Becoming a Disciplined Person

Too many people see life as a waiting room. People sit and wait for their names to be called. But progress in life – moving forward to maturity and effectiveness in what we do and achieve – does not come looking for us. We won’t achieve great things accidentally. Never forget, as one of my mentors taught me, “Everything worthwhile is uphill.” Achieving what you want in life takes time, effort, consistency, energy, and commitment. A word for all of this is “self-discipline.”

Self-discipline is what allows us to grow up, mature, develop, learn new skills, hone our present abilities and talents, accomplish, succeed, impact and influence those around us. If you are my age self-discipline is still needed as you work towards leaving a legacy behind when it is time to head home and meet the Master, Jesus. Self-discipline is what makes those things possible and puts success within reach – whatever your goals are and however you determine success.

Here’s the good news. Self-discipline is something you can develop. You don’t need to be born with it. In fact, few are. It is a choice you make and then keep on making. So, let spend a few minutes looking at how to develop self-discipline… Read more


The New Normal

Over the past two years plus we have been fighting a pandemic. 

During that time no matter who you met or what you were doing it seems that the conversation always turned to the pandemic, mandates connected to Covid, and how it has changed your life. 

“Pandemic” became one of the most common terms in our vocabulary. 

Our focus was always drawn back to the issue of the Covid pandemic 

The daily changes and challenges we were facing as a result of this worldwide event.

I believe that the Covid pandemic has led to a number of other pandemics. 

In other words, one thing – one pandemic – has led to us facing a number of other resulting pandemics  Read more


Train Your Brain

There is so much going on in the world and also in the Kingdom right now …

There is also so much going on at the same time in our personal lives …

For me, it can, at times, be overwhelming

The Lord is doing so much with all of us during this season as we face so many events and situations that are new to many of us: Read more

Heaven On Earth

In Exodus (second book of the Bible) God tells us that He “will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God” (Exodus 29:45). Millennia later, John, the writer of Revelation, tells us he “heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). This is a major theme throughout Scripture (Exodus 25:8; Leviticus 26:12; Zechariah 2:10; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 21:3).

So one of the overarching themes in Scripture — from the very beginning to the very end — isn’t to “get people saved” but for God to dwell down here with His people. We are so concerned about going up to Heaven, but God is concerned with bringing Heaven down to earth. Revelation, chapter 22 even says the new heavens and the new earth won’t need a temple because God will be our dwelling place (think back to Genesis!). We are working so hard to get out of this place, while God is working hard to recreate and come down to this place. Read more

Steps and Stops

The Psalmist wrote that “the steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in His way” (Psalm 37:23). But someone has wisely observed that God lovingly orders not only our steps but also out stops.

At one point in his second apostolic journey, the apostle Paul experienced successive divine “stops” within Asia Minor (known then as “Asia). The first time, the Holy Spirit prevented him and his team from pushing on to its western reaches – the coastal area north of the city of Ephesus. The second time, they tried to go north into Bithynia, “but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:6-7). Finally, Paul looked to the northwest – to Troas – a seaport just across the Aegean Sea from Macedonia. Given the roadblocks of previous days, he may have turned toward Troas somewhat tentatively. But whatever uncertainty he arrived with was quickly dispelled. God met him there with unmistakable instructions; sometime in the night, Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man pleading with him, “Come … and help us” (Acts 16:8-9).

Suddenly all those stops made sense! God wanted them to bring the message of Christ to Macedonia. Paul and his apostolic team were so certain that God had made Philippi in Macedonia their top priority that Luke writes: “Immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them” (Acts 16:10).

Leaving Troas on a ship, they docked overnight on the island of Samothrace and landed at the coastal city of Neapolis the next day. As always, Paul wanted to get to work quickly, which in this case meant travelling to Philippi, the leading city of the region.

