How Others View the Christian Faith

Only a week ago Jesus was to return for His people and rapture us from this earth and all its corruption. Didn’t happen. the man and his worldwide campaign was wrong, again! But, it did accomplish a great deal – including giving people another reason to reject the Christian faith – to not consider the truths proclaimed by the true Gospel of the Kingdom. And, it has made me even more aware of the many different ways people view the Christian Church and the faith we confess.

And then there is “Reverend” Jones in Flordia that caused a worldwide media stir by threatening and then, much later, actually burning a copy of the Koran…. or the Bpatist Church that pickets funerals of fallen US military men and women – not to forget the pastor in southern Flordia that declared himself to be the next incarnation of Christ… and the list goes on.

Some think that we are just a bunch of crazies (see the picture for this blog). Surveys show that people know what we are against (abortion, homosexuality, Muslims, the death sentence) and have no idea what we stand for.

In their 2007 book, UnChristian, authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons present three years of extensive research on what young people outside the church (aged 16 to 29) think of those of us in the church. The vast majority of non-Christians – 91 percent – said the first thing they think about Christians is that we are anti-homosexual. Following closely behind this perception were “judgmental” and “hypocritical” – no surprise here. I do, however, find it staggering that the greatest thing we are now known for is that we are anti-gay (which we are absolutely not – anti-sin, yes!). I wonder how this happened. How did our biblical stand against a sin (not against the people) end up defining who we are and forming the main ingredient in our reputation?

It is time as Christians, to focus on our message – the positive message that we bring to the world. A message of hope. A message of love. A message of purpose and potential. It is time we returned to the message that Jesus preached – the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent. A very positive message offering an alternative to the world as we know and see it. It is time to return to the first and only message of the early church – the Kingdom of God and the fact that the King of the Kingdom has been raised from the dead. It is time for us to be believers, disciples, followers of the Lord who was not negative and always saw people’s potential and worked towards bringing them freedom so they could achieve that potential.

The Point: What message do you proclaim as a disciple of the Lord? By your lifestyle – what are you saying? By the way you treat others – all others – what are you saying? What are you saying by the way you use your time and money? When you speak about world issues and current news items – what message are you communicating? By the way you treat others who are different than you are – what are you telling the world? You are the only Bible many will ever read and read you they are. What are you communicating each and every day to those who are non-believers?

It is time to take a close look at what we believe and how we are or are not communicating it.

Foundational Building Blocks

I have this prophetic sense that the Lord is beginning to make some major adjustments to a number of major foundations building blocks in the Church and the Christian faith. Let me speak about three in this edition of the Prophetic Sense…

First, I believe that the Lord is speaking to His Church about the Jesus we are following. The Holy Spirit has begun to convict believers that the Jesus they are following, who they are worshipping, and who they are sharing with others is not the Jesus revealed in the Scriptures. It is another Jesus of their own design, their own vain imagination. A cultural Jesus, a religious Jesus built upon denominational presuppositions. This is a major issue today as Jesus came to reveal the Father and if we are not following the biblical Jesus then we also have a wrong picture of whom God the Father is (see the next “Prophetic Sense” to be posted June 15, 2011).  Challenge

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I Like Playing With Words

As a preacher and teacher I work with words as well as people. In fact, i play with words and love people. I use words to communicate both from the many pulpits I am priviledged to preach from as well as in written form in articles, teachings and blogs – not to mention daily time with believers who are following the Lord. I think words are fun and they are a part of my every day life.

I recently gave some thought to the believers I know and minister to … and so far I have come up with a number of categories. I know, it sounds like I am labeling people and trying to pigeon hole them and treat everyone in a category the same way. Nothing could be further from the truth. I always see each person as an individual and as unique – a person made in God’s image. And treat them as such.

Yes, it might sound like I am even generalizing and trying to use a broad stroke to describe people when that is really not fair because the details of a life are so important. Anyone who knows me knows that I love the details of a person’s life and spend much of my time with people listening to and accepting the details of their individual lives.

But, as I work with people who call themselves believers in the Lord Jesus Christ I have seen a number of general categories of believers … have a look and see what you think – and maybe even get back to me in the “comment box” if you think there are even more categories that one might use to understand those who follow the Master….

1> The STARTER: This is someone who has just come to know Jesus. Often a wild stalion who needs to be broken – learning to depend upon the Lord and to die to self and become a bond-servant or slave of the Lord Jesus. This person has a lot of questions all of which are really neat and important and some are actually difficult to answer. Put a few of these in a local church and you just might have the beginning of a revival as they bring new life ito an assembly and actually release life because they don’t have a clue what the proper religious and traditional behavior is and so they simply live and interact as themselves – and that “realness” can be really unnerving for many older believers who have learned to pay the religious game.

