Investing In The Younger Generation

I have been working with young people the last few days as I minister in Western Canada. God is truly moving among young people whose hearts are open to Him and hungry for more. Here, as elsewhere, many young lives have been touched by God’s Holy Spirit and the youth are excited and seriously embracing what God is doing in their personal lives as well as in the region in which they live and the people they relate to.

There is life. There is enthusiasm. There is commitment. There is hunger. There is a willingness to give sacrificially. And, many are totally sold out and willing to go anywhere and do anything that the Lord wants from them. It is refreshing to be working with and relating to them. It is so good to have a small part to play in their growth, development, and equipping.

Young people have a lot of knowledge. They are reading their bibles, they listen intently to teachings – both in person as well as on the internet – taking notes in their personal journals. They apply what they are learning and wrap it into the fibre of their lives immediately after hearing and learning something new. This is good because you really only believe what you apply and live. And, they are believing and applying rapidly.

What young people are often missing is wisdom. And, that wisdom is needed to bring balance into their lives and to help them to not make the same mistakes that older generations have made. Otherwise, they will simply reinvent the wheel. To gain the wisdom that they need, young people need mentors. They need older, more seasoned veterans of the Kingdom to come along of them. They need leaders and mature disciples of Jesus to relate to them, to walk with them, share life with them, to accept them for who they are, and teach them the “unforced rhythms of grace” that are found when yoked with Jesus in the work of His Kingdom.

But, often the older and wiser believers are too busy to help or even, at times, to notice the younger believers. This is sad because often the things that occupy our time are really simply more religious activity which is often unfruitful and of no benefit to the expansion of the Kingdom. It is time for the the wiser, older believers to invest their time in the younger generation and to stop wasting time and energy on often unproductive busyness that is not resulting in the lost being saved. It is time to be focused on “go into all your world and make disciples.” And, in everyone’s world there are younger believers needing discipling and mentoring. It is time to invest your time wisely in those younger than you who are in need of your life wisdom.

It is always exciting to be with young people who are passionate for Jesus and the cause of the Kingdom. There is such life when people are on fire for Jesus and we will share in that life and enthusiasm as we come along side and offer the younger generation an understanding heart and a helping hand.
Who are you investing in?

A Radical Life-Change

Paul the apostle when ministering in the City of Athens (Acts 17) had an amazing message. The centre point of his message was “the unknown is now known, and He is calling for a radical life-change” (Acts 17:30 The Message Version).

Paul is saying a number of things here. First, the things that were hidden for many centuries have now been revealed through the life and ministry of Jesus. As a result God now expects people to respond to the message of salvation and, when they do, to have a radical change in the way they see and live life.

The Christian faith is not simply a set of believes and a list of doctrines. it is an encounter with the living God and this experience will bring with it a new way to see life, a new perspective, and a new set of values and priorities. Life cannot and will not be the same when we encounter the love and forgiveness of the Living God as found only through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

When we encounter the love of God, His total and absolute forgiveness and His acceptance we literally become “new creatures in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are transformed and changed from the inside out. First we experience a change in our heart, our attitude, our thoughts … and then this change begins to adjust and alter the way we see and live life. You simply cannot have a valid encounter with God and remain the same.

Not only is being born again and becoming a disciple of Jesus a life-changing experience. It is meant to be “radical.” The changes we undergo are not minor nor are they simply cosmetic. They begin deep in our soul and result in a change in the way we see ourselves. Our self-image, our self-worth, the way we value who we are all change and this is seriously radical. To discover who God created us to be and begin the live as this “new” person is simply radical.

This radical life-change means removing, with God’s help, all the religious trapping that have been imposed upon us. It means finding healing for the wounds and hurts of the past. It involves digging out from under the expectations and demands of life that are a result of family, friends, and the way we grew up.

Digging out from under everything that has buried the real you is hard work but rewarding. Discovering the real you is explosive. Expressing who you are becoming, this “new creature in Christ,” is an adventure and seriously radical. This is why Paul said, “the unknown is now known, and He is calling for a radical life-change” (Acts 17:30 The Message Version).

The Growth Of the Early Church – Part Two

We are looking at how the early Church grew. Last time we looked at public proclamation and private conversations. There were two other normal-to-life ways of seeing people hear the Gospel of the Kingdom and thus enter into the Kingdom as born again believers…. Power encounters and the proliferation of new house churches. Let’s look at these two today.