The one thing lacking in Philippi at that time was a Jewish sanctuary. Consequently, the Jews who wanted to gather on the Sabbath did so on the banks of the Gangites River – a source of fresh water necessary for ritual cleansing. So that’s where Paul and his companions went, finding a group of women assembled for prayers. One was named Lydia, an apparently prosperous Gentile businesswoman who worshipped the God of the Jews but knew nothing of their Messiah, Jesus Christ (Acts 16:14). When Paul spoke to the group about Jesus, Lydia responded with faith. Afterward, her home became the gathering place for all the early converts in Philippi (Acts 16:40). Thus the church in Philippi was planted, and Philippi became the first European city to receive the Gospel of the Kingdom from Paul. 

As with many other places where Paul preached, persecution followed close behind the founding of the church in Philippi. But not even persecution and imprisonment could taint his memories of ministry in that city – a ministry that was sparked by a vision in the night and launched on the side of a river with a group of godly women.

Some years later, during his first imprisonment in Rome, Paul thought about and prayed for the church he had established there, writing those believers perhaps his most intimate and personal letter. By then Paul had spiritual children across much of the Roman world, but the Philippians had a unique place in his heart. In just four chapters, he uses I, me, and my well over 100 times, with the word I appearing 69 times. In this spirit of constant gratitude, Paul expresses his heartfelt affection: “I thank my God in all my remembrances of you” (1:3), “I hold you in my heart” (1:7), and “I yearn for you all” (1:8). This is a book about fellowship from the hand of a man who intimately loved his brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Imprisoned, not knowing his fate, Paul nevertheless wanted to express his love for this group of believers, along with the deep satisfaction and pleasure he gained from their fellowship and their progress in the Lord. Well aware of their concern for him, Paul longed for them to look at his difficult circumstances in a positive, hopeful way – understanding that God could use these events to advance the Gospel and reach people Paul might not have otherwise reached. He strongly urged them to refocus their gaze on Christ, strive for unity, and be on guard against the false teachers who had slipped in among them.

When the Philippian church learned that Paul was imprisoned in Rome (around AD 60-62), they sent him a gift by way of an emissary, Epaphroditus (4:18). While serving the Philippian church in this way, Epaphroditus fell ill. It appears as though this illness was a source of distress for Epaphroditus, and Paul felt it necessary to pave the way for this faithful servant’s return to the church (2:25-30). In this instance and throughout the letter, Paul’s correspondence is marked by love and joy, from a spiritual father (apostle) to his beloved children in the faith. 

You might, with this summary as background, spent some time reading Paul’s letter (epistle) to the Philippians in the New Testament. 

No More ‘Going Through the Motions”

Amos, the prophet of God, had and still has a great deal to say about the life, attitude, and actions of God’s people. This included God’s thoughts about their worship. Amos speaks specifically and mostly to the Northern Kingdom of his day. However, he did have a few words for Israel as recorded in Amos 9:11-15. And His Words still speak to hearts today. So let’s have a look at the big picture and apply it to our current situation. 

The central theme of Amos’s prophecy is justice — social justice in the northern kingdom and ultimate justice for Israel, Judah, and their neighbour-nations.

In one of the harshest sections of Amos’s prophecy, God denounces the phoney religion of the northern kingdom.

Amos 5:21-23 NET “I absolutely despise your festivals!

I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies!

Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied;

I will not look with favour on your peace offerings of fattened calves.

Take away from me your noisy songs;

I donʼt want to hear the music of your stringed instruments.

Both the priests and the socialite women presented their offerings in hopes of gaining favour with God, but His response was plain: ”I will not accept them.” Nor did He want to hear “the noise of [the priests’] songs” or “the melody of [their] harps.” Why? Because of their hypocrisy and oppression of the poor. God had disciplined Israel in the past (Amos 4:6-11), but the people had persisted in their idolatry. Therefore the Lord had one message for this wealthy and idolatrous generation: “Prepare to meet your God…” (Amos 4:12)

God cares nothing for the exercise of empty religious rituals. He hates it. What’s more, God denounces moral and ethical practices that violate His standards and invalidate worship. God knows the secrets of every heart. He knows how we treat our neighbours and coworkers. He knows instantly when we are genuinely seeking Him and when we are just going through the motions — observing a tradition, trying to look pious to others, or checking off another box on our spiritual to-do list. 

