The Sun Is Rising In the East

A researcher was speaking to a number of pastors in an area of the world where true believers in Jesus suffer persecution on a regular basis. He was hearing amazing stories of God moving in supernatural ways as well as horrific stories of Christian leaders being jailed, tortured, and even killed for their faith. 

Here is what he wrote…

At the end of a number of days of sharing I remarked: “There is one thing I don’t understand. You have told me so many remarkable stories about what God has done. You have told me about unspeakable suffering. You have told me about previous persecution. And you have told me about God’s power at work. Why haven’t you written these stories down? Why haven’t you published these stories? Why haven’t your stories been recorded in some way?

The pastors seemed genuinely confused by my questions. 

Finally, an older pastor took me aside. He gently took my arm and he led me to the large picture window in the home — a picture window that was facing the east.

The old pastor began by making reference to my family: “You have told us that you have some sons.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Tell me,” the pastor patiently asked, “how many times have you awakened your sons before dawn and taken them to the east-facing part of your home? How many time have you said to them, ‘Boys, get ready! Look out this window, because the sun is about to come up in the east! Boys, I woke you up early today because I wanted you to see it! It’s about ready to happen!’ Tell me, how many times have you awakened your boys and said that to them?”

“Well, sir,” I answered, “I have never done that. In fact, my sons would think I was crazy if I did that.”

The old pastor nodded as if a profound point had been made. However, I could see no connection to our earlier conversation. I was completely baffled.

Seeing my confusion, he went on to explain. “You would never do that with your sons because the sun coming up in the east is normal and ordinary. It is an everyday event. It is expected. Well, that’s the way persecution is for us. That’s the way God’s activity is for us. We don’t write much about these things — we don’t even talk much about these thing — because these things are as normal as the sun coming up on the east.”

The researcher went on the write…

It was a startling thought for me. From my perspective, persecution was something exceptional, unusual, out of the ordinary. From my perspective persecution was a problem, and it was something to be avoided. From the perspective of my pastor friend in (name of country), however, persecution was not exceptional at all. It was usual. It was ordinary. Persecution was simply to be expected for followers of Jesus. And God’s ability to intervene and use persecution for His purposes was expected as well.

Personal note: This brief message has caused me to do some deep thinking about my life and ministry and the often lack of any visible persecution because of my witness for Jesus. 

End note: According to several mission ministries … 80 percent of the world’s believers who are practicing their faith live in persecution. Believers being those who are born again and have a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus. 

And yet, in my life….

The Lesson From a Group Of Monkeys

I am always astonished at what people believe. Not just in matters of the faith but in all aspects of life. Of course, with COVID-19 there are so many differing opinions and viewpoints. The most obvious currently: the mask or no mask debate and divide. We have people who believe that asymptomatic people cannot spread the virus when scientific and medical experts tell us the opposite. We have conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus…

People put their thoughts and opinions on social media and repeat them often enough that some people begin to believe they are true. And, of course, then they retweet or repost and thus spread them further ‘as truth.’ So we end up with large numbers of people believing something that is not true. 

The other day in a series of interviews with doctors and nurses they were sharing that people who they are ministering to in hospital and the ICU – people who are dying from COVID-19 – think the COVID-19 virus is not real and simply a hoax. They believe what they have been told and what they have heard over-and-over again … not checking the facts, just believing. Even when dying they still do not believe they were really dying of COVID-19. 

It reminds me of the scientific study done a number of years ago. I have reproduced it below….

Scientists once conduced a very interesting experiment

In the middle of a room, they hung a bushel of fresh bananas halfway up a pole

Then they let four monkeys loose in the room.

Immediately the hungry monkeys dashed towards the bright yellow bananas

As they climbed the scientists blasted the monkeys with icy-cold water

The monkeys backed off, regrouped, then made a second attempt. As they started to climb the pole, once again they received the discouraging dousing

After several unsuccessful attempts, the monkeys became convinced that failure was inevitable and finally stopped trying.

The next day, the researchers removed one of the four monkeys and replaced him with a new monkey.

What did the rookie do?

He went straight for the bananas

But before he even reached the pole, the three veterans pulled him away

Undeterred, the new money tried again. 

Again his compassionate roommates intervened

At last he gave up and adopted their fatalistic attitude

Each day, the scientists replaced one of the original monkeys with a new one

By the fifth day, four monkeys occupied the room, not one of whom had ever been sprayed with cold water

From that day forward, whenever a new monkey was traded in, the others would prevent him from going for the bananas … without even knowing why 

Four had failed, and then they conditioned the novices to not even try

This happens with more than a group of monkeys. 

This happens to us as believers more often than we care to admit

People hear what we are wanting to do and tell you all the reasons we should not. You hear it often enough and you decide that you likely were not hearing God or misinterpreted what you heard.