Power encounters: A common feature accompanying both public proclamation and private evangelist conversation was supernatural healing and exorcism, and the moving of revelatory gifts such as a word of wisdom and word of knowledge. These are sometimes referred to today as “power encounters”.

There are several stirring New Testament reports of large groups responding positively to the message brought by Christians because of the miracles that were done by God through their hands. In a typical episode, so much healing and demonic deliverance was wrought through the apostles’ hands in Jerusalem that large crowds were even gathering from neighbouring cities. Some were laying their sick on the ground in the street hoping that Peter’s shadow would pass over them and heal them. Consequently, there was a steady stream of people continually added to the Church.

Planting and multiplying new house churches: Lastly, although never stated explicitly, whenever a house church grew to exceed the physical limitations of the host home, it is safe to conclude that Christians would simply multiply the group into two or send a few people out to start a new home church. This is the most probable scenario because the first-century church never owned any property or constructed any buildings. This can be inferred by the fact that a given town or city (Jerusalem, Ephesus, and Rome) contained numerous homes that hosted Christian meetings.

So, the early Church grew by four basic, regular life means… Public proclamation, Private conversations, Power encounters, and Proliferation of new churches. The same should be true today if we will simply venture forth in faith and “go into all the world” telling others about Jesus and making disciples.

Next time – the first-century Church as a movement

The Growth Of the Early Church – Part One

As I look at the early Church – the Church as we see it in the various books of the New Testament – I see that people came to know Christ through a variety of methods used by the first Christians. The four primary approaches were public proclamation, private conversations, power encounters, and proliferation of new house churches. These were not expensive and highly organized programs or projects dependent on mere human genius, but rather natural, spontaneous, passionate, prayer empowered, and Spirit-led expressions of faith. Thus, the general principle of first-century outreach can best be described as wherever, whenever, whoever, and however.

Let’s look at these briefly…

Public Proclamation: A very common apostolic practice was that of verbal proclamation of the message of Christ in a public setting. The strategy used by the apostles was to find an area in a town or city that acted as a natural gathering place for its citizens, whether it was a riverbank, a synagogue, the Jerusalem Temple courts, a lecture hall, or a marketplace. They would then verbally present the good news of Christ.

Typically, they would tailor their message to suit their hearers, thereby making it seem less foreign. Paul, for example, appealed to the well-educated Greek listeners by weaving into his talk references to Greek religion and poetry as a connection point. Similarly, when talking with a Jewish audience, apostles and evangelists would relate how Christ was the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies and was, in fact, the long-awaits Jewish Messiah.

In both situations, anyone who responded positively to the message of Christ would either be encouraged to join an existing house church or, if this was a new work in the area, would be encouraged to open up their own home as the first spiritual beachhead in that town. This approach in looking for a “man of peace” in a new area being evangelized was modelled by Jesus and imitated by both Peter and Paul.

Private Conversations: Individual believers also had private conversations with and prayed for people in need on an individual basis. These were not programmed or planned endeavours, but rather spontaneous interactions during the daily ebb-and-flow of life, sometimes referred to as ‘lifestyle evangelism’. Whether they were walking by the roadside (Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch), languishing in jail (Paul and the Philippian jailer), visiting someone’s home (Peter and Cornelius; Ananias and Saul), or when a non-believer visited a home meeting, ancient Christians were always awake to the opportunities of sharing Christ with others in a natural unforced conversational way.

More tomorrow…

New Insight – Part Three

Many believers – true disciples of Jesus – are living life in a way that requires little faith and even less effort. This is not what Jesus planned for those of us who are born again Christians. Passive has never been a character trait of those who follow Him. Passion is. Jesus wants this passion (extreme love for Him) to be aggressive and actively engaged in winning the lost. And, you cannot do this if you want to be safe, secure, and comfortable.

Many believers – true disciples of Jesus – spend all of their time ministering to other believers. or, worse than that, being ministered to by other believers. Instead, they should allow the Great Shepherd, Jesus Himself, to help and deliver them from their self-centred, egotistical issues, hurts, and pains so that they can focus on the lost, the least, and the last. Believers need to push past their “issues” and move forward with the call of God on their lives to “seek and save the lost” as they “go into all the world and make disciples.” As they do what Jesus has commanded us to do they will find healing and wholeness. It is always more blessed to give than receive – but, in giving and focusing on others you will receive.