The fact is, He does not desire our traditions, our giving, even our prayer and Bible reading — unless these things come from an obedient, truly loving heart. If our external actions toward God do not flow from an authentic desire to love others and please Him, we are only putting on a religious show, and He wants none of it.  

So, as we were worshipping last weekend at the church that I attend and teach at I was thinking about all of this from the book of Amos. I was watching as a few people stood and worshipped. Most sat. And, few of those who sat were engaged in the worship. They were talking, eating, looking at their phones, and dare I mention, napping. Yet, the worship was amazing and, even if I do say so, anointed. 

The teaching was on “Less Religion — More Relationship” (available under Ralph Howe Ministries on Podbean) and people listened politely. Four of those present took notes in their personal journals. Others did not. Bathroom breaks, fresh coffee, a candy and donut as the worship and teaching proceeded. It was a good, biblically based, foundational teaching. A comment or two were made afterwards. No questions were asked. It was, it seems, just “another teaching” in a long line of weekly sermons. 

Makes me wonder what God thinks when He sees all of this. Maybe something along the line of His comments to the northern kingdom through the prophet Amos. You see, worship reveals the heart of people – even the heart of those who don’t bother or worship for the wrong reason. I’m just making a personal, gentle observations. I’m not judging. God does that, not me. 

But, I for one, wonder how long God is going to put up with a people – His people – who are self-centered and so me-focused that they simply can’t be bothered to worship or get excited and engage with the teaching of His Word.

Just wondering — out loud.

The Role of the Prophets

I have recently read the book of Amos (Old Testament), named after a prophet of the Living God. And it got me to thinking about the role of the prophets both in Scripture and in society today.

Amos 3:7 is one of my favourite verses in the whole Bible. As I am reading the Bible through in a version that is new to me (New English Translation) it once again grabbed my attention.

“Certainly the sovereign LORD does nothing without first revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”

It caught my attention because it really does not do justice to the verse in the original Hebrew. Let me quote it in the version I have been reading for years (English Standard Version).

“For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.”

The Hebrew word for “secret” speaks of the intimate counsel of God. God is known for taking the upright “in His confidence” and giving warning or instruction to His people.

Job 29:4 NET “…just as I was in my most productive time, when Godʼs intimate friendship was experienced in my tent…”

Proverbs 3:32 NET “or one who goes astray is an abomination to the LORD,

but he reveals his intimate counsel to the upright.”

In biblical times, God particularly chose to speak through handpicked, distinct leaders who would deliver His message to the people. These prophets were responsible to stand in His council and receive His Word, and then to declare that Word to the people with absolute fidelity.

Jeremiah 23:18, 22 NET “Yet which of them has ever stood in the LORDʼs inner circle

so they could see and hear what he has to say? Which of them have ever paid attention or listened to what he has said? … But if they had stood in my inner circle, they would have proclaimed my message to my people. They would have caused my people to turn from their wicked ways and stop doing the evil things they are doing.”

The prophets could take no credit for what they said. Their duty was to say what God said. Nothing more, nothing less. The apostle Peter captured the prophet’s role in speaking and writing for God. “Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophetʼs own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

It was a fearsome responsibility that required deep humility. Amos begins his prophecy by reminding his readers that he is only a shepherd from the small village of Tekoa (Amos 1:1). At Jeremiah’s prophetic commissioning, he pleads that his youth is a hindrance (Jeremiah 1:6). When God calls Moses to stand before Pharaoh — the most powerful ruler on earth — and tell him to let God’s people go free, Moses fears that his poor speech will prevent him from being effective. So God gave Moses a spokesperson: his own brother, Aaron. Moses would be the leader and tell Aaron what to say, and Aaron would say it (Exodus 4:15).