2> The STRUGGLER: This is a believer who has been walking with the Lord but still holds to the outward form of the religion denying the power for life-change that the Gospel brings. They struggle with temptations and even sin and find themselves still living as the world lives in many ways. They have adopted the disciplines of the faith – prayer, Bible reading, worship – but still struggle with the basic issues of the will of man and the will of the flesh. You might say that they have “Christ in you” but have yet to reach the place where they are personally “in Christ.”

3> The STAGNANT: This person is validly born again but has not developed the necessary Christian disciples to grow in their faith. They had a valid start as a believer but they don’t receive “life” on a daily basis. Because they are not reading their Bible on a daily basis there is no regular flow of the life of God into them and thus they are like a swamp that has no regular life-giving water flowing into it and so their spiritual life becomes stagnant. Jesus said, “My words, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63) and this believer is not receiving life daily. Their prayer life and other Christian disciplines are also not properly established nor regularly active. So, they are basicly STAGNANT and barely maintain what little life they are experiencing by their on-again – off-again relationship with the Living God.

4> The STABLE: This person is truly born again and has developed some of the necessary Christian disciples to allow life to flow into their spirit on a regular basis. They are actively involved in the life and fellowship of a local Church and are connected to, submitted to and receiving from the leaders of that local church – teachers and pastors. They understand that the Christian faith is more than believing – it is belonging. The also understand that it requires them to be growing and developing as a believer – becoming more like Jesus. Their walk with the Lord is daily, dynamic and they often have a fresh encounter with Him as He speaks to their heart through His Word or through a quiet whisper to their heart.

5> The SLIDDER: This person was validly saved or born again but never took the time to develop the relationship they began with their encounter with God. They began well and were validly born again but never took the time or put the energy into developing their relationship with the Lord – their gift of eternal life (see Romans 6:23 and John 17:3). So, as a result – from their intial encounter with God they have been slowly but steadily moving away from Him due simply to inactivity and non-involvement. They are spiritually passive and apathetic and thus will become, at some point, lifeless and no longer alive to God – thus no longer able to have the assurance of a place in Heaven when they die.

6> The SAINT: Like those who are STABLE this person has put effort into their walk with God and their daily releationship with Jesus Christ. They are involved and connected to their local church giving and receiving in vital and almost daily relationships with other believers. However, more than that, they are alive to the power and the presence of God as they go about their daily lives. They are actively seeking people and places to share their faith and find or make opportunities to tell other about Jesus. They are active witnesses for the Lord and let others know Who they follow and the night-and-day difference that Jesus has and is making in their lives. They truly are alive and growing in their faith because they are sharing it with others on a daily basis. They are obeying the Great Commission, the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commandment and thus their love for the Lord, themselves, and others is growing every day.

So, I began by playing with an insight that the Lord put on my heart. This insight became a number of words and as a result of playing with those words I received further insight and even more words to help me to understand those that I work with and relate to on a daily basis in many nations around the world. This does not mean I label people but by thinking this way it simply helps me to understand them and allows me to encourage them to make some changes on their journey of faith.

Maybe it has been helpful for you in the same way. I hope so!

The Practice, Pattern, Presence and Power of Solitude

Life today is fast-paced and daily. There is no rest from the constant demands placed upon people by daily life today. There is, it seems, always one more thing that needs to be done, one more event to attend, one more place to go, one more person who needs us. As an elderly organist of mine once said on her 89th birthday, “the problem with life is it is so daily.” Life does not give us a day off. This is true for non-Christians and believers – but often more so for the Christian because of the added disciplines and activities that are a part of the believer’s life.

As a result of our face-paced world – and it is the same in every nation I work in – and the lives we therefore live the practice, pattern, presence and power of solitude has been lost to most believers. We seldom achieve a sabbath day let alone time to be alone with the Lord for an extended season (the practice of solitude) where we come to experience afresh and anew the presence of the Lord and His power. This pattern of time away by ourselves with the Lord – away from all daly demands and events, people and activities – has ceased to exist if it ever was practiced by the believer. As a result the inner life of the Christian is damaged and his or her witness in the world is tarnished and no longer dynamic or even, at times, evident.