Many believers – true disciples of Jesus – are not actively engaged in expanding the Kingdom and helping Jesus build His Church. They are either doing little to nothing at all for the Kingdom or they are actively engaged in building their own reputation and ministry. Jesus states that His Church will storm the gates of hell and rescue the lost. In fact, He has told us that “the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church.” Remembering that a “gate” is not an offensive weapon – it is defensive. So, Hell is protecting itself from the onslaught of true believers who are winning the lost – and the gate it has built will not prevail. Attack the gate and it will open. Doesn’t sound passive to me – sounds seriously aggressive and like lots of fun.

Many believers – true disciples of Jesus – have not taken seriously the words of Jesus. He said, “Since the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of God has suffered violence; and the violent take it by force.” We take the Kingdom into the world and help in its expansion (as it pushes ‘hell’ back) if we are “violent.” This means we are called to be active, engaged, involved, aggressively telling others about Jesus and thus walking in His presence, His power, and His peace that passes all human reason and understanding.

Many believers – true disciples of Jesus – are being “light in the light.” It is much more fun to be light (Matthew 5:14) in the darkness. It is time to take seriously the call of God on each believer’s life … Jesus said, “Follow Me and I will Mae you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). If we are not fishing then we are not following. We are simply deceiving ourselves and fooling no one.

Church Life Today

I enjoy reading the Book of Acts. It is the story of the birth of the early Church and its growth as it spread into the majority of the Roman Empire over the first several decades. And, each and every time I read through this exciting account I see more about the life of the Church and Church life in the beginning. And, I gain fresh understand and admiration for the early Church recognizing that we today have much to learn from them if we want to become a viable option for the younger generation today.

The first Christians allowed their beliefs to determine their behaviour. Their function determined their form. And, their mandate determined their method. Let me unpack that a bit….

The early believers lived what they believed. In fact, they made life choices on the basis of their beliefs. Every day, according to Acts 2:42, they met daily and during these times learned the basic doctrines of the Christian faith – the “apostles doctrine”. Then, they lived out their beliefs in every day life. For this reason people joined with them in their faith and became members of their community of faith. This was a daily occurrence. The saints in Jerusalem sold their real estate holdings and gave the money to the Church so that the poor could have their needs met. They were sharing their faith daily because they actually believed that people went to hell if they did not have a personal relationship with the Living God through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23b and John 17:3). They lived what they believed.

In the early Church their function determined their form. In the early Church the people had their needs met by other members of the Body of Christ. There was no official ruling class of priests or pastors. Everyone had a ministry. The five-fold ministers (Ephesians 4:11-12) had the task of “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.” There are 59 “one another” verses in the New Testament and, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12, the various members of the Body ministered to the other members of the body. The clergy-laity (expert – amateur) divide did not yet exist. And, the five-fold ministry team would help to “equip the saints” for this ministry.

So, the early Church was both inwardly focused helping their own members without neglecting the outward focus of telling others about the Lord and seeing the lost saved.  In fact, their form and function enabled them to influence and impact the unsaved.

They lived in “community” and were involved in each other’s lives on a daily basis. They were connected, supportive, and involved. Transparent, vulnerable, and accountable. They were literally the “body” of Christ in their world. Because of this form they were known to unbelievers as “those who loved one another.”

Thirdly, their mandate determined their methods. The early Church understood their mandate. It was “to go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). It was to continue and complete the task that Jesus came to do … “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The mandate was a large determining factor in the way they lived (see above) as well as in their methods of outreach.

They understood their culture; they were connected to the real world in which they lived; they were in the world but not of it … they were not so different from the world as to be strange and “separate.” They did not speak “Christianese” but related to others in the working language of the day. They were naturally supernatural and not strange, spooky, super-spiritual, and scary like a lot of believers today. They simply lived life with a new focus or perspective, new values, and an attitude that allowed them to fulfil their mandate.

The first Christians allowed their beliefs to determine their behaviour. Their function determined their form. And, their mandate determined their method. We would do well to study to Book of Acts and see exactly what they did and how they did it … and then think deeply about what you (we) do and how you (we) do it. Maybe as a result we will change and become more relevant than we are, touching our communities with the love of God as found only in Jesus.

