Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLC’ers writes, “Last month, I had to attend cultural sensitivity training on my job regarding the LGBT community.  I was reluctant but went with an open mind. It was very informative but I noticed how much they push tolerance.  If you do not agree with them, they label you as an enemy and assume you are coming from a place of hatred.  How must we navigate through this with love?  Because I have to process employee’s life event changes, I am aware of their sexual orientation.  I keep my views/beliefs to myself.  How do you love/reach out to/minister to those in the LGBT community when they are so defensive once they find out that you are not tolerant?

Wow. THE question of our age, I’m afraid.  Let me give you my views.

  • First, this issue is SO fraught with danger, as Hillsong’s leaders recently demonstrated with the firestorm caused by one report of tolerance that made it necessary for Pastor Brian Houston to issue a follow-up statement to clarify.
  • I read a book by an award-winning journalist-turned-pastor last year which documented the rapid changes in our nation in regards to same-sex issues, and I think the author is probably right in his conclusion that we can’t say anything publicly on this issue without being misunderstood and labeled as bigoted ‘haters’.
  • Not only do I think he’s correct, but I think that’s why conservative Christians who have a platform to reach people try so hard to couch their response in language that avoids passing judgment, yet it always seems to backfire.  (Besides the Hillsong reports above, think of Joel Osteen, other celebrities including the World Vision flip-flop, and perhaps even Rick Warren, although his comments score best with me).
  • So, my answer as to how we navigate this thorny issue is say little publicly (better yet, nothing) but serve much“!  In other words, let’s demonstrate to the LGBT community our genuine love for people (remember, Jesus died for all, regardless of sexuality) by practical and individual loving acts of service whenever possible.
  • Then, when individual opportunities arise – after having demonstrated by action that we care, we can address our views based on God’s Word and our love for them.  (By the way, the results of this lifestyle are anything but ‘gay’, as numerous studies have shown – so my desire is for LGBT individuals to find the freedom and abundant life that Jesus offers!)

This has become the defining issue of our day and we all need God’s wisdom to respond for sure.  Hope this helps a bit.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLC’ers submitted a question from his adult daughter: “Do we go to heaven immediately after we die or are we waiting for Jesus to return and raise us from the dead as it also says in various scriptures like Revelation?”

Great question, and one that I’m sure many believers are confused about. I’ll try to help:

  • Prior to the resurrection of Jesus, I believe that all the dead were waiting for the day they would be resurrected and then sent to their eternal ‘home’, whether it was heaven or hell.  In fact, the Jewish teaching was that all departed souls were in a place they called “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22) or “Paradise” (Luke 23:43) or simply the Greek, “Hades”, or grave.  Even though both the righteous and the wicked dead were there, they were separated from each other (v. 26while they both waited for their resurrection and final judgment (see Rev. 20:12-14).
  • I see nothing in Scripture to indicate that any of this has changed for those who do not know Christ; i.e., when unbelievers die, they still go to a place of rest to await their resurrection and final judgement.
  • However, when Jesus conquered death and the grave when He was raised on the third day, ALL of that changed for the believer!  Now, when those of us who know the Lord dies, we are immediately in the Presence of the Lord! (see 2Cor. 5:1-9 and Phil. 1:21-23 and 1Thess. 4:13-18)
  • Some people get confused by the last passage I cited, when it speaks of the dead rising from their graves to be with the Lord, but in my understanding of the whole of Scripture (especially the verses cited above), I think Paul was only referring to our  body rising from the grave, while our spirit was with the Lord immediately at the time of death.  Of course, 1Cor. 15:35-56 goes into great detail as to the fact that our body will be transformed into a glorious body at the Resurrection.

Hope this helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor? Please leave your comments or questions below-

Ask the Pastor

Judge-Not

 

 

Last week’s question/answer prompted this question from a faithful CLC’er: “Are we supposed to judge, dislike, and condemn a hypocrite?  Or should we love them as God loves us?  A FB friend judged a celebrity by using the words “dislike” or “hate” him because he sinned.  I made my comments about religious people hate, shun, and judge, and it started quite a on that post.  I just don’t understand how another can be high and mighty when they/we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Great question, but one that is difficult to answer because there’s a fine line that can easily be misconstrued in either direction.  Still, let me try:

  • First, just in case you are using words literally, there is NEVER a reason for Christians to “hate” any person.  We can hate sin or the devil, but never people for whom Christ died.  (“Dislike” is different; I can love someone with the love of Christ without “liking” them as a person or “approving” of their actions)
  • The fine line comes with judging someone else.  Many, many Christians (in my humble opinion) struggle with a critical spirit, where we ‘judge’ others by finding fault with their actions, or even calling into question their motives, etc.  As Zig Ziglar said,  “some people find fault like there’s a reward for it”. 
  • However, the Bible does teach that believers are to judge.  Surprised?  Read 1Corinthians 5.  If that wasn’t clear enough, read it in the Message paraphrase.  Contrary to what most of us have heard and to what almost every church practices, the New Testament calls on us to judge hypocrisy within the local assembly, and exercise appropriate discipline.  (NOTE: the purpose of that discipline is NOT merely to ‘condemn’ a person, but to bring them to their senses, which is exactly what happened in Corinth, as the church excommunicated the man in accordance with what we just read, which caused the man to repent and ask to be reinstated to their fellowship, so Paul wrote in 2Cor. 1-8 that it was time to forgive and receive him!)
  • In my experience, there are very few churches that practice such discipline – and I say that to our shame.  My opinion is that, in this country, if churches put someone out for hypocritical behavior, they would just go to the church down the street and be welcomed into membership without any regard for their behavior.  But that’s not what The Book teaches.
  • Before someone objects, let me add that Jesus addressed ‘judging’ in Matthew 7, and when He told us not to judge, many people have taken that as a blanket command to never enter into judgment about anything.  But the context make that interpretation obviously wrong, if you continue reading verses 3-5 (which make it clear that our ‘view’ of others can be distorted by our own ‘issues’) and especially verse 6 (you must judge what is ‘unholy’ and what is a ‘pig’ in order not to ‘waste’ or ‘cast pearls’ before them!)  It’s always best to let Scripture interpret Scripture, and the ‘judging’ that Jesus told us not to do is explained in James 4:11 where ‘judging’ clearly refers to ‘speaking evil or criticizing’ a fellow believer, and Romans 14:10, where it refers to ‘condemning’ a fellow believer by ‘looking down’ on them!  That’s the judging that Scripture speaks against, and I suspect many of us reading this should say, “oh, me” at that!  May God help us to do away with our critical attitudes and judgmental spirits toward our brothers and sisters in Christ!  But to ‘judge’ someone’s behavior as wrong (when it is clearly wrong in Scripture) may be the most loving thing you can do (James 5:20)

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

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLC’er writes, “Who in the Bible lived a double life?  Was supposed to be living for the Lord but wasn’t.”

