A New Year – A Fresh Look at God’s Word

I am reading through “The Voice” version of the Bible. Call me a heretic if you wish. I always choose a fresh new version at the start of each new year. This way things are not as familiar and sometimes the way certain things are worded is so different that the truth being expressed hits me in a fresh, new way. Other times I come to understand a verse more deeply. And, I even come to understand certain verses correctly for the first time. The Truth has not changed – I am just shaking up the words a bit to see what new light can shine on truths and stories that I love.

I sat down yesterday morning and thought through my reading rate for 2014 so I get through The Voice in 11 months… (accounts for days that Bible reading just does not happen and allows the Bible to be read in a year.

And then I sat and thought through what books I am going to study in 2014. Every year I “attempt” to study one Old Testament and one New Testament book in some depth. I say attempt because I don’t always manage to get right through the books I am studying – usually because I am having too much fun in the study and, I admit, maybe digging a bit too deep. But it is fun and I am the only one who knows the plan and whether I accomplish what I set out to do in the year. So, I sometimes carry a book of the Bible I am studying over into the next year. Hey, aim at nothing you get nothing – so, I always aim high and get something.

I also make use of down time waiting for people to arrive for appointments, while stirring supper, eating my sandwich parked on the roadside while driving home after an out-of-town service. I read an electronic Bible. No coloured pencils to mark it up, no notes in the margins, no real plan other than not wasting opportunities to read through the New Testament several times a year. Yup! Instead of wasting time and just retreating into nothingness or texting people I read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John… And it is amazing what a quick “time of refreshing” like this can do for the day.

Add to this an average of a book a week. Some weeks when doing a lot of flying I can read 3 or 4 books – other weeks I don’t even manage to crack the cover. Summers are better than winters for reading. But, over a year I average 52 books. I plan it that way. it is intentional. I do it on purpose. Anyone I mentor knows that reading is what leaders do. If we don’t read we stop leading. Leaders are readers. So, I always have a pile of books I am working through and my mini iPad is always with me – because many of the books I am planning to read are eBooks. Hey, you can carry a library of books in one small tablet. What a day to be alive. And you can color code and make notes in a eBook just like I do in a regular (real) paper book.

So, I have made good use of the lull in my life last Sunday afternoon (I had a complete Sunday off … the first in many years) and did some planning for 2014. Growing and maturing does not happen accidentally. It is intentional.

Hope you have a terrific 2014 and that you will grow and natural spiritually and that your relationship with your God will deepen and mature. Blessings as you begin another year of your journey with Jesus.

2014 – Just One More Sleep

Tomorrow night many people will be celebrating and welcoming the new year 2014. Many will celebrate it with friends and family. Many more will celebrate it by getting drunk and waking up on the first day of the new year wondering what they did the night before. At the start of the new year many will make new year’s resolutions – and they will fail to fulfill them with failure coming early in the year they have just finished celebrating. At year end 2014 they will be at the same place in life that they were at the beginning of the year. Then on December 31, 2014 they will simply repeat the program and do all the same things welcoming in 2015 but again nothing will really change.

What a waste of a life!
In fact, you might ask yourself, “Is this really life at all?”

Maybe it is just existing.
Maybe you are simply taking up space.
Maybe you are using precious resources and giving nothing in return.
Maybe you are a consumer – A taker and not a giver.

For 2014 to be different and worth celebrating you need to examine your life and, with God’s help, see the things that need to change, places where you need to grow, elements of your life that need to be totally removed. With God’s help you need to change and that change, for some, will be a major undertaking – but worth it, believe me. And it will be successful if you partner with God – after all, it is the year of The Lord 2014.

Every day you live in 2014 is a gift from God. And, He is travelling with you through each of those days. He has a plan for each day – things He wants you to accomplish for Him. But, more importantly, He has a design for who you are to become. Why? Because who you are is more important than what you do. You are a human BEing and not a human DOing. God wants you to grow and mature and become more like Him in 2014. Ask Him to show you what needs to change in your life – your character (friends, family, fun, finances, faithfulness, faith, fruit).

