We’re All in GT Now

August 16, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

That title is enough to get some of you ready to fight. Many of you believe that we no longer encourage or celebrate excellence and are disgusted by it. You think that “Every kid is a winner” is insulting to winners and not everyone can be excellent, by definition of excellent. In the great words of Dash Paar (The Incredibles) when told by his mom that everyone is special, he responds by saying that’s “another way of saying no one is.”

Your political ranting aside, what if every one is special?  What if everyone is gifted and talented?  (Hurry up, Blog Boy.  We see where this is going.)  In I Corinthians 12, Paul talks about the Church and uses the analogy of a body, that we are all parts of a body and all placed there by the Holy Spirit.  We are each uniquely and specifically gifted by the Holy Spirit. We are who we are (gifting wise) by God’s design in our lives.  No one part of the body can say that it is better or worse than any other.  We are all gifted by God’s Spirit and talented by his design, no one of us better than the other.

Comparing one person to another doesn’t even make sense, as far as what the Bible says, because these were never meant to be gifts and talents used independently.  They were always meant to be used together.  This is why Paul uses the absurd analogy of an ear thinking he was worse than an eye because he’s “just an ear.”  No individual piece makes sense except in conjunction with all the others.

Anywho, do you believe that?  Do you believe that you are uniquely gifted and talented by God?  Do you believe that God wants to use your gifts and talents in the “body” to change the world?  Guess what? It doesn’t matter what you believe.  It’s true nonetheless.

The next obvious question is how to know what my gifts and talents are.  For all you Grovers out there, we will talk about that this Sunday and work through some exercises to help us discover.

Here are some starter questions (we will talk more about this on the ol’ blog as well):

Are you more of a “in front of people” person or “behind the scenes?”

If you see a need do you want to fix it, talk to the people involved, pray about it?  What is your first response?

What kind of people do you think about, care about most?  Kids, teenagers, the poor, homeless, lost people…

What natural talents or skills do you have that you have used for God before and loved it? What are some skills that you haven’t been able to use, but would be great if you could? (Computer hacking skills, nunchuck skills.  I’m pretty good with a bowstaff.)

That’s just a few questions to get the juices flowing.  Put the answers to those questions together and put together and dream job description and then find a place to do that.  The best way to find out the way that God has gifted you is to take advantage of opportunities to serve other people and see what works and what doesn’t, what you’re good at, what you love, etc.  Then continually look for better opportunities that seem like better fits.

Above all else, believe that God has gifted and wants to use you and you will see God move mightily in and through your life.

Next Step:  Bumper stickers–”I’m in God’s GT Class”

The Bridge

The next 12 months for The Grove Church will be exciting, challenging and a bridge to new opportunities for ministry in the future. God has blessed the Grove tremendously over the past year and we have seen new people come to faith in Christ and become a part of the Grove. As such, Sunday mornings in both services have become quite crowded, and we began looking for a new place to meet.

After considerable prayer and discussion the elders decided that we needed to wait for a season before we move into a different facility. We had some financial priorities that needed to shift first, most notably changing our missions giving from 3% to 10%. We still believe that God wants us to worship in a different facility, but not yet.

However, rather than calling this a season of waiting, we believe that this is a season of building and preparation, which we are calling The Bridge. We believe that God wants to multiply the impact that we are having in the lives of people. God wants to use the Grove to REACH people who are far from God, help people GROW into committed followers of Christ and SEND people into their communities and the world with the gospel.

In order to get there, we are asking God to prepare us. We are asking God to give us hearts that are open to him using us in the lives of people. As members of the Grove we are going to need to increase our level of commitment, both in our time and our money. Through this, we expect God to continually bless the church this year in the number of people who come to know God and begin worshipping with us.

Here are some videos that explain that describe what’s next for us:

The Need for Giving

I Think I Heard That Sermon Already (Colossians Review)

June 6, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

People asked me last week, “What are you preaching on this Sunday?”  (Is “preaching on” the right expression?  It seems to be the one that we use regardless.  Obviously, the correct answer to that is “the stage.”  But to say that would put me on the same level as the guys I grew up with that would say “the sky” as the response to the greeting, “What’s up?”  We don’t need any of that.)