You were in a friendship that didn’t work – others tell you that friendships are always unpredictable and usually painful so you decide not to risk another attempt at friendshipwith someone else

You were married and the marriage failed. Others tell you to just stay single as it is not worth the pain to remarry

Your first child was a pain in the neck an totally upset your life – so you don’t ever have a second one

Once burnt – twice shy

Several people I know were told by their parents and teachers as they were growing up that they would never amount to anything. Born losers. And, having heard it often enough – they  live up to the negative expectation and never use their abilities, skills, and talents to build a life that they could be proud of; a life that would benefit others and be a blessing.

It seems that we can be programmed to believe anything if we hear it often enough. And, it seems that the source of the ‘belief’ matters little. What matters is that it is repeated over and over again until it “becomes truth” to the hearer although not based in any facts. 

Remember: just because you read or hear or see something on social media does not make it true

Remember: what others say about you is not near as important as what God has declared about you

Remember: what God declares about you is always, and I repeat, always true

Remember: it is perfectly alright to check out every thing you hear or read to see if it is based in fact and is not just someone’s opinion. This is true even with teachings and sermons you may have heard. Don’t believe it because someone said it; believe it after you check it out with the written Word of God – the Bible. 

Don’t let others “make a monkey out of you.”

Following the Spirit’s Leading

The same young apostle writes…

Before I had even arrived at the first stop on my planned Southeast Asia tour, I received an e-mail from a European doctor living and working on the border of two Central Asia countries that were experiencing a great deal of violence and unrest. The words of his e-mail were guarded and carefully worded. The message read: “Dr. Ripken, I have heard about the research that you are doing from a friend I knew and worked closely with in Somalia some years ago. I believe that the Lord needs you to come to name of country and he names his border town.”

My wife had already booked and purchased my plane tickets for the entire, tightly-scheduled trip. I responded to the man’s e-mail, explaining that my itinerary included not only Vietnam and Thailand, but also Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Then I explained further: “These are the last of the countries that I have already made plans to visit this year. I am expecting to be in your region late next year, so please be patient. I will be sure to get back in touch with you and I will gladly consider your invitation at that time.”

After another stop to see the killing fields of Cambodia (where very few believers survived the Khmer Rouge reign of terror), I landed in Bangkok. From there, I went up and stayed for a time among the Karen people group living in the Golden Triangle region where Thailand’s borders meet the borders of Laos. Then, I attempted to travel to what was once called Burma (now Myanmar). Several days later, I came back to Bangkok where I had another e-mail from the same doctor.

This second e-mail was more insistent, “I really think you should come now,” the man wrote.

At that point, I responded with a slightly less gracious reply: “I am sorry, but I will not come your way until next year.” At that point I set out for another country on my itinerary. Just before arriving there, however, I received a phone call informing me that all 18 pastors that I had lined up for interviews there had been arrested and were currently in jail. My primary contact in that country said, “This will not be a good time for you to visit us, unless you want to stay a lot longer than you had planned!” I certainly wanted to visit that country, but I had no interest I spending time in prison. 

I wondered about the strange turn of events. Even more, I wondered if maybe it was some sort of a sign. I changed my plans immediately and returned to Bangkok. I am not sure if I was really surprised or not, but I received another e-mail from this same annoyingly persistent doctor. 

This time I replied even more bluntly. Didn’t want to sound rude, but I was confident in the plans that I had made. In effect, I said to him: “Please stop asking me to visit; I am not coming to your country at this time.” A few days later, I prepared to leave Bangkok for my next destination. After leaving Bangkok and before I reached my next stop, however, I received a phone call from an in-country contact. This phone call informed me that some of the pastors who were planning to talk with me has been in an automobile accident. Several others were sick in the hospital, and ever others were under tight surveillance.

“I am sorry,” I was told, “but this is no longer a good time for you to visit. We will contact you to let you know when you might try again.”

Once again, I returned to Bangkok. Arriving there, I was startled to find yet another e-mail from the European doctor.

Again, he insisted strongly: “I really believe God wants you to come here now.”

Given the recent events and the apparent closed doors that I was facing, I was suddenly more open to his request. I broke down, swallowed my pride, and called the doctor. After introducing myself, I sheepishly admitted, “It suddenly looks like I really don’t have anything else to do for the next couple weeks. I guess I’ll be coming your way after all.”

I flew into capital city of his country, then traveled on to a smaller city. From there, I took a smaller plane which landed on a short dirt runway outside a small border town. As soon as I exited the airplane, I spotted a man who was obviously the doctor. Standing beside him were five men in traditional Muslim dress who also seemed to be waiting at the remote desert airstrip for my plane to land.

As the doctor and I exchanged greetings, I asked him, “Who are your friends?”

