Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Seven Statements of Gratitude in Light of Seven Promises in Difficulty

This weekend is a nostalgic time for me. Part of it is because I just love the Thanksgiving holiday, but for the last two years, there is another reason. It was this weekend that our family visited College Park for the first time to determine if we were interested in entering the candidating process. The anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and prayerful wrestling were very real. Now, two years later, it is amazing to see what the Lord has done in us and at College Park. It creates a deep level of gratitude in my heart to God when I think about those days.

You may have a similar story in your life or you may be in the midst of “the dark side of God’s will.” Regardless, I’d encourage you to take some time this weekend and reflect on how God has demonstrated his care for you in the past few years. Rehearse, remember, and reflect or you’ll soon forget; that is the regular warning from the Word (see Deut 8:1-18, Ps 42:4-6, 77:11, 143.5).

Gratitude must be cultivated or a self-focused, demanding, and proud heart will soon appear.

Tonight we will be gathering for our annual Thanksgiving Service. I’m working today on my devotional for that service and my exposition of Matthew 10:5-33. It has been an interesting combination.

This evening I’ll be sharing 7 statements of gratitude out of Colossians 1:15-20. I recently memorized this passage, and it has gripped me every day for the last two weeks. It is filled with praiseworthy statements about Christ.

When I consider Christ, I am grateful…

1. That he has made God clear and near (Col 1:15,19)

2. That there is nothing on earth over which Jesus doesn’t say, “Mine!” (Col 1:16)

3. That he is the head, the focus, and the source of the church (Col 1:18a)

4. That he is alive, making hope a reality (Col 1:18b)

5. That he is and will be first in everything (Col 1:18c)

6. That he makes peace possible (Col 1:20)

7. That he holds everything together (Col 1:21)

On Sunday, I’m talking about why following Christ is worth it or what keeps you going when following Jesus gets really hard. There are at least 7 promises to which our hearts should cling when following Jesus is painful.

Here are 7 promises from Matthew 10:16-33 to remember when we start to wonder if following Jesus is really worth it:

1. When challenged, remember that God will give you words to say (v 17-20)

2. When your family attacks, remember the value of endurance (v 21-22)

3. When persecution comes, remember that Jesus has been there too (v 23-25)

4. When you are afraid of people, remember that one day everything will be revealed (v 26)

5. When you tempted to be timid, remember who God is (v 27-28)

6. When you are filled with anxiety, remember you are valuable to God (v 29-31)

7. When following him proves costly, remember that nothing is greater than the affirmation of Jesus (v 32-33)

I hope you’ll join me in some focused gratitude this weekend. After all, we have a lot to be thankful for, don’t we?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

No Prayer = No Belief

Here's a great quote from Dale Bruner in his commentary on Matthew that talks about the problem of prayerlessness:

"A creeping death sweeps over the mission of many churches in our time because, quite simply, prayer meetings have ceased. And beneath the death of prayer, at a deeper level, lies the death of real belief…"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

WWJD: Jesus' Vision for Ministry

Remember WWJD? Remember the bracelets, t-shirts, gym bags, and even a board game? I do. In fact, the entire WWJD phenomenon started in Holland, Michigan! I remember hearing about it soon after I came to the area. The premise of the 4 letters was to remind people to ask themselves – “What Would Jesus Do?” A good question, even if it was way over-marketed!

On Sunday, we’ll be asking a similar question. What would Jesus do in Carmel, Indiana? What kind of ministry would he run? What priorities would he have? Again, some important questions. I’m not sure we can ever be 100% sure, but our text on Sunday (Matthew 9:35-10:4) gives us a pretty clear picture of some priorities.

The passage is a bridge between Jesus’ words (chapters 5-7), works (chapters 8-9), and his mission (chapter 10). It is the launch of the disciples’ ministry under Jesus’ authority. Much of chapter 10 will identify the various challenges that they will face, particularly talking about persecution and opposition. But for now, Jesus simply outlines some key elements to his ministry:

There are four key commitments in Jesus’ vision for ministry:
  1. The Word – He proclaimed (heralded) the gospel of the kingdom
  2. Compassion – Jesus saw the crowds as sheep without a shepherd
  3. Prayer – earnestly seek laborers from the Lord of the harvest
  4. Gifts – he empowered his disciples to conquer the devil and cure the world
It’s almost like Ministry 101. We need all four elements/commitments or the church does really function like Jesus intended.

