A Sense of Frustration – Russia #8

I am teaching at The Presbyterian Spiritual Academy where they train the leaders and future pastors for a number of Russian speaking nations of the former Soviet Union. Wr are doing four sessions a day and the topic is “Prophetic Ministry Today.” Of course, they want us to do more than teach – everyone in attendance is looking to hear from God and is anxious to receive a prophetic word from the “prophet.”

We come across this issue – it’s not a problem as I do understand the hunger to hear from God – everywhere we go. I believe I am called, as an apostle, to preach God’s Word, teach foundational (doctrinal) truths of the faith and thus lay foundations, bring current day revelation from the heart of the Father, and speak truth as it needs to be heard in the situation that each place is facing. I am also called to disciple, train, equip and mentor. All these are teaching-type ministries with a prophetic edge to them, a revelatory aspect. And, of course, apostles prophesy.

However, because of the hunger to hear directly from God and the current inability of most believers to hear God for themselves as the Bible says believers can – the major call upon this ministry is to prophesy and, if I have to teach, then to teach on prophesy. This is what I am doing this time in Russia … teaching on prophecy and prophesying.

They view anyone who can hear God accurately as a prophet and want him to prophesy over hundreds of people each place we visit. One place we will be this weekend wants us to prophesy (remember the ministry must be done in two languages and so takes twice as long) over 4 pastors, over 20 ministers from the youth ministry, and 10+ from their senior’s ministry. There is only one service scheduled. Not going to happen – people will be disappointed. They are so hungry to hear God that they are not even rational about their expectations.

And, of course, I want to teach more than prophesy and I want to teach on many different topics other than prophecy. I admit I get slightly tired of teaching the very basics and would like to move forward into some of the neat and wonderful things that the Lord is doing today and the fresh revelation He is bring to His Church worldwide. However, that seems not to be going to happen any day soon.

And, I would like to begin to speak on the ministry of the apostle today as this role or function and ministry gift to the Church needs to be understood, accepted, received and functioning within the wider Church for the Body of Christ to accomplish what she has been called to do for the Lord in this day and age. But instead I try to squeeze this topic into conversations as we eat meals, travel from place to place, late night fellowships, and by emails in-between visits.

So, I said that to ask this: Would you please pray for the people and for the team – and the feelings of frustration that both experience during apostolic ministry trips such as this.

Shame On Us

The late Rolfe Bernard used to say, “One day somebody is going to come along, pick up a Bible and believe it – and put the rest of us to shame.”

I think that he was right. As I travel; as I talk with believers every day; as I answer hundreds of emails and relate to people on Skype and through text messaging – in about ten countries of the world – I find few who really believe the Bible – I mean really believe it. That means give it more than lip service. That means more than quoting verses when talking with other believers. That means more than listening to teachings and saying “Amen!” Believing the Bible means acting upon what we believe -what we read – what the Bible actually says. Careful, could be dangereous.

Jesus said to “go into all the world.” Do you have a passport? Then you don’t believe the Bible. He said to make disciples – working with any new believers, discipling them? Then you don’t believe the Bible. He says that we are to “…teach them everything He has commanded us” and from my count that includes an active 1,500 New Testament commands still valid for believers today. Do you know them? Do you do them? Can you teach them? Then you don’t believe the Bible.

A friend of mine who works full-time with me overseas stood in his home church at a leaders meeting and commented on the lack of Bibles being carried to the meetings and to Sunday service by the leadership of the Church. He thought they were setting a bad example and wondered what role the Word of God had in the life of the leaders and their leadership within the church. People were mad. They complained to the pastors. Thy spoke to each other. Eventually they spoke with him. Conviction anyone? Folks, if we are not carrying our Bibles to church on Sundays it is safe to assume we are not carrying our Bible anywhere else.

The Bible is our life manual. It contains words that Jesus describes as “spirit and life.” The Word of God is the standard by which we guide our lives. It is the foundation upon which we build our lives. It gives us guidance and direction. The Bible is the first and often most frequent way that God speaks to us. The Bible is the written Word expressing the heart and mind of the Living Word – Jesus. The words of the Bible are supernaturally powerful dividing asunder soul and spirit within us. In the Word we find the promises, plans and purpose of God. The Bible is our book and we need to read it, study it, use it, live it, and share it with anyone who is spiritually hungry – and there are many.

I agree with the late Rolfe Bernard who said, “One day somebody is going to come along, pick up a Bible and believe it – and put the rest of us to shame.” I want to be one of those people.

