Time To Leave?

We seem to be in a season of change. A time when we are having to leave what we know. What is safe, comfortable, and secure. Or, at least, what we believe is safe, comfortable, and secure. I am sensing deep in my soul that it is “Time to Leave” what is known and stretch; reaching out to what is yet unknown. Unknown but challenging and certainly exciting.

What about you? Do you sense something new happening in your life? Can you smell the change in the wind? Even if you don’t feel like anything is different right at the moment, it’s always a good idea to keep your heart prepared for change. Because it happens to us all: a new step of faith, a new venture, a new opportunity.

You’ll face something new or different, maybe something you didn’t see coming. You can’t avoid change. Sometimes we’re called to stand our ground when change blows in, but many times we need to take a risk and step into the change. God may have planted a restless desire (what I call ‘Divine Discontent’) in you to serve Him in some surprising way. Maybe He’s given you a burden for a specific group of people or inhabitants of a special place. Maybe He’s calling you to go. Follow that hunch and see where it takes you. Take that leap of faith. Embrace the adventure. The best way to make a big jump is to get a good running start. 

There’s a great story in the Old Testament about Abram and Sarai (who later are renamed Abraham and Sarah) that I think illustrates this perfectly. In Genesis 12, God speaks to Abram. At the time, Abram was living in a town called Haran, but he was from a city called Ur of the Chaldees. Back in Abram’s hometown of Ur, the people worshipped a false moon god named Nannar.

What’s significant here is that the one true God chose to reveal Himself to Abram, a guy whose only exposure to religion was seeing people worship the moon. God gave Abram a very simple, direct command: walk away from everything you’ve ever known. “Leave your country and your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NIV emphasis mine).

Leave and go.

It may seem obvious, but to go somewhere else you have to leave where you are. To go somewhere else, you have to leave what’s known, what’s comfortable, what’s predictable, and what’s easy. To step toward your destiny, you might have to step away from your security. 

Just imagine the kinds of things that must have been going through Abram’s mind. But I’ve lived here for years, God! I moved here with my dad. This is my home. I like it here. All my friends are here. My house is almost paid for. The schools are great. (I know Sarai and I were never able to have kids, but still.) My best friend lives right down the street from me. Over there is where I get my hair cut. I get my camels groomed just around the corner, and I really trust that guy. I don’t want to leave!

Abram had all these things he was used to. A life that was comfortable. And here comes God, calling him to go some place he doesn’t know anything about. But God makes Abram a promise. He says, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).

I can imagine Abram talking back to God. “Say what? A great nation is going to come from us? Maybe you missed this, God, but uh, we have exactly zero kids. None. We’re childless. Sure, we tried for years – and trying was fun! But that never got us any results. Now here I am, seventy-five years old. It’s really kind of too late for us. Surely we can’t start having kids now. And you’re telling me you’re going to make us into a whole nation.

I wonder if you’ve ever made a promise to God like I have.

      • “God, if you’ll just help me pass this one test, I promise I’ll study next time”
      • “God, if you’ll just let me not get caught, I’ll never do this again, I promise”
      • Lord, if you’ll help me finish this big project for work, I promise I’ll start sooner next time”

I don’t know about you,, but most of the promises I’ve made to God didn’t stick. That’s because we’re not changed by the promises we make to God; we’re changed by believing the promises God makes to us.

Let’s look in verse 4 at what happens to Abram after God makes His promise:”So Abram left, as the LORD had told him to.” Simple as that. Just what God told him to do., Abram did. But what if he hadn’t? What if instead Abram had tried to rationalize everything? What might have happened?

Today, because of Old Testament tradition, we sometimes refer to God as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” If Abram hadn’t gone, God wouldn’t have changed his name to Abraham later when He made a covenant with him (Genesis 17). There wouldn’t have been an Isaac. There wouldn’t have been a Jacob. We wouldn’t know God today as “the God of Abraham” because Abram would have continued serving his old moon god Nannar.

If Abram hadn’t had the faith to obey God and step out, who knows what consequences we might be living with today? Would you refer to as “the God of Carl, Alex, and Jeff?” We can’t know. Thankfully, because Abram had faith in the one true God, we don’t have to.

Where is God calling you to venture into new territory? We are entering into a season of change. Embrace it. 

God’s Ultimate Over Your Immediate

Here is something we all need to keep in mind: “You will very likely overestimate what God wants to do through you in the short run. But you will very likely underestimate what God wants to do through you in the long run.

Remember that ministry and impacting others with the Gospel of the Kingdom and the love of God is a marathon and not a short sprint. 

Our walk with God and our daily lives is really a series of small decisions that we make and choices that come along that don’t seem to be life-changing or earth-shattering. Just small every day choices and decisions that will determine the future that we will have. The impact we will have. 