As I face a very busy three months during which we will experience some great summer weather – and my pace is not going to be slowing down – I have made the decision to make time for solitute in the midst of the busy life that I have and an active ministry that I pursue. I will intentionally make a place for the practice of spending extended time alone with the Lord (the practice of the Christian discipline of solitude). This will mean leaving my office and my home (my office is in my home), the people I love and the ministy the Lord gave to me and simply go away to be with the Lord. No books other than the Bible, no music, no emails, no internet, no cell phone connections to the “outside world” (the pattern of solitude). A time set aside for just the Lord and for self-discovery as the Lord speaks, guides, directs and relates as we build a stronger personal relationship (the presence of solitude). And, it is during these extended times, planned in advance, that I will certainly experience His life-changing power – the power of solitude is always amazing.

In my face-paced world I believe this needs to be more than a summer event or activity – it needs to become a year-round life style. Every three months I believe that I should be taking a few days (earned days off, a long-weekend, a few of my holiday days) away from regular, every-day life and the activities and commotion involved in life to simply “be still, and know that He is God.” I am sure the rest of the year will go much better for having adopted this proper pattern of spiritual solitude and that any ministry the Lord might ask me to accomplish will be more powerful as a result. Regardless, I know that my relationship with Him will certainly benefit and that is really all that matters.

How are you doing with solitude time and even a weekly sabbath?

Parking Lot Seminary Lecture

I had the honor of teaching for a morning in an independant seminary in the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan recently. It was a powerful morning speaking about the need for the Church of Jesus Christ to become supernatural and powerful once again. The students were receptive and open to hearing about what the Lord is doing in His Church today. They were hungry for God. A teachers delight.

I taught and answered questions for over three hours including right through the coffee break. Then, at the end of the morning the students literally followed me down the stairs and out onto the parking lot to continue the discussion and to ask more questions. The “lecture” actually continued for almost another hour just standing around the car that was to take me to my next appointment on the other side of the city. It was hard to leave as many questions remained unanaswered and they were asking for prophetic ministry and wanted to hear directly from God for their lives and future ministries. Such hunger and openness.

The professor whose class I was teaching is formerly from Iran where he was actually imprisoned for his faith. He is now a businessman and business consultant in Almaty, Kazakhstan and teaching on missions and the church in this seminary he helped to found a number of years ago. Sargon is a wonderful believer who is also hungry to learn and to grow. He attended our three day leaderrship school and spoke personally to me several times during those days. Then we had another time later in the week to sit together, drink tea, and talk – and he came with so many questions and comments. It was a great 90 minutes of sharing and growing together. He is so hungry and so open – so it was no surprise to find that his students were as well.

I am excited about the future of the Church in Kazakhstan. With young people such as the students in this seminary and others from the university and business world that I met with – the church in Kazakhstan is healthy and strong and moving forward in power and confidence. These young men and women will need continued training and equipping but their hunger to grow and their passion for Jesus ensures that they will seek out that training and equipping. They will move forward into the perfect will of God for their lives and ministries. They could certainly use our prayers.

The point: In looking around at the young people today that I meet and those that I work with in other nations I often see a lack of this heart hunger and passion for the Lord. So, we could also be praying for this generation in your nation – that the Lord would touch them with His mercy and grace and cause in them a hunger and thirst that can never be satisfied. And, while you are at it, pray for everyone in your local church that they too would regain their first love and their passion for the Lord.

I Am Always On My Mind

I have found that people like to talk about themselves. In fact, their favorite topic is themselves. And regretfully believes are actually no different. They too love to talk about themselves. For the Christian “I am always on my mind” could be a new theme song. It should not be this way.

It seems that the power of the flesh far exceeds that of any evil spirit in hindering the work of God. God isn’t in a struggle with the devil, He has already defeated him. His desire is that our will, our willful and unruly flesh, be in submission to His Spirit. He purposes to dethrone each of us from the center of our lives, that we might learn to stop talking about oursevles and start listening to those who do not know Him – the unsaved and talk about Him to them.

You cannot expect the unsaved to stop talking about themselves. They are walking according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit. They are fighting with two “wills” that exist within them and that fight against the will of God being known and accomplished. The Bible states that the will of the flesh and the will of man (the soul will) fight against the will of God at all times (John 1:13). So, we can expect them to talk about themselves as they do not know the Lord and are not submitted to the will of God in their lives.

But the believer – now that is a different story. They are suppose to be submitted to the will of God. They are called to walk with God and to walk in humility. Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less! Yet, this is not what a person experiences when talking to most believers. They are very self-centered and full of their own importance and talk about their issues any opportunity they are given. As a result they don’t listen as they should and so miss the opportunities available to share Jesus with those who do not know Him. Because many believers act exactly like non-believers act we become poor witnesses to others because our thoughts are self-centered and not other-centered or even Jesus-centered.