Beliefs determine behaviour.                                                                              Function determines form.                                                                               Mandate determines methods.

Very pragmatic but it worked… as the early Church impacted, influenced, and changed the Roman Empire.

New Insights – Part Two

In Paul’s letter named Colossians we read, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him” (2:6). If you read that as a command to live for God, you are not reading it right. It doesn’t say live FOR Him. It says live IN Him. Big difference.

It is an invitation. God isn’t saying, “If you claim to know Jesus, you had better live LIKE Him.” He is saying, “If you know Jesus, you get to live WITH Him. It’s a privilege and a relationship. And, careful, the verse ends with the phrase “in Him.” It doesn’t say IN IT; it says IN HIM. The Christian life is not an it. It is a Him. It’s not a principle to base your life on – it is a relationship with Jesus. It is not a program – it is a person. It’s Jesus.

So, when things don’t appear to be working out … then maybe you have stopped living life “in Him.” You are walking in your own wisdom. You are relying on your own strength. You are moving forward with human understanding. You are following a program (weight loss, financial budget, how to get ahead and be a success) and not a person – THE Person, Jesus. It is about focus.

The author of the book of Hebrews (New Testament – Bible) states, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Remember Jesus. Focus on Jesus. Rely on His truth and His grace (John 1:14). How will we finish the race as believers? By looking to Jesus and living life in Him. He is the pioneer and initiator of our faith, and He is the perfecter and finisher.

This sound too simplistic? A little abstract? But really, it is as simple as focus. If your thoughts are on how far you have to go, your steps will feel heavy and uncertain. But if your focus in on how far God has already brought you, the energy and spiritual strength to continue and endure will be yours.

“Finish what you started,” the world says. But God says the opposite: “Just continue what I have already finished, Enjoy what I have already won.”

Jesus died for you, and He rose for you, and He declared that you are forgiven and free. Keep walking. Do another lap. He’s teaching you. You are growing. You are getting closer to Him. You are not perfect yet, but you’re in a process and on a journey with Jesus, and that is what matters most. Live life IN Him.

 

New Insights – Part One

Almost weekly now I am gaining new insights into very familiar passages of the Bible. At times they come when simply reading scripture. Other times I gain a fresh understanding through a book that I am reading. Sometimes it simply “pops” into my spirit and I simply have a deep understanding of something I was not aware of before.

One recent one was from the time Jesus was speaking to His disciples about the Church. In Matthew 16 Jesus says, “I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and quietly said, ‘a gate is not an offensive weapon. It is a defensive posture.’ In other words, we build a gate in the fence to keep people out. So, Hell has a gate and it is meant to keep us out – keep us from rescuing those who are going to Hell when they die because they don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus.

This gate is not attacking us. It is not dangerous. We did not send weapon inspectors over to Iraq to see if there had ‘gates of mass destruction.’ Police do not carry ‘loaded gates.’ And, we don’t post signs on our fences saying, ‘Beware of the gate.’ A gate cannot hurt us. And, Jesus said, it cannot “prevail” against us. In other words, it cannot stop us from doing what He has commanded we do … “go into all the world and make disciples.” In other words, storm the gate and rescue the least, the last, and the lost. We have nothing to be afraid of. We don’t need to hide behind the four walls of our church building or in our prayer closets for fear of the devil and his demons. Attack!

So, we do not need to be afraid of the “gates of hell.” We need to understand deep in our gut that the devil is  defeated. He was defeated by Jesus through the Cross of Calvary and the resurrection on that first Easter Sunday. Peter writes that he is “like a roaring lion.” In other words, he makes a lot of noise but he doesn’t have any bite.

John, the apostle of love, states “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” This verse states … we who are born again don’t continue to live in known sin; Jesus, the first born (or begotten) protects us and the evil one, the devil, can’t even lightly touch us even with one finger. There is no need to live in fear of him and hide from the reality of the call on our lives to “seek and save the lost.”

Just a simple, but very profound, insight into a well know scripture verse.

 

Time to Wake Up

This morning the United Nations released the newest world statistics. There are now 7.4 billion people on the planet. That means the number has grown by 0.10 of a billion or 100 million since the last time the world population figure was released. For me, no surprise there. We are doing what God told us to do – “be fruitful and multiply.” But the interesting statistic for me is that over 50% of the world’s population is 24 years old or younger. That speaks to me. Really, it should scream at us.