Then ask Him what He wants you to do in 2014. He will tell you and then show you how He wants you to do it. You can impact your world and influence people when you partner with your Creator who is the “Giver of life.”

So, as you enter a new year of life called 2014 – look at your own life first. It is a gift from God and He has some expectations of you. He knows who He wants you to be and become. He knows what He wants you to do for Him and with Him.

Invite Him into your life in a new and fresh way as you enter a new and fresh year.

Approaching 2014

As we approach another new year – a year that is a gift from the Lord Jesus – we need to take some time to think through the year just ending. When doing so, be seriously and brutally honest with yourself. Don’t be “self-deceived.” Take a look at your growth during the past year.

Are you further ahead in your journey of faith than when the year first began?

If there were some speed bumps or detours on your journey in 2014 – what did you learn and how have you applied those lessons to your life so that you are different as a result of having these experiences?

Did your “devotional life” really do what it is suppose to do – allow you to share intimacy with the Father. If it didn’t and your intimacy is either the same or less than when the year started what are you going to do differently so this downward slide does not continue?

Have you allowed your faith journey to become a religious activity? Do you measure your success and failure in terms of what you are doing or attempted to do or in terms of your love intimacy with Jesus?

What are you believing God for? Jesus said that it would be done unto us according to our faith – so what are you applying your faith against? What is it you are believing God will do through you (not for you) in 2014? Did you receive what you were believing for during 2013?

Are you growing in your knowledge and understanding of the Bible which is the Word of God? If not, why not? And, if not, what are you going to do differently in 2014 so that it is not another year when your spiritual heart rate simply flatlines?

What are you going to be reading in 2014 that will help you to fulfill the call of God on your life? Every believer has a call upon their life and you should be reading and studying to better fulfill that call. So, which books have you planned to read and what kind of reading plan have you developed?

In regards to seeking and saving the lost – what are you going to change and do differently so that you actually see people come to Jesus during the year? If you have not been intentionally seeking and saving the lost – what are you going to do so that this becomes a vital part of your daily life?

You get the idea. The philosopher Plato once said: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I agree. So, this is a good time to examine what was, what is, and maybe even what you would like to see in your future. Note – I am not talking about financial goals, family goals, or travel plans. This is much more internal than that. Setting goals is good – but this is about who you are and not what you do.

Have fun!

The New Year Is Soon Upon Us

The New Year is less than a week away. In the quiet of the early mornings these past few days I have been seeking The Lord and spending some extra time in my Bible. Because it is the Christmas season I don’t have regular appointments to keep, mentoring is paused, and I do less witnessing. If truth were known I just don’t want to fight the traffic and the crowds… But, with more time at home in my study (I am avoiding the office) I have been thinking through the events and activities of 2013 and praying about 2014. Specifically I have been praying part of Psalm 5:8 “…make Your way clear to me.”

I base this prayer on the assumption that God does not want 2014 to be a repeat of 2013. That God has much more in store for me in 2014 than I experienced in 2013. That the way I have not things in the past year are not sacred and set in stone but very flexible and every changing. So, I am approaching 2014 with a heart wide open for whatever God has for me to do with Him and an open mind regarding the way it will be accomplished. I want nothing more than to follow Jesus and do evereything that He asks me to do the way He would have it accomplished.

So, in the relative stillness of the last few days I have been reviewing 2013 and looking forward into 2014 and the changes that are coming about – in the Kingdom, in the world, in my ministry, and in my life. In the opposite order of course. I am taken nothing for granted and holding nothing back. I just want what He wants. So, I have been praying “…make your way clear to me.”