There were two brothers – Esau and Jacob. Esau was the oldest and he was a hunter. He was, of course, his father’s favourite. And because he was the oldest son he was given very special treatment as he would be the heir to his father when Isaac died. He came in one day from hunting and was seriously hungry. He made one small decision that impacted the rest of his life and the history of the world as we know it. He traded his birthright for a bowl of stew. After all, he was hungry and was not thinking long-term or even short-term repercussions of this one decision.

The same is true of us. We generally have short-term vision and think only of the immediate need or want. We make decisions based on our feelings and current situation without much thought – if any thought – about what will change in the future because of this one small decision or choice that we are making in the immediate – the now! So, really we need to let the Holy Spirit guide us in every minor and major decision of every day.

Paul told us to “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT). As God’s Spirit guides us, we won’t be seeking the bowl of stew, another Oreo cookie, or a scoop of ice cream. The Holy Spirit replaces our lower, self-serving, demanding desires with God’s higher, Kingdom-serving, selfless ones.

Think about this for a moment. For centuries God’s name has often been tagged by the patriarchs who loved and served Him faithfully. You’ve probably heard God referred to as “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” If you pause and reflect on the story we mentioned above, you’ll see something that will stop you in your tracks.

Esau was the older brother with the birthright. When Jacob tricked him into giving away his birthright, Esau traded the ultimate for the immediate. If he hadn’t made that devastatingly destructive shortsighted decision, throughout history you would have heard God referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau. Esau lost his standing.

You’ll be wiser. I know you will. When faced with temptations, you’ll look beyond the moment. You’ll remember that patience is better than power. Self-control is more important than conquering a city (See Proverbs 16:32). You’ll choose God’s ultimate over the immediate. You’ll never trade your birthright for a simply bowl of stew. You’ll no longer sacrifice your destiny for distorted or daily desires.

As you realize how much God has planned for you to do in this world, I pray you will live with a long-term perspective – a Kingdom perspective – making decisions that will honour God and propel you forward over time. You sacrifice your own ego-driven agenda in order to experience the perfect timing of God’s plan and purpose for your life. Instead of demanding that you want now, you’re often infinitely better off waiting. Proverbs 16:32 says, “Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city” (NLT).

Living with patience is better than muscling forward to demand what you want before the time is right. Self-control often unlocks the door to blessings that are longer lasting and more meaningful. Patience comes from knowing you already have enough of what you need the most because you are God’s child and He knows what you have need off even before you ask. And He has given to you all that you need certainly to life and to godliness. 

 

Overnight Success?

Behind every great story there’s always another story. Rarely does success come without time, discipline, and hard work. Successful people often joke that they spent years becoming an overnight success. What many people don’t realize is that it’s the things no one sees that result in the things everyone wants. It’s the faithfulness to do mundane things well, to develop productive habits, and to remain faithful that eventually leads to success.

Old Testament prophet Daniel is a great example of this. Whether you know a lot or a little about Daniel, when you hear his name, you probably think, Oh, yeah . . . Daniel in the lion’s den. Any kid who grew up attending Sunday school or visiting vacation bible school, has heard the amazing story of Daniel surviving the night in a cave filled with hungry felines.

Let me refresh your memory, and then we’ll go back to the part many overlook. King Darius was the reigning king of Persia. As his kingdom grew, he appointed 120 satraps (similar to our present-day governors) to handle regional matters and help govern the people. The king then chose three administrators to oversee those 120 satraps. Daniel was one of the chosen leaders. Over time, by consistently serving the king with an excellent spirit, Daniel stood out among all the other satraps and administrators. Eventually the king decided to place Daniel in charge of the entire kingdom.

So Daniel was an overnight success, right? Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t forget, there’s a story behind every story. Why was Daniel successful? Why was he favoured among others? Why did the king respect him so much? Promote him so quickly? Believe in his leadership? Why did God look favourably on Daniel? Why did God close the mouths of the meat-eating lions?

We find the answer in a part of Daniel’s story that many people skim over. His divine favour was the result of one small decision he made at some point in his life. We don’t know when Daniel made this decision or why. We don’t know whether someone helped him or he decided it on his own. All we know is that Daniel made one decision, starting one habit that changed his story.

As you might expect, the other leaders were fuming with jealousy of Daniel. The story continues, “Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, ‘Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.’” (Daniel 6:4-5)

Let’s consider for a moment some of the great qualities of our hero Daniel. Even though the other guys did everything they could do to find something wrong with him, they couldn’t find anything. Daniel was honest, trustworthy, and dependable in all that he did. He was exactly the type of person the king was looking to promote. So his opponents decided there was only one way they could trap Daniel into doing something worthy of punishment. They needed to devise a plan that involved his faith in God. They knew he wouldn’t do anything wrong. They were going to have to back him into a spiritual corner.

“So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:6-7)

The king apparently liked the sound of their plan because he agreed to their proposal. No one could pray to anyone but him for the next month. And so the plan to trap Daniel was set in motion. 

When Daniel heard about the new thirty-day restriction on prayer, he did the same thing he’d done three times a day for months, maybe years, possibly decades. Daniel went to his house and prayed to God.