The Spirit of Wisdom and of Revelation – Russia #7

Well, the topic today and for the next three days is “Prophetic Ministry Today.” I am teaching four sessions a day, every day, here at the Spiritual Academy for the Presbyterian Union. This is one of the major training schools for all the pastors and workers of this Union that ministers in all 15 countries of the former Soviet Union. These are going to be significant days for the Kingdom and the Church.

We are in the city of Moscow still and with 20 million people it is quite the city. Traffic jams happen 24 hours a day as the traffic is almost as thick at 2:00a as it is at 2:00p. This city never sleeps. Of course, in a city of this size you have everything from the million dollar homes along the river to the slums in the city center… People from almost every nation around the world live here. There are more students in the universities and colleges than there are people in the city in which I live. It is definitely a city that needs to be experienced to be believed.

I am now in the groove as this is my third day ministering. Jet lag is a thing of the past and I have both my strength back and my focus. We are in the groove and the prophetic is flowing very powerfully. We are in the flow, the zone, the prophetic anointing and although this certainly makes things easier it will still be a long day as we have four sessions each day for a total of 9 hours of up front, ministry time. Of course, powerful things happen between and after sessions/services as we meet with individuals and answer questions, discuss, listen, advise, pray and prophesy….

Please pray that “the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him (Jesus)…” (Ephesians 1:17b) would be granted to the students, staff, and pastors present during these four days and that they would see what the Lord is doing today as He builds a supernatural church built upon the foundations of apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the Chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20).

What People Need Is People

The words of a former homeless man now born again and working to rescue others from a life on the streets…

Most of the people on the streets know Jesus loves them. But they figure nobody else loves them but Jesus. Street people heard more sermons than most preachers ever preached. Lotta good folks come around the ‘hood, talking about Jesus this, Jesus that. Telling us about Him is one thing … whose goning to stick around and show us Jesus? See, delivering kindness ain’t the pastor’s job. That’s our job. When Jesus sent His disciples out two by two, He didn’t go with them. He stayed back and laid low, maybe had Hisself a cup of coffee.

Listen at this: Jesus sent His disciples OUT. John and Mark and Nathaniel and them went INTO the villages. When I was homeless, one thing I just couldn’t understand is why all these folks kept tryin to invite me IN someplace that I didn’t wanna be. They’d come out and hand me some kinda piece a’ paper, talking ’bout “Jesus loves you! Come fellowship with us!” Now, their hearts was in the right place, and they just tryin to show me the love a’ God. But seemed like they didn’t understand that it just ain’t that easy.

For one thing, them folks that invited me was all similin and clean, and I was all ragged and dirty. ‘Sides that, most a’em was white, and I was black as a coffee bean. Wadn’t no way I was gon’ show up at their church lookin like I looked.

For another thing, where was I gon’ leave my bags with all my worldly goods, my blanket and my soap and my half-pint and what have you? It wadn’t much, but wadn’t no way I was gon’ leave it in the ‘hood with all them fellas ready to split it u amongst themselves. And I was pretty sure they didn’t have no luggage check at the church.

Then they say, “God bless you!” and leave me with that piece of paper so I wouldn’t forget where I was s’posed to shopw up. ‘Course, they didn’t know I couldn’t read.

See, we don’t need to be tryin to drag the homeless, or any kinda needy people to “programs,” to “services.” What people needs is people.

Taken from “What Difference Do It Make?” Stories of Hope and Healing. Ron Hall and Denver Moore (with Lynn Vincent).

This is a terrific book – a follow up to “Same Kind of Different As Me” and has much food for thought.

The point I was really hit hard by wasWhat people needs is people.” So true – so, so true. And often we offer them simply a helping hand. They need more than a helping hand or a listening ear. They need all of you to be there for them – listening, caring, understanding, seeing, embracing, loving…

Yes, this takes time. And, yes, emotional and physical energy will be spent. You will need to connect and become part of their life and they will need to be invited into your life. It’s called community. It’s a family. It means belonging. And the Christian faith is more than believing – it is belonging. Yes, you could be hurt and you might be used and even abused a little now-and-then. But so was Jesus and we can’t expect any less.

As I have been writing this over the past two days – I have received two emails from different pastors in the Network I serve. One with the name of a man who has just been released from prison who appeared at a Sunday service – I am going to invite him out for lunch as he is living at a halfway house in my city. The second is from a pastor in another city about a single mom in my city that they have been ministering to who is attending church in this city but not finding connections and “family.” The request was for us, as a church family, to adopt her and help her to find what she is seeking for. An older believer who just got out of prison. A newly baptized believer who is looking to connect to a spiritual family. Neither living on the streets but “homeless” nonetheless.