Yesterday I spoke for two hours with a young pastor I am mentoring who lives in the United States. A man whose whole life is being turned upside down by a prophetic word that he received on my recent visit to his area. It was exciting to hear all that The Lord is doing with Him and the hope that he is approaching 2014 with. Hope and tremendous faith. Does he understand everything that is going to happen and the massive changes about to take place in his life and ministry as he transitions from being a pastor to functioning in the call of an apostle. No! But, I pray for him that The Lord would “…make Your way clear” to him as we work together entering the New Year walking into God’s ‘newness’ together.

Later in the day I heard of the death of a very young man also in the United States. A young man who I knew and who loved Jesus. His life ended suddenly yesterday long before he could graduate from high school. Of course, we are all devastated and standing with his large family in faith. He was a believer and so we know he is with The Lord. But, it was a young life cut short; potential and opportunity that will never be realized. I spent much time late into the night and early morning thinking about the potential and opportunities that God has placed before me (or will as the new year reveals itself) and prayed “…make Your way clear to me” because I don’t want to waste or lose a day of my life doing things that don’t matter and don’t build His Kingdom. I want to make every day that He has given to me count for Him. I want to see others come to know Him or come to know Him better – and want that to be a daily thing as He makes His way clear to me every morning. Life is uncertain and each day is a gift from The Lord and I want to use each day to honour Him and bring His glory.

I am excited that He has allowed me to have a productive and exciting 2013 and I am looking forward to 2014 with great optimism and tremendous faith. It is going to be a great year for Him. And, I will continue to pray “…make Your way clear” each day as I walk through many, many changes in my life, ministry, the Church and His Kingdom.

Witnessing for Jesus

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Jesus sends His disciples into the world to do the same. His command, “Go into all the world and make disciples.” But, is the average Christian doing it? Do they really believe that they – not the professional, paid person up front – are to “go” and “share?”

A survey of 2,930 protestant churchgoers in the United States found:

80% agree that they have a personal responsibility to share their belief in Christ with non-Christians. Which means 20% are not hearing the command of Christ or not taking it personally. A failure of communications or a simple act of justifying rebellion?

75% feel comfortable sharing their belief in Christ with someone else. This, as other statistics in the survey indicate, does not mean that they do share with others – just that they believe they would feel comfortable doing so.

61% have not shared how to become a Christian with anyone in the last six months. I rest my case (see the point above).

48% have not invited anyone to church in the last six months. Should this be somehow considered a sin? Just kidding!

20% rarely or never pray for people who are not professing Christians. And who was it that said, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations?”

8% are hesitant to let others know that they are Christians. Jesus’ comment about being “ashamed of Him” would be good to quote here.

The “Good News of great joy for unto you is born a Saviour” is not good news until others hear it.And apparently we are not doing well sharing our good news with others.

During this Christmas week and as we enter into the new year – let’s ponder and think about what will change these statistics in 2014. Let’s look at our own witness and our lifestyle (which is always a strong witness) and determine to be a better witness – by words and deeds – in the coming year.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

“When the Gospel of Jesus Christ is presented with authority – quoting from the very Word of God – He takes the message and drives it supernaturally into the human heart.” Dr. Billy Graham

The Gospel needs to be heard. And heard in a way that it can be understood and applied personally to the life of the hearer. Yesterday I had the opportunity to present the Gospel to a variety of people in a number of different situations. These included several church services which had a number of new people visiting, several stores, a gas station… I try to present the Gospel of the Kingdom at least daily to someone who is far from God and in need of hearing of His love. Because I am intentional about sharing the Gospel and am always on the lookout for an opportunity most days I simply walk through the open door that presents itself. Sometimes I have to “look hard” for the opportunities other times they come up to me and initiate the conversation.

I know that people don’t normally walk up and engage you in conversations about spiritual issues or concerns they are facing in life. The reason people do that on a regular basis is that I have cultivated relationships over a long period of time and always make time to speak with people when I go to the post office, the drug store, to buy food or purchase gas. I intentionally make time for people and show a real interest in how they are doing. Many of the people who come up and speak to me don’t know that I am a leader in a local church. They just know I am a good listener and a believer – a disciple of The Lord.

