so be it in my life!

I will add the caveat that you implied: oftentimes promises in Scripture are conditional; i.e., God will do this if we will do that - so in order to claim those promises for ourselves, we must also meet the conditions He laid down in His Word.

Hope that helps.  This Sunday we’ll look at some of His promises concerning our finances as we continue our ‘Thrive’ series – so I hope you’ll join us & invite a friend!

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

 

Ask the Pastor

Today’s question comes from a faithful CLCer, “Why does the church not support or believe in climate change?”

Now, that’s a question I’ve never been asked before.

But since you asked sincerely, I’ll give it my best shot – with a disclaimer that there is NOTHING about this in Scripture, so I’m strictly giving my opinion:

  • First, by “climate change” I assume you’re referring to what is sometimes called “global warming”which gained greater attention with the public after a documentary by Vice-President Al Gore called “An Inconvenient Truth”.
  • From what I’ve read (which is admittedly only a little), while there is wide consensus in the scientific community that climate change is real and is largely a result of human activity that release greenhouse gases – there are still other voices in the scientific community who disagree, and they cite studies which contradict the more popular view.  I would say that’s one important reason why the church at large doesn’t support climate change; i.e., even the scientific community is divided on the issue.
  • Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, since the Bible is silent on this issue, and since there are so many other priorities given in Scripture for the Church’s attention, it would seem we should stay focused on those areas that Jesus has commanded, rather than the issue of climate change.
  • Thirdly, the Bible is also clear that this earth is temporary and will eventually be replaced in God’s plan – so our priority is different than others who have no eternal hope (see 2Pet 3:3-14).  As the old-timers used to sing, “This world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through!”
  • Finally, even though climate change doesn’t work its way into my sermons, don’t assume that the Church isn’t doing anything.  I know that we are called to steward creation (see Genesis 1:26), and if we are to have dominion over the earth, then surely environmental issues are of some concern.  There are a number of Christian writers and leaders who are advocating our responsibility in these areas – here’s just one such website, if you’d like to know more.
Hope that helps.  And I also hope you’ll join us THIS Sunday as we explore the topic of Stewardship when we kick-off “Thrive: stop surviving & start thriving!”
Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

 

Ask the Pastor

An anonymous CLCer asks, “If a person commits suicide because of a mental illness is it still a sin?”

Interesting question. I suspect the underlying question is really, “Will they still be lost & spend eternity in hell?”, so I’ll try to answer both questions.

However, I should begin by saying that the Bible does NOT address this question directly, so we are left to speculate based on what we know from other principles found in Scripture.  Therefore, my answer is really just my “sanctified opinion”:

  • First, in my humble opinion, anyone who commits suicide does so in a ‘moment of insanity’; i.e., I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could take their own life. And in my opinion, if they are not in their right mind, I don’t see how their actions could be considered sin, since they don’t know what they’re doing.
  • More importantly, a person’s eternal destiny is determined by what they did with Jesus – not how their life on earth ended.  So, again in my humble opinion, if a person who knew Jesus as Lord & Savior, perhaps because of life circumstances or sorrows had a temporary moment of insanity & took their own life, I think the Lord would look upon their relationship with Him rather than their foolish choice to end their life, and they would still be able to enjoy eternity in heaven.
  • Having said that, I cannot stress enough that this is MY opinion, and I have NO Scripture upon which to base my opinion, except that our God is a merciful God.If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, PLEASE get help – see a pastor, a Christian counselor, or a trusted friend in whom you can confide.  Do NOT listen to the voice of the enemy telling you to end your life!

That’s heavy, but I hope it helped some.  And I hope you will be present THIS Sunday at CLC when we’ll wrap-up our “Treatment” series with ’Prognosis’ – what you can do to win the battle for your mind!  It’s the most important message of the series.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLCer writes, “Is there someplace in the Bible where it says they will take our Bibles away?”

This one actually brought a smile to my face, because I well remember in my younger days when preachers certainly made that assertion, warning us of end-times events.  (Actually, now that I think of it, their ‘predictions’ about how our world would change weren’t quite as scary as the reality we’re facing today in post-modern America!)

However, there is NO verse in Scripture that makes that statement.  The closest idea to it would be found in Amos 8:11-12, but if you notice, it’s not the result of a radical government or human enemies removing our Bibles.  Rather, it’s God’s description of His judgements upon Israel who rejected His Word, so He will remove it from them.

The GOOD NEWS is that there’s NO shortage of His Word to His people today – and this weekend at CLC will be FULL of the Word of the Lord from some of the most anointed men of God I know – so I hope you’ll make every effort to join us for each session of our

Hope this helped.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

 

Ask the Pastor

My favorite questioner wrote me with the biggest question in her heart: “My question is regarding John 1:1-4.  Pastor, why is it that John is the only book of the Bible that refers to Jesus as the Word? I I’ve often wondered if my prayers were directed properly & respectfully in the way that God desires us to pray. I know that there is a Trinity that consists of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. I have also been taught that they are three, yet one. I’ve also heard that we can pray to God the Father and end our prayer with “in Jesus name”. But some people feel that we can pray directly to Jesus because He and the Father are One. Others feel this is not the correct way to pray. If God and Jesus are One, should it really make a difference if we pray directly to God or directly to Jesus? If God and Jesus are not One and the same, is God greater than Jesus? While reading the book of John, it seems that there is no difference, but sometimes it does seem like there is a difference. I really need to have this question answered once and for all so that I can praise and worship God in the way He wants me to. How can I teach and instruct someone when I’m not sure of what I’m teaching?”

Wow.  There’s at least 3 or 4 or 5 different questions here, and all of them are somewhat controversial in the body of Christ, so I know before I start that my answers won’t please everyone.  But since you asked me, here’s my conviction based on 44 years of ministry:

  1. I don’t know why John is the only writer to refer to Jesus as the Word since he didn’t tell us – but it’s possible because John is the one who traced Jesus all the way back to the beginning, whereas the other Gospels started with His birth & traced him back to Abraham, or even to Adam – but only John went all the way back to His eternal, pre-Bethlehem existence (see vv 1, 14).
  2. Since Jesus himself teaches us to ask in His name(John 14:13-14and to ask the Father directly (in Jesus’ name – John 16:22-27) and to ask the Father(without mentioning Jesus’ name – Matthew 6:8; Matthew 7:11), I personally don’t think it makes any difference, and I think people who try to teach otherwise are guilty of confusing Christians & causing unnecessary struggles such as you describe in your own heart.  In other words, I believe that you can pray directly to Jesus OR directly to the Father OR to the Father in the name of Jesus without any fear that you are praying incorrectly or addressing God in an improper or disrespectful manner!
  3. I would like to suggest a correction to your description of the Trinity, because nowhere in the Bible do we read the term, “God the Son” or “God the Holy Spirit”.  If we did, we would no longer have a Trinity of One God in Three Persons, but we would have three Gods, and what the Muslims say of us Christians would be true – we would be worshipping more than one God.  The Bible does speak of “God the Father” as the all-encompassing term, and it refers to “The Son of God”, but not “God the Son”.  Some will think I’m splitting hairs, but I personally think it’s an important distinction.
  4. I wouldn’t say that God the Father and Jesus are ‘one and the same’ as you put it, since they each have distinctive characteristics – but they are one Godhead (with the Holy Spirit).  In other words, again, Christians worship One God in three persons, not Three Gods.
  5. No, God is not greater than Jesus in His essence (John 10:30).  The only verse that might sound contradictory to that is John 14:28, but, again, to interpret that statement literally would mean we must worship three gods.  The only logical explanation is that the Father is greater than the Son in regards to His office or His work – since the Son came to this earth in a position of humility as a man, to accomplish our salvation through His death on the cross.
  6. I do understand why it sometimes seems one way in John and sometimes another way, but I believe almost all of those difficulties go away when you consider this concept of “office” or “role” that Jesus plays in the work of salvation, versus the “office or role” of God the Father.

Whew.  I really hope that helped, because I know God doesn’t want any of His children to be in confusion or to struggle about how to pray to Him properly.  Just as earthly parents want to fulfill their children’s requests, your heavenly Father wants you to call on Him so He can give you exactly what you need! (see Matthew 7:11 again)

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

By the way, you’ll get more than your questions answered; you’ll hear Words from God & be able to drink deep of the Holy Spirit next weekend at our First Love Conference on January 19-21.  Take some time off work and plan to join us!

Ask the Pastor

The first question of 2013 is, “How do we balance or should there be a balance (meaning should it be all or none or one of the above) “religion”, “spirituality” & “relationship with God”?  I see a lot these days where people want spirituality (finding their inner self and connecting to that “higher power”) without the rules of religion (please do this and don’t do that). But there is no mention of the relationship with God or his son, our Lord Jesus. I notice many of my un-churched friends, though they appear so very thirsty for God through relationship by way of Jesus, they seem to always gravitate to these, please forgive me, “Oprah-approved” “spirituality” teachers.  Religion, spirituality or relationship?”