This means that we need to catch up with what is happening in the world. For example, we need to learn to speak to people whose eyes are fixed on small screens from smartphones to laptops. The younger generation is a ‘screen culture.’ We can ignore that fact, we can argue about it, we can wish it were not so, or we can leverage it. Of course, this will mean we need to change the way we relate and the way we teach. Think about it. It is now possible to reach infinitely more people through media that we could ever hope to reach by standing in front of a room of people sitting in seats facing one direction. That excites me.

The younger generation do not attend weekly. They consider regular attendance to be two – at the most three – times a month. Most often they don’t tithe – instead, they tip if it was a good service and the message spoke to them personally. So, if you preach in series then those who are younger will miss every second or third episode of the series. But, if you place the series on line as a podcast most of the younger generations will tune in and even, at times, binge watch an entire series in a day or two. The “talking head” up-front no longer suffices. The younger generation want to interact with the truth and thus discuss the ideas and information being presented.

Outreach through social media is a must. People live on social media. On my smartphone I work with Skype, Twitter, Viber, Kik, Snapchat, Tweegran, whatsAp, Linkedin, Tumblr, Slack, Facebook, Messenger, Podbean, Podcasts, and the list goes on. We can impact a young person through social media long before they enter the doors of the local church. But, we need to adapt to the new ways of communicating and connecting.

This also means we need to be speaking to the issues that are current in our world and culture today. Topics like sex, marriage, gender, drugs, welfare mentality, parenting, sexuality, finances, terrorism. People are no longer putting up with condescending, ‘think happy thoughts,’ it-will-all-work-out teachings. Time to teach hard, biblical truth because life is hard. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble,” but take heart, don’t give up, Jesus has overcome. Preach it!

So, the way young people “do church” is radically changing and will continue to change, if not accelerate. As people’s attention spans continue to decrease (generally), we will have to change the way in which we expect people to interact with the church and the way we present our message – not just on the weekend but daily.

Moral Truth

As moral truth becomes relative, moral lines become adjustable. And so we are seeing the change in morality as we alter the truth and believe a lie. We are seeing this in almost every aspect of life – education, economy, government, family, and even the Church. The Church is often seen as the guardian of moral truth. But, today many in society are ignoring the Church and forming their own truth and thus their own morality. They are determining what is right or wrong. And, the Church is becoming more and more ignorant of biblical truth in spite of the number of churches and the wide sweep of biblical teachings available today on television, radio, and the internet… not to mention the many local churches that dot the landscape.

It is good to remember in this post-Christian culture we are witnessing today that the Church is always vulnerable to the culture shaping “truth” more than “God’s truth” shaping culture. And, I believe that this is exactly the place we are in today. The culture is influencing the Church and thus we see and hear less and less absolute truth coming from those who lead the churches as well as those who follow the leaders. Those who call themselves disciples of Jesus are often indistinguishable from those who do not follow Him.

I work with young people in many nations and I am excited about what I see. I see in the younger generations a group of young men and women who are hungry for real biblical truth. They want to wrestle with real questions about real life. This is true of young people who are believers as well as those who have yet to make a decision to follow Jesus.

These young people are looking for committed and sold-out older people who can disciple and mentor them. They are not finding them. Oh, they exist. But, they are so busy with other things that they are failing to influence and thus impact the younger generation. We need to take the example of Paul the apostle to heart. He was always discipling and mentoring the younger generation – Timothy, Titus, Silas to name just a few. We need to invest our time wisely instead of wasting it on so many projects, programs, and people who really don’t want to change or get better.

And, for those of use who are discipling and mentoring the younger generation we need to become technologically savvy.  Technology will continue to shape how we tell Jesus’ story and how we help people to follow Jesus. Likely, more people will tell their own story since everyone has a “broadcast studio” in their mobile device. Furthermore, the Church will be less and less defined by its four walls and more by its mobile app and how it connects digitally.

There is a need to face the reality of the world today and adjust our ways so as to continue to bring the Gospel of the Kingdom to individuals who are looking for absolute moral truth. It is only found in the written Word and can only be successfully applied in life by having a dynamic and daily relationship with the Living Word – Jesus.