As a result, Dan the Man was arrested and had to stare down the big cats and prove that God was his one and only. But think for a minute. It wasn’t just that Daniel wasn’t afraid of lions or had some super courage that mere mortals can never hope to attain. No, Daniel had started a regular practice much earlier in his life that helped him face this impossible situation. To others, prayer might have seemed insignificant. But to Daniel, it was a discipline that shaped his story.

We don’t know how many years Daniel had been practicing this habit, but three times a day, every day, Daniel stopped and looked toward heaven. He worshipped God. He aligned his heart with God’s heart. He sought God’s will to be done through his life. Because of Daniel’s consistent and prayerful focus, he grew as a God follower, as a person, and as a leader.

Daniel wasn’t an overnight success. He was able to stand tall because he’s faithfully knelt before the one true king. The small, daily discipline of prayer equipped him to face the big, scary test of those hungry lions, both the peers who were attempting to destroy him as well as the big cats in the arena. Starting something small and then faithfully continuing it made his story so rich that it’s been told for thousands of years now, and still counting.

The moral of the story: It’s the things not one sees that result in the things everyone wants. 

May I Take Your Order?

It happened again the other day. To be honest, I couldn’t even estimate how many times I’ve had some version of this conversation. I met someone new on my walk with my dog. Like always, we talked about dogs (I mean, what else, right?) And, as usual, I ask what they do for a living. They reciprocate and ask what I do. This is an automatic into the Gospel of the Kingdom and an invitation to our local house church. This time, when I brought up church, I found out that this person was already a Christian – a very frustrated one.

Within seconds, he had already told me about seven different churches they had tried in the past several years. The conversation went something like this: “We’ve been church shopping now for a long time, but we just can’t find anything that works for us. We liked the worship at one church, but the teaching wasn’t deep enough. Then at this other church, we loved the teaching, but the kid’s ministry was lame. We tried one church that we thought might be pretty cool, but no one talked to us the whole time we were there.” He finished with the line that to me is the death blow. It still breaks my heart every time I hear someone say it: “We just can’t find a church that meets our needs.”

Now, before I start sounding like critical, out-of-touch leader guy, let me say that I am thrilled that this person and everyone like him wants to find a great church. But the language in this conversation is troubling. For example, “We’re church shopping.” It sounds like you’re out looking for the perfect item of clothing. And the phrase “I can’t find a church that meets my needs” is one of the most unbiblical statements any Christian could utter. This is the have-it-your-way mindset. We see ourselves as spiritual consumers. The church is the product. We want to find a product that meets our needs. Before long, this polluted mind-set creeps into our theology. Well, since I’m going to church and doing good things, then God should answer my prayers, get me the job I want, help my sports team win the championship, and ensure that my twelve-year-old becomes class secretary. And if any of this doesn’t happen the way I want it to, then God failed me. Because, remember, everything is all about me. Right?

We forget that we are not made to be spiritual consumers. God has called his to be spiritual contributors. And the church does not exist for us. We are the Church, and we exist for the world.

When my mind shifts from being a spiritual consumer – it’s all about me, what I want, what I get, what I prefer – to becoming a spiritual contributor, everything changes. I am here to serve God and to love people. I exist to make a difference. God created me to be a blessing for others. My food is to do His will and to finish the work He sent me to do. When we stop just serving because it is the right thing to do and instead start seeing ourselves as servants, that’s the moment when we die a bit more to ourselves and Christ is free to live through us to bless others. 

Here’s a fun assignment: ask yourself, “Am I more of a consumer or a contributor?” If you are a Christ follower, hopefully you are a valuable part of a life-giving church. When you think about church, how would you rate yourself? Do you drop your kids off at the nursery (without ever serving there), eat a free donut or drink a free cup of coffee, sit in a seat that someone else paid for, enjoy the service, then pick up your kids and go home? If so, you are a consumer.

On the other hand, do you use your gifts to make a difference? Do you invite people to your church? Do you pray faithfully? Do you tithe consistently? And do you serve passionately? Then you’re more of a contributor.

Now think about the other areas of your life. When was the last time you gave a whole day to help someone in need? If you’ve done that several times this year, you’re contributing. You’re using your life to serve others. If you’ve never done that, or if you haven’t given much of yourself in other ways, then you should face up to the truth: you’re more of a consumer.

What about your prayers? Are you faithfully praying for others? Do you ask God to draw those who don’t know Him into a relationship with Him? To heal those who are sick? To help orphans find homes? To bless those who are hassling or hurting you? If you do, then you’re contributing with your faith and prayers. If, on the other hand, most of your prayers are focused on yourself – “Bless me, protect me, help me” – then call that what it is: at least in the area of prayer, you’re a consumer.