Interesting question.  And spot-on in regards to current trends, I might add.

In my understanding of Scripture, the hunger for ‘spirituality’ & ‘religion’ are pretty much the same thing: God created us body, soul & spirit, so there’s a part of us that won’t ever be satisfied with anything less than Him.  Religion is the result of man trying to satisfy that desire – it’s man’s attempt to find God.

Of course, a relationship with God is the ONLY Biblically-approved answer, and it’s the whole reason that Jesus came – so we could truly know God.

So to answer the question, how do we balance those (or should we), I would say NO.  The ONLY answer is to seek/find/enjoy a life-giving relationship with God, and actually, religion is an enemy of that hunger to know God, since it substitutes man-made effort for Biblical obedience.

Since this is primarily a philosophical question, I didn’t refer to Scripture in my answer, but I think John 4  and Acts 19:1-6 are great examples of the difference between religion and relationship.

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

The final question of 2012 comes from my #1 questioner who writes, 1Cor. 14:27-28 is kind of confusing to me.  Pastor, I know that your church believes in speaking in unknown tongues which I believe and support 100%. However, according to the Apostle Paul, it should not be done unless it is done in the way he explains above. Can you give me your interpretation of this?

I’d be glad to, since this question is similar to one that so many people have asked, especially if their background does not view speaking in tongues as a valid practice for today’s Christians.

In my humble opinion, most all of the confusion results from misunderstanding that are at least two different purposes or uses for speaking in tongues (both of which are mentioned in 1Cor. 14).  If you do not distinguish between those two very different purposes, then the Scripture starts to sound like it contradicts itself.  Here’s my take after over 40 years of study on this topic:

  • the primary purpose for speaking in tongues is to enhance our personal times of prayer, which is why at CLC I have resorted to referring to this gift as a “prayer language”.  That purpose or use of tongues is always referred to in Scripture as a positive experience that Paul (and by inference, the Lord) wants for every believer (see 1Cor. 14:2; 1Cor. 14:5; 1Cor. 14:14; 1Cor. 14:17; 1Cor. 14:18; Jude 20; Romans 8:26-27).  
  • Please note that this use of tongues is for our personal devotional experience, and it does edify (build up or strengthen us in our faith!)  But it’s intended ONLY for our benefit; not for the public benefit of others, such as during a church meeting.
  • Please note that this secondary gift must be strictly regulated, since it affects the entire congregation – and the order and manner in which this gift is to operate is what Paul describes in verses 27-28; i.e., that only 2 or 3 people should speak in tongues during the meeting, and that should be one-at-a-time, not all at once.  Then the person with the gift of interpretation should declare the meaning of what they spoke, so the entire congregation can be edified.
  • Again, in my humble opinion, almost ALL of the confusion regarding speaking in tongues is a result of someone trying to apply rules for the public use of the gift to the primary private use of the gift.  In fact, a quick look at the 3 places in Scripture where speaking in tongues took place historically will reveal that not once were Paul’s rules in 1Cor. 14:27-28 followed!  (See Acts 2:1-4 where about 120 people spoke at once, instead of only 2 or 3 in order; Acts 10:44-46 where a large gathering of Gentiles all spoke in tongues at one time, not in order; and Acts 19:1-7, where about 12 men spoke in tongues instead of only 2 or 3 — and in EACH of those passages no one gave an interpretation!)

I hope this helps.  In my own walk with the Lord these past 47 years, I have found that the devotional practice of praying in tongues privately has done more to strengthen me than anything else, and like Paul, I thank God for this experience!

It’s my heart’s desire that every reader would receive and use this gift of a prayer language to help them become more intimate with the Lord – and it’s yours for the asking!  (Acts 2:38-39; Luke 11:11-13)

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

 

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLCers writes, “What does the Bible say about tattoos?  Is this defacing your body?  Are tattoos “wrong” in God’s eyes?

Great question, especially since this has become such a popular practice in recent years.  But, in all honesty, the Bible doesn’t address this specifically – unless you want to use Leviticus 19:28.  That verse may sound clear at first glance, but if you consider the context, which was about avoiding heathen practices and which also includes other prohibitions that we practice everyday (see verses 19 and 27)

Pastor Craig Groeschel answered this question via video as well as anyone can (in my humble opinion).  Take a look at this and see if it answers your question.

Bottom line: as with all questions which involve ’questionable’ behavior for a Christian, I recommend Col. 3:15 and Rom. 14:22-23.

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Don’t forget: 5 opportunities to worship with us this Christmas – Sun., December 23 at 8, 9:30 or 11:30am and 5pm AND Monday, Dec. 24 at 6pm – bring the whole family & enjoy!

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLCer writes, “Pastor, is it possible to receive a prayer language at a young age and not realize what it is?  When I pray in tongues now it seems to be like the experience I had as a young boy in the Catholic Church.”

Good question.  I am sure that many people have had experiences with the Lord in which they received their prayer language  without knowing the Bible basis for that experience (speaking in tongues).  In fact, I’ve heard many testimonies through the years from folks who had a prayer language, but were almost afraid to use it because they didn’t understand the Bible basis for it, and, after all, “it sounded like baby talk”.

The Scripture is clear to me that this is a gift that God wants for ALL of His children – see 1Cor. 14:5; 1Cor. 14:18; 1Cor. 14:39; Acts 10:44-46; and perhaps my favorite, Acts 2:39.

If you don’t have a “prayer language”, and you are a born-again believer, then just ask Jesus to baptize you in the Holy Spirit, and expect to receive.  You will have to do the speaking, but the Holy Spirit will give you the language!

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

My most regular questioner writes, “I have always been taught this if you pray and ask God for a certain thing, you only need to ask Him once. I’ve heard that asking Him more than once shows a lack of faith and you really should not keep asking Him for the same thing over and over again. However, it seems there are different ways you can interpret this in Luke 11:9, especially when you read other translations like the AMP or the NLT.  What are your thoughts on this?

I’m so glad you asked – because I’m convinced the teaching cited is a serious error that has probably kept thousands of believers from receiving answers to their prayers!  In fact, I think the whole of Scripture would teach just the opposite; i.e., that we can and should be persistent in our prayers, until the answer comes!

It’s ironic that even the KJV that you quoted shows the very same interpretation when you continue reading the next verse, because each of the verbs (ask, seek, knock) end with “eth”, which is the old English way of indicating a continuing action!  So even the KJV bears out the truth that we continue to ask and continue to seek and continue to knock, until we receive!

This is NOT because God is trying to make us beg or that HE needs us to ask repeatedly; it’s most often because of our own indifference in prayer.  How many times have we prayed for something one day and forgotten all about it by the next?  I love how the Message paraphrase reads in the first part of Prov. 25:15, “Patient persistence pierces through indifference!”

Jesus once told a parable to correct the very notion that we only pray one time – in Luke 18:1-8, and His clearly stated purpose was that we would never quit!  As the noted pray-er and author E. M. Bounds once said, “Too often we get faint-hearted and quit praying at the point where we ought to begin.  We let go at the very point where we should hold on strongest.”

Finally, if it’s wrong to pray more than once for the same request, someone should have told all these Bible characters:

  • Jacob – wrestled all night (what if he had quit at a decent bedtime ?)
  • Moses – prayed for 40 days/nights to spare Israel
  • Elijah – prayed for rain 7 times before the cloud appeared
  • Daniel – pressed his case with the Lord for 3 weeks before the angel showed up
  • Bartimaeus – was rebuked for crying loudly to Jesus, but he cried out the more!
  • Jesus himself – in Gethsemane, thru tears & bloody sweat, made the same request three times!

I think the message of God’s Word is clear – we have not, because we ask not!  And if we don’t receive the first time we asked, perhaps we need to be persistent and ask again!

Hope that helped. Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S. Don’t forget to invite someone to join you this Sunday at CLC as we look at the Christmas story through Mary’s unique perspective.

Ask the Pastor

A non-CLCer wrote, “My question is regarding Matthew 21:12 and John 2:15.  Every church I’ve ever been to sell items in the church. I think there is nothing wrong as long as these items are sold to help the church, right?  When Jesus went into the temple and cast out those that sold, were these people selling because they wanted to make money for their own greed, as opposed to selling to help the church or temple?  Does it make a difference? Should we sell items in the church or should we have a separate place to sell items and not in the house of God?”

Great question.  It reminds me of a similar question I heard as a boy in the church I grew up in, whenever the church would have a fellowship event with food, and some critics would quote 1 Cor. 11:22 and grumble that we have houses to eat in and should never serve food in the church building.  (Of course, they completely missed the point of Paul’s teaching, just as you point out in this question)

The issue (as the questioner says) is NOT selling items in church (or the Temple, in this case); the issue is the motive.  There was no doubt a need for someone to provide animals for sacrifice, since many of those coming to Temple had traveled far from their homes and it would have been impractical for them to bring those sacrificial animals with them.  Even the money changers could provide a needed service, since everyone would need the pay the Temple tax.