Hmmm, there’s a question I’ve never been asked before. But I’ll give it a try:

1.  The Biblical term for what you describe is ‘hypocrite’, and there must have been people in the Bible who lived a double life, because Jesus Himself used that term 6 times to describe the Pharisees in Matthew 23 alone: (v. 13, v. 15, v. 23, v. 25, v. 27, v. 29).

2.  Jesus also described false prophets and false believers in Matthew 7:15-23, which is more evidence of people who were thought to be living for God, but truly were not.

3.  If you’re looking for specific individuals instead of groups, how about Judas Iscariot?  Luke 22:1-6 describes him as a disciple, yet he betrayed Jesus.

4.  Paul speaks of two men that must have lived a double life, Hymenaeus and Alexander, in 1Timothy 1:19-20.  Later he wrote about Demas, who “loved this present world” according to 2Tim. 4:9-10. If you compare that with 1John 2:15, probably he would qualify to be considered a hypocrite.

5.  Finally, Paul prophesied that there would be hypocrites in the last days (1Tim. 4:1-2), and James urges hypocrites to purify their hearts (James 4:7-9), so I know it’s an issue for believers in our day.

I 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 question: several times this year I’ve had some interesting conversations about whether a Christian can lose their salvation. I’ve done my personal study and have what I believe to be the answer, however, I would love to get more wisdom from you as well.”

Well, you’re certainly not alone.  I’ve been asked this question probably more than any other single question, so I’ve written about it here and here and most recently, here.

Let me quickly say that, at CLC, we do not make this a test of fellowship, and we have members on both sides of the issue – an issue that has been debated in Christendom for hundreds of years, so we’re not likely to resolve it in this post.

In my 46 years of ministry, my views on many Bible subjects have changed, sometimes more than once on the same subject! But in my study of this particular subject in Scripture, I personally remain convinced that our salvation is not as ‘irresistible’ as some have taught, nor as ‘easily lost’ as others seem to think.  Like SO MANY doctrines of the Bible, the truth is somewhere in the middle of two extremes.

I don’t think I can improve on what I’ve written before (if you want to read those earlier posts to which I linked above), but I will once again add some verses that I think might be helpful for your own study and consideration:

On this particular topic, I hope I am wrong!  If so, there will be more people in heaven than I expect, and that would be a good thing.  But I prepared this document in the past, giving a number of pertinent Scriptures with a few comments that I think would be good for your personal study of this subject.  Then, I think the principle of Romans 14:5 applies.

I Cor. 10:1-12   this passage would be meaningless if it were not possible for us to fall from salvation.  The obvious conclusion from Israel’s example (they did not enter into the Promised Land) is that we, too, can fall after having known the Lord.

I Cor. 9:24-27   even the Apostle Paul could become a castaway!

2 Pet. 2:20-22   how could the latter end be worse than the beginning IF the person is still saved?

2 Pet. 1:4-10   why would Peter say IF you do these things, you will never fall” if it is impossible to fall from salvation anyway?

Mt. 25:1-13   this parable is generally interpreted as believers (‘virgins’) awaiting the return of the Lord.  Oil throughout Scripture is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  All of them had oil in their lamps initially; but the foolish virgins did not replenish their supply and were thus unprepared when the Lord came.

Luke 17:32   why should we “remember Lot’s wife?”

Read Jude 3, 4 in “The Living Bible”

Rev. 2:4-5   the threat to “remove your candlestick” sounds pretty serious (they would cease to be a church!)

I Tim. 4:1-2   can someone who has “departed from the faith” still be saved?

Luke 15:11-24   this parable of Jesus demonstrates the Father’s love for even His wayward children (here represented by the younger son).  Notice in v.24 that the prodigal was said to be “lost” and “dead.”  He had once enjoyed fellowship in the Father’s house, but because of his own choices, he was now lost!  (The GOOD NEWS is that, thru repentance, he did come back home and was accepted by His Father!)

Heb. 10: 19-39  notice especially vv.27-29

Mt. 25:14-30  (v. 14 – who is this parable about?  Then read v. 30)

Whew!  Hope that helped a bit in your own study.  

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?  Leave your questions or comments below-

 

Ask the Pastor

A former CLC’er writes, “Several months ago you had discussed three habits/behaviors that helped married couples achieve an extraordinary level of success in their marriages. You also cited a statistic that said when couples employed those particular habits their divorce rate was 1:1200 compared to society at large of 1:2. Can you share what those three habits are? What are your thoughts on why those habits bring such success?”

Great question & even better timing, because I just mentioned this stat again last Sunday!

The original quote that I used came from a Harvard study, but I have been unable to find the documentation for it in my original notes.  In their study, the 3 habits were: (1) praying together; (2) eating together; and (3) attending church together.

In my research last week, I found 3 other relevant studies.  One found that if couples read the Bible together their divorce rate dropped to 1:1,100; and another found that if couples prayed together, their divorce rate was only 1:1,200.  My favorite was a study done by the Southern Baptist Convention that found among born-again couples who had received premarital counseling, that if they (1) prayed together and (2) attended church together, their divorce rate dropped to the amazing rate of just 1:39,000 marriages!

As to why I think those habits bring such success, it’s simple: if we are praying and worshiping together as husband-and-wife, chances are pretty good that we’re trying to live by God’s Word and follow His instructions, including those concerning our marriage.

The Bible really is the “owner’s manual” for how to enjoy life – as someone else has noted, it’s the Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, and all His instructions to us were given,  “that we might have a good life forever!” (see Deut. 5:29)

Hope that helps!  And I really hope each reader will join us THIS Sunday, September 14, when we expose some ‘Marriage Myths’ - I believe it’ll help both married’s and single’s alike!

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

church_attendance

A favorite CLC’er who has to work most Sundays writes, “Is it ok to miss church because of work/career?  And…What does one do if they miss the worship environment?”