“You don’t know why they are?” He reacted in surprise.

“No, I didn’t even know who you were until 30 seconds ago,” I told him.

“Well, Dr. Ripken,” he said, as he cast a furtive glance over his shoulder, “If you don’t know these men — and I don’t know these men — then we have a serious security problem. They told me that they had come to meet you.” 

“So,” he continued rather abruptly, “I’m going to have to leave you now. Here’s my cell phone number. If everything turns out all right, call me, and I’ll come back and get you.” 

Then he turned and walked away.

I was stunned, and it dawned on me that I was already praying. I felt that I was self-trained in being careful in the midst of danger, so there was no way that I was going to leave with these five men. As I dragged my bag towards the small terminal, I was already thinking about how quickly I could catch a flight out. The men followed me. They tugged on my clothes trying to get me to stop. I tried my best to ignore them. Finally, one of them said in broken English, “Sir, stop. Please stop. We are followers of Jesus.”

I immediately stopped and turned to listen to what they had to say. The quick summary of their story rang true. Against my better judgment, but sensing the hand of God on our meeting, I went with my five unnamed new “friends” to a room that they had rented in the nearby town.

When we got there, we sat down together on the floor in an unfurnished apartment. They simply looked at me and smiled. They seemed perfectly content to wait. I had no idea what was expected of me. I shared briefly about myself, though my words were more guarded than usual. I talked a little about where I had been. How I had been travelling around the world, the research that I had done, and why I wanted to talk to believers in different parts of the world. I even speculated a little on why I had ended up in this tiny corner of the world. 

One of the men spoke English. He translated my words to the others. After he finished. All five of the men began to laugh.

I was confused and I wanted to know what they thought was so funny.

They shook their heads, smiled, and said to me, “You may think you know why you have come here. But we would like to tell you why you are really here.”

They briefly sketched out their own personal stories. They had each had dreams or visions that had raised spiritual questions and prompted a long search for answers. They had each miraculously found a copy of the Bible to study. After reading the entire book several times, they had each, on their own, decided to follow Jesus. They had each been rejected and disowned by their families. Eventually they had to flee their country. They made their way across the border to this small border town. Somehow they found each other and they realized that they all shared the same newfound faith in Christ.

They didn’t really know what to do next, but they instinctively started meeting in this tiny third-floor apartment. They met daily from midnight until 3:00 in the morning, hoping that no one would notice them. They read the Word of God secretly and tried to provide spiritual support and encouragement for one another. 

Two months earlier, they explained, they had started praying this prayer: “Oh God, we don’t know how to do this! We grew up and were trained as Muslims. We know how to be Muslims in a Muslim environment. We even know how to be communists in a Muslim environment. But we do not know how to follow Jesus in a Muslim environment. Please, Lord, send us someone. Send us someone who knows about persecution, someone who knows what other believers are doing, someone who can encourage and teach us.”

Chills were running up and down my spine as they explained what had happened when they had been together in this same rented upper room earlier in the day: “At 1:30 this morning, we were here praying when the Holy Spirit told us to go to the airport. The Holy Spirit told us that we were to go to the first white man who got off the plane. The Holy Spirit told us that He was sending this man to answer our questions.”

“So,” they said as they smiled at me again, “that is why you are here. Now you can do what God has called you here to do. Before you start teaching us, however, we have one other question for you: Where have you been and what have you been doing for these last two months? We started to pray for someone to show up two months ago. And, only now are you here.”

I shook my head in embarrassment. I confessed, “Well… I guess I have been being disobedient! I tried my best for weeks not to come here at all. Please forgive me!”

They did. And we had a great time of teaching and learning from each other over the next few days. I listened to each of their personal testimonies of faith and asked them specific questions about the details of how and when they encountered Jesus and became His followers.

One of the five men told me, “I dreamed about a blue book. I was driven, consumed really, by the message of the dream. ‘Look for this book,’ the dream said, ‘read this Bible.’ I began a search, but I could not find a book like that anywhere in my country. Then, one day, I walked into a Quranic book shop and saw this sea of green books lining the walls. I noticed a book of a different colour on a shelf at the back of the store, so I walked back there and pulled out a thick blue volume to discover that it was a Bible. It was published in my own national language. I actually bought a Bible in the Islamic bookstore, took it home, and read it five times. That’s how I came to know Jesus.”

Another one told me, “I dreamed about finding Jesus, but I didn’t even know how or where to look. Then one day I was walking through the market when a man I had never seen before came up to me in the crowd. He said, ‘The Holy Spirit told me to give you this book.’ He handed me a Bible and disappeared into the crowd. I never saw him again. But I read the Bible he gave me three times from cover to cover, and that’s how I came to know and follow Jesus.”