How easy it is to drift from these. A few examples:
  1. Word – The emergent church would say that authority doesn’t come from the Word itself but from the community’s interpretation of the Word. Heralding or preaching is passé, conversation is better.
  2. Compassion – How easy it is to see sinful people through the lens of disgust, rigid justice, and fault-finding. But Jesus saw them through a lens. If there was blame, it needed to be partly laid at the feet of spiritual leaders (read Ezekiel 34 for a blistering word about that!)
  3. Prayer – A commentary I read nailed it: “The demise of the prayer meeting equals the demise of the mission of the church because a church that fails to pray fails to believe.” AMEN!
  4. Gifts – 40% of our congregation doesn’t have any area in which they are using their gifts. I’m usually a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I can’t get past just under ½ of our people sitting on sidelines with atrophic gifts.
So my appeal on Sunday will be for each of us to ask ourselves what kind of role we have in making College Park Church a place that emanates what Jesus would do.

I’ll close with a great quote from Kevin De Young. He wrote a great article on how to reach the next generation. His words are not only true – they describe what we are trying to do at College Park:

Grap them with passion.
Win them with love.
Hold them with holiness.
Challenge them with truth.
Amaze them with God.

Oh yeah!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Quotes and Thoughts from “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller

I'm half-way through a great book on prayer by Paul Miller. His simple premise is very refreshing: Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God. Miller wants the reader to see prayer as less complicated, more relational, and all-encompassing. In other words, we need to see prayer through the lens of every day communion with God.

Here are a few great quotes:

"Learning to pray doesn't offer you a less busy life; it offers you a less busy heart."

"Come overwhelmed with life. Come with a wandering mind. Come messy."

"You can't build a relationship by sound bites."

Thomas Merton – "Prayer is an expression of who we are…we are living incompleteness. We are a gap, an emptiness that calls for fulfillment."

"Helplessness is how the Christian life works."

"Weakness is the channel that allows us to access grace."

"God is not your personal vending machine."

Friday, November 13, 2009

4 Personal Lessons from Heart-Cry

Whenever I attend a conference I take one sheet of blank paper to summarize what I sense God is saying to me. Sometimes it is so clear. Sometimes it takes time to fully process. During the final session, God gave me a great deal of clarity on what specific lessons I needed to learn during my time at the Cove. I knew that I wasn't there to give my workshop. The meager attendance of about 15 people was a clear enough message! God had designs for my heart, not my mouth.

I wrote through my joyful tears, rejoicing that God had graciously revealed some things to me through his Word:

1. Pray to preach with fire (Jeremiah 23:29) – My heart burned within me with new zeal for preaching the Word like Martin Lloyd-Jones used to describe: "Theology on fire!" I was reminded of the need to pray for the powerful anointing (unction) of the Holy Spirit each time I open the Word.

2. Live in the supremacy of Jesus (Col 1:15-20) – I was compelled to think not only about the centrality of Jesus, but to live in his supremacy: to take being "God's kind of person" to another level, to realize that Jesus is reconciling all things to himself even now, to see my daily life through the lens of "Our Lamb has conquered, Let us follow Him!"

3. Live like an athlete (Heb 12:1) – An athlete is different than a casual competitor. His discipline, regimen, activity, and focus are radically different than most because he is in training. I need to think this way and then live this way.

4. Stop for refreshment (Heb 12:12) – Along the race of ministry are God-given refreshment stands. Too often I'm too busy running in the race, and I think if I just push it a bit harder I'll finish faster. But without refreshment, we hit a wall. Refreshment is a critical part of the race strategy; it isn't optional; God created me with a need for rest and refreshment. Only the foolish or inexperienced try to make it without it.