I’m not trying to be harsh. I’m not trying to heap guilt on you. I simply want to encourage you to be honest with yourself. If you are using your life to be a blessing to others today, then later you will relish sharing the stories that God will  allow you to tell. But if you’re more focused on self-service than on serving others, you’re going to end up with many blank pages – lost blessings that you can find only by contributing what God created you to give to the world. 

Nick At Night

We are called to share Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom with others at all times. Actions and words. Oftentimes the best way to open the door for sharing Jesus with someone is to begin a civil conversation. This means we maintain a sincere, kind, and respectful tone as we dialogue. It also means praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance about what to say, including when and how to say it.
As Christians, many of us tend to fall into two different extremes. There are some who don’t engage with non-believers at all about spiritual matters because they feel afraid, intimidated, or ill-equipped. There are others who do, but it can be in a manner that is obnoxious or argumentative. Let’s look at 1 Peter 3:15 as the remedy to both extremes. It says:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Our effectiveness for the Gospel begins with a reverence for Christ as Lord in our hearts. We are called to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask us the reason why we have hope. We are to do this with gentleness and respect.
What the world needs now, more than ever before, is for believers to be open, engaging, and available to civil conversations in a culture where people are becoming more and more hostile to Christianity – and to each other. Just look at any comments section of a social media post or news article. It can be the simplest topic to the most controversial. Doesn’t matter. In just about every instance you will have people who disagree with one another and begin labeling and attacking with no filter. Civil discourse seems to have left the building. And we Christians are just as guilty of this as nonbelievers.
The truth is, we are not going to win anyone or convince anyone of anything with our harsh and obnoxious Facebook posts over petty differences. We are not going to argue anyone into God’s Kingdom. Instead, let’s begin in civil dialogue.
Throughout Scripture, almost every conversion story began with some type of civil conversation. In Acts 8, Philip had a conversation with an Ethiopian who ended up getting saved and baptized. In Acts 10, Peter and a man named Cornelius had a conversation and the next thing you know, Cornelius and his family surrender their lives to Jesus Christ. It was in Acts 16:13-14 during a conversation with Paul and his companions, that a woman named Lydia opened her heart to receive Christ as Lord.
Jesus preached and taught people, but in His one-on-one conversations we see that He would often take on a different approach by conversing and asking questions. One of the best examples of this is recorded in the 3rd chapter of John. A man named Nicodemus had an encounter with Jesus – and his life changed forever. And, in John, chapter four, Jesus engages in a conversation with a woman at the well and that one conversations leads to a whole village hearing the Gospel of the Kingdom.
What the world needs now is for Christians to engage with the non-believers in their neighbourhood and, treating them with dignity and respect, watch for the opportunity to share the love of Jesus. Because what the world needs now is love.
So, let’s look at the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus…
Nicodemus was someone you might meet for the first time and think, He’ll never become a Christian. The guy had political influence and clout. He represented the status quo. He was wealthy. A guardian of the rules. A keeper of the laws.
Were you raised in (or have you ever been to) a legalistic church? The kind of church that emphasized “keeping the rules” – lots and lots of rules! Sadly, sometimes even “unwritten” rules are considered biblical.
Nicodemus most likely subscribed to all kinds of unwritten laws as a teacher to Israel. He represents the people who believe that by keeping all the rules they are somehow saved or made righteous. And yet Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he was probable very intrigued by Him. He wanted to learn more about Him and the things He had been teaching. So Nicodemus said, “Rabbi,” which means “teacher,” and the conversation began.
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him (John 3:2).
There are a few things I want to highlight within Jesus and Nicodemus’s exchange and conversation that will be immediately helpful to you as your share your faith.
1> Straight to the point
Jesus was willing to have a civil conversation with Nicodemus, but He also got straight to the point, as we see in the third verse of John 3. It could have been because it was late at night and Jesus was too tired for small talk. But it probably had more to do with Jesus’s desire to see Nicodemus saved. He pulled no punches. He did not shy away from this opportunity to converse with one of Israel’s most important political and religious leaders.
He said to Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
That’s pretty direct. Nicodemus heard this phrase born again and he couldn’t figure it out; he didn’t understand it. So he asked the question heard around the the evangelical world: “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4)
Jesus answered, and once again, He did not mince words: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5-6).
And what He meant by that was that Nicodemus had already been born physically; he needed to be born spiritually. Nick at night still didn’t get it, but to be fair, consider where we are in history: Jesus hadn’t died on the cross yet, the day of Pentecost was still three years away, and the church hadn’t started yet. There were no baptisteries, no communion trays, and no crosses on church buildings. Jesus was speaking somewhat prophetically when He pointed out the truth about being born of water and the Spirit.
No wonder Nicodemus didn’t understand. I’m not sure he was suppose to understand. Even mature Christians today have difficulty understanding this text! But Jesus laid everything out directly anyway.
Sometimes when believers are talking with someone who doesn’t know Christ, we beat around the bush. We use too many words. We preface or sugarcoat or water down the message. Jesus’s civil conversation with Nicodemus teaches us that sometimes we need to get straight to the point. This doesn’t mean you should be frantic, rude, or abrupt. Jesus was gentle and at ease as He shared the truth. He is the way, the truth and the life, after all, so it was probably completely natural to Him!
It may not be as natural to us, but you and I can learn to hone our message. As we practice sharing our testimony and the Gospel message, we will learn to cut out all the hemming and hawing and get down to what’s most important: the simple story of Christ’s transforming love.
We saw that Jesus lovingly shares with Nicodemus his need to be born again. And that Jesus went ‘straight to the point’.
The second thing we notice in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is that “The Spirit Is Always Moving.”
Jesus says to Nicodemus, “The winds blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” (verse 9) The reason he asked this question is because he was convinced that the law was what saved a person.
But since the law cannot save, there was a restlessness in Nicodemus’s soul. Despite the fact that he was a “law man” – and had money, fame, power, position, and religion – he was empty inside. He was searching. He didn’t know why he was searching. He didn’t know why he was feeling what he was feeling.
I imagine Jesus was trying to quiet the noice in Nicodemus’s mind and heart by saying, “Shh! Listen to the sound of the wind. The Holy Spirit of God is drawing you toward something that can save.”