Excellent questions in today’s world!  Let me give it a shot:

First, I think we should differentiate between “get to” and “got to”.  If church attendance becomes something I “got to” do, chances are I won’t receive the benefits it offers anyway.  In my mind, the reasons Hebrews 10:23-25 tells us not to neglect meeting together are clearly spelled out in the passage:

  • attending church helps us hold tightly to our hope, which is under attack throughout the week-
  • attending church helps us to motivate each other to love (I’m challenged when I see others serving the Lord with joy to do so myself!)
  • attending church gives me an opportunity to use my gifts to serve (“good works”)
  • attending church provides mutual encouragement, especially in view that the coming of the Lord draws near.

So, there are some great reasons to attend church, in addition to “being fed” the Word and the joy & strength that comes from corporate worship (that differs from any of my personal worship times).  All of those benefits, to me, make church attendance very high on my list of priorities as a believer.

Now, to the question, ‘is it ok to miss church because of work’, I find the Bible is rather silent.  One principle that stands out to me is when Daniel was assigned to eat food provided by the Babylonian king, but he proposed an alternative and was able to be excluded from doing so (see Daniel 1:3-16).  Here’s my suggestion:

  • Pray before you do anything else.  Nehemiah 1:11-2:6 is a great example of this  (although he prayed for several months before doing anything, I think you can let the Lord lead you as to when it’s time to do more than pray)
  • Get an appointment and speak to the highest authority in your employment possible (that might be your boss or his boss or his boss’s boss!) and politely explain how important church attendance is to you.
  • Seek an acceptable compromise – if you cannot be excluded from Sundays, could you start later in the day, after attending the service.  Could you work before and after service, but have time off for the actual service itself? Could you have 2 Sundays a month off work?  Seek an acceptable compromise with management.
  • If management refuses any compromise, then you have a decision to make: is this job more important to me than being able to worship with my fellow believers?

I suppose the way I worded the last question tells you how I feel personally.  I could not remain in a career that prevented me from attending church.  If that’s the decision you reach, you would not be the first believer who quit a good job for ‘spiritual’ reasons, and I’ve seen the Lord honor that decision many times thru the years by providing other employment, usually even better than the job left behind.

As to the second question, I’d say seek other alternatives.  In Chicagoland, there are probably worship gatherings happening somewhere just about every night of the week.  Many churches, like CLC, also provide a live-stream of their services on the internet, which opens up even more options.  And, while the corporate worship aspect may be lacking, the encouragement of a Life Group is a wonderful option that every believer should enjoy.

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?  Please leave your question below-

Ask the Pastor

Last week’s question about life after death prompted another: “In Luke 24:39 is Jesus saying in  that there are spirits…ghosts…? In Matthew 14:26, His disciples thought He was a ghost…Jesus did not correct them? This passage confuses me about ghosts.”

Great question…I never thought of Luke 24:39 in that way before, because most translations use the word ‘spirit’, so I just thought of it in terms of our human spirit. My understanding of Scripture is that ALL of us are tri-part beings: body, soul and spirit (see 1Thess. 5:23).  It would perhaps even be accurate to say that “I am a spirit; I have a soul and I live in a body”.

However, to answer your question, it seems that the disciples did follow superstition on these occasions and thought they were seeing a ghost – BUT let me quickly say that Jesus did not.  In fact, in the Greek, they thought they saw a “phantom” (best translation of the Greek word they used), but Jesus answered them with the word ‘pneuma’, which is the word used in Scripture for breath, wind or spirit – not at all the connotation of ‘ghost’.

The Bible is clear that when we die, we do not wander the earth as ghosts or spirits, but that we rest, either in the Presence of Jesus (for believers – see 2Cor. 5:1-8), or awaiting our resurrection and eventual judgment in hell.

I couldn’t help but notice that this post is coming out on the 30th anniversary of “Ghostbusters”! I hope this helped bust that myth once and for all!

ghostbusters2

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?  Please leave your question below.

Ask the Pastor

As a follow-up to last week’s question, the same CLC’er writes, ”Also, after a loved one has died, I have heard people say that they have been visited by the deceased loved one in a dream or they have felt their presence. Is that possible? Can the dead be seen and heard by those still living? I think the answer is no because of Luke 16:19-31 but just wanted to know for sure.”

Great question, especially since so many people have similar questions about life after death.  Let’s address them one by one:

  • I’m sure that people can ‘see’ a deceased loved one in a dream, because when we sleep, our subconscious is often at work.  ”Ernest Hartmann, a doctor at Tufts, focuses on the emotional learning that happens in dreams. He has developed the theory that dreaming puts our difficult emotions into pictures. In dreams, we deal with emotional content in a safe place, making connections that we would not make if left to our more critical or defensive brains.”  (See point #4 of this scholarly article)
  • As to “feeling their presence”, since the Bible doesn’t address that topic, we’re left to our own reasoning.  Personally, I suspect that this is again like our dreams – an emotional response to the fact that we’ve lost that loved one through death.  Scripture is clear that our spirit returns to God at death (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7), so it doesn’t seem to me that we could truly feel the presence of a dead loved one, other than some kind of emotional response.
  • Finally, as to whether the dead can be ‘seen and heard’ by the living, there is one possible example of this in Scripture, although the interpretation is quite controversial.  I refer to Saul’s experience with the so-called “witch of Endor” in 1Sam. 28:3-24.  Many Bible scholars believe that Samuel’s appearance was merely the result of witchcraft and that he did not actually appear from the dead to Saul.  My personal opinion is that Samuel did appear, based on verse 12 (the witch seemed surprised to see him, which possibly indicates this was beyond the power of her witchcraft) and verse 15 (where Samuel claims to have been disturbed from rest),  and verse 19 (where he predicts Saul’s death and says ‘tomorrow you’ll be here with me‘).  So I do believe the dead was seen and heard in this one example.  Whether a medium or psychic could cause a similar appearance today would strictly be conjecture, and the Luke 16 passage you cite in your question seems conclusive to me that it’s not likely.

This is beyond the scope of the question, but let me add for anyone who longs to see a deceased loved one, the real hope we have is the one David expressed after the death of his son in 2Sam. 12:21-23 - “I will go to him one day”.  If our loved one was a believer who is now in the Presence of the Lord, we have that same hope, for someday we will be reunited with our loved ones in His Presence!