Because I have been consistent and a good listener; always up emotionally and not negative – ready to engage with them; not self-centered and needing to talk about myself or use what they are saying to springboard into something about myself… they know I am safe and genuinely concerned. So, they look forward to my short visits and readily share what is on their hearts. And, often I have opportunity to draw their attention to The Lord. The Gospel is being presented in words and actions – demonstrations of love and sometimes of power when I have opportunity to pray with people.

I believe the Gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation. It is what everyone is looking for – good news for the heart and soul. I believe it needs to be shared every opportunity we have. And, that we can do many simple things to create these opportunities to share. I believe the Gospel is more than words – that we need to demonstrate that the Gospel is true by praying for people and prophesying over them every opportunity we have. I believe that God has called every believer to incorporate this “seeking and saving” into their lifestyle. It has to be part of our DNA as disciples and followers of The Lord.

Remember, it is not something we do – it is something we are. Jesus said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be My witnesses…” We are to “be” a witness – it is something we are and not something we do. Think about that! let it sink into your heart and gut! And then determine in 2014 to “be” a witness for Jesus.

Good News of Great Joy

The angel announced “I bring you good news of a great joy… for unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) Settle down – I am not going to preach at you. You get enough of that in church week-after-week. But, I do have a comment or two to share with you. Well, more a question or two.

Seen much “great joy” recently in your travels and activities relating to this Christmas season we are in? I haven’t. I admit right up-front that I have not done any Christmas shopping (for gifts). I will buy my wife a gift on Monday and that’s it. But, I have been out daily with my work as a leader in a local church; I have gone food shopping; I have entered the post office area of my local drug store and stood in line at the bank; attended “Winter Festivals” (once called Christmas Concerts)… And, I have been pushed, shoved, ignored, elbowed, almost run over, close to being run into… AND worked hard at carrying on numerous conversations about Jesus throughout all these mild trials and tribulations. And, I must admit I have not seen much joy let alone “great joy.”

Second question: “Have you seen much that has had to do with the real meaning of Christmas – you remember, the birth of the Saviour of all humankind on that first Christmas morning in the City of Bethlehem?” I think not. I have been in numerous stores – food stores, several electronic stores, a Walmart or two, Staples, several restaurants, and a few other establishments (not to buy but to witness to people I know who work there and encouragement them in this major rush) and I have seen little that would remind people the real “reason for the season.”

So, in our tolerant, materialistic society where everything goes, including our money, I am finding that the message of Christ, the “good news of great joy” is being ignored, lost, forgotten. In our frantic pace of life we are too unsettled and rattled to recognize or welcome the Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate. Jesus has been lost and the purpose of the season buried.

So, I buy one gift – a simple gift of something that is needed by my wife. And, I spend some extra time with family members enjoying a meal, a game night, a quiet cup of coffee… But, more important, I spend more time in my study with my Bible – the Word of God. I spend more time focused on my Lord and Savior. I speak with Jesus about 2013 and what I did or did not do for Him. And, we look together at what He is asking me to do with Him in 2014 and beyond. I honestly refuse to get sucked into the materialistic madhouse that Christmas has become. I want to experience the joy and peace that Christmas is all about.

Maybe I am just getting old but…

Cultural or Casual Christians

Jesus built into His initial invitation to be His disciples the reality that disciples would be disciple makers. So, Matthew starts that way – “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” – and ends that way – “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

The picture is clear from beginning to end: Being a disciple involves making disciples; and being a follower of Christ involves fishing for men. It’s built into the DNA. It’s understood that way by some believers – but they are in the vast minority. I remember reading many years ago of a church that began in a boxcar on a railway siding. The first person they led to the Lord was asked to give a list of the ten least likely friends to respond to the Gospel. That new convert was then taken by a more mature disciple to visit those ten friends and learn how to share the Gospel. On average, three of ten would receive Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. it did not take long before that small congregation ould no longer meet in the boxcar.