Anywho, my answer was “the same thing I preached on two weeks ago.”  Bad answer, but it’s true.  “Do you think people will notice?” “Nah, it’s summer so probably half the people there this week weren’t there before.  The other half won’t remember.”  Just in case you think I’m insulting you, the only reason I remember is I have access to my notes.  Just kidding…maybe.

Paul essentially says the same thing in Col 2:6-15 that he said in chapter 1.

Christ is fully God and the Lord of everything

We are complete in Christ, completely forgiven and fully his.

We live for God in the same way received him as a gift.

Our lives should be grateful responses to what Jesus did.

He said that in chapter 1 and says it all over again.  Didn’t he know that pastors almost 2000 years later would be looking for different sermons to preach as we go verse by verse through his letter?  Rude.

He says it in chapter 1 in the form of a prayer and an intro and repeats it as instruction and encouragement immediately after he starts the body of the letter.  Conclusion: that stuff is very important.  We have yet to be given any kind of do or don’t do command.  Paul is just encouraging the Colossians to have a different outlook on their approach to God.  Don’t view your relationship with God as a religious activity and an obligation, but as a grateful response to a gracious God.  Focus on Christ not,well, anything else.

That’s a good message for them and a good message for us.  God is not interested in simply more of our religious activity.  He certainly doesn’t want us to think that we are earning his love or “paying him back.”  He wants our hearts, our devotion and our gratitude.

“So what are you preaching on this Sunday?”  Guess.

My Favorite Metaphor: 2 Yr Old Lauren in the Parking Lot (Colossians Review)

May 23, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

One of the prevailing jokes in our home is that Lauren never learned to walk.  She went straight from crawling to running.  She would put her arms in the air, as if to indicate that someone had scored a touchdown.  Then she would run full force until a footstool, chair, and often a wall would get in her way.  She would fall, shake it off and do it again.  This process would repeat indefinitely.

The scariness of her in open spaces should be evident.  The worst case scenario inside our home would be hitting a wall.  What if there were no walls to contain her? What if it were just the open road?  Parking lots seemed (Did I say seemed? I mean continue to be.  10 yr old Lauren is still living the dream) to bring this out the most.  Just like Wal-Mart makes toddlers throw fits, malls make men cry and sports on TV make wives “want to talk,” 2 yr old Lauren viewed parking lots like an amusement park.

When getting her out of her car seat, you had to be completely ready to go. You got everything else out first and you kept a hand on her at all times.  Also, inside the store, you’d better get your hand on her before you hit the door. (Wow! I’ve burned over 200 words and have yet to get to anything close to resembling a point.  I really do like talking about this.)

Turning 2 yr old Lauren loose in a parking lot to find the car is both dangerous and futile.  She certainly would run with enthusiasm.  She would be going somewhere, going somewhere with zeal.  She would make progress by some limited definitions of progress. However, danger and futility are most likely to be the results rather than success.

We all desire to live lives worthy of the God that loves us so much.  Often we just jump out into life thinking, “I’m going to do something.”  With reckless (The use of that word diverted me to an online dictionary.  Yes, reck is a word and it does mean caution.  Who knew?  You did?  No you didn’t) abandon we take off into the parking lot wanting to make a difference, to be spiritual, etc.

This can unfortunately lead us to exhaustion and disillusionment when it doesn’t go the way we wish (getting lost in the parking lot) or doing wrong things with right motives and hurting ourselves (running into a car).

The Colossians were being influenced by some false teachers that were telling them to not emphasize Jesus quite so much and instead focus on following certain religious regulations.  Paul is less concerned about telling them to stop that and start doing other things (at least at first, we are not even 1/4 way through the book).  He is more concerned about telling them where to focus.  Our focus (where the car is) is the gospel.  When we set our minds on the gospel, we are overwhelmed with gratitude and will be headed in the right direction.  Furthermore, we need to put on our total trust in Jesus, who Paul describes as the creator and head of all things.  When we depend on him (hold his hand in the parking lot), he can safely navigate us through the trials and difficulties of life.

Lauren’s problem never was, is, will be zeal.  It is focus.  We are not altogether much different.

What Motivates Us to Follow God? (Colossians Review)

There are a lot of ways that we try to motivate people.  This isn’t really a well-thought out statement (Duh, we know what site we are reading), but I would imagine that the top 3 are guilt, manipulation and yelling.  The great thing about those methods is that they are quite effective.  When you yell at someone, there is a high probability that they will stop doing whatever is bothering you.  Try it some time (No, don’t do that).