Nothing is Impossible for Jesus

It is great to be home from a fabulous week at the Heart-Cry Conference at the Cove in Asheville, North Carolina.  The original intention was to go to the conference because I was doing a workshop on the prayer movement in Holland from 2005-2007.  However, I know that God had other reasons for me to be there.  This was fairly clear given the fact that out of about 300 conference attendees only about 15 came to my workshop.  I think God wanted a humbled, listening heart.  He had designs for my heart, not my mouth.

If you are interested in the personal take aways, I wrote about them in my blog. (click the word "blog" to go there)

Where are we going this Sunday?  I must tell you I had a wonderful time marveling at Jesus in Matthew 9:18-24, and I was amazed at the beautiful pictures of grace that are all over our passage for Sunday.  The verses mix 4 miracles with desperate faith, and it is something to behold.

Here's the summary for Sunday:  When you've got nothing left but faith in Jesus, you've got everything because nothing is impossible for Jesus.

The miracles show us Jesus' amazing ability to move people from 1) Loss to Restoration, 2) Shame to Wholeness, and 3) Captivity to Freedom.

The story of the woman with a hemorrhaging problem is very moving.  Here's what I wrote for Sunday:

"This woman is not only desperate; she is filled with shame.  She doesn't approach Jesus like others have.  She doesn't fall down in front of him.  No, she comes up from behind him and simply tries to touch him.  This is an unthinkable action on her part because technically she would be making Jesus unclean.  No words, no plea, no conversation.  She comes to Jesus behind his back and secretly touches his garment."

Now what happens next is amazing.  Jesus is touched by an unclean woman (making him unclean), and she receives the healing power from Jesus.  Could the gospel be any clearer here?  It reminded me so much of this verse:  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).   What a beautiful divine exchange!

Along with the beauty of this, I'll be dealing a bit with the issue of shame.  Please pray about this.  There are many people who live in perpetual states of shame for what they've done or what was done to them.  I hope to call them out of the tomb of humiliation, and I hope that our counselors will be busy after services providing comfort and counsel for shame-filled people.  To help you know how to pray, here are five statements that I'm going to offer as hope to shamed people:

  • God knows it all, and He still loves me (Psalm 139:1-18)
  • He is sovereign over everything (Psalm 135:6)
  • I'm completely forgiven (Rom 8:1)
  • He has made me a new person (2 Cor 5:17)
  • I live for his glory (2 Cor 5:9)

I'm praying that God would set some people free on Sunday.  I'm praying there will be some desperate people who will come to see that, maybe for the first time, that nothing is impossible for Jesus.

So pray for desperation; because without it we tend to cling to our own sufficiency.  Faith is birthed when self-sufficiency is lost

Finally, pray for the introduction of our Christmas offering project in Mango, Togo.  This project puts us at the battle-line of the conflict between Islam and Christianity in West Africa.  The story is compelling, the mission is critical, and the opportunity is mind-boggling Our early involvement is critical for the success and credibility of the project.  Pray that the 1000 new people would catch this critical part of our DNA.  Pray that reaching unreached will be a vision that shows up in withdrawals from bank accounts in the next 6 weeks!

Thanks for holding up my arms!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

5 Lessons from the Holland Prayer Movement

In a few hours, I'll be sharing the full story of the Holland Prayer Initiative, and identify 5 lessons. Here they are:

1. Revival resonates with people and pastors – Pastors love the ministry and people love coming to church when they sense "God is here."

2. There is always a remnant – there are always people who long for something more; they are there, you just haven't found them yet.

3. Revival is birthed through relationships over time – God works through people working together; you cannot manufacture it and only God can birth it. But relationships are the soil.

4. Revival looks different in each church – God moves in different ways through different means in different contexts. His movement is a varied as the needs in the church.

5. God's works are messy and mysterious – No two works of God are the same, and they are filled with real and fake moments. We are not always sure as to what God is doing, but the journey is still worthwhile and satisfying.

The Supremacy of Christ in Revival

David Bryant –Proclaim Hope

Summary: A revival is essentially a Christ-awakening movement. Revival happens when the people of God come to fully understand, submit to, worship and obey the person of Jesus. It is a movement where the church awakens, adores, and arises to ALL that Christ is.