Who do you pass on a daily basis who needs to find love and acceptance – which, of course, if you took the time, you could offer them?

Significant Impact – Russia #6

Today is my second day at The Salt of the Earth Church in the city of Moscow. Yesterday’s Sunday service was amazing and the Holy Spirit really moved and blessed many – both with the teaching of God’s Word and through the gift of prophecy. God is truly amazing.

Today we are again ministering at the same church – morning, afternoon, and evening. We are teaching God’s Word regarding the gift of prophecy and the ministy of apostles and prophets. However, today is a little more informal so we are allowing time for questions and answers and discussion. This is always good as it allows the teaching to be more personalized and I can be more specific in what is being taught guided by their questions. As well, due to the sheer numbers of people wanting a prophetic word yesterday we will, once again, be ministering prophetically for a number of hours.

The pastor of this church, as I mentioned yesterday, is also Vice-President of the Presbyterian Union in Russia (a denomination in many of the former Soviet Union) as well as Dean of the Spiritual Academy (their training school for future leaders). Tomorrow we begin four days of ministry (and a grueling pace with four sessions a day) in this bible school and seminary where we will be ministering to the leaders of the union, the students, and the pastors of this network. This can have a significant impact on a number of nations, many churches, as well as future Church plants as future leaders for this network from many nations are training in these schools.

This would be our prayer request for today: that God would change the paradigm of how the church should be built and how it is to function. That God would bring revelation to their spirits regarding the ministry of the apostle and prophet and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

These are signifgant days for this union and for our ministry.

The Turnaround

At this moment in history, 80 to 90 percent of all established churches in North America are at risk. They are in need of resurrection, restart, turnaround, or going missional.” Bill Easum, Preaching for Church Transformation, page xii.

Wow! That is a sad comment to have to read in a book just published recently. We hear so much about the megachurches and the superpastors as they are the ones with the podcasts, the television shows, the books, and the massive ministry machines. But you hear so little about the normal church which averages in size between 50 and 80 people and has trouble attracting a pastor, keeping and paying a pastor, and is barely hanging on and surviving year-to-year. But, the statistic is true and backed up by many other research groups and surveys.

I am at the beginning of an intense season of study at the moment. It began intentionally on the 1st of January although I admit I did some organizing and took a few hours to “sneak peek” before the New Year. The study is in two separate but interconnected parts.

First, it is a study of the Book of Acts. Well, really it is a study of the life of the Church as found in the Book of Acts and assorted other sections of the New Testament especially several of Paul’s letters to local churches. The idea began with the book I quoted at the top of the blog which takes a brief look at the Church as found in Acts and sparked a few ideas for a major study. I hunted through the many books in my study and found some commentaries that will aid in this year long personal study and set them up where they are within easy reach of my study desk…

This lines up nicely with another study that I have been planning for almost six months – and for which I have been purchasing books systematically as the money became available. It is a study of the real Jesus as revealed in the New Testament writings – which is also, of course, a study of Father God as Jesus came to reveal Him to us and, according to the book of Hebrews, Jesus is the exact representation of the Father.

I believe that the Church has given us the wrong impression or understanding of Jesus. We have a religious view of Jesus and its so plastic it is not even close to being real. So, I am planning to read the Scriptures and some excellent books and discover for myself new aspects of the nature, life, and ministry of Jesus that I have not seen before. I will, of course, need the Holy Spirit to help and I am relying on Him to take off the religious and traditional glasses that I am certain are there and that cloud my view and thus my understanding.

I believe that the reason so many churches are in trouble and needing to be resurrected or transformed … is because of a lack of understanding about the Church, the Body of Christ and the Head of the Church, Jesus. So, I am working on receiving a fresh revelation of both – the Church and the Lord Jesus – and believe that these two studies will interact with each other and come together in my heart and head… allowing me fresh and new insights into both that will help me personally and in the ministry that the Lord has blessed me with both locally and overseas. The studies will also work hand-in-hand with the book I am writing on the Church that Jesus is building – one that is apostolic and prophetic.

Hopefully you will read updates throughout the year on my studies as I am sure they will seep over into the daily blogs that I write.

Our First Sunday – Russia #5

I arrived just before supper Moscow time last night and had an evening with some leaders going over schedules and then touching base with my administrator for Eastern Europe who is also my interpreter on this trip – Miroslav. Then an interrrupted night’s sleep as body time and actual time are all out of wack and legs tend to cramp up after so many hours/days sitting in airports and airplanes – although I walk around while waiting between flights.