But instead of serving the people, these greedy merchants were gouging people with their charges, lining their pockets with unreasonable profits.  Even more importantly, they had turned the Temple into a commercial enterprise that Jesus called “a den of thieves”, rather than reverencing it as a “House of Prayer” as God intended. (see Matthew 21:13 with Isaiah 56:7)

In fact, my favorite part of the story (sometimes overlooked) is what happened after Jesus removed those greedy merchants to restore the Temple to it’s purpose in Matt. 21:14-16! When God’s house functions as it should, miracles happen & praises go forth!

We sometimes offer items for sale at CLC, especially books & resources to help you in your walk with God.  In fact, THIS Sunday my wife will be doing a book-signing for her newest release, and several other CLCers with books in print will make them available for purchase – but I promise we won’t be gouging anyone in price or with greed.

I hope this helps a bit.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

My most inquisitive questioner writes, “My next question is regarding 1Pet 3:18-20. Pastor, does this mean that after Jesus died, He went to hell and spoke to the spirits of those who died who were not saved and who were disobedient to God before Jesus came? If so, did he change their circumstances? Were they able to repent? If they were not able to repent, why did he go and talk with them?”

Great question about a controversial and interesting passage of Scripture.  Here’s my take:

  • first, I know that Hebrews 9:27 teaches that all men die once, then comes the judgment – and since Scripture never contradicts itself, I know that Peter can’t be saying that Jesus gave some people a ‘second chance’ at salvation after death.  So I look at the passage more closely to see what it does say.
  • Then I notice that verses 18-19 indicate that the action attributed to Jesus happened “by the Spirit” AND according to verse 20 that it happened in the days of Noah”.
  • So, my understanding is that this passage is somewhat figuratively expressing that during the time that Noah was building the Ark, the Spirit of Jesus was preaching through him to warn people about the impending judgement, but that they rejected his preaching and only his own family was saved from the flood.  In fact, the same writer referred to Noah as a “preacher of righteousness”.
  • Genesis 6:3(the chapter that begins the story of the Flood) tells us that God’s Spirit will not always strive with man.
  • Putting all of this together leads me to conclude that during the time that Noah was building the Ark (some think 120 years, but I suspect it was much shorter than that), the Spirit of God was dealing with the wicked society to whom Noah preached, but despite God’s dealing with them by Noah’s preaching, they still didn’t repent, and only Noah’s family was saved.
  • So to answer your questions, I don’t believe Jesus changed their circumstances or gave them an opportunity to repent after death, because I don’t believe this took place after their death, but rather during their lifetime in Noah’s day.

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Today I want to answer a question that I suspect many CLCers have asked: “why do we want to open a campus in Matteson, when we already have a nice building in Tinley Park?”

Here are several valid reasons, in no particular order of importance:

  • The Great Commission of Jesus demands that we continue reaching people with the Gospel, not until our building is full, but until every one has heard!
  • We have been maxxed-out in Tinley Park since about 2003, and we’ve been earnestly looking for a way to expand since 2007.  Our initial thought was that we would relocate to build a facility at least twice as large as our Tinley location, but the projected cost was between $15-20 million dollars, and we simply were unable to raise the funds to do so.
  • In 2011, we felt impressed to use the funds we had raised to maximize the Tinley location, believing that as we did our part, God would open doors for expansion.  The story of how we located the Matteson facility would take too long to tell, but I truly believe it is God’s open door for us.
  • The Matteson property will double our size (in square footage) and more than double the number of seats available on Sunday morning and the number of parking spots for those who come to worship (including our Tinley campus).  But instead of costing us $15-20 million, we project that the entire project, including the remodeling, will cost us about $2million!!! (That sounds like God to me!)
  • The Matteson campus is so close (less than 5 miles away), yet it enables us to expand our outreach further south, and should provide a ready-made launch team, since we have over 500 people who drive past that location to get to Tinley Park!
  • The Matteson campus will significantly increase our visibility in the community, as 81,000 cars per day drive drive past that location!
  • The Matteson building will seat 800 (compared to Tinley’s 550), so between the two auditorium’s we will be able to seat over 1,300 people.  This means we could offer four services during the prime inviting hours on Sunday morning when most people are likely to attend, with potential to reach more than 2,600 people each Sunday!
  • By offering services in both locations, we will be opening the door for many more CLCers to discover & use their gifts (since we’ll need twice as many ushers, greeters, children’s ministers, choir members, musicians, etc) and that’s a hugeblessing, becausepeople grow best by using their gifts to serve others!

Those are some of the reasons I’m so excited about opening a new campus in Matteson in early 2013.  It’s also why I am pleading for your prayers, because this week we learned that the Village of Matteson wants that Auto Mall property to remain for commercial use only, and in order for us to get the special use permit to have a church there will require God to intervene and give us favor.

I am not discouraged by that news, because I know that God has the last word.  And I also remember reading in The Circle Maker, how many times our friend Mark Batterson was told “no” on property he wanted to acquire for National Community Church, only to have the “no” turn into a “yes” after prayer.  I’m believing that God is no respecter of persons and that HE will do the same miracle for us – IF we’ll do our part in prayer!

Will you join me in believing God for FAVOR in Matteson?

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLCers writes, “The scripture in Eph. 4:11-13, talks about the fivefold ministries, which are apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists and teachers.  Are these gifts still in the church today? I hear the pastors and the teachers, but not the others. Can you explain this?”

Great question that I’ll be happy to address!

First of all, if we look at verses 12-13, I think it becomes clear that these ministry gifts are to function until “we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.”  In my humble opinion, I’m not sure that any of us have quite yet measured up to the full and complete standard of Christ – I know that I haven’t!

If that’s true, then it must be that those ministry gifts of verse 11 are continuing until this present day, and will continue (in my understanding) until the coming of Christ.

Second, as my questioner points out, we regularly hear the pastors and teachers today, and I think I could safely add that we still recognize and hear evangelists from time to time.

So the real question is whether or not apostles and prophets still serve the body of Christ today.  In that regard, I would emphatically answer, ‘YES’, even though I’ll admit that there are many who disagree with me in that regard.  Probably the strongest argument I’ve heard against the present ministry of apostles & prophets is Ephesians 2:20, which tells us that we are built on the foundation of the apostles & prophets.  Some have interpreted that to mean that those ministry gifts were only involved in the foundation of the church, and that they no longer serve in the upbuilding of the church today.

I disagree.  Given the times in which we live, I feel the need today is greater than ever before, and the ministry of apostles & prophets is just as necessary now as it was in the early years of the Christian church.  Since I don’t want this post to become a book, let me just briefly say that the ministries are needed, but the titles make us uncomfortable.

For years I’ve declared that I would much rather (at CLC) that we do the stuff without the title, than that we have the title but not the stuff!  I suspect most of us have been turned-off by men calling themselves ‘apostle’ when they meet in a storefront with a handful of people and have never really established anything in ministry.  But just because the titles have proliferated in recent years, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

We NEED the fathering ministry of apostles.  These are ‘sent-ones’ who are able to establish networks of churches and ministers.  I believe my pastor is a true apostle, but I seldom hear anyone ascribe that title to him.  I’ve even had several leaders tell me that I’m an apostle, and I sure don’t want the title – but I do sincerely want to be a spiritual father.

We also NEED the accuracy of forth-telling (and fore-telling) the Word of the Lord from prophets today.  I’ve met several men (and brought some of them to our pulpit at CLC) that I believe are prophets, although we don’t often use the title as freely.

I hope this helps a bit – if you need me to dig a little deeper, let me know and we’ll pursue this in a future post.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

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My #1 questioner writes, “Why does the New Testament speak about women keeping their heads covered in the church when praying or prophesying? (1 Corinthians 11:5)  Pastor, was this something that was just meant for women in that century or does it pertain to women in this century also? Some churches demand that a woman’s head is covered when she enters the church, but others do not.  Give me your take on this.”

I’ll be glad to – especially since your question is asking for my “take”; i.e., my opinion on this topic.  That’s all I can offer, since this passage is admittedly one of those obscure references that is not interpreted elsewhere in Scripture, and since this is the ONLY place it appears in the Bible, and the meaning is not obvious to us, we are left with controversy and questions.

For that reason, in my humble opinion, this passage had a cultural application in the first century that no longer applies today.  In fact, the approach that you mention in which some churches insist on women wearing a covering or hat when they enter the church is clearly a man-made attempt to comply, since verse 15 of the same chapter clearly states that her hair (not a veil or hat) is given for a covering.

This passage led my original faith family to teach that women should never cut their hair so as to never displease the Lord.  Obviously, I no longer agree with that interpretation, since it cannot be substantiated elsewhere in Scripture and since the logic that Paul appeals to in verses 13-14 no longer makes sense in our culture.