Bryant's message was by far the most compelling and hopeful message of the entire conference. His message was so captivating that it was nearly impossible to take any notes. The sense of worship and awe at the wonder of Jesus was present from the beginning of his message until the end. It was one of those moments that you were able to see and feel the anointing of God upon a man as he spoke.

His definition of revival: God's Spirit using God's Word to re-convert God's people back to God's Son for ALL that he is.

Bryant gave seven reasons why he believes that we are on the verge of a Christ-awakening movement:

1. The Decisive Person – God is committed to his Son

2. The Divine Pattern – He's done it before; He is able, willing, and ready to do it again

3. The Dark Prospects – Our world clearly needs a renewal movement

4. The Disturbing Paralysis – The church, for the most part, is stuck in apathy

5. The Dramatic Preparations – There are signs all over the world of what God is doing. Even a book recently published by secular authors ("God is Back") records the new movement.

6. The Distinctive Prayer – There are prayer movements all over the country

7. The Determined People – Every church has people longing for revival

Bryant's bottomline was that there is a need for the church to move from the centrality of Jesus into the supremacy of Jesus. He called the church to not be only purpose-driven, but to be person-driven.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jonathan Edwards’ Tests for Genuine Revival

Tomorrow in my session on revival, I will share 5 tests that Edwards developed in response to criticisms regarding the First Great Awakening. The marks are from his book Distinquishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, a book written to test the work of the 1st Great Awakening and address some of the abuses.

God used this list to propel my heart into joining the movement of prayer and renewal in Holland in 2005:

1. When the esteem for the true Jesus is raised

2. When Satan's kingdom is attacked

3. When people come to love the Scriptures more

4. When men are led away from falsehood into truth

5. When there is an increase in love to God and man

Revival and Preaching the Word

Richard Owen Roberts

(For those you unfamiliar with Roberts, he is one of the most prominent, living experts on biblical and historic revival. His quote is the one that I often use: "If revival came to America, the response would be clear: millions of church-people would be saved.")

Summary: Roberts calls pastors who have a heart for revival to preach the Word, not out of or about the Word. True revival, according to Roberts, springs from the fire of the Word as it breaks people in their heart-heartedness

2 Timothy 4:1-8

  • Every Lord's Day people are being injured by preaching that is not faithful to the Word
  • Amos 8:11 – a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord

Two Kinds of Revival:

  • Word Based (Protestant Reformation, 1st Great Awakening -1732-1770, 2nd Great Awakening – 1792 - ?)
  • Experience Based (3rd Great Awakening 1857-1859)


Three Reasons why a Word-based revival is preferred?

1. Converts of experience-based revival tend to fall away with a far greater frequency

2. Word-centered movements last longer

3. The impact of experienced based revival is slight; the impact of word-based is deep

Conclusion: We need a reformation of revival – the powerful preaching of the Word through the power of the Spirit


Paul's Instructions to Timothy:


1. A Solemn Charge (4:1)

- God the Father and God the Son are called as witnesses

- Judgment is on the line


2. A Solemn Command (4:2)

- It is possible to preach from and about the Word without preaching THE Word

- How to know?

    Jer 23:29 – "Is not my Word like a fire and a hammer?"

    When you preach, is it like fire from heaven?

    Heb 4:12 – The Word is quick and powerful

    Does your message quicken people?

    Do you see people cut by the word?

    The nature of the Word is to create exposure – to be discerning

    1 Peter 1:23 – when was the last time you watched someone come alive under your preaching?


3. A Solemn Consistency (4:2)

- Preaching in season and out of season

Key Words: Reprove – correction of error, Rebuke – willing to honestly deal with sin, Exhort – a calling to turn


4. A Solemn Concern (4:3-5)

- It is possible to entertain our people

- Some preachers are so concerned about being liked and loved that they end up tickling the ears of their people


5. A Solemn Calling (4:5)

- there should be a sober-mindedness since we are carrying an important message for an urgent time

- there is so great a cost for those who carry this burden. This is not a task for the faint-hearted

- a calling to finish well


May we finish with power, grace, and glory to God!

God’s Promise and Our Responsibility

Session #3 – Michael Catt, Pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church

  • "I grew up in a dead Southern Baptist Church until God brought Vance Havner into my life, rocked my world, and showed me the power of the Bible."