Moses’ relationship to Aaron prefigured the relationship God would eventually have with His own spokespeople, the prophets of Israel: “He will speak for you to the people, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were his God” (Exodus 4:16 NET). God would supply the prophets with what needed to be said, but they would be the ones to say it.

The prophets’ role was not to be creative but to be faithful. They were brought into the intimate confines of God’s counsel, receiving things that the people ultimately needed to hear. In fact, ““For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). It was never God’s intention to catch His people unaware. Rather, He used prophets like Amos to give Israel fair warning that if they did not change their sinful ways, they could expect God to act.

Prophets did not speak only to warn, chastised, or announce judgment. They also spoke God’s Word “…for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NET). In other words, their purpose was also to teach so that God’s people would know how to live in times of crisis and times of calm.

In the New Testament era, the other side of the prophetic calling – forthtelling the Words of God instead of foretelling the actions of God — gets more attention. There were certain prophets active in the church who foretold the future:

Acts 21:8-11 NET “On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. (He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.) While we remained there for a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us, took Paulʼs belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, “The Holy Spirit says this: ʻThis is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will tie up the man whose belt this is, and will hand him over to the Gentiles.ʼ”

But in writing about the role of church prophets and prophecy, Paul said, “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3 NET). In the New Testament, the emphasis was on building up the Body of Christ through exhortation and encouragement in the face of persecution.

1 Corinthians 14:4-5 NET “The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. I wish you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets so that the church may be strengthened.”

Whether the counsel of God in Scripture warns His people, speaks of future events, reveals gifts and callings, or instructs them in how to live in difficult times, the purpose of the prophets was the same: fidelity and faithfulness to the direction of the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit of God warns and directs Christians today. And like the prophets of old, the responsibility of the prophets (and those who prophesy) is to faithfully do as He directs. 

The Five Signs of a False Teacher

In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24 Jesus speaks of false prophets and teachers who will rise up and deceive many by their prophetic words and teachings. I was thinking about this the other night as finishing up my study of Matthew’s record of Jesus’ life and ministry. How true this warning is for today as the internet and social media allows many to spread their messages to all who will listen. It also made me aware of how we need to be so discerning as the false can sound so much like the true.

As I then switched over the read Galatians I noticed Paul was fighting the religious spirit of false teachers and false prophets. The Words of Jesus came true and were seriously accurate right away in the early Church. And are so true even today. In Galatians we find five things we need to note and know about false teachers.

Galatians 5:7-12 NET “You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you! A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise! I am confident in the Lord that you will accept no other view. But the one who is confusing you will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Now, brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offence of the cross has been removed. I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves!”

1> They contradict the truth – Galatians 5:7

False teachers plagued the Church in Paul’s day, and they continue to multiply as we move towards the end times.

1 Timothy 4:1-2 “Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.”

2 Peter 2:1 “But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves.”

In order to protect ourselves and each other from error, we must know the truth and be able to thus discern falsehood. There is no gift of discernment – there is a gift of the discerning of spirits. But, to discern truth and error we need to be well rooted and grounded in God’s Word, the Bible. This means we need to be reading it regularly and studying it so as to show ourselves approved as workman of the Word (2 Timothy 2:15).

2> They are contrary to God – Galatians 5:8

The Galatians were not called by God to legalism and the law. False teachers used the Old Testament in their attempt to undermine Paul’s teachings regarding being free from the Law. Every cultist and false teacher and prophet tries to use the Bible to support his or her heresy.

3> They contaminate the Church – Galatians 5:9

Paul says that when false doctrine enters a church, it will begin permeating every area of the fellowship until it takes control of the entire church body. This has been the experience of every church, Bible collage, and seminary that has ultimately strayed from the truth of God’s Word.

4> Their condemnation is certain – Galatians 5:10

After expressing his confidence that the Galatians will ultimately choose the right path, Paul promises that those who have troubled them will face the judgment of God.