Hope that helps.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?  Please leave your question or comments below-

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite CLC’ers writes, “There has been so much news coverage and discussion about the unfortunate death of Robin Williams. It hits home because I had a young cousin commit suicide some years ago at the age of 17. I always hear people say “they are in a better place” and “they now have peace in heaven.” What happens to a soul when they commit suicide? I thought that death by suicide cancels your option to go to heaven. Is that true?”

Great question, and one that many others have asked.  Let me quickly say that like so many, I was very saddened by the news about Robin Williams, whose talent & gifting to entertain was nothing short of amazing.  The unnecessary death of such a celebrity serves to spotlight the reality of depression and how important it is for all of us to be aware of friends and family who may need to seek help.

But as to your question, let me emphatically state that the Bible is silent in regards to those who commit suicide going to heaven.

So, since Scripture makes no explicit statements, we are left to apply Biblical principles and draw logical conclusions.  In that regard, I would ask, what qualifies anyone to go to heaven when they die? Is there any activity or deed that enables us to go to heaven?

Surely the answer is NO!  The ONLY criteria for admission into heaven is placing our faith in Jesus and His death on the cross for usRomans 1:17 and Ephesians 2:1-9.  Since the Bible is silent about suicide, the real question is: did this individual place their trust in Jesus for salvation before they died? 

I have known of people who walked closely with the Lord but for whatever reasons, found themselves in a pit of depression and despair, and in a desperate moment took their own lives.  My opinion is that, in that moment, they were not in their right mind, because I can’t imagine anyone thinking rationally choosing to end their own life and cause so much pain & grief for their loved ones in what has been called the ultimate act of selfishness.  And my knowledge of our Great God and Savior cannot imagine that He would disregard the years that they walked with Him and refuse their entrance into heaven because of that one moment of insanity.  That’s my opinion.

Now, if the individual who commits suicide had not placed their faith in Jesus as Savior prior to death, then comments like “they’re in a better place” or “they have peace in heaven” are not consolation; they’re lies not based on Scripture (see John 3:16-18).

Let me close by PLEADING with anyone who might be depressed and considering suicide – do NOT use this post as encouragement!  There ARE many people in your life who would forever be impacted by your short-sighted decision.  Please get help.  Talk to a trust counselor or mental health professional.  CLC has pastors and counselors who are here for you, so if you need help, call us today!

I hope this helps.  NOW, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?  Please leave your question or comment below-

 

Ask the Pastor

Once again, no one submitted a question this week (I’ll be glad when summer is over!) so I’m reposting this question from 2009:

A faithful CLCer writes, “I would like to know if I have the legal right/authority to repent on behalf of members of my immediate family that have not committed their lives to Christ?”

If I’m understanding the question, or more importantly, the desire behind it – the answer is ‘no‘.  Turning from sin and receiving Christ is an individual and personal decision.  The word repent literally means, ‘a change of mind’ (see Matthew 21:28-30 for Jesus’ own illustration of repentance).  Once you understand that, it’s easy to see that no one could have a ‘change of mind’ on behalf of someone else, no matter how much we wish we could.

Probably all of us have loved ones that we earnestly and deeply want to come to repentance so they can receive Christ and enjoy a relationship with Him.  We can, and should, pray for them, and do our part to make the Gospel attractive to them by our lifestyle and our love – but we cannot make that decision for them.  Scripture is quite clear that each of us is responsible before God for our own choices.

Now, in case I misunderstand your intent, there is an “identificational repentance” championed by John Dawson and C. Peter Wagner in some of their writings – but that is a method of spiritual warfare, not a repentance intended to bring forgiveness for someone else.

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

Ask the Pastor

For the 3rd consecutive week, no one submitted a question to me (is it summer vacation, or are y’all just going easy on me?), so I’m re-posting a question originally asked back in 2010:

A faithful member writes,  ”I am curious, with the new covenant of Jesus Christ… what is Israel’s future? Some say they are the chosen people and are saved without Christ… others they are lost and only saved if they know Christ. What is the truth and what is Israel’s future for salvation?”

GREAT question!  Much misunderstanding about this!  Let me try to make it simple: there is NO salvation outside of Jesus Christ. Period.

The Jewish people ARE God’s chosen people.  Without them, we wouldn’t have a Bible, or most any of the revelation of God that we enjoy.  But they, like us Gentiles, are lost without Christ (Rom. 3:23Rom 6:23Rom 5:8-11Rom 10:1-4).

Yet God has not rejected them forever, and in these last days He has a plan to bring them back to Himself! (see Rom. 11:11-15)  Too many of us believers, including CLC, have neglected the evangelism of Jewish people in the past, but God is turning our hearts toward His earthly people again, and I’m pleased to say that Israel has become our first priority in world missions!  (Can’t tell you how disappointed Chris & I were by the forced cancellation of our planned trip to Haifa last week, because of the FAA ban on flights into Tel Aviv for those few days.)  We have several Messianic partners in the Land, including the entire Tikkun network, with ministries like Revive Israel, Return to Zion, and Tents of Mercy, and we anticipate greater partnerships with opportunities for CLC’ers to serve in the days ahead.

Hope those answers helped.  Now, what would YOU like the Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Wow…must be summertime, because for the second week in a row, no one submitted a question for me to answer.

So, please indulge me by reading this post from another pastor (I agree with every point!).  Thanks, Ron Edmondson!

And don’t forget “God@the Movies” closes THIS Sunday with the movie most-requested by CLC’ers for this series, “Man of Steel”!  It’s gonna be good!!

Anything YOU want to Ask the Pastor for next Friday’s post?  You can leave a comment below, or drop me an email.

Ask the Pastor

For the first time in quite a few months, there were NO questions submitted this week.  

You don’t have to be a member or even attend CLC in order to ask a question.  I’ve devoted a post every Friday to answer Bible questions, family questions, really any question that you might want to ask a pastor – so feel free to submit yours.  You can do so in the comment section below, or by sending me an email.  I hope to hear from you soon.

What I did receive yesterday was a note that made my day! It was on one of the ‘Connection Cards’ we ask people to complete in our services, and it said, “I feel so thankful, empowered and understood now that I have received a prayer language!  We’ve attended CLC for 10 years, and on Pentecost Sunday, for the first time, I received my prayer language.  Praise the Lord!”

We often talk about the full ministry of the Holy Spirit at CLC, and, really, it’s one of the  primary reasons we exist as a church – so reports like this are what keeps me going!