2 Chronicles 15:1-16:14

  • One of the great reforms or revivals in the Old Testament under Asa; 9 times you find "seek the Lord"
  • 14:4 – Asa calls a new generation to seek the Lord of their Fathers. This is important because no generation can live on the faith or experience of the past.
  • 14:7 – Asa declares "the land is ours"
  • 15:2 – "The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him he will forsake you."
  • Based upon his traveling and talking, Michael believes that very few church are really experiencing the power and presence of God.
  • Vance Havner – "People talk about holding a revival; I want to turn one loose."
  • In the moments of victory that we can start to think that it was our power, our ingenuity, our programs that made the differences. Our blessings can be our curse.

1. The Assurance of God's Blessings

  • Azariah doesn't mince words with the king: God will be with you, if you are with him.
  • God provides assurance that he will give you everything you need
  • "You've spent all this time talking about shovels when you're supposed to be digging for gold"


2. The Accompanying Reminder


  • Be warned: God is not spurned without consequences
  • Revival is a full-length mirror look at oneself; no longer justifying ourselves; no longer making excuses
  • God doesn't have any favorites, but he does have intimates – men who seek after God in special and unique ways
  • 1 Sam 3:19 – the Lord was with him


3. The Arresting Definition of Warning


  • We long for the manifest presence of God, and the warning from God is that he may very well depart
  • Where is the urgency? Where is the brokenness?
  • If you forsake him, he will forsake you.
  • The question is not whether or not the Lord knows you; the question is whether or not you know the Lord
  • The Lord always meets people at their point of desperation
  • Blind Bartemeus – "What do you want me to do for you?" What do you want Jesus to do for you this week at Heart-Cry?
  • Unless the men of God start acting like men of God, our men won't become men of God.
  • Unfortunately, Asa failed in the later part of his reign. Asa went from faith to fleshly reasoning. We have to finsh strong. We are never safe until we get home.
  • You are always one un-prayed over decision away from God removing his blessing.

4. A Sure Promise

  • God is looking for a man who is righteous
  • Could God trust you with an outpouring of revival?

5. A Sure Warning

  • You can't bask in the promises and neglect the cautions
  • We need to live with holy dissatisfaction, longing to see an outpouring of God's power and presence in the church again

The question is not: Is the Lord with us? The question is: Are you with the Lord?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Heart-Cry Conference Session 1

Daniel Henderson, President – Strategic Renewal

A Portrait of Passionate Prayer – Daniel 9

  • All the truth in the world will do you little good until you have seen it evidence in the life of someone else
  • What a man is, he is on his knees – nothing more, nothing less, that's it

5 Marks of Passionate Prayer:

1. Birthed from the truth of God's Word (v 9)

  • Daniel's response to what he read in Jeremiah: He set himself to seek the Lord
  • The best way to begin prayer is to let God start the conversation through His Word
  • G. Mueller – tried to start prayer by other means but he languished until he began with the Bible
  • We must learn to pray with open Bibles
  • John Piper – where the heart is not brimming with the Word, the heart will not be full of prayer

2. Concerned with the honor of God's name (v 4)

  • Daniel offered a Godward prayer
  • The only thing that motivates God is his own glory
  • Daniel was captivated with a view of God

3. Sustained by a longing for God's presence (v 17)

  • Daniel sought the Lord
  • He set his face to seek the Lord
  • 1 Corinthians 14 – an amazing encounter when God shows up an d lost people know that "God is in your midst."
  • "Forgive us for loving programs more than your presence."

4. Marked by anguish over the condition of God's people (vv 6-15)

  • Bruce Wilkerson – When God moves upon a people, he baptizes a man with anguish
  • Anguish: to feel what God feels for your church

5. Answered in accordance with God's plan (v20-23)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Men’s Prayer Breakfast

We had a fabulous time of worship-based prayer today with about 175 men who gave up sleeping in for seeking the face of God. Our theme was built around the subject of newness in the Old and New Testament.