And here’s the best part: even though Nicodemus came searching for Jesus that night, it was actually Jesus via the Holy Spirit who was searching for Nicodemus.
Do you remember the story in the Bible about a man named Zacchaeus who was small in stature? He climbed up a tree to look for Jesus, who was passing through the town of Jericho. Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).
Let me ask you a question: Was Zacchaeus searching for Jesus, or was Jesus searching for Zacchaeus? Even though Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector, a “sinner” by everyone else’s account, he was valuable to the Lord. Jesus was looking for him and wanted to be a guest in his home. After encountering the Lord, Zacchaeus repented of his sins, vowing to give half of what he owned to the poor and pay restitution to anyone he had cheated in the past.
If there was any doubt that Jesus was in fact looking for Zacchaeus, what the Lord declared next should clear things up: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).
The Spirit of God moved in the heart of a wealthy tax collector to climb that tree in Jericho in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world., As we have already discovered, God’s Spirit also moved in the heart of Nicodemus to seek out Jesus for the answers to his questions.
Behind the scenes, this very moment, the Spirit of God is moving! He blows wherever He wants to. As you approach casual conversations with others, I hope you will take comfort in the fact that God’s Spirit is always moving and wooing – even in folks you think would never be saved.
Author Russell Moore penned this powerful statement:
“The next Billy Graham might be passed out drunk in a fraternity house right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be making posters for a Gay Pride March right now. The next Mother Teresa might be managing an abortion clinic right now.. But the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so.”
Don’t ever doubt whom God can reach or whom God can save!
Right now there are people in your life – and perhaps even folks not yet met – who are restless just like Nicodemus. They are wondering what it means to be born again. There is an emptiness in their hearts that the law, or self-righteousness, or money, or power, or fame, or relationships, or drugs, or alcohol cannot fill. The Spirit of God could be reaching out to them through you. Let this amazing truth be your confidence as you initiate civil conversations with them about matters of faith.
Review:
We are looking at the civil conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. This is the first of three recorded connections that this religious leader and teacher had with Jesus.
We started with seeing that “What the World Needs Now Is Love” …
Then we had a look at the fact that in His conversation with Nicodemus Jesus:
Went straight to the point speaking the truth in love
And that the Spirit of God is always moving and we partner with Him in the work of winning the lost
Let’s look at a third element in this civil conversation between the Lord and Nicodemus.
Patience – Even When They Don’t Understand
After Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” Jesus continued to talk with him and explained Himself in quite some detail, Even though Nicodemus was a teacher of the law and should have been able to grasp these concepts. Even though, by all appearances, his conversion was nowhere in sight.
And what we learn from Christ’s approach and demeanour is that be must be patient with others, even when they don’t understand.
Jesus patiently took Nicodemus back to a familiar story in the Old Testament – Numbers 21 – to explain salvation. The people of God were complaining when they should have been rejoicing because God had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and was leading them to the promised land.
They questioned Moses’s leadership abilities.
They didn’t like the monotonous and dry food.
They began to second-guess leaving a life of slavery in Egypt.
And they began to infect the camp with poisonous words
So the Lord sent real, live snakes into their midst, to do literally the very thing the people were guilty of doing figuratively: poisoning. Many of the Israelites died. Those who were left realized their sin and went to Moses to repent. They knew they were doomed and beyond hope.
In recounting this story, Jesus reminded Nicodemus how Moses lifted up a bronze snake on a pole and whoever looked upon that snake would live. Just as He did with His “born again” statement earlier, Jesus was juxtaposing the physical with the spiritual. In fact, He told Nicodemus that He was speaking about heavenly things: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15).
Jesus was patient with Nicodemus as He led him to the truth of the Gospel. We are called to do the same in our civil conversations with others. It may look like they don’t understand. It may look like they are never going to receive it. But God has called us to lift up Jesus so that He can draw all people to Him (John 12:32). That is our only job. That is all we have to worry about.
More and more every day, our world is becoming so divided and confused. Like the Israelites who had snakes in the midst of the camp, it may seem as though we are all doomed.
Our only hope is Jesus Christ.
In everything we do, in every conversation we have, we believers must be loving, patient, truthful, and above all, lift Jesus so that the entire would will believe.
Let’s finish looking the civil conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.
We started with seeing that “What the World Needs Now Is Love” …
Then we had a look at the fact that in His conversation with Nicodemus Jesus:
Went straight to the point speaking the truth in love
And that the Spirit of God is always moving and we partner with Him in the work of winning the lost
And a third element – third element in this civil conversation between the Lord and Nicodemus – Patience … Even When They Don’t Understand
As I attempt to put myself non Nicodemus’s sandals after this fascinating conversation with the Saviour of the world, here is what I imagine Nicodemus saying or thinking:
“Jesus, everything that You’re saying has completely turned my thought process upside down. Everything I have ever been taught since I was a child is that the law is what saves! You come along with these miracles and signs that force me to listen to You. You  tell me I have to be born again of the Spirit. And that the Son of Man must be lifted up (crucified and glorified).”
I imagine him continuing, “Jesus, I’m an educated man, but I need you to simplify this for me. I’m very interested – but I don’t understand. I know the Scriptures front to back. I know what the rabbis have taught for thousands of years, but … I have no idea what You are saying.”
Then, in perhaps the greatest verse in John’s entire gospel, Jesus really did simplify it all for Nicodemus when He declared: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
People can keep all the laws, but the law can’t save. They can be leaders among leaders, but fame and recognition can’t save. They can be wealthy, but material possessions cannot save. Only knowing the Son of God – Jesus – can save a person.
Christ went to the cross and died for the sins of the world. All who believe in Him will not perish (go to Hell) but have everlasting life (know God personally and the, when they die, go to Heaven)! As Jesus spoke amicably with Nicodemus, we can show others through patient civil conversations that it was all part of God’s plan.
God’s story.
God’s love.
God’s Spirit.
God’s calling.
God’s Son.
God’s salvation.
Any time you see people getting saved, lives being changed, miracles and signs, and people moving from darkness to light – it’s all God. Anything good you see is because God is at work around the world to redeem mankind before Jesus returns. Unbelievers may not understand this, but we can help them. Today, you can initiate civil conversations about matters of faith with someone you meet.