If you’ve haven’t received your prayer language, I’ve answered questions about it here and here and here – hope you’ll take a moment to check it out.  It’s a promise for YOU!

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite ‘questioners’ writes, “Why has God not show himself to us? seems it would remove any doubt of his existence.”

Interesting question!  It’s also one I’ve never been asked before, so you made me dig a little deeper to think of a Biblical answer.  Here goes:

So, in reality, God has done exactly what you asked – He showed Himself to us when He came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ.  He walked among us for over 33 years before giving His life as a sacrifice for our sins.

While that may not satisfy your desire to see Him yourself, we do have the eyewitness account of the four gospels, plus other historical works from that period that also refer to the historical person of Christ.

Finally, we have Jesus’ own words in John 20.  Notice especially verse 29 and verse 31.

I hope this helps!  (I can also encourage you to join us for the final installment of ‘God@the Movies 2014′ on July 27 when we look at a Hollywood example, ‘Man of Steel”)

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?


Ask the Pastor

One of my favorite new CLC’ers writes, I have learned a lot about the Holy Spirit in this series. You and your pastoral staff have really put the some pieces together for me as to what the Holy Spirit means.  I have always thought the Holy Spirit part was just God in our hearts. I see that it was that, but much more. It is the promise Jesus made to us that he will return and be inside all of us through the Holy Spirit. The question I have now is, during the last few weeks I heard the Pastors say if we want to be baptized with the Holy Spirit to come forward and the pastoral staff will pray for us, but I also heard of the water baptism. What is the difference?”

Can I just say, I love this question!  I love helping people understand the gifts & experiences that God has for all of us!  So let’s try to make the difference between the two baptisms clear:

  • Water baptism is the burial of our old way of life after we come to faith in Christ. It’s kinda like a ‘coming out party’ to announce publicly that we have turned from our sin & received the gift of salvation that Jesus died for. (By the way, Romans 6:4 calls it that – a ‘burial’ with Christ, and when we arise from the water, it is symbolic of his resurrection and that we are now living a ‘new life’).
  • The Holy Spirit baptism is a gift that we receive to empower that new life (Acts 1:4-8). It’s usually accompanied by what we call a “prayer language” (referred to as ‘speaking in tongues’ in the Bible), which adds a whole new dimension of intimacy in our prayer times with the Lord. (see 1Cor. 14)
  • According to Acts 2:38, every believer should experience both of these baptisms, and that’s the example we see throughout the history of the early Christians in Acts 2, 8, 10 and 19.
  • In some expressions of Christianity, it’s quite possible that your parents had you baptized as an infant. That baptism is NOT the same as the water baptism that I’m talking about, since it was your parent’s decision, not yours. I’m sure parents choose that in a sincere desire to raise their child as a Christian, which is commendable. But water baptism in the New Testament is a choice made by a person who is old enough to repent (turn from) their sin, and believe on the Lord Jesus as Savior (neither of which an infant is capable of doing).
  • Contrary to what some in the American church seem to practice, in the New Testament water baptism was always done immediately after a person turned from sin and believed on Christ (Acts 16:25-33 describes one in the middle of the night, and Acts 22:16 declares, ‘why wait?’) Water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit are separate, wonderful experiences that I urge every reader to enjoy!

In our ‘RUACH II’ series that just concluded, we saw perhaps 25-30 people receive their prayer language (unfortunately, we didn’t get accurate records for each, since some received at the altar & others just walking through the ‘fire tunnel’ – so if YOU are one of those who received that gift in these last 4 Sundays, please leave a comment below so we can send you additional information to help you understand & use your new gift), and at least 10 people were baptized in water.  If you want to schedule your water baptism, you can also leave a comment below, or notify your Campus pastor.

I hope that helped.  NOW, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

One of our most enthusiastic CLC’ers writes, “This current series, RUAH II, is amazing.  It made me think about a term that heard my former pastor say all the time.  He would invite people to come to the altar for a “refilling of the Holy Spirit”.  Is that biblical?  Also, I know that the Holy Spirit is a person and He resides in us.  Does He leave when we are in a backslidden place or is His presence dormant?  Thanks for this teaching!!!”

Two excellent questions! Here’s my take on both:

  • Coming from a Pentecostal background, I’ve heard many ministers use the term,  “refilling of the Holy Spirit” (and probably been guilty of saying it myself).  But more importantly, in Acts 4:31 we read of a prayer meeting in which many of the same disciples who were present in Acts 2 were filled with the Holy Spirit again - so it seems to me that we could say they were ‘refilled’.  
  • In fact, Ephesians 5:18 is an imperative (command) that all of us are to “keep on being filled” with the Holy Spirit.  The original Greek text indicates an ongoing, continual action - “be always being filled”.  So, YES, I’d definitely say it’s Biblical for us to be refilled with the Spirit!
  • Your second question, in my study of the Scriptures, is not so clear.  On the one hand, in Hebrews 13:5 the Lord emphatically declares that He will NEVER leave us or forsake us, but in Psalm 51:11, after his sin with Bathsheba, David pleads with God to not take His Holy Spirit away (which would indicate that the Spirit could leave us because of willful sin).  So whether the Holy Spirit leaves the backslider, or remains within, but in a dormant state, is not really clear to me.  (Having said that, I will quickly add that I do NOT believe the Spirit withdraws ‘at the drop of a hat’, per some Pentecostal traditions.  In the first church that Chris & I pastored, one of our leaders would question his Sunday School class each Sunday as to whether they still had the Holy Spirit, with the implication that He would come and go easily, depending on their level of consistency in their walk with the Lord.  I do NOT believe that is Biblical, but instead I want to live my life so as not to quench the Spirit’s fire in my life (see 1Thess. 5:19)

I hope that helps.  Let me tell you for sure that THIS Sunday at each CLC Campus we’re expecting the full ministry of the Holy Spirit as we conclude our “RUAH II” series with a free-flowing ‘encounter’ service.  There will be lots of prayer, anointed worship, baptisms and even a ‘fire tunnel’ - so if you want an infilling (or a ‘refilling) of the Holy Spirit, don’t let anything keep you away!

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

Someone asked, “How did killing Jesus remove our sins? We made the sins, not him.”