I recently read a similar story coming out of Central Asia where I do some ministry every year. This is a predominately Muslim context. Whenever they lead someone to Christ, immediately, that day, that new Christian is encouraged to make a list of everybody they know, then identify on that list the 10 people least likely to kill them if they shared the Gospel. Based on that list of 10, they would start sharing the Gospel right away. That makes sense to me. Being a disciple, from the beginning, was attached to being a disciple maker.

Christians were not always called Christians. They were disciples first, then referred to as “followers of the Way” as they had more than a set of beliefs and a philosophy of life – they followed Him who was the Way and lived life in a different way than those who did not know or follow Jesus. Only in Acts 11:26 do we see that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” So, you can’t be a Christian without being a disciple; and you can’t be a disciple if you are not a disciple maker and thus a fisher of men (a soul winner).

So, around the world we have “Casual Christians” or what I call “Cultural Christians.” Looking in Operation World for Jamaica the authors of the book stated that Jamaica is almost 100 percent Christian, and then the next line was something to the effect that the majority of people in Jamaica are not involved in a church and don’t live a Christian life. Clearly then, they are not Christians. They can be called that, but there is a cultural Christianity. It’s even in places in the Middle East. There are all kinds of Christians-in-name-only people all over the world … even here in North America and in the churches where I work and minister. These are people who would be classified as Christians but their Christianity is much more a cultural identification than it is a representation of a spiritual reality. That’s dangerous. Scores of people, culturally, think they are Christians that, biblically, are not followers of Christ,

Believing the precepts of the Christian faith and knowing the Gospel is not the same as being a Christian. Being a Christian is being a disciple of the Lord Jesus and being a disciple maker. Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” As I say often, “If you are not fishing, you are not following.”

Let’s stop the make-believe thinking everything is fine when it is not – and start living in the real world and doing what disciples are called to do. This cultural, casual, comfortable identification as a Christian that looks just as materialistic, just as humanistic in practice – we have got to call it out and say it’s not biblical. It’s not Christianity. It is not what it means to follow Jesus. What it means to follow Jesus looks radically different from the rest of the world.

There is much work to do….Time to stop playing church!!!

Intimacy With the Father

In the Gospel of John Jesus is having a conversation with the Jews and it is quite a lengthy conversation (John 8). Like most good conversations it goes back and forth. They say something and Jesus responses. They then either offer a rebuttal or switch subjects and try again to convince Him that they are of good quality stock as they are Abraham’s descendants and they are in right relationship with God. Jesus loves them as He discusses many root issues with them – responding gently and lovingly because He sees them as lost sheep without a shepherd. They don’t realize they are “lost” but think everything is “good to go.”

Near the end of this amazing exchange Jesus gets to the root of the problem. Jesus states very clearly, “You say, ‘He is our God,’ but you are not in relationship with Him. I know Him intimately…I know Him, and I do as He says.” (John 8:54a-55)

As I read that the other day I realized that Jesus could say the exact same thing to many today who are church attenders and who call themselves Christians. They hold to the outward form of our religion but deny the power that brings life change. (2 Timothy 3:5) They have said all the right things and added all the right disciplines (prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, small group involvement) but like the pharisees “they are wrong, because they know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29) They are reading the Bible but not coming to know the Author of the Bible. They have not had an encounter with the living God and thus also have not experienced the power of God that brings about a total makeover allowing them to be “new creatures in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are cultural Christians going through the motions without the emotions (love, thankfulness, contentment, peace).

Jesus continues to speak today and He is saying to many, “…you are not in relationship with Him.” And, like Jesus, the Holy Spirit is inviting many who call themselves Christians to know Him intimately and do as He says. However, because many have been taught that they are right with God having said a Sinner’s Prayer they assume the message is for others. They miss the invitation and their opportunity. They have been deceived by the church that man has built. Their minds are blinded and they are holding to the letter of the Law without knowing the purpose of the Law. They have yet to experience true life and think that what they have is the “norm” and so are not looking for more. They are not searching for life which is, of course, only found in Him and an intimate relationship with Him.