We prayed into the following passages:

  • Psalm 96:1-11
  • Psalm 40:1-4
  • Ezekiel 36:23-27
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17
  • Ephesians 2:13-16
  • John 13:34
  • Lamentations 3:19-27
  • Revelation 2:5-7

The highlight for me was the final prayer time around Hebrews 10:19-24 which identified that Jesus has made a "new and living way," and therefore calls us to "hold fast our confession of faith." We gathered in groups of 4-5, got on our knees, joined hands or arms, and prayed that God would help us, as men, hold fast. It was a sweet time of heart-felt, desperate seeking of empowerment from the Lord.

It never ceases to amaze me how God shows up in varied and powerful ways, especially when we seek him in costly ways!

Friday, November 06, 2009

It's A New Day!

I love the concept of newness in the New Testament, don’t you? It rings with such hope, power, and life. Part of my love for newness is how I’m wired – I love the mornings and I dislike the night. I love the freshness of a new day with new grace. On the other hand, I love newness because of passages like these:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lam 3:22-23)

19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh (Ezek 11:19-20)

My title for Sunday’s message is “It’s a New Day!” We’ll be doing two things: 1) Walking through Matthew 9:9-17 – the story of the new wineskins, and 2) Talking about where College Park Church is headed in 2010. It is what we’ve come to call Vision Sunday. It is an opportunity to celebrate what God is doing and to look forward to what we are asking him to do in the next year.

The main thought for the message is this: Jesus brings a new kind of new. The newness that Jesus brings involves new people (like Matthew, a tax collector) and new ministry (like new wine in new wineskins).

There’s been a lot of “new” at College Park in the last year. Here are a few examples:

· From January-November, we had an average attendance increase of almost 700 people!

· Over the last 18 months there are 1,000 more people coming to College Park.

· We’ve had 500 newcomers come to our Let’s Eat and Fellowship Night

· Our “20 Somethings” Class has exploded from ­­45 in 2008 to over 100 in 2009.

· We have 252 new members join the church in 2009

· We invested over $425,000 into the Brookside neighborhood, launching 10 new ministry initiatives

And we’ve got more to do. On Sunday I’ll identify our top three priorities for 2010. Here they are:

EXALTING CHRIST: Effectively implement our growth strategy, addressing our pressing facility needs in a comprehensive way

EXPERIENCING COMMUNITY: Increase our small group participation percentage and effectiveness in ministering together

EMBRACING A CALLING: Develop a ministry-wide focus on leadership development

You could think of our goals for next year in three words: Broader, Deeper, Together.

We’ve seen the Lord pour out his grace upon us in 2009 with more opportunity for ministry than we’ve ever had. We’ve discovered ways to ministry to more people (3,300 last Sunday), more effectively while using the same facility and resources. We’ve worked hard to make that happen. And the Lord has blessed our efforts.

More for more sake can be idol. But more for the glory of God and the good of the church is a target worth shooting for and a passion worth pursuing. There is a viral movement among our people; it is a gift from God, and we must be good stewards of it. This Sunday is all about humble gratitude for what God has done, and a heart-felt plea to see what could be next for our church.

A great example of this is what happened last Sunday. I was talking with two guys after one of our services about a counseling matter. I spent about 10 minutes walking them through a biblical perspective on the issues that they were trying to deal with. At the end of the conversation, one of the guys said, “Thanks, Mark. By the way, is there anyone here who could meet with my friend? He’d like to talk with someone about receiving Jesus today.” I laughed with joy! That kind of thing is common here, and we should never take it for granted.

On another note, I’m heading to a conference next week on Renewal and Revival. It is a national gather of pastors and ministry leaders who have a common vision and burden (’m doing a workshop at the conference called “When Pastor’s Pray…Together: The Beauty and Boundaries of a City-wide Prayer Movement.”

While I’m there I’d like to experiment with something. I’m going to use a blog ( to blog the conference and what I’m thinking. We’ll see how it works, but I thought you might be interested in following what I’m learning. We’re considering adding some kind of blog to the website, so I’m practicing and experimenting. You get to be the guinea pigs!

I’ll leave you with a great quote I found this week while studying. It captures what is on my heart today for me and our church:

“Take me captive, Lord, and I shall be free!”