For others to come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior the believer, who already has a personal relationship with Him, needs to be talking about Him more than they talk about themselves. They need to learn to listen to what others are saying and then speak about the Lord in the context of what is being shared by the non-believer. This means learning to listen with the heart and sharing from the heart … and not the head. It means no longer being your own favorite topic. It means self can no longer be the focus – and Jesus must become the focus. We are to have the mind of Christ and then He will always be on our mind. And, we will be talking a lot more about Him with others.

The point: It would be good for the next few days to monitor what you talk about with others; what you write about on Facebook and Twitter; what you spend time thinking about. Then, as appropriate, make some necessary and important changes.

The Essential Church or the Dechurched

Many of our churches are producing a lot of soft and self-centered Christians. And the young people in our churches are getting the message … Churches that are outwardly focused are sending a different message … That is the irony of the essential church. The outwardly focused church creates better inwardly focused assimilation. As our young people meet the needs of others, they see that they are important to the life of the church, and thus, they are prone not to enter the ranks of the dechurched.”

I don’t know who said this – but I wish I had and I believe it is absolutely true. If we want to keep our young people in the church and actively engaged and not just sitting on their sanctified butts doing nothing we need to show them that we our outward focused and seriously involved in reaching the community and lost souls for Jesus. Otherwise, many of the youth of today will join the ranks of the dechurched.

The decurched are those who have been actively involved in a local church and committed to what was going on in that local expression of the body of Christ but saw that most believers are self-centered and seriously soft spiritually. So, because they were not being challenged and were not being asked to commit to something with purpose and power they simply walked away. They don’t fade away – they make a quality decision based on what they see happening – or more accurately, what they don’t see happening – and walk away often never to return. They see that the church really does not believe what Christians say that they believe and so want nothing to do with what is happening. Does anyone hear the word “hypocrite?”

If we want our churches to attract the youth of today – we need to present a church life that is not self-centered and soft but actively engaged in reaching the lost. The youth need to see that those who say they are believers actually following the Lord and reaching out, as He did – to the disenfranchised and those who are rejected and live without hope. They need to see we actually believe that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” They need to see that we really do believe that “Jesus is the only Way to the Father.” They don’t need to just hear it – they need to see it lived out in the lives of those who are older and supposedly wiser in the things of the Lord.

If those in the Church who are older in the Lord than they are are taking taking seriously the work of the Church to seek and save the lost then they will soon be in the ranks of the dechurched and lost forever to the family of God.

As someone called to work with this age group – 18 to 35 – I know that they will rise to the challenge to win the world for Jesus is they can find more people to disciple, teach, train and equip them. And maybe a few to mentor the leaders that are ready to rise up and lead their peers. It is time for the soft and the self-centered to make some major decisions about their lives and their role in the evangelism of the 6 billion people on the planet who still need to hear about Jesus. The young people are waiting.

Extroverts and Experts

Many believers think that they are excused from telling others about Jesus because they do not have the gift of evangelism. In other words, evangelism should be left to those who are gifted in that area and are thus experts. Please note: there is no such gift and there are no experts. Others believe it is good for the extroverts to tell others but because they are introverts they are somehow excused from telling others about the Lord. Please note: that too is a misunderstanding and a justification for total disobedience.

As someone who is neither an extrovert nor an expert I can say that it is the call of every born again believer to be telling others about the night-and-day-difference that Jesus has made and continues to make in their life. We are to be building relationships with people we contact regularly because we love people with the love of the Lord. And, because we love them, we will make an opportunity to share Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom with those we relate to. Please note: we make opportunities – we don’t simply wait for them to come along because they seldom do.

And, in our regular daily life – here is good advice: walk through the crowd slowly and touch as many lives as you can simply by taking time to talk to each and every person you meet in any given day – the lady who serves you at the restaurant, the one who makes your coffee at Starbucks, the person at the till when buying groceries, the one you pass when walking your dog. God loves everyone and wants everyone to come to know Him. So, you will not meet a person today who is not very important to God. Treat them as if they are important to you as well – because they should be.

In your every day activities – each and every day – make opportunities to tell others about Jesus. And, if you will go fishing (evangelize) you will catch fish (people). Remember, you are to bring people in – grow them up – and then send them out to impact others …. You don’t bring them to salvation to sit – you raise them up to serve and to be like you – a disciple, a follower, a fisher of men. So, bring them in – grow them up to be like you – and then send them out to “go into all the world…” and share Jesus like you do. It really is that simple.