What The World Needs Now

We are called to share Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom with others at all times. Actions and words. Oftentimes the best way to open the door for sharing Jesus with someone is to begin a civil conversation. This means we maintain a sincere, kind, and respectful tone as we dialogue. It also means praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance about what to say, including when and how to say it.

As Christians, many of us tend to fall into two different extremes. There are some who don’t engage with non-believers at all about spiritual matters because they feel afraid, intimidated, or ill-equipped. There are others who do, but it can be in a manner that is obnoxious or argumentative. Let’s look at 1 Peter 3:15 as the remedy to both extremes. It says:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Our effectiveness for the Gospel begins with a reverence for Christ as Lord in our hearts. We are called to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask us the reason why we have hope. We are to do this with gentleness and respect.

What the world needs now, more than ever before, is for believers to be open, engaging, and available to civil conversations in a culture where people are becoming more and more hostile to Christianity – and to each other. Just look at any comments section of a social media post or news article. It can be the simplest topic to the most controversial. Doesn’t matter. In just about every instance you will have people who disagree with one another and begin labeling and attacking with no filter. Civil discourse seems to have left the building. And we Christians are just as guilty of this as nonbelievers.

The truth is, we are not going to win anyone or convince anyone of anything with our harsh and obnoxious Facebook posts over petty differences. We are not going to argue anyone into God’s Kingdom. Instead, let’s begin in civil dialogue.

Throughout Scripture, almost every conversion story began with some type of civil conversation. In Acts 8, Philip had a conversation with an Ethiopian who ended up getting saved and baptized. In Acts 10, Peter and a man named Cornelius had a conversation and the next thing you know, Cornelius and his family surrender their lives to Jesus Christ. It was in Acts 16:13-14 during a conversation with Paul and his companions, that a woman named Lydia opened her heart to receive Christ as Lord.

Jesus preached and taught people, but in His one-on-one conversations we see that He would often take on a different approach by conversing and asking questions. One of the best examples of this is recorded in the 3rd chapter of John. A man named Nicodemus had an encounter with Jesus – and his life changed forever. And, in John, chapter four, Jesus engages in a conversation with a woman at the well and that one conversations leads to a whole village hearing the Gospel of the Kingdom.

What the world needs now is for Christians to engage with the non-believers in their neighbourhood and, treating them with dignity and respect, watch for the opportunity to share the love of Jesus. Because what the world needs now is love. 