GREAT question.  I think sometimes in our desire to address ‘felt-need’ issues in our Sunday messages, we perhaps neglect the core of the Gospel, and that’s the heart of your question.  Let me try to answer it simply, but systematically:

1.  God told us from the beginning, that if we sin, we shall die. (Gen. 2:15-17; Rom. 6:23)

2.  However, God’s mercy provided a substitute (the life of an animal for the life of a person), so that mankind wouldn’t perish. (Leviticus 17:11)

3.  But it wasn’t possible for the blood of animals to completely take away our sin, since the life of a bull or goat isn’t equal to human life (Hebrews 10:1-5)

4.  Jesus could be the perfect sacrifice, because His blood was of greater value than ours, as the sinless, perfect, Lamb of God! (1Pet. 1:18-20; Heb. 9:13-14)

So, yes, we committed the sins.  But HE willingly took our place on the Cross and died the death we should have died!

But His death, in and of itself, doesn’t remove our sins (otherwise, everyone on earth would be saved, since He died for all).  It’s only when we place our trust in what He did rather than on any of our works, and trust Him for salvation, that our sins are removed. (Galatians 2:15-16; Ephesians 2:8-9)

I’m SO glad that Jesus took MY sins away!  By the way, this Father’s Day at every CLC campus we’ll take a look at what our Heavenly Father has promised you – and you’ll have an opportunity to receive His gift of eternal life.  Hope you’ll join us-

 Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A newly-baptized CLC’er writes, “Sometimes I feel like doubting Thomas, like I need proof Jesus is real. How can I get past that?”

Great question – because I’m sure you’re not the first who’s felt that way (or even the second, after Thomas!) So let me try to help you and those who struggle with doubts:

  • First, I think some doubts are normal.  As humans, we depend on our 5 senses  (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) so much that when something is beyond those senses, we find it difficult to accept.  Especially in the West, we exalt intellect over  spirit to the point that most people don’t even acknowledge the spirit realm.
  • Not only that, but in my experience, most Christians face a ‘crisis of faith’ at some point in their lives – for many who were brought up in the faith, it occurs when they are in college and have to contend with skeptical, cynical professors who mock their faith with a pretense of superior intellect.

So what do you do about your doubts?  Here’s my suggestion:

1.  Acknowledge them.  (God has big shoulders, and HE can handle your doubts!)  Notice how honest Abraham (the father of the faithful) and David (a man after God’s own heart)  were throughout the Scriptures, expressing their fears, their complaints; and, yes, their  doubts: Gen. 12:12, 13; 15:8; 18:12-14; 19:30; 20:2, 11; 26:7;  Psalm 22:2.  Don’t hesitate to take YOUR doubts to God – HE has an answer!

2.  Study the Scriptures.  Not only does hearing the Word bring faith (Romans 10:17), but the Bible can stand our scrutiny – notice Acts 17:10-12 where we read of the open-minded Bereans, who searched the Scriptures daily AND, as a result of their study, believed!  I’m convinced the same result happens when anyone sincerely studies the Word.

3.  Be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:32-33, 36 indicate that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit should convince us all that Jesus is Lord!  Eph. 1:13-14  describe the gift of the Holy Spirit as the “guarantee” (actually, the ‘earnest’ of our inheritance, like the earnest money that we put down on a real estate transaction as proof that we will complete the purchase) of our inheritance; i.e., once we’re filled with the Spirit, we have God’s guarantee living inside of us.  If you haven’t yet been baptized in the Holy Spirit, I hope you’ll join us THIS Sunday (June 8 – Pentecost Sunday) when we’ll focus on Him and expect Him to be poured out at CLC!  HE is your personal witness of the Resurrection of Jesus, and HE will be living inside you!

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

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLC’er writes, “If we were created in Gods image, can we assume God looks like us?”

Great question, and one that perhaps many people have not considered.  Here’s my understanding in that regard:

  •  When the Bible says that we are made in God’s image and likeness, it was primarily referring to qualities & attributes, not a physical resemblance.  I say that because Scripture indicates that God is invisible (Col. 1:15; John 1:18; 1Tim. 6:16)
  • This ‘likeness’ is readily seen in that, just like God, we have intelligence, creativity, personality, and more.  We can get angry or sad or feel joy, we can experience love, we can exercise choice – all attributes that we share with God!
  • However, Romans 5:14 speaks of the fact that Adam was the figure of one to come (Christ).  While I think that primarily means that Adam was a type of Christ (1Corinthians 15:45-49 speaks of the “first” Adam and the “second” Adam), there may be ‘wiggle room’ to interpret that to mean that when God fashioned Adam from the dust of the ground, He looked ahead to see what Jesus would look like, and then made Adam to resemble Jesus.  (It’s an interesting thought, anyway)

Hope that helps a bit….if not, chalk it up to jet-lag today!

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A faithful member who serves us well at CLC writes, “I have been guilty of shutting out friends, particularly while I was married because I was so unhappy and struggling financially and their families were prospering.  I still speak with them from time to time but I miss the deep friendships we had. How do I build those friendships back?  Or did God not intend for those individuals to be in my life?”

Great questions…difficult questions.  Let me try my best to help:

  • First, it’s human nature to avoid pain (fight or flight syndrome), so it’s totally understandable than when you were struggling financially in an unhappy marriage that you would withdraw from friends whose families were prospering. Don’t beat yourself up over that!
  • Secondly, I’m a firm believer in honest, direct communication – so I’d probably recommend that if/when you speak to those friends, that you take time to explain how you miss the deep friendship you had before, ask forgiveness for withdrawing from them in your pain, and see if the relationship will be rebuilt.  (Just because it’s the honest and I think best approach, there’s no guarantee that the depth of friendship will be restored, because life happens and people move on.  So there’s no promise here, but I think it’s worth a shot!)
  • If you do have the opportunity to pursue a restoration of the relationship you once enjoyed, the only verse that comes to my mind is the simple one we all know: Proverbs 18:24.  Do the things that build friendships: be thoughtfulcommunicate with love, give of yourself, be loyal.
  • Your final question may be the most insightful of all.  Sometimes God allows people to move out of our lives for a reason.  Only HE can tell you if that’s the case with some or all of these friends, so make it a matter of prayer.  Apply Col. 3:15 to each situation – if you sense ‘peace’ about pursuing the relationship, go for it; if you don’t, please do yourself a favor and let it go! (And always be thankful!)

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

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLC’er from our Blue Island campus asks, “How can know if someone is a real prophet?  I am skeptical when I have seen them.”