Your call – the foundation of all other calls, gifts, or prophetic words … is to win the lost. Do this and make it a daily focus and event and then watch all those other gifts and prophetic words quickly fall into place. Called to be an apostle or a prophet and wondering what is happening or why nothing seems to be happening – then have a look at your heart and your life. Are you involved in the basic call that is upon your life – every Christian’s life – the call to “go into all the world and make disciples…”? If not, those other gifts and that major ministry calling – don’t worry about it. Won’t be happening!

Evangelism is not just for experts and extroverts – it is for all who call on the Name of the Lord and claim to be His disciples.

My Yoke Is Easy – Or Is It?

No one ever promised that the Christian walk or being a disciple of Jesus would be easy. There is a commonly mistranslated verse where Jesus tells the disciples, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… For my yoke is good and my burden is light.” Note that I did not say “my yoke is easy…” as that is what most versions say and most people believe.

People take that to mean that if we come to Jesus, everything will be easy. Not true. The word good is often mistranslated as “easy”. And thus believers come to expect things to go smoothly and that being a believer is going to make life better and easier. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, my life was relatively easy before I met Jesus and is not what I would call “easy” at the moment. In one sense, the load is lighter because we carry the burdens of the world together. But He is still telling us to pick up a yoke – His yoke.

“Yoke” had a lot of different meanings. It was the tool used for harnessing animals for farming. It was the word used for taking on the rabbi’s teaching (as Jesus seemed to use it here). Yoke was also the word used for the brutal weight of slavery and oppression that the prophets call us to break (Isaiah 58, among other passages).

One of the things I think Jesus is doing is setting us free from the heavy yoke of an oppressive way of life. The life-style of self-centered consumption and lifeless toil that is both senseless and heavy and self-imposed. This is the yoke we are being set free from.

However, being freed from one yoke – He now asks us to willingly pick up another one. The new yoke is still not easy (it is a cross, for heaven’s sake), but we carry it together (if you believe in Christian community), and it is good (not easy) and leads us to rest and trust in Him. Mother Teresa used to say, “Following Jesus is simple, but not easy. Love until it hurts, and then love more.” Dorthy Day of the Catholic Worker movement understood this well. She said, “Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only answer.” This love is not sentimental or soft but heart-wrenching, the most difficult and the most beautiful thing in the world.

Jesus said that the world would know we are His disciples by our love. And this yoke of love cannot and will not be seen if we don’t willingly say yes to it and then walk it out in every day life where it will be good but never easy. And so true Christians, real converts, followers – disciples of the Lord need to be strong and committed; willing to endure hardship and ridicule; actually loving, forgiving, accepting, and offering love to each and every person they encounter throughout each and every day. Good but not easy.

How about you? Have you willingly picked up His yoke and are you actually walking in sacrifical love with the Lord? Or are you still focusing in on what is in it for you?

Transforming Unconvinced People Into Wholehearted Followers

When you think of the Church you should automatically think of the lost. We are the only people who exist for our non-members. We are here to serve God and honor Him by continuing what He began. What did He begin? Good question! He so loved the world that He sent His Son to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). He so loved the world that His Son then sent the Church – His disciples – to seek and save the lost. It’s called the Great Commission which is to go into all the world and make disciples of people who are not even followers or believers yet.

The work of the Church and thus every individual who is a part of the Church is to transform unconvinced people into wholehearted followers of Jesus. To do this in today’s world we need to walk in the power of God and flow supernaturally. The world is looking for the supernatural. The unsaved are wanting something that is real, authentic, relevant, powerful, and life-changing. Young people are looking for something that will challenge them and give them vision and purpose, something they can invest their lives in. Winning the lost and transforming unbelievers into powerful disciples of Jesus is such a cause.

However, looking at most churches – read their Sunday bulletins and watch their lawn signs – their emphasis is to meet the needs of those who already attend. They don’t exist for others – they exit for themselves. Look at their weekly meeting schedules – it is all about “us” and not about “them.” Most churches keep their people so busy with events and programs and meetings … that they don’t have time or energy to develop relationships with the unsaved and thus do the real work of the ministry and fulfill the mandate of the Church as commanded by Jesus – who is, last time I checked, the Head of the Church. It is His Church and He is building it. Or is He?

Transforming unconvinced people into wholehearted followers of Jesus is the work of the Church and thus of every believer who calls on the Name of the Lord. Every disciple has a God-given focus … to make disciples for Jesus in their part of the world.

Jesus did say – and it is still valid today – “follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” If we are not fishing – we are not following! It is sad but true. There are few real disciples in the Church today. As a result, we are attracting few of the young people to our work of winning the world. In fact, we are having trouble keeping those who we already have. Here is a truth to ponder:Focus on the people you want to reach and you’ll keep the people you want to keep.” (Steven Furtick)

Just a thought for today.