I hope this helps, but honestly, passages like this one make me think of the Mark Twain quote, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”  As someone else has observed, most of us Christians are educated way beyond our obedience as it is.

That’s why THIS Sunday I’ll be sharing some important principles from Scripture that I KNOW will help us NOT to be defeated and live with less than what God intended, so I really hope you’ll invite someone to be your guest as we begin perhaps the most important series I’ve ever shared at CLC, to help us overcome the plans of the enemy!

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

 

Ask the Pastor

Today’s question seems especially appropriate after last Sunday when about 60-75 people were baptized in the Holy Spirit at CLC, as my most frequent questioner writes, This question is about speaking in unknown tongues.  In Acts 2:4-11, when the disciples were gathered in the upper room and began speaking in tongues, their tongues seemed as though they were speaking another language such as Spanish, German, Hebrew, Arabic, but it was a language that another nationality in the room could understand. When people speak in tongues these days, nobody in the room can understand unless there is an interpreter and even then it does not seem like a language that is spoken by another culture. Pastor, was this way of speaking in tongues done to make people believe? Does this way of speaking in tongues still go on today? All of those men in that room were of other nationalities, but there was someone who understood each language without an interpreter.”

Great questions, all.  Let’s address them one at a time:

  • First, just to clarify, it’s unfortunate that the KJV inserts the word “unknown” in 1Corinthians 14:2 – if you’ll notice, the word is in italics, which means it was not in the original manuscript, but the translators chose to add it in their attempt to clarify the meaning. Many people (such as my questioner) use that term “unknown tongues” because of this, but the truth is the apostles just described it as a “tongue” or “language”.  There is NO evidence in Scripture to indicate the languages that someone might speak by the Spirit are “unknown”.
  • To the contrary, every example in Scripture would seem to indicate that these languages are actually languages spoken on earth, but not known by the person who is speaking.  (One possible exception would be 1Cor. 13:1, which might indicate that someone could speak a language used by angels in heaven)
  • That’s an important truth to point out, because the assertion that nobody in the room can understand unless there is an interpreter” is simply not true, provided that someone is present who understands that language.  I’ve experienced this personally in that my wife was once praying in the Spirit and a young man from South America overheard her & recognized what she was praying in Portuguese.  Another time when we were overseas, a young person was baptized in the Holy Spirit & spoke in English that we could understand, although they didn’t speak any English.  There are numerous examples of this today, with one of the best being a classic book by John Sherrill, “They Speak with Other Tongues”.
  • This would also refute the idea that even then it does not seem like a language that is spoken by another culture; indeed, it is very possible for someone to speak in tongues in languages known and used here on earth!
  • As to the question that I think most important in your list, was this way of speaking in tongues done to make people believe?, the Bible emphatically would say, ‘NO’!
  • I say that’s the most important question you’ve asked, because the most common error made by those who reject speaking in tongues as valid today is the idea that (they say) the purpose of speaking in tongues is to preach the gospel to foreigners who might otherwise not have a chance to hearThere is not one example in Scripture of this being the case!  Notice in Acts 2:11, the listeners didn’t hear the gospel preached in their language, they heard praises – “wonderful works of God”.
  • In fact, the result of them hearing the people speaking in tongues was NOT their conversion, but according to Acts 2:12-13, there were 3 reactions: some were amazed (jaws dropped open); some were perplexed (scratching their heads); and some mocked(pointed their fingers) – but no one got saved by hearing others speak in tongues!
  • It wasn’t until Peter stood up and preached the gospel (in a common language of the day that they all understood), that 3,000 people believed and were baptized (Acts 2:37-41)
  • Even though the speaking in tongues was understood by people from different nationalities in Acts 2, and it does still happen on occasion today, that is not the norm, as we see people speaking in tongues in Acts 10:44-46 and in Acts 19:1-6 but there is no mention that anyone understood what they said.
  • The primary purpose of speaking in tongues is to increase our intimacy with the Lord in our own devotional times, as 1Cor. 14:1-5; 18-19.  That’s why I encourage those who have a prayer language to use it every day!  (And if you haven’t received that gift, why not ask the Lord for it today – it’s your promise in Acts 2:38-39)

I hope this helped.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

My most-faithful questioner writes, “I am confused as to why God hardened some people’s hearts and the person whose heart is hardened suffers the consequences of his actions even though it seems like he had no choice in the matter, i.e., Exodus 9:12 or Hebrews 3:8.  This is where I get confused: If God hardens a person’s heart, why should that person be held accountable? I know that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because He wanted to prove Himself to the people of Israel, but did Pharaoh have a choice in the matter?”

Great question; the wording is confusing to anyone who thinks as they read.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • first, there is some disagreement as to whether God hardened Pharaoh’s heart or whether Pharaoh himself did so (see Ex. 8:32 and 1Samuel 6:6 where the ‘hardening’ is attributed to Pharaoh, not God) 
  • second, it seems from Scripture that Pharaoh was rather unresponsive toward God even before the plagues began (see Ex. 3:19 and chapter 5)
  • thirdly, there is a natural result of revelation: when God speaks to responsive hearts, they melt before Him. When God speaks to unresponsive hearts, they harden. That’s why the same heat of the sun will melt wax, yet harden clay.
  • That leads me to conclude that God only strengthened (the literal meaning of the Hebrew word for ‘harden’ in these verses) Pharaoh’s own stubbornness. Think about it this way: God could have judged Pharaoh immediately and taken his life – but He allowed him to live and Pharaoh could have chosen to surrender to God’s dealings, but he only persisted in his hardened heart all the more.
  • most importantly (and I suspect the ‘question behind the question’) is not the theological question between man’s free will & God’s sovereignty, but much more personal: am I just a pawn or does God really care about me?  And to that question, Scripture is abundantly clear: ‘YES, God cares about you!”  In fact, Jesus was willing to leave heaven & come to earth in the form of a helpless baby, walk among us for 33 years and then willingly be jerked up on the cross, stretched between earth & heaven to give His life’s blood for us!  Yes, He cares, and He does intervene in our lives, to bring us into right relationship with Him!

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLCer writes, “Pastor, Is Cremation Christian? or going against God will? I know you have answered this question time & time again but am still not clear. or please point me to some verses in the bible that I can read. Because this question keeps coming up with my friends and I would like to be clear on the answer I give.”

No problem…..I can understand why you’re not clear, because the fact is, I cannot give you any Bible verses to read, since cremation is never mentioned in Scripture.

My thought is that since it is never mentioned by God in the Bible, then it must not be against His will.  (While an argument from silence is somewhat weak, it still seems to be that if God was against cremation, He would have told us so in His Word.)

What I can tell you is that the Jewish people did not practice cremation in the Old Testament, but always buried their dead.  Some would argue from this fact that Christians should not be cremated, but again, that’s another argument from silence as far as the Bible is concerned.

I think the BEST answer I can give you is Colossians 3:15, which literally says that peace should be the “umpire” of our heart.  So if you do not have peace about cremation, I’d say do not violate that; if you do have peace, don’t worry about what others say or think, but go with your sense of peace.

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S. If you live in Chicagoland, I hope you’ll join us at CLC this Sunday for the finale of our series on what we’ve learned in 40 years together about “Love, Sex & Marriage”, as we specifically focus on ‘Family Matters’!

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No questions were submitted online this week, so I’m responding to a question we didn’t have time to answer in our recent midweek study, “You Asked for It”.  An anonymous CLCer wrote, “I need help with the fact that my spouse is a believer but does not lead spiritually – he practices not going to worship, drinks wine & beer, even w/unsaved friends, and does not pray with me.  How do I still respect him?  And what is ‘respect’, because I don’t feel respected.

Ouch.  These are all good questions, because I’m sure many other Christian women have asked similar questions, so I hope somehow to address your pain as well as answer your questions:

  • For what it’s worth, I think we sometimes use the term “believer” a little too casually.  From my understanding of James 2:14-26, if a person practices not going to worship, continues in the same conduct as his unsaved friends, and doesn’t pray, chances are pretty good he is not really a ‘believer’.  He may have prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ at one time in his life, but it certainly sounds like he is not walking in fellowship with the Lord.
  • However, if your interest is in helping turn him around and see him become a spiritual leader in your home, then I would still urge you to “respect” him.  1Peter 3:1-2 makes it clear that a Christian wife can actually ‘win’ her husband to the Lord without saying words – but by the influence of her life!
  • Please note that the passage opens by saying the wife must “accept the authority of her husband”, which is certainly another way of saying, “respect him”.  Respecting him, even though his conduct is not at all becoming of a Christian, means that you do not criticize him or cut him down with your words in such a way that he loses respect in the eyes of your children or his peers.
  • In my experience, a man will actually “live up to” his wife’s words, because wives have tremendous influence over their husbands!  So if you speak positive words of faith (I’m not suggesting you lie or ‘flatter’; I’m saying you look for the good that you can praise, in hope & faith that he will be motivated to improve his conduct to live up to your praise).  
  • As you live your faith before him, I’m believing that God will change his heart and you will soon enjoy the respect that is lacking in your home now.

Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

PS I hope you’ll join us this Sunday at CLC – I believe the message will be used by God to save some marriages from divorce!

Ask the Pastor

My most frequent questioner from the past finally wrote again: “I am curious about parables and their meanings. How do we know if a parable is fact or when it is a parable? i.e., when He speaks of faith and how we are able to move a mountain with just a little faith. I know there is an underlying message to this parable but for a long time I heard people quoting this scripture and speaking as though a mountain could actually be moved easily. I’m not putting a limit to what God can do, but I don’t think that this is actually what He was trying to get across with this particular parable. Also, why did Jesus use so many parables, because sometimes it does actually get confusing and I don’t want to think that I am one of the ones Jesus spoke in Matthew 13:11 who are not permitted to understand. Finally, if He was teaching them, why did He not intend for them to understand?

Good questions, all!  Let’s dive in, one at a time:

  • first, I think there’s a slight misunderstanding about parables and similes.  A parable is a method of teaching that Jesus often used, where a story is used to convey a message or truth.  A simile is a figure of speech in which we compare two different things.  So when Jesus spoke of faith as a grain of mustard seed, He was using a simile to illustrate that we don’t need a large quantity of faith; we just need to exercise the faith we have, and, if we do, we could “move mountains”, which is clearly a figurative expressionsince there is no example in the Bible of anyone (including Jesus) who ever physically/literally moved a mountain.  The idea of moving a mountain clearly speaks of ‘mountains’ in our life such as obstacles, challenges, opposition, etc.
  • Back to your original question: a parable is always factual, since the purpose of the story is to convey a fact or truth.  In other words, it is a fact (for example) that seeds planted on thorny ground will be limited in their fruitfulness, since the thorns will choke the nourishment the plant needs to flourish.  But the real message of that parable has nothing to do with agriculture and everything to do with our fruitfulness after we receive God’s word into our lives.
  • To complete that answer, I would say that if a parable were not completely true, it would not serve its purpose, since the reason Jesus used these stories (parables) was to communicate a spiritual truth He wanted to teach us by comparing it to a natural fact that we already understand.
  • Next, as to why Jesus so often used parables, He answered that question himself in Matt. 13:11-16(You quoted the first part of His answer, v. 11, where He explained that some people are not able to receive the spiritual truth hidden in the natural facts of the story, but you’ll need to read vv. 12-16 to see why – and that is because their hearts are not open, but hardened toward God’s Word).  I think Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase called “The Message Bible” has it best here.
  • Finally, as to your question why Jesus wouldn’t intend for some to understand, again I think that’s a misunderstanding.  It’s not that He didn’t want or intend people to understand; it was that because of their hard hearts they didn’t understand.  As the Message translation makes clear, one reason Jesus used parables was actually to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insightHe loves us all & He will do anything to help us ‘get it’!

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S. If you live in the Chicago area, I urge you to join us at CLC this Sunday at 8, 9:30 or 11:30 a.m., when Chris & I share “Making It Last” in our series of what we’ve learned in our 40 years together about “Love, Sex & Marriage”!

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLCer asked during our recent midweek series, “I need help in learning to be a good listener – not to jump in when it’s not necessary.  I can’t always have the answers.”

I wasn’t able to get to this one during the ‘You Asked for It’ series, but it’s a great question that I’m sure others share, so let me tackle it today:

So my recommendation is that we discipline ourselves to listen carefully, even using tools like ‘restating’ to be sure we’ve heard the person well (e.g., “What I’m hearing you say is ____.  Is that correct?”) before responding with our answer.

It may even help to remind ourselves that it could be pride that’s always wanting to jump in, whereas godly humility would cause us to value the other person above ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4).

Hope that helps a bit.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S. – Don’t miss the kick-off of “What we’ve learned in 40 years about Love, Sex & Marriage” this Sunday!

Ask the Pastor

A favorite CLCer writes, “Can you explain why Proverbs 26:4-5 seem to contradict each other?”

Good question.  Honestly, when I read the verses myself, it does seem contradictory.  So I resorted to a few commentaries (sometimes the scholars do get it right!)

Here’s what I found that made sense to me:

These two sayings belong together; they complement each other. Their point is that we should not be drawn down to a fool’s level (v. 4) but at times we must use the fool’s language to refute the fool so he does not become conceited (v. 5) See also verse 12 and verse 16 about this.

We also need wisdom to know when to apply verse 4 and when to apply verse 5. The Jewish Talmud suggests that verse 4 pertains to foolish comments that can be ignored and that verse 5 refers to erroneous ideas that must be corrected.

Hope that helps a bit.  Now what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S. I hope you’re making plans to be a part of our “Miracle services” with Evangelist Daniel Kolenda this Sunday (Sept. 2) at 5pm and Monday (Sept. 3) at 6pm.

Ask the Pastor

(sorry this is late – I didn’t have internet access until now)

An anonymous CLCer submitted this question: “what about unforgivable sins?”

Ahhh, THE question.  I’ve been asked several times, and my answer is the same: the only unforgivable sin in Scripture is the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. (see Matt. 12:31-32)  The issue is that Jesus didn’t define what that sin is, so it’s been left to interpretation or speculation ever since.

Here’s my opinion: if you read the context that preceded Jesus warning about blasphemy, it was that some were attributing the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan. (see Matt 12:22-30) That leads me to believe that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is when someone attributes His work to the devil.

However, I don’t believe that people who don’t know better can be held accountable for that sin; i.e., I think that sin can only be committed by someone who has actually been baptized in the Spirit, has tasted firsthand of the power & Presence of God, and later recants that experience and says it is of Satan.  (see Heb. 6:4-6 for a similar idea)

Here’s my final thought: anyone who is worried that they have committed the unpardonable sin can stop worrying – if I understand Scripture, if you commit that sin, even God gives up on you and you would never again sense Him speaking to you or dealing with you.  So if you’re feeling guilt & condemnation & worry that you can never be forgiven, it’s a sure sign that the enemy is the one talking to you and you have NOT committed the unpardonable sin.

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

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A faithful CLC writes, “Jesus helps me to tolerate & be cordial with my enemy, but HE says ‘love them’.  What is this kind of love?”

Great question.  And please don’t feel alone…..because this kind of love is not human!  It is human to want revenge on our enemy or to to want to hurt our enemy, or even to hate our enemy – but how can we truly love our enemy?

The only answer to that is agape – the Greek word for “divine love”, the kind of love that would cause Jesus to lay down His life for us. (see John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1John 3:16)  That kind of love ONLY comes from Him.

So how do we get it, in order to love our enemies?  I’m glad you asked.  Romans 5:5 tells us that the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  That’s certainly my testimony and I’ve heard the same report from many people through the years – in fact, I noticed it as soon as I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, that I had a new sense of love for people.  I don’t mean to imply that it was perfect, or that I’ve never had difficulty with loving those who’ve mistreated me since – but I can tell you that the Holy Spirit does a work in my heart that enables me to love those who would otherwise be unlovable.

If you’re struggling a bit with an enemy or with people who just rub you the wrong way, make it a matter of prayer – ask God to baptize you with His love for people.  I believe He’ll answer that prayer and help you to see others through His eyes.

Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

The last several days have been most unusual for CLC, with 5 deaths affecting our church family in such a short span of time.  So for today’s post, I’m re-posting a question from several years ago (no questions were submitted this week) that might be relevant for those who ask about cremation- what does the Bible say about it and is it compatible with a Christian view? 

Since I’ve been asked that several times over the past few years, perhaps this will help others: as to your question regarding cremation, this is my opinion (keep in mind that there are Christians who disagree with me): I cannot find anything in the Bible that would forbid or discourage cremation.  Probably the strongest argument against it would be the fact that the Jews, who were God’s covenant people in the Old Testament, never practiced cremation; they always buried their dead.  But my understanding of Scripture is that in the resurrection, no matter what has happened to our earthly body – lost at sea, burned, or decayed back into dust – it will be ‘transformed’ into a glorious body like Jesus had after His resurrection. (see 1Corinthians 15)

Since the Bible is ‘silent’ on this issue, my personal belief is that each family or individual can choose for themselves how they want to handle this.

And as we begin the first of three funerals this weekend, I’m so thankful to know that this body is merely the ‘garment’ that we wear during our days on earth, while our spirit is eternal, and we can rejoice with those who have already begun their reward! (2Cor 5:1-5)

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

You Asked for It this Wednesday!

Just thought I’d give you a preview of our midweek Bible study for Wednesday, August 8 – I’m answering questions that CLCers have submitted, including these issues:

  • The gay lifestyle…what does the Bible really say?  Can you be a struggling homosexual & still have a relationship with God?
  • How do we know if we’re believing God for a promise from Him, or just something we want?
  • How can I trust & forgive after being hurt by the person closest to me?