What a great question!  I’m sure you’re not alone, because for many years The Church in America has basically only recognized two of the ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11-12  (that’s 2 of 4 as I read the verse; or 3 of 5 if you understand “teacher” to be a separate gift from “pastor” instead of the hyphenated gift of “pastor-teacher” as I understand the verse).  Basically, I’m saying the vast majority of Christians, at least in this country, have only known pastors and evangelists.

So the idea of Apostles and Prophets today is foreign to most believers, and when something is new to us, most of us are skeptical by nature.  Not only that, but I would be the first to admit that in the last 20 years or so there has been a proliferation of men and women claiming the title of “Apostle” or “Prophet” in some segments of the body of Christ, without really showing the fruit of those ministries.  (As I’ve said on numerous occasions at CLC, I would rather ‘do the stuff’ without a title, as to have a title and not ‘do the stuff’!) But I digress.

I would also freely admit that there have been shysters and frauds who claim to be prophets, perhaps out of a love for money or the ‘power’ they attain by claiming to foretell someone’s future or bring them a personal word ‘from God’.  But make no mistake: just because some are frauds does NOT mean that all are fakes!  In fact, the presence of counterfeits is a sure indication that there is also the real deal!

Off my soapbox and back to your question: how can you know if someone is a real prophet?  There are 2 simple tests in Scripture:

Deuteronomy 18:21-22 is the simplest test: did the prophetic word come to pass?  If not, then it’s not a word from God, but something from the prophet’s own imagination.

Deuteronomy 13:1-4 is even more stringent: even if the prophecy came to pass, is the message in agreement with the written Word of God? God never contradicts Himself, so if the prophet speaks contrary to the revealed Word and will of God, even if his sign comes to pass, he is not a true prophet!

Both of those are Old Testament requirements, where false prophets were stoned to death.  In the New Testament, the consequences are not quite as severe, but 1Cor. 14:29 tells us to ‘evaluate’ the prophetic words that go forth. Today, if someone ‘misses it’, we don’t take them out and stone them.  However, as pastor of CLC, part of my responsibility for the flock is to guard the sheepfold and I am very careful about who we invite into our pulpit.  In our 24+ years as a church, I have never put someone in our pulpit for prophetic ministry who is not proven and accepted in the wider Body of Christ as a genuine prophet, and I never will.

There are SO many benefits and SO many reasons for us not to throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to receiving prophets, but I’ll save that message for another day.  Let me close by encouraging every reader to join us this Sunday at 9 or 11am (don’t forget our ‘Summer Schedule’ experiment starts this Sunday, May 18!) or 6pm  for the ministry of Prophet Alan Ross from Glasgow, Scotland.

Come expecting, and I believe you’ll see that he is a true prophet of the Lord!

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

Ask the Pastor

Last week’s post about spouses who do not share our faith brought an interesting question from an anonymous reader: “What do I do if husband and children want to worship here but I don’t? Is it so bad for me to feel this way?”

So glad you asked, because I’m sure you’re not alone as a spouse who doesn’t want to attend the church that your family enjoys.  Here’s my best advice:

  • It is definitely NOT wrong for you to feel that you don’t want to worship at CLC.  After all, it’s a free country and each of us has the right to choose where and how we want to attend church. God has created each of us with a ‘free will’ to choose for ourselves.
  •  However, IF you are a Christ-follower, (I say that because not everyone who goes to church on Sunday is truly submitted to the Lordship of Christ.  Many Americans have confessed Him as Savior, but do not follow Him as Lord in their daily lives!) I would point out a few things for you to consider:

1.  Psalm 92:13 indicates that God wants us to be “planted” in the house of the Lord – which implies putting down roots so that we can grow, rather than just moving from one church to another. And 1Cor. 12:12, 18 makes it clear that GOD is actually the One who chooses where to place us.  So I think the real question for you is NOT where do you want to go to church for worship, but where does GOD want you to be planted?

2.  Since God loves unity and you & your husband are to be “one” (Gen. 2:24), I would encourage the two of you to seek the Lord about the answer to that question – where does HE want you to be planted?  (While it’s ok to consider where your children will best learn & grow, the decision really is up to you & your husband – as the parents, it’s your job to lead your children (read Gen. 18:19, Psa. 127:3-4Prov. 22:6, Mal. 2:15), so you should make this decision).

3. I have learned from experience with others that it is NOT healthy for you to attend one church while your family attends another.  So I would encourage you to consider that in your decision, and do your best to get on the same page as a family – whether that means attending CLC together or all of you attending elsewhere – I believe your family will be much better by worshiping together. (I hope you’ll read and consider the implication of each of these verses: John 17:21-22; Rom. 12:4-5; 1Cor. 10:17; Psa. 133:1)

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

Ask the Pastor

An anonymous reader asks, Have you ever encountered skepticism from individuals raised with a different religion? How did you deal with it? I am going through this with my spouse and do not want to push him into anything, but I would love for him to join the kids and I in our faith.

Great question, and one faced by numerous spouses through the years.  Here’s my best take on what you can do:

assume that by “a different religion” you actually mean a “different expression of Christianity”, like Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc., as opposed to a different  religion, like Islam or Buddhism.  (I am MUCH more familiar with the first than the second, although I suppose most of my suggestions would be similar).

The single-best advice I can give comes straight from God’s Word in 1Pet. 3:1-4, where we learn that your loving conduct in the home will do more to win your spouse than  anything you might say to them!

Once you’ve ‘covered that base’ by sweet, loving, Christ-like behavior in front of them, if your spouse hasn’t already initiated the conversation about your faith by asking questions, I’d say it’s time for you to broach that subject.  Here are my tips:

  • Bathe this whole situation and your spouse in prayer!  That should go without saying, but 2Cor. 4:4 makes it clear that the reason your spouse doesn’t believe is because the god of this world has blinded his/her eyes to the Gospel! That’s the real issue – not their background, culture, upbringing or anything else – they don’t believe because Satan has blinded them – so the answer is for you (and others you can enlist) to pray fervently and persistently for the Lord to open their eyes!
  • Make sure your spouse is not in a defensive posture before you begin the conversation – in other words, look for a time when he/she is able and willing to talk, rather than during a heated discussion about something else, or when they are occupied with other pressing matters (whether live or on TV).
  • it’s always best to answer their questions, instead of trying to force the conversation.  This is the method that Jesus used consistently (study John 4:4-29 to see how He tactfully yet effectively led the Samaritan woman to truth)
  • Beyond that, especially if you have a good marital relationship (meaning your spouse genuinely loves you and your children), then a gentle (not nagging, but loving)  conversation in which you explain how important it is to you that he/she would at least attend church with you as a family, can be a great beginning!  I’ve known of lots of unsaved spouses who started attending church to support their children’s participation in a holiday presentation or came to visit just because of their spouse’s invitation, only to eventually find that they enjoyed the services, felt drawn by the Presence of God, and gave their life to Christ!