Let’s look at Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus next time…

A Friend Of Sinners

If the church wants to reach the next generation – and we are the church – it has to allow more apostles, prophets, and evangelists to lead and influence the direction of the church. Right now the ministry office that impacts the church the most if that of pastor-teacher. Once the other offices of the fivefold ministry begin to influence the church that Jesus is building we will inevitably move the body from a church-focused mindset to a culture-focused mindset which will also then include a Kingdom-focused mindset. The apostles, prophets, and evangelists think externally, which is where the young people are. When we keep our people inside the church by keeping them busy with “Christian activities,” we reject culture. But when we disperse our people, we redeem it. Maybe even create it. 

There was a day when Christians created the culture. (Now we just seem to copy it). Our faith influenced the birth of hospitals, universities, and even some nations. For example, 106 of America’s first 108 colleges were started as Christian institutions.

I like to remind people that Jesus, during the course of His public ministry, performed around forty miracles. Most of them happened outside the temple. The same goes for His disciples. Of the forty miracles in the book of Acts, only one happened in the temple. You don’t get labeled a “friend of sinners” if most of your time is spent in church. 

The mantra of shepherd and teachers leans towards “Come as you are.”

The mantra of apostles, prophets, and evangelists leans towards “Go where they are.”

Which one sounds more like the mantra of the younger generation? Honestly, both. They’re inclusive and adventurous. So what if we changed it to “Go as you are”? Wherever God has you,, be all there. It reminds me of Matthew 10:7: “As you go, preach” (NASB). Steward the mysteries of God exactly where God has placed you. If you are a scientist, do careful research in the context of learning and caring for God’s creation. If you are an athlete, compete with self-discipline, resilience, and integrity. If you are a business owner, make high-quality products while serving the dignity of both your customers and your employees. 

Shepherds (pastors) and teachers tend to want young peopler to come in and serve the church, giving up or minimizing their outside activities. But pastors need to understand that the more you empower young people to go and serve outside the church, the more they will be inspired to come and serve inside the church.

The test for gauging whether your church is internally or externally focused is a simple question. If your church closed its doors, how long would it take for the neighbourhood to notice?

A week? A month? A year? Would the neighbourhood ever notice? And if they did, would they care? This is how young people think – and all Christians really should be thinking this way as well. It is a very practical question that each and every believer needs to answer for themselves. 

I believe it is time to return to the mandate Jesus gave to the Church. Jesus only left us one task to be involved in as the church. And remember, you are the church. The mandate was and still is: “Go into all the world and make disciples.” It is time we make whatever changes – all the changes – needed to refocus on that one mandate. It is time that we, like Jesus, “seek and save the lost” and stop playing church. 

For this to happen we need to welcome and release the ministry gifts of apostle, prophet, and evangelist into the leadership of the church. 

Don’t Settle In Spain!

Christopher Columbus, the great renowned explorer, grew up in Spain at a time when Spain was very proud of the fact that they were the last point of solid land for sailors going westward. When travellers arrived in Spain by boat (usually from Africa), the first thing they would see as they entered the strait leading to the port of Spain were two large pillars on each side of the canal inscribed with Spain’s national motto. The motto in Latin was Ne Plus Ultra, which means “No More Beyond.” These same words showed up on Spain’s flag and coins as well.

This message was one the nation took pride in and believed as their outlook on life. “No more beyond” was not considered to be negative in nature. It was mainly a reference to the geographical location of Spain in the world, as they knew it. Many people saw Spain as a major destination in that day because getting to Spain meant you had gone to the end of civilization and reached the ultimate place on earth. There was now no more beyond.

The fact this had on people, though, was that they settled there. Since there was nothing beyond, why think beyond there? Or dream beyond there?

This is the message that young Christopher Columbus saw everywhere as he was growing up. It’s how everyone thought. But it wasn’t the message Christopher believed. In fact, he put everything he had into the idea that there was something beyond., That belief is what inspired and fueled his vision. He raised support  and the backing of the king to sail west into uncharted waters. 

Everything changed in Spain after Columbus discovered the New World. Spain entered what was called the Age of Discovery. The national motto changed too. The king ordered that the “Ne” be dropped so that the new motto was Plus Ultra. Flags were changed and they engraved new coins with the phrase Plus Ultra, which means “More Beyond.” The nation embraced the reality of more beyond where they were.

Sadly, I have found that it’s a common tendency for people to settle in their own version of Spain. The no-more-beyond mentality falls far short of what God has in mind for their lives. They get to a certain point and begin to believe there’s nothing greater left for them. They accept something far less than God’s bigger, greater plans for their lives. 

Men and women settle. Old and young settle. People of all ethnicities and economic statuses settle. Believers and unbelievers settle. Businesses and churches settle. Even while people are active, they settle. Just because people go to work, clean the house, balance the chequebook, and go to the kid’s games doesn’t mean they haven’t settled in their own version of Spain. Life may go on for them, but it’s still Ne Plus Ultra. 