Guilt works the same way.  Isn’t that why you call certain people?  You know the people that you call and you’re holding your breath hoping that it’s going to go to voicemail because you don’t really want to talk to them but you feel like you have to and you contemplate hanging up after the third ring before it goes to voicemail just in case they might answer and you know that at least it will show up on their phone that you called? (That sentence really called for some commas or something, but I like the way that it looks)

Manipulation is great as well.  On an unrelated note, it doesn’t matter to me at all if you bookmark this site or subscribe to the feed. It’s no big deal.  It’s not like I look on Google Analytics multiple times a day to see if anyone ever reads these posts.  It’s not like a put a lot effort into them or anything.  You do what you want to do.

The problem with all three of these is that while they are all relatively effective, they are only effective in the short-term.  In the long-term they build resentment and harden hearts; they do not soften hearts.  They do not change people’s attitudes. All they can do is change a behavior briefly.

The Apostle Paul understood that.  His desire for the Colossians was that they would walk with God for a lifetime.  He wanted God to change their hearts and that they would be faithful followers of Jesus.  He was significantly less interested in changing their immediate behavior.  He first wanted to provide the proper foundation and motivation for living their lives and having hearts devoted to God.

Colossians 1:9-14

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Notice the different phrases that Paul uses here.  He wants them to “live a life worthy” and to “please Him in every way.”  Paul wants them to be “giving joyful thanks.”  He reminds them of the overwhelming power of the gospel.  He believes that if they are mindful of what God has done and is doing in their lives, that they will want to live their lives for him.

There are a lot of different methods that we can use to motivate others to walk with God or use to motivate ourselves.  Let’s use this one the most.  Reflect on the goodness and love of God that was shown through Jesus.  Let that be what drives us to be men and women worthy and pleasing to God.
(If you don’t, I’ll be really mad at you.  I MEAN REALLY MAD!!!)

Colossians Preview

After a highly attention-grabbing title about when we will let our daughters start dating, I went the other direction and gave this the blandest title possible.  I suppose I could have put “Why Our Study of Colossians Will Rock…Your…World!”  However, that would put a lot of pressure on the post that I’m just not capable of living up to (I don’t like ending in a sentence with a preposition, but I absolutely love ending a sentence with two.)

Some things to conisder as we launch into a study of Colossians this Sunday:

This book was written by a person to a group of people living at a certain time under certain circumstances.  It is those circumstances that led the author to write the letter.  (Wait. What?)  While Colossians is Scripture given to us by God, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this was a letter written by Paul to a group of Christians in the town of Colossae.  There was something going on with them that made Paul decide he needed to write them.

When we understand what that situation was, then we can ask, “How am I like that?”  Then we can best understand what God is wanting to show us and how he wants us to apply the truths in the letter.

Well what was going on then?  I’ll tell you but you still have to come on Sunday.  They were a new church with all new believers.  A group came to them and began to teach them that in order to maintain a good relationship with God you needed to follow certain rituals and follow certain rules.  They wanted them to follow the Old Testament laws.  “You may be saved by grace, but you maintain good standing with God by following certain religious rituals.”

We should all feel a kinship with that.  Many of us have felt, or still feel, the essential nature of certain religious acts in order to have a good relationship with God. We have probably heard it taught.

What Paul does is help them move from a perspective of “have to” to “get to.”  It is not that we have to act a certain way.  It’s that God demonstrated tremendous love for us through the gospel and we have an incredible opportunity to live for God.

When we truly understand what Jesus did for us on the cross and how amazing he is, we will want to please him, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, our hearts will change and we can become the men and women God has called us to be.

Come join us over the next couple of months as we explore deeply Paul’s letter to the Colossians and learn how we can:

live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience

Col 1:10-11

Good News, Bad News and Good Friday

From Luke 7

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

There are some people out there that think that we offend people by talking about sin.  “We need to talk about the Good News of the gospel.  When you talk about sin, it’s bad news.”  I confess I have fallen into this trap before.  However, consider this.  Good news is often made significantly better when we understand how bad the news was.

A friend has a cold and is healed is good news.  A friend has cancer and is healed is GOOD news.

A billionaire winning $1000 is good news.  Someone about to have their house foreclosed winning the same is GOOD news.