Other topics we’ll cover include questions about specific verses, help with finances & more – I sure hope to see you!

(Remember, on Wednesdays there’s something for the entire family, with a full slate of children’s classes & our Consumed Student Ministries, so bring the whole family!)

Ask the Pastor

One of my readers wrote, “My question is in regards to tithing. If you are not a member of a church, is it ok to pay tithes at that church?  I could guess many reasons why a ministry would say yes but if one does not have a “church home” but wants to make sure that they don’t “rob God”, what does one do?

Wow….what a conscientious and sincere question.  In a world where some internet Christians delight in ridiculing the 5,000-year-old practice of tithing (giving 10% of one’s income to the Lord) and where the average church member in America reportedly gives just over 2% of his income to the Lord, this question is an encouragement to any pastor!

Here’s my sincere thoughts on this subject:

1.  The Scripture indicates that our tithes should go to the ‘storehouse’ where we are fed (Malachi 3:10), which most Bible teachers interpret to mean our local church.  (see also Deuteronomy 12:10-11 and Nehemiah 10:37-39)

2.  When a person doesn’t have a  ‘home church’, they’re really in a circumstance that’s not directly addressed in the Bible, since Scripture is clear that we should be joined to a local assembly.  (see Psa 92:13, Acts 2:41-47, and the opening verses of virtually every New Testament Epistle!)  In fact, I can’t think of a single example in the Bible of a believer who was NOT part of a local assembly!

3.  So I would say (most importantly), you should seek to be planted in the local church where God would have you be, as your top priority.  God will lead you, because He wants you to be planted.

4.  In the meantime, while you’re looking for that church, I think you can do one of two things (please understand: I don’t find anything in the Bible about this because of #2 above, so this is my ‘sanctified common sense’ speaking) – you could either: (a) pay your accumulated tithes each time you visit a Bible-believing church (wherever that is); or (b) you could put your tithes in a separate account (so you’re not tempted to use them for another purpose) and let them accumulate until you find your church home, at which time you’d give the accumulated balance to that congregation.  I would only advise that approach if you are being sincere & diligent about finding a church home, because I don’t
think it’s wise to ‘store’ our tithes instead of giving God the FIRST tenth of our income.  Thanks for your sincere desire to please the Lord, and I pray that He leads you to a church home soon!

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S. Don’t forget THIS Sunday is the final installment of “God@the Movies” as we grab some Biblical principles & life lessons from the first Avenger, “Captain America” – invite a friend to join you – 8, 9:30 & 11:30 a.m. at CLC!

You Asked For It!

I’ve really enjoyed our summer midweek ‘manna’, as I’ve had the opportunity to do some old-school Bible teaching on Wednesday nights.  But for the last 3 opportunities before we resume our Life Group schedule for this Fall, I’m going to be answering your questions about Bible doctrines, verses we don’t understand, or life challenges.

I’m tackling your doctrinal questions tomorrow night, and you submitted some doozies!  We’ll talk about everything from marriage & divorce, to ‘eternal unconditional security’, to ‘what does the Bible say about tattoos’, and more!

I promise a no-holds-barred, honest answer to your questions, so I hope you’ll join us at 7pm this Wednesday.  By the way, we also offer classes & ministries for your children & teens, so bring the whole family & enjoy the fun!

Ask the Pastor

After my post here a few weeks ago based on Proverbs 16:21 & 23, a faithful CLCer wrote, “Does this mean sweet speech in the midst of someone slandering or talking down to you?

Hmmmm.  Good question.  Let me give a two-fold answer:

1.  No, I don’t think that’s the literal or specific meaning behind Solomon’s encouragment for us to use sweetness of speech in Proverbs 16:21 & 23.  I really think he was pointing out the obvious: that when we like someone, we’re much more likely to be influenced by their words.

2.  However, I do think that when someone slanders you or talks down to you, the best possible response is sweet speech – note Proverbs 15:1 and Proverbs 18:6, for starters.  It’s certainly not easy when others are disrespecting you or lying about you, but if you can curb your tongue, the chances of a happy ending go up significantly! 

I think we should all pray, “Lord, sweeten our mouths!”

Hope this helps a bit.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of my most faithful readers wrote, “Pastor Jerry, what is the “hidden manna and white stone” that Christ refers to in Revelation 2:17?”

Great question.  I wish I knew the answer.

Unfortunately, there is no clear explanation given in Scripture.  As a result, scholars have speculated, but it seems to me that all of their conjecture is just that; conjecture.  The most common opinions seem to focus on the fact that the manna was given to Israel during their time in the wilderness to sustain them, and that Jesus is promising He will have a supply to feed the true believers of Pergamum, unlike the food offered to idols that was mentioned in verse 14.

The white stone could possibly be a reference to the  Old Testament practice of the high priest wearing 12 stones on his breastplate with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel inscribed on it. Though believers at Pergamum may not have had precious stones or gems of this world, they had what is far more important, acceptance by Christ Himself and assurance of infinite blessings to come.  For sure, we are promised that we will feast with Him in heaven (Rev 19:6-9) and that we will have a new and hidden relationship with Him (Rev. 19:12).

Sorry I couldn’t give you anything more definite.  Do any of my readers have a better idea?  If so, leave your comments below.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLCer asks, ” I would like to know why don’t we observe certain festivals that are in the Bible? After the death of Jesus, Paul wanted to observe the festival of Pentecost (Acts 20:16). Is it because we are not Jews?”

Very interesting (and observant) question.  The ultra-short answer would be, “yes”, but that’s no fun, so let me elaborate:

  • First, the festivals that were observed in the New Testament after the death of Jesus were all Jewish festivals established under the Law of Moses.  Notice that actually only 2 are mentioned in the Epistles (Acts 20:16 & 1Cor 16:8 – both refer to the festival of Pentecost; and 1Cor 5:7-8 – the festival of Passover, although it’s only alluded to)
  • While those verses clearly indicate that the Apostle Paul continued to observe Jewish festivals even after he came to faith in Christ, there is no indication in the New Testament that those feasts were mandatory for believers.  In the spirit of Acts 15, it seems that Evangelicals and Charismatic believers today are exempt from the need to observe those festivals.
  • Having said that, though, let me quickly add that for many years I completely overlooked the Jewishness of our Christian faith.  It wasn’t until God dealt with me about “to the Jew first” (Rom 1:16) that I really started noticing our Jewish roots and the fact that the early Church continued to observe their Jewish practices, even though they obviously and clearly understood that “all the law is fulfilled in Christ” (Rom 10:4; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:9)
  • So I would conclude that it’s certainly ok for believers today to observe the Jewish festivals so long as we understand that all of the festivals were pointing us to Christ, and that any such celebration would be to further our appreciation of what Jesus has already done for us.  It’s in that spirit that we’ve held a Seder (Passover meal) at CLC on Good Friday several times (and one is already scheduled for 2013).  In my mind, a deeper understanding of our Jewish roots can only help us love Jesus more!

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

 

 

Ask the Pastor

A faithful online CLCer writes, “How can we look at each other, not for what we do or don’t do to each other, but who we are and how God sees us.  This is the area that I need the most help with.  Is there Scripture to support this view and how do you feel about what i ask?”

I had to get clarity first, but the question my friend is asking is really, “When people disappoint you or mistreat you, how do you continue to look at them the way God does?”  That is a great question, because unfortunately, as long as we’re alive, there will be those who disappoint us or even mistreat us – so how we can keep a right attitude and not view them with contempt is a question most of us could use some help with.

Here’s my favorite verse of Scripture on that subject: Matthew 9:36Jesus had just traveled around Galilee, through all their cities and villages, healing and ministering to people everywhere he went.  And when he looked at the multitudes, he looked past their sinful behavior and saw their need:

they were confused

they were harassed

they were distressed

they were dejected

they were helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

If we can remember how people really are, it’s a lot easier to see them with God’s eyes of compassion and love.  I read a great story some time back, about a man on a metro train watching three children running wild and their father letting it happen, seemingly in a daze.  The man is annoyed by the rude disturbance and finally confronts the father.  He pulls himself together to explain that they have just come from the hospital where his wife had died about an hour earlier.  In that moment the man experiences a complete, spontaneous reversal, all of his assumptions and projections and judgments, his very mental and emotional state, shift from anger to compassion:  “What can I do?”

Granted, we won’t often know the “back-story” behind some of the rude treatment we receive from others – BUT we do know the truth of Romans 3:23 and Romans 3:9-12 and Matthew 6:14-15 and James 4:11-12 and 1Peter 3:8-11.

I’d say we ALL have a long way to go, to be like the Lord.  But we’re walking toward that goal!

Hope that helps a bit.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S. Don’t forget THIS Sunday will be our guest at CLC!