There seems to be three reasons people settle…

1> People settle when they get sentimentally attached to a past season of their life

Sometimes people are suppose to stay where they have been, but nothing is suppose to stay like it has been. When people don’t evolve with life and embrace change, they settle for a lifetime in what was meant to be a season.

2> People settle in a place of relational wounds

Relational wounds can be terribly debilitating, and many people settle in the place of a lost relationship. They allow themselves to linger mentally and emotionally in a place that God wants them to move beyond. The loss of a friend. The death of a loved one. The end of a marriage. Relational woundedness can cause you to settle where you are.

3> People settle because where they are is “good enough” and they want to stay comfortable.

Yes, settled people can still enjoy a good life. But just because someone makes the best of his or her life doesn’t mean]they are living their best life. “Good enough” is the enemy of “better than ever.”

Don’t make the mistake of settling for good enough. Good enough is not your destiny! Are you aware that being comfortable is way overrated? The best things in life don’t come when you’re comfortable. If fact, being too comfortable can clog your arteries, soften your muscles, and make you weak and tired. Your body may want to settle and be comfortable, but that’s not how you experience the healthiest and best life. 

The place of “good enough” might sound tempting because it’s more comfortable. But it’s not the place God has for you. “Good enough” is not your destiny. Ignore the signs that say “no more beyond.” That message is a lie that wants us to settle and miss out on all that God has beyond where we are right now. 

The new motto is Plus Ultra – “more beyond!”

Sounds Like Today

I love the way God’s Word, the Bible, speaks to today. It is as if He had just recently had a look at what was happening in our world and then specifically spoke to the situation. It is amazing, to me anyways, how alive and relevant the Word of God is to the world in which we live and find ourselves. Let me give you a recent example from my reading…

“Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.”               2 Timothy 3:1-5 The Message Version

Does that sound to you like a picture of today’s world? I realize it’s easy to be discouraged. We could throw up our hands and simply quit trying to make things better. You know, don’t cause waves; go with the flow. It’s not all that bad. Such is not a godly attitude, according to the Scriptures. In a time like we are living in – when so many things that were once foundational to our culture are being torn down and destroyed – we are to be about His work of building up. In a destructive world, we are to maintain constructive attitudes.

In the book of Ecclesiastes we are told “There is a time to tear down, and a time to build up” (Ecclesiastes 3:3b)

In this season we are seeing both happen at the same time. For some reason – from top leadership on down to the man on the street, we seem to be in the business of demolition rather than construction. We have become adept at poisoning the wells of culture, politics, business, spirituality, the family, and every other sphere. For reasons unknown, we’ve been tearing down everything between ourselves and the horizon:

        • We’ve torn down integrity
        • We’ve torn down purity
        • We’ve torn down honesty
        • We’ve torn down national pride
        • We’ve torn down respect for others
        • We’ve torn down ideals
        • We’ve torn down dreams
        • We’ve torn down our sense of shame
        • We’ve torn down political aspiration
        • We’ve torn down ________________ (add one you can think of)

I believe that it is up to true believers to maintain a constructive attitude in the midst of this destructive, every-person-for-themselves narcissistic culture in which we find ourselves. We are to lead and set the example about what real life – life the way God planned it – is really all about. As we face these perilous times, our message must be fresh, positive, exciting, energetic, and eminently constructive. 

So, I have been examining my values. I have been taking a good, honest look at the way I live. I have been reading myself into the pages of Scripture to see what might need adjusting. I am being observant to the way I relate to people, how and what I pray, where I am investing my time and money. I am working to widen my perspective so I see what Jesus sees and can then constructively interact with my neighbours and with my city. I am working to become much more Kingdom-minded. And to live more in line with the Scriptures.

It has not and is not an easy adjustment but it is a necessary one. Because, without being intentional about all of this I can quickly find myself in Paul’s list of people to stay clear of. 

Good Friday and COVID-19

Regardless of COVID-19 we are celebrating God’s grace and goodness this Easter weekend. We are saved by grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And, that message can quickly become lost in the midst of the massive changes we are experiencing in our every-day life.
 
A story to bring home the importance of Easter and the grace and goodness of God …
 
A man dies and goes to heaven and, of course, Peter meets him at the pearly gates.
 
“Here’s how it works,” Peter says. “You need one hundred points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach one hundred points, you get in.”
 
“Okay,” the man say, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”
 
“That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter. “That’s worth three points!”
 
“Three points?” the guy says, sounding a little disappointed.
 
“Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithes and service.”
 
“Terrific!” says St. Peter. “That’s worth two points.”
 
“Two points? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”
 
“Fantastic, that’s good for one more point,” Peter says.
 
“One point!” the man cried. “At this rate the only way I will get into heaven is by the grace of God!”
 
Peter says, “Come on in!”
 
This is what Good Friday and Easter are all about. Everything else is of little value. Stay focused….