Jesus dying for the sins of someone who thinks, “Yeah, I’m a pretty good person.  I need to be more religious,” I suppose is good news.  Jesus dying for someone whose heart is often very dark and does bad things to hurt people on purpose, who feels isolated and lonely and dying, whose conscious is overwhelmed, who is desperate and hopeless is GOOD news.

When we take time to truly reflect on the fact that we didn’t simply need a boost, but because of our sin we were hopeless, desperate enemies of God, the good news of the gospel and the message of Good Friday become GOOD news on GOOD Friday.  Take some today and reflect on the bad news, not for its own sake, but so that then we can celebrate all the more, the GOOD news of GOOD Friday.

Beautiful Exchange (Getting Ready for Easter)

April 11, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

We started a sermon series leading up to Easter called Beautiful Exchange.  Why is it called that, you may ask?  Because there is an incredible song out right now by Hillsong with that name that captures the message that we want to get across this Easter.  Here are lyrics to said song:

Beautiful Exchange

You were near, Though I was distant
Disillusioned I was lost and insecure

Still mercy fought, For my attention
You were waiting at the door, Then I let You in

Trading Your life, For my offenses
For my redemption, You carried all the blame

Breaking the curse, Of our condition
Perfection took our place

When only love
Could make a way
You gave Your life
In a beautiful exchange

My burden erase, my life forgiven
There is nothing, that could take this love away

My only desire, and sole ambition
Is to love You just the same

Holy are You God
Holy is Your name
With everything I’ve got
My heart will sing how I love You

Part of me feels like that anything that I would add to those lyrics would be pointless ramblings. (But that’s what you do best!  Hmm, if you think that then you have never seen me balance books on my head.)  These are powerful lyrics that describe quite well why we celebrate Easter.  Our sin has left has helpless and hopeless and dead, and then in a “beautiful exchange” we trade our death for Jesus’ death and his life for our life.

I really enjoyed our 1st week in the series yesterday (listen here) where we looked at a pivotal moment in the Gospel of Luke (read here) where Jesus shares with his disciples that he is going to be arrested and killed and then the Gospel says that “he resolutely set out for Jerusalem (Luke 9:51)”  He voluntarily and purposefully set out to die for us so that we may have life, demonstrating a deep and powerful love for us.

My favorite part of the day was that there was at least one person at the Grove Church yesterday that accepted that beautiful exchange yesterday and chose to give her life to Christ. Incredibly excited about her. My guess is that there were more than that.  Here also is what I believe, there are more to come.  There are people out there who are from God who desperately need Him.  They need to hear and believe.  You know what else? You know these people and they will come with you one of the next couple of weeks.  You just need to invite them.  We are going to provide an opportunity each week for everyone to hear the gospel and respond.

People want to come to church on Easter.  They want you to ask them, and come with them.  You want them to know Jesus, to make that exchange.  We have an incredible opportunity.  I’m glad that you are a part.

Trust God, Dream Big and Stop Sinning (Nehemiah Wrap-up)

March 28, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

We just finished 2.5 months of Nehemiah.  Thanks for all the good feedback on the series.  Nehemiah is an incredible book that tells a powerful story of an incredible leader and a nation trying to restore its relationship with God and break the cycle of sin.

I just wanted to take a moment and review all the different pieces of the story and what we learned from Nehemiah.

We first meet Nehemiah and we see an influential leader in Persia being called by God to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem.  The plight of his people broke his heart and he had to take action.  Follow the passions that God put on your heart and believe that God will do incredible things through your life. Way too often we settle for ordinary with God, and don’t believe that God even wants to do great things in our lives.

In Nehemiah, we see a man who was devoted to prayer.  He knew that the only way anything significant was going to happen was if God moved.  God moves through prayer.  However, he was also a very deliberate planner.  He wasn’t just one or the other.  He prayed and planned.  I’ve often heard it said that we should pray like it depends only on God, and work like it depends completely on us.  I don’t know that I like that, because even in our planning there should be a built-in dependence on God. So, we should pray like it depends only on God, and plan like the God of the universe is calling you to do it.

In the actual building of the wall, we see a lot of different people playing a role.  The job could never depend on one person.  People were focused on building their one section of the wall.  No one did anything spectacular on their own, but together they did something incredible.  When we each believe that God wants to use us and we all work together, we see God do amazing things.

