Thursday, March 26, 2009

Evangelism with Easter coming

The graph just below is from a recent study released by LifeWay Research and referenced by Ed Stetzer. Just over a year ago I posted a blog related to evangelism at ClearView. When I mention red apples in the post, the graph demonstrates visually what I am talking about. We cross the paths of people all the time that are at those times in their lives when they are more open to the gospel / matters of faith. Please note Easter in the graph as we are only a couple of weeks out. Persons without Christ are more open to the gospel than we think.

Accountability: Working with a net

To do life without some people you are accountable to is like walking a high wire without a net. I recently had someone ask me about the accountability group I meet with regularly and make a few suggestions here on the blog.

When I came to ClearView as pastor I asked the males on the Search Team to stay on to serve as an accountability group with whom I could meet once a month. I am so grateful to these men. They probably didn't expect to still be meeting with me monthly almost 2 years later, but they have remained faithful to do so.

This accountability group is not typical in that it is not technically mutual accountability. I am accountable to them, not vice versa. I ask them to feel free to ask me about any area of my life, personal or professional. They ask and I answer. Because of the wisdom and leadership of this group, I also take advantage of them as a sounding board. If I am wrestling with especially heavy decisions or decisions with widespread impact, these men are some of the first to hear and give me sound and honest feedback. We always end the meetings with them praying for my family, our church, and me personally.

I will say it again: To live life without making yourself accountable to a group of same gender peers is like walking a high wire with no safety net. Men, this is especially true for us. Satan's arsonal is too large and we are too vulnerable without it.


1. The group should be no larger than 5. If the group is larger than 5, the depth of the relationships will not be what they need to be to develop the trust level needed.

2. Commit to long term. Trust takes time to develop. You will find the conversations don't begin to get below the surface until the group has been together for at least a year.

3. Please choose godly and spiritually mature group members. Don't cheat yourself here.

4. Be real. Be transparent. Be honest. Or don't waste your time. If you are not going to be forthright and truthful, it's all a game.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Upcoming Workshop

I do not typically "promote" specific ClearView programs or ministries, but these are exceptional times and what I want to mention here will be a great help to all who attend. It is an understatement to say many have lost jobs or find themselves under employed ... or have seen dramatic downturns in their compensation. Maybe you are re-entering the workforce or simply wanting to upgrade your employment.

The Career Transitions ministry of ClearView is offering a free workshop for those that find themselves in this situation. The workshop is this coming Friday evening at ClearView. You can find more information on the workshop here and register here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What's in a name?

Christian? Christ follwer? Believer? Disciple? Saved? Born again?

All of the above (and more) are terms we might use to refer to someone who has embraced Jesus Christ as their savior, committed their life to Him and seek to obey and serve Him. Even defining it with the immediate preceeding sentence presents problems. The problem is that all the terms above have some baggage attached. Even the secular media is picking up on it.

The earliest Christian/Christ followers/believers/disciples/etc. were called followers of The Way. When Christ came He introduced a 'way' like none before. Those who chose that path were followers of The Way (praying for enemies, offering forgiveness unlimited, the last shall be first, and on and on). Some years later these followers were called "Christians" (little Christs) because they mimicked Christ. Those on the outside could see an obvious Christlikeness about them, they began to call them "little Christ's" as a term of derision. They meant it as anything but a compliment.

The word "christian" today has little resemblance to its origin. Any time I use the word to describe myself I feel compelled to describe what I mean. To say we are a "christian" nation is a great example of how little this word really means any more. We look and act nothing like Christ as a nation today. And many who apply the label "christian" as individuals could hardly be mistaken for Christ ... or even a cheap model of Christ.

Believer? James 2:19 says, "You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder." To 'believe' is not enough if that belief does not lead to a life sold out to Christ that leads to transformation into His likeness.

Born again? Saved? These are terms only understood by those who grew up in church or hang around a church. "Disciple" falls into this category of church-speak as well.

I use the term "christ follower". This term has its short comings as well. Jesus was much more than a model to live by. He was the sacrifice made on our behalf. He was our substitute. I choose this term because the first call Jesus made to the first "disciples" was "Come, follow Me". Those that attend the church I pastor hear me say such things as, "genuine Christ follower" rather than, if you would like to be a "christian". The article in Newsweek referenced above is correct in that the terms we use carry so much baggage.