Today we are ministering in a morning service in a church in Moscow. We are at The Salt of the Earth Church and I am preaching on the prophetic. The pastor of this church is Alexander and he is also the Vice-President of the Presbyterian Union in Russia (a network of churches) and Dean of their training schools located here in the city. We will be ministering in the schools later in this first week.

Miroslav (pictured above teaching a session from our last trip to Moscow) not only interprets but he has also begun to teach on these trips as well. There are plenty of opportunities for team members to express their gifts and over the last year Miroslav has been teaching on occasion. At the beginning he was teaching some of my material which he has heard many times. Now he is teaching material that the Lord has given to him. It is great to be able to sit back and relax during a teaching session on occasion and simply be refreshed in God’s presence. As I know too little Russian to follow along – and it is my interpreter who is teaching in Russian – it is time simply to enjoy the presence of the Lord.

For prayer – would you please focus on our work here with this church. We are here all day and evening and then again tomorrow as we teach as well as minister one-on-one prophetically to a number of leaders. Pray that The Salt of the Earth Church would truly be that and more – salt, light, life, and a moving force in the transformation of people’s lives.

Keepers of the Aquarium

Radio Commentator Paul Harvey said, “Too many Christians are no longer fishers of men but keepers of the aquarium.” No one can speak for you but, in general, I would say that he was right. Spoken several decades ago – he nailed one of the major problems of the Christian Church right on the head. And, the problem has not changed in the least over the years. We are still keepers of the aquarium.

Most believers are not sharing their faith and winning the lost. It can also be safely said that most churches are also not winning the lost. Statistics prove it – they are frightening and make one wonder if we will not be the last Christian generation unless something changes – drastically changes.

We have made our faith a personal and private “thing” when it was always meant to be corporate and public. Here’s a thought – Jesus is not coming back for you – a believer. He is coming back to claim His Bride – the Church. The Christian faith is about being part of a holy nation and a royal priesthood – a nation that is scattered in every nation around the world and acting as salt and light in each nation to bring change to those nations one person at a time … a priesthood that is obedient and doing the work the Lord asigned it to do – occupy until He comes (occupy = take more market share). Our faith is not a private matter between you and God but a corporate matter to be shared with the whole world.

Churches encourage this idea of a personal religion by caring for the needs of the people who attend them; by their inward focus. If the pastor or leaders of the church do not meet your needs to your satisfaction then you move on to a different church where your needs can and will be met. You know, where they REALLY love you. As a result churches are self-focused, self-centered, self-caring. They are built upon a pastoral model that is now centuries old, acceptable and seen as biblical. Because of this we are simply keepers of the aquarium – at least until all the fish die and then the aquarium will be empty and we can shut up shop.

The Church’s biblical task is to reach out into the world. To “go into all the world and make disciples...” (Matthew 28:18). Yes, I know that you know that -especially if you are a regular reader of these daily blogs. Knowing it and doing it are two entirely different things. You know it but because you are not not doing it – you don’t really believe it. You act on what you really believe to be true. You are doers of the word and not hearers only if you believe that part of God’s Word. Lip service goes nowhere in the Kingdom. Faith and action are what is called for. Believing the Word and then acting upon that belief.

We are entering 2011 tomorrow – Wow! Another year gone and a new one straight in front of us. Good! Today then would be a good day to look at your life – the foundational core values that direct that life – and make a few observations. Be honest with yourself. Be ruthless if needbe. Get real! Are you a self-centered, self-fgocused, me-first believer or are you a caring and loving believer who reaches out and tells others (using words) that God loves them and that Jesus died for them – repent and be saved?

Leader in your church, home group, Bible study? Ask yourself the same question but with the focus on the group that you lead … self-centered, feeding the believer or militant and out there telling others about Jesus – inviting them to come to the group? Be honest – just between you and God. Don’t try and make yourself feel good. Don’t justify your actions or lack of actions. Get down and dirty and have a good look at yourself and your church as we enter 2011.

Keeper of your aquarium (your life) or fisher of men. Keeper of the aquarium (the church, Bible study, small group) or fishers of men. You decide. And only you can do something about it as you step across the line into the new year.

Scheduled and Unscheduled Meetings – Russia #4

Although I am still in route to Moscow I am thinking less and less about flights (I made my last connection) and more and more about the meetings I will be involved in starting tonight. On average there are three meetings on any given day. Some of these meetings can last up to 4 hours or longer. On this trip – one place where we will be ministering for 5 days in a row – has scheduled four meetings a day and so it will be a busy and, at times, tiring time. I am praying for strength.