However, in the middle of all of this we see a ton of opposition from the outside and struggles within.  Anything worth doing for God will find opposition and skeptics. Our success will depend on who we listen to.  We need to listen to God’s call on our life more than we listen to critics. We also need to take care to not be divisive.  What God has called us to is too important and significant for us to fight over little things. How big the things are that divide us depends on what we compare them to.  If God has called us to reach the world, just about everything else becomes fairly small.

After they rebuilt the wall, we see the greater work of rebuilding the people begin.  It begins with Ezra reading the Law to the people.  They respond with great sadness for their sins.  However, first the leadership wants the people to take time to celebrate.  They have been reconciled and brought back. They must rejoice.  We have to take time to celebrate the fact that we have a relationship with the God of the universe. It is a very serious thing to walk with God, but serious doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t celebrate.  We must celebrate.

Next comes the time to repent.  Sin is a big deal, and the Israelites realize that it is their sin that has separated them from God and they rightly respond with repentance.  Although God is gracious to us, we must realize that sin hurts us and offends God, and we must repent. Saying “sorry” is one thing, being sorry and changing is another.

After the time of repentance we see the Israelites desiring to make commitments to try and break the cycle of sin.  Sin-sorry-forgiveness…sin-sorry-forgiveness…and on and on it went.  They wanted to break that cycle, and so they pledge to not intermarry, to honor the Sabbath and to give sacrificially.  It takes great sacrifice on our part to see God do incredible things among us in the long-term.

In Nehemiah, we have a great leader, and as he is wrapping up this task, we see his leadership skills and those of the leaders he is leaving behind.  We see leaders taking initiative, doing what others won’t. The leaders are the ones to move to the new rebuilt city.  We also see a great party to celebrate and dedicate the wall.  The people are inspired, because that’s what leaders do.  Leaders inspire people.

You really do wish that the story could have ended there, but it doesn’t.  Despite their desire to not fall back into the cycle of sin, they quickly do and Nehemiah has to rebuke and correct them when he comes back to check on the people.  Regret and feelings last a little while.  We need to be people that desire long-term repentance.  This doesn’t happen quickly.  This comes when in our hearts we commit to doing what it takes to be the men and women God has called us to be.  We become a part of a community.  We are committed to God’s word and prayer.  We often reflect on the power and love of God demonstrated in the Gospel.

There is much to be learned in Nehemiah.  I’d encourage you to read the book (again, I hope).  Listen again to some of the sermons on the chapters that you most need to apply.  Let’s allow this time in Nehemiah to impact us not just for now, but for years to come.

How Did We End Up Here? (Nehemiah 10 preview)

March 10, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

Have you ever asked that question?  “How did we end up here?” or “How did I end up here?”  This is not a post about how guys don’t ask for directions or women can’t read maps.  (Gender stereo-typing.  Fastest way to make friends) Although, I could make some quippy metaphors about needing directions, being lost, but I won’t. (Sure. We’ll see.)

We wake up one day and we don’t like where our life is.  At one point, things were great with you and God.  You were growing spiritually.  Your family was strong.  You felt like God had a great plan for your life and you were following it. Then…here you are.  How did you get here?

Typically what we can do is decide that we want to do better.  We’ll stop the bad habit.  We go back to church.  We pray more.  We make good solid decisions to improve our life, in the present.  But what about the future?  What will keep us from going back to the dark place we were in?  How do we prevent that?

The way to do that is to ask “How did I get here?”  What did I do to start this?  What started me on this path?  What kept me from turning around?

Making surface changes are good for the short-term.  We need to dig deeper and find out what causes us to fall away.  Change those things as well.

Through the first 9 chapters of Nehemiah, we have seen the people rally together and build a wall as a symbol of renewing themselves as God’s people.  Then they celebrate the Feast of Booths to celebrate God’s deliverance from their exile.  Then we see them repent of their sins.  Those are incredible action steps that help turn the people toward God.

But now they are asking what got them here and how can they prevent.  They got here through their sin and God’s judgment upon them.  Their ancestors refused to follow after God and chose their own path.  They followed other gods, they neglected God’s temple, they didn’t pass their faith on to their children, they refused to be a light to the nations around them.

We will see in Nehemiah chapter 10 doing more than being sorry and trying to be better.  We will see them take some steps to help insure a long-term following after God.

They aren’t just asking for directions, they are learning how to use a map.

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