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLCer asks, “Is there something in the Bible that says all our Bibles will be taken away in the end times?

Great question, since I’ve no doubt that many readers have heard preachers wax eloquent in suggesting that very thing.

However, I would have to say the answer to that is “NO” – there is no verse in Scripture that indicates Bibles would be forcibly removed from God’s people during the last days.

The closest thing to that idea is found in the Old Testament prophecy of Amos 8:11-12.  Notice that it’s NOT that the Bibles are removed, but that there would be no prophet or man of God to proclaim the Word to the people.  My understanding is that this was literally fulfilled in Israel’s past, when they were taken captive by heathen nations because of their sin, but it’s possible that it would have a future fulfillment as well – although I don’t see the issue as being a removal of Bibles.

Having said that, please keep in mind that even today there are places on earth where oppressive governments have banned Bibles and made it very difficult for believers to obtain a copy.  (We sometimes forget how blessed we are in America to have free access to God’s Word, whether in printed form, via radio broadcasts or television ministry, etc. – thank God for our religious freedoms!)

Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

PS – just a reminder: I’ll be interviewing Mark Batterson about his upcoming visit to CLC and the book, Circle Maker, at 10:30am today on WYLL AM 1160.  Tune in for a chance to win the book free!

Ask the Pastor

One of our faithful CLCers wrote, “what is the church’s position on members taking outside speaking engagements?”

Hmmmm, I’m not completely sure I understand this question, but I’ll take a stab at it – please write again if I miss the mark:

Assuming that the question is, do I as a pastor approve of others at CLC having opportunities to use their gifts & callings to speak for other churches or groups outside of CLC, the answer is mostly ‘YES’.

As I understand Scripture, no pastor was ever intended to be a one-man show; in fact, the history of the early church as recorded in Acts is quite clear that there were always a multiplicity of ministers (pastors, evangelists, teachers, prophets and even deacons) who preached the Gospel alongside the apostles (Acts 13:1-5 & Acts 6:5-10 are 2 examples).

So personally I’m always pleased that God has called men & women to “five-fold ministry” (Eph 4:11-12) AND planted them at CLC as well, and I would fully expect that they will have opportunities to exercise their gifts & callings in various settings.

(Having said that, I perhaps should also say that I do believe my calling as the ‘set man’ in this house means that I will be the primary communicator.  I love the fact that we have several capable teachers & preachers here that can step in at any time to deliver God’s Word with clarity & anointing – but I do take my responsibility to guard the flock and the pulpit very seriously, and I don’t open our pulpit to just anyone who announces a calling)

But I digress.

Probably the only reason that my originally answer is ‘mostly’ yes is that there have been times in the past when the invitation for someone to minister came from a pastor or a place that we knew was ‘tainted’, either by the lack of integrity of the leader or the false doctrine that was being taught, and on those rare occasions I have usually advised the minister from here not to accept the invitation – but, as I said, those situations are rare.

Let me close by echoing the sentiments of Moses, when Joshua wanted him to forbid some of the Israeli’s from prophesying, but Moses said, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that He would put His Spirit upon them all!”  (Numbers 11:27-29)

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLCer wrote me after last Friday’s post and said, “I read your Ask the Pastor this morning & was wondering about the 7 Mountains movement. You say u agree with the principles, but you’re not a member. Why are u not a member? Is there something “not quite right” about it? Is this a principle you will be teaching at CLC soon?”

Ahhh…..nothing like people quoting you & asking for clarification.

Seriously, for someone who makes a living by communicating, I think I did a poor job of expressing myself last week.  Let me try to clarify:

1.  I’m not even sure there is a “7 mountains movement“.  I used those words loosely to describe some in the body of Christ who do seem to “major” on this teachingThose individuals seem (from my limited exposure/understanding) to use the idea of 7 mountains as a ‘divine strategy’ revealed by God for the church today.  Again, from my limited exposure, their idea seems to align with “Dominionist” or “Kingdom Now” theology.

2.  When I said that I’m not a ‘member’ of that ‘organization’, I was referring to the website that I linked in the post.  What I should have said is that I don’t subscribe to all of the “Kingdom Now” theology.  (Like most doctrinal errors, there are some good teachings mixed in with some Biblical error in that theology, again, as I understand Scripture.  For instance, I do believe in a literal ‘rapture’, in which the true Church is caught away to meet the Lord Jesus – to give just one example – whereas the Kingdom Now folks do not believe in a literal rapture.)

3.  I see the “7 mountains mandate” as a helpful description of the fact that there are different spheres of influence in our world.  As I stated here last week, I believe that godly men & women can & should serve & reach people in each of those spheres of influence.  While recognizing & understanding those different spheres can certainly be helpful to us, I don’t see it as a ‘mandate’ from God on the level of other Biblical teachings.

4.  As to whether I’ll be teaching about the “7 mountains” at CLC anytime soon, I can honestly say it’s not in my plans – but I learned a long time ago to never say never!

Finally, let me just close this discussion by saying that the real gist of what I was trying to say last week is that I believe God has called CLC to balanced Bible teaching, and that’s been a hallmark of our ministry through the years.  Unlike some churches who perhaps major on the prophetic, or deliverance ministry, or end-times prophecy or any other number of valid truths, at CLC, we are called to be a balanced family church.  So we believe in deliverance, but it doesn’t dominate our teaching or our services.  We believe in the prophetic, but it doesn’t control our meetings.  We believe in end-times prophecy, but it’s not the only thing we talk about on Sundays. We don’t throw stones at those who major on any of those areas, but that’s NOT who God has called us to be.

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

This week’s question comes from a CLCer who writes, “I know we are urged in scripture to pray for our leaders (1Tim. 2:1-3), but is there anything in scripture that states that I have to actively participate in the voting process? As we get closer to election day, I hear many Christians say that we need to vote based on our beliefs and that Christians should “vote for Jesus”, but as citizens of God’s Kingdom, which is not of this world (John 18:36), should we be involved in the upcoming political process?”

Hmmm…interesting question.  And no doubt a question that many others have asked themselves, if not verbally.  Since this is my blog, here’s my opinion:

  • Unless my memory is failing me, I don’t think there is any verse in Scripture that specifically says a believer must vote.  (I’m not sure there were any democratic elections in Bible days ;-) )
  • However, I think Scripture is clear that our governmental leaders are ordained by God  (Romans 13:1 AMP) and that fact seems to imply some responsibility on our part (Romans 13:1-3 MSG).  SELAH: if God is the one who appoints our leaders, shouldn’t we participate in the process?
  • There is no question that our ultimate allegiance is to a heavenly kingdom, not our earthly country, as you cited from John 18:36. However, other Scriptures certainly indicate that we do have a responsibility for the well-being of our city (and by implication, our nation).  For example, see Jeremiah 29:4-7 and even the first passage you cited, which indicates one reason we are to pray for our leaders is so thatwe can live a blessed life.  If that’s true, i.e., that our governmental leaders have a direct bearing on our lives, why wouldn’t we want to vote?
  • As far as your second question about believers being involved in the political process – I understand why any of us would shrink back – since it all seems so corrupt (all of it – Republicans, Democrats, independents – you name it – it seems filled with lies, cheating, greed & corruption).  One could argue that a born-again Christian would find it difficult if not impossible to get involved in all of that without becoming tainted in the process, or worse yet, compromise their own character & integrity.  So I think I know where you’re coming from & why any Christian could throw up their hands & say, “why bother?”
  • However, I also know that if Christians withdraw from the public arena & debate, then we leave the world in the hands of the enemy!  The passage in 2Thess 2:5-8 describes the future AntiChrist and tells us that he cannot be revealed quite yet because of the one who is holding him back.  Many scholars believe the ‘restrainer’ is the Holy Spirit in the Church, and that those verses are saying the AntiChrist cannot be released until the Church is removed via the ‘rapture’.  If that’s true, I think the principle remains: if we are the salt of the earth (the ‘preservative’ that keeps meat from spoiling)then if we disengage from society, what happens to our world(Another way to say it is, “if it’s this corrupt with Christians involved, what would our world be like if we separate ourselves & refuse to participate?”
  • President James Garfield answered that question many years ago when he said, “Now, more than ever, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature. . . . [I]f the next centennial does not find us a great nation. . . . it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.”
  • Personally, I lean much more toward the view that as believers, we are called to exercise dominion on the earth – and that God’s will is for us to have influence in the 7 major areas of our world: government, education, media, entertainment, business, family & religion.  We need Spirit-filled men & women of integrity in the marketplace, in the media, in education, and yes, in government!  We dare not abandon all of that to the world and cloister ourselves in the four walls of the church.  (I’m not a ‘member’ of this organization, but the concept I’m talking about is discussed here)

Wow, think I’ll step down from my soapbox now before this turns into a sermon.  I hope it helped answer the question somewhat.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

By the way, this Sunday we’ll celebrate the class of 2012 in a great Graduation Sunday, and then Chris & I will be back from vacation to share with you this Wednesday in our Family Night service – can’t wait to see you!