I’m sure there are some folks reading this who won their spouse to the Lord despite dissimilar backgrounds: what would YOU add to this list?  Please leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

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

Ask the Pastor

current_sermon_series

A faithful CLC’er asks a question I’ve never been asked before: “Where does the church get the different series that we follow during the weekly services?”

Wow….I’m surprised this hasn’t come up before – but for all of those curious minds that want to know, here’s a look behind the scenes. Our sermon series/themes at CLC originate in several different ways (with an example of each):

  • Some series we try to include annually, because we know people will always need practical help with subjects like marriage and finances.  We may put on a creative title or cutesy approach to try to entice people to come, but every year we’re gonna try to include help for our folks on those issues. “Stewardship 2.0″ or “Rules of Engagement” are examples of that kind of series.
  • Some series will be included annually because of their importance to us as a church.  For instance, as an unashamedly Charismatic church, we will probably do a series each year about the Holy Spirit (I’m working on our “Ruach II” series for June now). “Kingdom” would be an example of this, as would “The Core”, where we review the values that drive our ministry.
  • Some series ideas come to us from other ministries.  For instance, in my morning walks (usually on a treadmill at the gym; sometimes around our subdivision when weather allows), I listen to podcasts from some of America’s leading pastors, like Robert Morris, Chris Hodges, Craig Groeschel and others. Sometimes as I receive from their teaching, I feel that I should pass it on to our church family, and we develop a series around the same theme. White Christmas came about that way.
  • Our popular summer series, “God@the Movies” came about as a result of reading or hearing about other churches that were doing something similar.  We considered if for a few years before giving it a try and have been wildly surprised not only by the boost in summer attendance, but especially by the changed lives that have resulted.  (Our choice of movies and approach to the messages is totally our own, as we’ve never followed any other churches in that regard – but we make those choices with the help of pastors & leaders on our sermon planning team.)
  • Probably the majority of our series come out of my prayer time and my interaction with people at CLC, which cause me to sense a real ‘need’ to address certain subjects. We may look for fun titles or approaches, but the series itself is our way of trying to correct a problem or meet a need we sense in the church family. “Generations” would be an example of that kind of series.
  • Finally, I personally think the best series each year are a result of me getting a ‘rhema word’ from God in my own study times.  That’s the ‘old-school’ Pentecostal preacher  in me, no doubt, but I honestly believe when the Word comes alive to me, it will also come alive to our people and meet needs in a way that nothing else could! “Deeper” is a great example of that.

That was fun!  Hope it helped a bit.  Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Ask the Pastor

A faithful CLC’er writes, “I have not received my prayer language yet and I don’t want to be fake and just copy what I hear others speak. What are your thoughts about that?”

Great question, especially for this Easter weekend.  Here are my thoughts:

1. I’m glad that you specified “yet” after saying you haven’t received your prayer language – because I’m 100% convinced from Scripture that praying in the Spirit (using your prayer language) is a privilege & promise for every believer.  I sometimes hear from others who haven’t yet received their prayer language but they mistakenly conclude that “it must not be for me” or “maybe it’s only for certain people and not for others” or even “maybe that was just a gift for Bible times that no longer happens today”.  I think these verses make it quite clear that this is an experience that God wants for every believer: Isaiah 28:11-12; Acts 2:1-4, 38-39; Acts 10:44-47; Acts 19:1-6; 1Cor. 14:1-5; 1Cor. 14:18-19; Jude 20-21.

2. I’m also glad that you don’t want to be a fake, since that’s never advisable.  Just  ‘copying’ what you’ve heard others speak would shortchange you and likely keep you from going on to experience the reality of this wonderful gift for yourself. Furthermore, there’s NO need to ‘fake it’, since this experience is real and what God wants for you, as the Scriptures above demonstrate.

3. However, it is important to notice that when this gift first occurred on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2:4, it is quite clear that the Holy Spirit gave the ability, but it was the people themselves who did the speaking! (I say that because some people have mistakenly supposed that the Holy Spirit would do ALL the ‘work’ – causing them to speak in a language they had never learned.  That’s NOT what happened anywhere in the Bible, and Paul’s clear teaching in 1Cor. 14:27-33 is that we remain in control even when the Holy Spirit is moving upon us. Because of this, here are some ‘tips’ I’ve given to those who want to receive their prayer language:

  • Be sure that you have invited Jesus to be Lord of your life (since the Holy Spirit is only promised to believers) AND that you have forgiven anyone who has wronged you (since unforgiveness blocks us from receiving anything from God). 
  • Then begin to worship the Lord aloud, since receiving a prayer language in Scripture always occurred in the context of worship.
  • Expect to receive (since all the gifts of God are received by faith!) Keep in mind that it is NOT possible to speak in two languages at the same time.  In other words, if English is your native tongue, for instance, you cannot speak in English and in a prayer language at the same time.  So you should expect that when the Holy Spirit gives you a new prayer language, it won’t be English (if that’s your native tongue).  
  • Some people have told me that they actually ‘heard’ strange-sounding syllables in their mind, and then spoke them aloud.  Others have noticed that their lips were quivering and stammering so that they weren’t speaking praises clearly anymore, and that’s usually a result of trying to force themselves to speak in their known language while the Holy Spirit was prompting them to speak in another language.  So relax – there’s nothing to fear, and you don’t need to force yourself.  Instead,  give in to the Spirit’s promptings and speak aloud the syllables & phrases that HE will give you.  Enjoy it! You can whisper, sing, shout & speak in your new tongue!

I hope that helps. In fact, I pray that someone reading this will put the computer or tablet aside and receive this free gift from God now!  If you do, please leave a comment below so I can celebrate with you!

Now, what would YOU like to Ask the Pastor?

Can’t wait to celebrate the Resurrection with you this weekend – 11 different options at the 4 campuses of CLC – choose the one that works best for you!

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?