Inbetween meetings there is always green tea and food. Sometimes coffee. Seldom a good cup of coffee. Food is a staple for believers in Eastern Europe. Everything is done around food. Pictured on this blog – a picture of a noon meal at a leaders day held in Russia on my first visit in 2009. Food is always present and much ministry is accomplished in the informal times as we eat and talk. Questions are asked, insights shared, decisions made. So, meal times and tea breaks are not down time for the speaker (me) or for the interpreter (Miroslav). In fact, although I get to have a bite to eat Miroslv seldom does as he is working in both languages. I eat while he is listening to the Russian and while he is translating my answer to the question… He just listens, translates, listens, translates. But, small hardship when considering everything that is accomplished during the “breaks.”

If you are praying for this trip I would ask that you specifically pray for these informal meetings that happen from early morning to late at night. Although not on the schedule that I will be posting each day they are powerful “God times” and the Holy Spirit seriously impacts people during these informal, more relaxed, behind the scenes meetings. Thanks for your support in this way.

Mission Possible

God is so good. And, what we deem to be impossible turns out to be always Him-possible. So,I have come to the conclusion that it is never impossible if the Lord has said to do something in spite of what it might look like. Never “mission impossible.” Always “Mission Possible.”

The Lord spoke to me a number of years ago that I was to write a book. Great! I had a topic and a desire to do so but not the time or the energy. However, I also did not feel it was the right one to begin my writing career. I did not sense that there was a rush to write it – at least, not on the Lord’s part.

Several years later a prophet spoke into my life and stated that there were books that I was to write. Note please – that one book has now become many books. Again, the time was not there to do so nor was the desire or motivation. It did not seem that the Lord was in a rush. I, of course, did what I could to cooperate with the words being received. I organized my study to become a writing studio; I purchased a good program that will format material into books and handle the research data; I organized files and filing systems … as well as beginning to accumulate material for a number of books that I believe He would have me write as well as a number of booklets (up to 60 pages) on smaller and more basic topics for believers. But, no inner push to rearrange priorities and timeframes and move forward in the project.

Then a little over a year ago in Karaganda, Kazakhstan I was asked one morning if I would teach on what a church built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20) would look like. They wanted the teaching to happen in the afternoon session. Well, I had been collecting ideas and thoughts as I sat in restaurants and coffee shops and just happen to have the stack of scrap pieces of paper and napkins that I had written thoughts down on with me. So, that afternoon I stood and spoke as asked. It was an amazing teaching and even surprized me in its content and impact.

Well, that teaching went to numerous places by CD and through people talking about it and I have been asked in four different nations by numerous people to speak on the topic now called “The Church of 2020” (not its final name by any means). It has expanded and improved obviously. And, I have been consciously noting things that I read that fit in with the topic and other things that I observe as I minister and travel. The files are becoming extensive.

Recently (last October) I have felt the Holy Spirit urging me to begin the writing and that there is now a real need to have the material presented and published in a systematic and readable form. The feeling is that I have a correct sense of the Church that Jesus is now building that is so different from the visible one that we see and that as I start writing with my limited notes and research He will move and reveal more of His plans and design. The sense is that the hunger is there for this information (really a revelation) and that I will not be simply writing another book – you know, a book for the sake of writing a book. I even have a deep desire now to write the book … something sadly lacking up to this point in my life. It is as if the Lord is saying, “now son.”

In a recent conversation with an apostle friend in the United States we were talking about the writing of this book – he brought the topic up and sensed it was time. Then on a trip to Kazakhstan (city of Almaty) in November of 2010 I again was requested a number of times to teach on the topic. One day while just listening and chatting to a group of pastors and spouses and other Christian leaders – I met and prophesied over a man and his wife who own a publishing house which also has a distribution center connected to it. Go figure. Another issue covered before it became necessary – where and how to publish the book and how to get the book, once published, distributed and known in the Russian-speaking world.

Then, upon my return to Canada in early December last year I again had the timing of the book confirmed by a prophet friend – who even confirmed that this is the way a book is often birthed and a writing career begun. It seems that God is saying, “now is the time and My people are ready.” So, I have begun (as I write this blog in late December) to rearrange my priorities, my timetables, my activities, my scheduling, my daily pattern and rhythm of life for 2011 to accomodate the time needed to learn the programming, organize the material, research further, and write the first draft of my first book. The release to do all this is truly real and evident in my life.

And the comment about a writing career begun was definitely prophetic and not just a pasing comment in a lengthy phone conversation. Many prophetic words that I have received over the years have spoken of many books being written and published. So, at an age when many retire or, at least, slow down, it seems I am about to speed up a bit, shift gears when doing so, and begin something brand new. Retirement is highly overrated anyways or so I am told.

So impossible is now Him-possible and it’s possible because of Him.