2 Peter 2:2-3, 9 “And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep … if so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment…”

5> They criticize teachers of truth – Galatians 5:11

John R.W. Stott wrote in The Message of Galatians, “The gospel is grievously offensive to the pride of men. It tells them that they are … under the wrath and condemnation of God, that they can do nothing to save themselves or secure their salvation, and that only through Christ crucified can they be saved. If we preach this gospel we shall arouse ridicule and opposition.”

Keep this list close. As we approach the coming of Christ and the end of the age, we will need it.

The Passion Principle

I am watching the passion that some believers have for a current “truckers demonstration” heading across Canada to the nation’s capital and picking up support and more trucks as they go. Currently they have raised millions to help support and encourage those driving the big rigs from all corners of the nation. Their demonstration is in regard to wanting the government to not mandate that all truckers get double vaccinated for Covid. They believe that it infringes on their personal rights.

I must admit that I am amazed at the passion and the momentum that is behind this current public demonstration of some people’s desire to not be told what they must do. As I have watched and listened, read and studied this current national movement I have to admit that it has been a long time since I have witnessed such passion about anything in the public sphere. 

I am reminded of a verse in Scripture which I want to share…

Romans 12:11 NET “Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord.”

Other versions render it slightly different…

MSG. “Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant.”

TPT “Be enthusiastic to serve the Lord, keeping your passion toward him boiling hot! Radiate with the glow of the Holy Spirit and let him fill you with excitement as you serve him.”

NIV “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.”

It strikes me that some believers are more passionate about this “truckers convoy” than they are about the things of the Lord. I am seeing, hearing, and sensing more excitement, enthusiasm, and passion regarding this convey than I have seen for Jesus in a long time. It saddens my heart. My spirit weeps for the Church where we seldom witness the kind of passion being expressed for this national demonstration.

As I study the Scriptures I see The Passion Principle in a number of places and in a variety of forms. Let me briefly share my insights…

    • PASSION PURSUES. Passion is David loving God with fixed intensity as he vows to seek and pursue Him with his whole heart, obey the Word with his whole heart, and pray with his whole heart.
    • PASSION PLEDGES. Passion is David praising God with his whole heart before all other gods pledging His loyalty to God and God only (Psalm 138:1).
    • PASSION CONFRONTS. Passion is Elijah standing up to the prophets of Baal and calling down the fire of God.
    • PASSION PRODUCES. Passion is Nehemiah completing the wall of Jerusalem in a record 52 days in the face of opposition.
    • PASSION PERSISTS. Passion is Jeremiah refusing to retire from ministry, in spite of discouragement, because the fire in his bones would not let him quit.
    • PASSION PRAYS. Passion is Daniel praying, in spite of threats against his life, because prayer was the heartbeat of his life.
    • PASSION MOVES. Passion is Peter jumping out of the boat to walk to Jesus on the water, in spite of the “impossibility” of it.
    • PASSION MOTIVATES. Passion is Paul turning the zeal of his past into a fire for the cause of Christ.

I am hoping and praying that believers will, once again, become passionate about the things of the Lord and His Word, the Bible. Not just exhibiting passion for the current bandwagon and demonstration against something. Not jumping on the hottest and newest trend among believers on the internet. Or getting excited and passionate about a prophetic word that has not been tested or properly judged according to God’s standard – the Bible. Or the most current musical trend or worship team gaining everyone’s attention. For true believers “passion” should be reserved for the Lord and the Kingdom that He established that is currently continuing to expand and touch places that are in spiritual darkness and bondage.

I long for the day when the Church — Christians — will be known for what we are for and not just what we are against. When people will see our true passion for the Lord and the things of the Lord. 

Now — Next —Never

Now Next Never

As a new year begins it is a good time to have a look at life 

Your life – the life of Christ that you are experiencing – the life of the Church and the Kingdom of God here on earth

To look at how things are right now – an honest look at yourself as a disciple of Jesus

To think about what is next in your life and how you should prepare for the steps the Spirit is guiding you to take

To even look back and see the things that you have done in the past year which should never be repeated in the new year

Now — Next —Never

As I have been reading God’s Word there have been a number of verses that have stood out to me – spoken to me Read more