Then again, maybe that's not a bad thing. As we tell others we are a Christian/Believer/Disciple/Christ Follower/etc. we will need to go into an immediate explanation of what that means. What a great opportunity to share our faith!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

25 Years

There are a number of things I would do differently if given the opportunity. But marrying Leigh Ann Sessoms on March 17, 1984 is not one of them. I would do it again tomorrow. Tuesday of this week marks our 25th wedding anniversary.

I am so grateful to her and for her. A man could not ask for more in a wife. This is the best way I know to tell you about her and how much I love the woman who has been my life and ministry partner for the past 25 years:

Proverbs 31:10-12, 25-31

10 Who can find a capable wife? She is far more precious than jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will not lack anything good. 12 She rewards him with good, not evil, all the days of her life. 25 Strength and honor are her clothing, and she can laugh at the time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and loving instruction is on her tongue. 27 She watches over the activities of her household and is never idle. 28 Her sons rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her: 29 “Many women are capable, but you surpass them all!” 30 Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised. 31 Give her the reward of her labor, and let her works praise her at the city gates.

Leigh Ann, I love you and thank God for you. Thanks for sharing the past 25 years with me ... and many more to come.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The pupose of the church

There is so much misunderstanding as to the purpose of the church these days ... and by church I mean any given local church. Paul was giving intructions to Timothy and the church in 1 Timothy 3. He had just given some specific intructions about elders and deacons. He then turns his attention directly to the purpose of the church.

15 But if I should be delayed, [I have written] so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 1 Tim 3:15 (HCSB)

So, what is the church? It is clear it is the "pillar and foundation of the truth". What is the truth? God's Truth is clearly given in God's Word. It is the written Word and the doctrines taught in His Word.

We (church leaders) are tempted at times to make the church something other than the foundation of truth. We are tempted to entertain. We are tempted to give political information. We are tempted to give our opinions. We are tempted to lead a group of people to "just love each other and get along at all costs". We are tempted to focus on style over substance.

By God's grace I want to be able to look back on the span of the ministry God may grant and say, "above all, we were the pillar and foundation of truth.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Rating books I read

I read. A lot. In fact, I am usually reading three or four books at a time. I have a system for rating the books I read. I primarily read non-fiction in the Christian genre.

The lowest rated category of books are ones I came across I thought I would enjoy or from which I could gain (or I would not have bought them). As I began to read the book I discovered it was not going to live up to expectations. They usually wind up in a stack in the storage room at my house or somehow get lost all together. At this point I would add something a seminary professor once told me that has stuck. If a book delivers even a single idea which you have never thought of before, it was worth the price you paid, no matter what you paid. I believe he was right.

The second level would be books I read that seem to hold my attention enough that I finish them, but I know I will likely never pick them up again. I also know I will never recommend them to anyone else. These usually go on my bookshelves some place to be filed away and soon forgotten.

The third level of book would be ones I underline in and think I might reference again some time later. I make sure they are filed on the shelves in a place I can easily find them if needed. This is the category into which most books I read fall.

The fourth level would be books I underline, write notes in the margin, and reread all or parts of. There are few. Two I would mention are: Crazy Love by Francis Chan and The Heart of an Executive by Richard D. Phillips.

There are a couple of categories that do not fall into any of the above categories. First are reference books. These are actually the ones I keep closest to me in my study. These rotate in and out depending on the study I am teaching at any given time. Then of course is the Bible. I keep a copy by my bed, another copy in my car, multiple copies (translations) in my study, one in my backpack, and multiple translations in my computer.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A story of God at work

I don't typically share emails I receive after a Sunday, but I asked permission to share this one. The sender granted permission as long as God got the glory.

This past Sunday we saw God was in control even in a recession (times of adversity). There have been several who are part of ClearView who have found themselves without employment in the midst of these times. As encouragment as well as a praise I wished to share with all of you, here is the email I received:

Mark, Want to let you know about a PRAISE your sermon has been & how thankful I am for what you said. After thinking about what you said & my current jobless situation, I went home & prayed. I have had ALL doors closed on me within the last month, esp. the last week. I said, "OK, God, I will quit trying to take control of my future & leave it competely up to you. I have put in the applications, it's up to You to put me where you want me." So I relented all control & "worry" (which I thought I didn't have). Today, I was on the way back from Cookeville, TN (taking my daughter to TTU for a college visit) when I received a call offering me a job. It was a job I interviewed for about a month ago & was told it was put on hold at that time. They wanted me to come work tomorrow afternoon. I know it was because I finally gave up all my heart & put it all in God's hands, before He was going to show me that He really was in control. I continue to > marvel & stand in awe at His ways!

May God get the glory! And we continue to pray for all those who find themselves without employment at this time.