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLCer writes, “I’ve been trying to get stronger in my prayer life lately and I was wondering why is it that sometimes God is quiet from time to time? I know He will never leave us, but sometimes when I pray, I don’t hear anything; other times, I do. Why is that?”

Great question.  GREAT question….because it’s one that I’m sure many readers could also be asking.  The bad news is that there’s no quick & easy answer.  But I’ll give you several possible obstacles to consider when you’re not hearing God:

  1. First of all, expect to hear Him thru His Word, the Bible.  That may seem overly-simplistic, but the truth is, while He sometimes does speak in our thoughts with impressions or nudges (or for some, even an audible voice), the normal, regular way for God to speak to us is through the Scriptures.  So along with your prayer times, always be sure to read the Bible with an expectation that He’s going to make something “come alive” for you. (Heb 1:1-3; John 1:1;
  2. As much as possible, try not to ‘rush’ this time.  In my experience, when I rush into my time with the Lord, distracted by other things, I seldom ‘hear’ anything from the Lord, whether in my reading or in my prayer time.  I personally love the story of how God spoke to Moses thru the burning bush, because it’s clear in Scripture that God did not speak until first Moses was willing to turn aside to investigate (Ex. 3:1-4), and I think for us to hear from God usually requires a willingness to turn aside from other stuff we’ve got going on, to focus on our relationship with Him.
  3. Hate to mention this one, but it’s true: sometimes we don’t hear from God because we’re ‘cozy’ with sin.  (That’s how the Message translation puts it – but Scripture is clear that if I have unconfessed sin in my heart, it creates a ‘blockage’, and I probably won’t hear God.)  So the obvious solution is to repent regularly – confess any sin to the Lord during your prayer time, so your heart is open to hear His voice. (Isa. 59:1-2; Psa. 66:18)
  4. Probably the biggest blockage of all (so I’m giving it a category of it’s own) is the sin of unforgiveness.  When I refuse to let go of the hurts of the past and instead harbor bitterness in my heart toward others, I probably won’t hear from God – not because He’s not willing to speak, but because my heart is no longer sensitive to hear!  In fact, after Jesus taught us how to pray (in what we call “the Lord’s Prayer”), he immediately emphasized the importance of us forgiving others – see Matt. 6:14-15

I’m sure there are many other reasons that you may not hear anything in prayer, but I think these are the biggies.  Let me just close with one final encouragement: don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hear from God on a particular day.  Sometimes we do the enemy’s work for him (remember, Satan is the ‘accuser of our brothers and sisters – Rev. 12:10).  When we get down on ourselves we tend to press too much and fail to hear God for ourselves.  My advice is to relax, enjoy your time in prayer & the Word, and you’ll hear His voice!

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLCers says, “In Genesis 1:18 (KJV), is there a “deeper” meaning (or revelation, i.e., sun and moon literally, and/or good and evil too) in this verse when God says, “to separate (or divide) the light from the darkness?”

Hmmm…interesting question, and one I’ve never been asked before.  Let me take a stab at it nonetheless:

  • First, I would say the verse (like all other verses in Scripture) should be interpreted literally unless there is a clear reason not to do so; i.e., unless the verse or passage is clearly meant to be symbolic.  There’s no reason to think that Genesis 1:18 should be interpreted figuratively, so I would say it very literally means that God divided light from darkness by means of the sun and moon and stars.
  • However, I definitely know that light & darkness are used throughout Scripture to describe good and evil.  A number of years ago I preached a message at CLC from Genesis 1:4 that “Light is Good”, and it became quite a “revelation” to me personally (because of how some use that word to describe extra-Biblical teachings, I prefer to use words like “illumination” or “insight”, but I think you know what I mean).
  • In fact, from that insight I gained an understanding of the power of confession and the danger of keeping our sin secret – since anything that’s done in secret remains in darkness, which is clearly Satan’s domain (Luke 22:53; John 3:19; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:11; Ephesians 6:12; 1Thessalonians 5:5)
  • In sports, there’s such a thing as “home field advantage”, and odds-makers believe it’s worth several points in a game.  I think the same principle holds true in the spiritual – when we keep our sin or ‘issue’ in secret or darkness, we are playing on Satan’s turf, so to speak, and he is empowered to keep us in bondage to that sin.  But when we expose that sin to God’s light by confessing it, just that act alone seems to help begin to break the power of that sin off of us(At least, that’s been my experience & observation thru the years.)
  • That’s what I love about James 5:16 and the principle that it reveals: we confess our sins to God in order to be forgiven, but we confess our sins to others in order to be healed!  (Of course, I’m talking about confessing to a trusted, mature believer who will pray for us, not gossip about us!)

Not sure if that’s what you had in mind in asking the question, but that’s the ‘deeper’ insight that I have on the passage….hope it helped.

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Another favorite CLCer wrote to me on FaceBook and said, “I was having a conversation with a friend this morning about priorities, and her pastor teaches that our priorities should be (1) God, (2) church stuff (ministry work, church fundraisers, preaching, etc), (3) family, and (4) work. I will hold my opinion on this & simply ask…what do you think our priorities should be and why?”

Great question!  And while I’m always hesitant to disagree or critique another pastor, since I can’t possibly know the context or even the accuracy of someone’s statement about his teaching, I’ll just answer the simple question at the end of your paragraph.  Here’s my list of priorities, in order:

1.  God.  How could anything else go in this position, in light of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:35-38, and Matthew 6:33?

2.  Family.  I hope that doesn’t surprise you, but the reality is that God created a family before He birthed the Church!  We pastors are sometimes the worst at getting this priority out of whack, but remember that the family can actually disqualify the ministry – (see Paul’s instructions for the selection of church leaders in 1Tim. 3:1-12 and you’ll see what I mean)

3.  Church.  I could wax eloquent here, but I’ll resist the temptation.  Let me just say that, in my humble opinion, many believers today have no idea how important the local Church is in God’s plan.  The Church is HIS plan for reaching the world with the Gospel.  The Church is your greatest friend in helping you to live a godly life, bring your children up in the way of the Lord, keeping your marriage strong and even finding financial freedom!  I’ll just one verse to support this priority – Psalm 92:13

4.  Work/Ministry.  I place these two together because many times, your work is your ministry!  After all, the average believer spends far more time on their job than they do in volunteering at their church.  And if we are to reach the world with the Gospel, it certainly won’t all happen on Sunday mornings inside our church buildings!  God wants to use YOU in the marketplace!

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

P.S.  Chris & I are enjoying our ministry time in Perm, Russia, but we can’t wait to get back home to CLC – and I’ll be teaching this coming Wednesday night – hope to see you there!  And don’t forget next Sunday, May 27 is Pentecost Sunday with a special guest who will inspire your faith with what God is doing in the 21st Century!!!

Ask the Pastor

A long-time CLC member writes, “While most Christians will condemn any form of gossip, there seem to be those that use a community prayer time to gossip. ‘Lets pray for so and so because…..’ Do you think people know how destructive gossip is? What are your thoughts?”

First, let me say, “thanks for lobbing me a big ole softball question!”  Not only is your question easy to answer from Scripture, but it’s also a subject that every pastor has to deal with from time to time, lest the congregation be destroyed from within.

In fact, in my experience, this may be the single-most-destructive-weapon in Satan’s arsenal.  I share the story in every new Members class at CLC about the time I was listening to Pastor Jim Cymbala of Brooklyn Tabernacle preach and he said, “If we have a member of the choir at Brooklyn Tab who slips back to their old lifestyle & we learn that they’re drinking or doing drugs or committing sexual sin, we will work with them, love them, counsel them, pray with them and do everything possible to restore them to God and return them to the choir.  But if we learn that a member of the choir has been spreading critical words about the ministry, gossiping against the church, we put them out of the choir and they can never be allowed back in.”

When he said that I immediately thought to myself, “man, that’s hard!”  Then, after thinking for a few moments, I thought, “man, that’s smart!”  As a pastor for over 38 years, I have never seen a church destroyed by members drinking alcohol, doing drugs, or committing sexual sin (for the record, I’m not in favor of any of that) – but I have seen churches literally ripped apart and eventually destroyed because of gossip.

No wonder Proverbs 6:16-19 says God hates it!  And it doesn’t matter what form the gossip takes, whether disguised as a “prayer request” or some other excuse.  And the easiest way to stop it is to refuse to listen to it – read Prov. 18:7-8 and Prov. 26:21-23.  Of course, the ‘gold standard’ in Scripture gives us help for what to say about others in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31 and (my favorite) Philippians 4:8.

Maybe since Mother’s Day is almost here, I could have cut right to the chase and just repeated what your Mom no doubt told you: “if you can’t find something good to say, just don’t say anything”.  Amen, mom!

Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?