If you are a church attender, a cultural Christian, and find yourself empty of real life – you are going through the motions and doing everything that you have been taught to do but find it unfulfilling and boring… If you are “plugged in” but there is no power in the plug – then it is time to take an honest look at your life starting on the inside. The starting point of everything the Christian faith and the true Church that Jesus is building is an intimate relationship with God the Father and fellowship with His Spirit. That’s the place to start. This is foundational to everything else.

God is speaking to the church and letting us know that life is available and eternal life (a personal relationship with Him – Romans 6:23b and John 17:3) is also available. Both are found only in a relationship with God our Heavenly Father – and that relationship begins when we are convicted of our sins, repent with godly sorrow and seek forgiveness (2 Corinthians 7:8-10).

A Future or a Funeral?

Just thinking this morning about the lack of intention and every day evangelism in the life of most Christians and thus in the life of the local church. A good number of churches that I work with in numerous countries are not seeing the lost saved; seldom get to witness people making a public confession of their faith through baptism by immersion in water; and seldom hear the gospel explained or expressed in the weekly teaching times of the church.

In North America most of the growth in churches comes from shrinkage in other churches. It is simply moving the existing number of believers around as they leave one church for whatever reason and join another. Overseas this too occurs. Of course, some who leave a church for whatever reason, at times, don’t reconnect with another church but still consider themselves in right relationship with Jesus, the Head of the Church. However, statistics show that the Church in many nations is not growing, has plateaued, and, in some cases, is shrinking in numbers. In almost all cases in all nations the Church is shrinking in percentage of the population that is born again.

So, that leads me to my question – does the Church have a future or is there a funeral in the making here?

I believe it is time for the Church to focus on the one thing that The Lord left for us to do. This is the mandate of the Church. We know it academically as The Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples. However, it needs to be more than information. This command must be transformational – changing the way we see and do life. To go into all the world and make disciples we first need to be disciples. You reproduce who you are and so we need to become disciples of The Lord and not just followers. This sounds simple but it is not. In the Church today we have many fans, some followers, and very few true disciples. So, discipleship must become an immediate emphasis.

Secondly, we need to take the focus off of our needs and wants, desires and dreams – and simply obey Him and His command to His Church to go and make disciples. It is all about Him and His commands – not about us and our needs. This is a second massive change in the way Christians think and in the way the local church operates. Changing the focus is not going to be easy and is not for the faint at heart.

Thirdly, to become a soul-winning church will require a lot of teaching – teaching by example as well as in classes and on Sundays. Becoming a church that focuses on the lost will require the leaders to be thick skinned and willing to lose those who want to remain self-centered and comfortable.

For a church to become “other-focused” and majoring on soul-winning will not happen by accident. This needs to be intentional and not accidental – because if we are not intentional it simply will never happens. A quality decision needs to be made that winning the lost (impacting lives for Jesus) will be central to everything we do as individuals and as a local church. It must be part of our very DNA. It cannot be a program – it must be part of our on-going daily life and central to every activity that the local church plans and the community events we become part of.

This change in focus and approach is not an easy one to introduce and then “manage” but it needs to be done nonetheless. We can say we love God and love The Lord Jesus all we want – but if we don’t obey Him we are deceiving ourselves and are simply hypocrites. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey Me.” And the “go into all the world and make disciples” is a command and not an option in a buffet of spiritual alternatives. It must be the central focus of every true disciple and every church that calls itself “Christian.” Otherwise, in time, as more and more people die and others leave for whatever reason and stop attending any church we will soon be preparing for a funeral and not a future.

So, it cannot be business as usual. Jesus told us to “occupy until He comes.” The word translated “occupy” was a business term meaning to “increase your market share.” Right now the opposite in happening and we are losing ground in the market place. Time for some tough decisions and some major changes so that you and your church actually have a long-term future.