Each one of the five men told me a different variation of this same story. Each one of them had come across a Bible in some unusual, miraculous way. Each one had read the Gospel story of Jesus. Each one had decided to follow Him.

After hearing their stories, I felt drawn to open the book of Acts. With an entirely different point of view, I began to read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. For the first time in my life, as I read that passage, I wondered: How in the world did an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a man of colour, and a foreigner get a copy of a scroll containing the book of Isaiah?

In New Testament days, even partial copies of Scripture were handwritten on scrolls. They were very rare and very expensive. What’s more the Jews had strict rules and restrictions about who was even allowed to touch the Holy Scriptures and where the Scriptures could be opened and read.

By all accounts, this Ethiopian official would not have been allowed to touch a copy of Scripture, or open it and read it, or possess it. Yet, Philip finds this Ethiopian man in a chariot on a desert road in Gaza pouring and puzzling over Isaiah 53. When I read the story on this night the fact that the Ethiopian official was actually going home with a copy of a portion of the Jewish Bible seems extraordinary and unlikely.

In fact, it was so extraordinary and unlikely that I blurted out a question: Where did this man get a copy of Your Word?

In reply, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart: I have been doing this for a long time. If you will take My Word out into the world, I will get it in the right hands.

What a marvellous, miraculous, and mysterious partnership this is! We have no clear understanding of what sent that official of the Ethiopian queen on a spiritual pilgrimage to Israel, Something or someone did. How did that man miraculously get his hands on that part of the Word of God? And why was he on the empty stretch of desert road, at that very moment, reading that particular chapter of Isaiah? Of course, we know how Philip ended up there – the Holy Spirit sent him. 

I had to admit that I did not know the answers to any of those questions.

Yet, now, after being among believers in persecution, I was pretty sure that God must have had to work a number of small miracles for that encounter between the Ethiopian man and Philip to take place. In God’s marvellous timing, this encounter happened in exactly the right place and at exactly the right time. Almost two thousand years later, the fact thing had happened when I walked off of a place to meet five Muslim men who had miraculously found Jesus. I had never intended to be an answer to prayer that day, but evidently I was.

Reading from the book of Acts that evening was a completely new experience. Two thoughts stayed in my mind: this is what God did then and this is what does does now. Suddenly, my modern world didn’t look all that different than the world of the Bible.

Much, much later, after years of gathering stories, I came to understand that the tales told by these five new friends were actually pretty commonplace. Time and again, in the years since, Muslim-background believers from many different countries and cultures have told me about being directed by dreams and visions. They have told me about finding Bibles through amazing circumstances. They have mentioned reading the Bible multiple times. In the reading, they have talked about feeling drawn to Jesus. They have told me of a personal decision to follow Him. Many of those pilgrimages to faith involved a Philip who miraculously showed up at exacting the right time, in the right place, with the right words that finally pointed the seeker directly to Jesus. 

The Great Commission

The completion of the Great Commission will include great suffering, but eternity will prove it is worth the price. There are three significant truths in that statement.

1> The Great Commission will one day be complete. One day, disciples will have been made and churches will have been multiplied in every nation and among every people group on the planet. Thousands of these people groups remain unreached today, but one day — hopefully soon — they will be reached. In the words of Jesus, “The gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14). 

According to the apostle John, one day “a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will stand “before the throne of the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands … crying out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).

These words from Jesus and John in Scripture are guarantees. By the power of His Spirit through the testimony of His Church, Christ will be proclaimed as Saviour among all the peoples of the world.

2> This task of proclaiming Christ to all people will include great suffering. Jesus assured us of this, as well. Right before His promise in Matthew 24 of the gospel proclaimed to all nations, Jesus told His disciples, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death” (Matthew 24:9). “If they persecute Me, they will also persecute you,” He told them in John 15:20. It is no surprise, then, to see the suffering of God’s people on every page of the story of the church in Acts and the history of the Church since Acts. 

Suffering is one of God’s ordained means for the growth of His Church. He brought salvation to the world through Christ, our suffering Saviour, and He now spreads salvation in the world through Christians as suffering saints. In the words of Paul, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Clearly, there is a sense in which the danger in our lives increases in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ.

3> Eternity will prove that such suffering was worth the price. The book of Revelation envisions the day when sin and Satan will ultimately be finally defeated, and followers of Christ who endured suffering in this world will reign with God for all eternity. How will this defeat come about? Through Christians who “have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives unto death” (Revelation 12:11). Men and women who wisely love the gospel and glory of God more than their own lives will enter into and experience eternal life, where God Himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes and dwell with them forever.

So, we need to decide that Jesus and His cause on the earth — to go to the nations and make disciples — is better than all the pleasures, possessions, and pursuits of the world put together. 

It is time for true believers to be more cognizant of the needs of the world, more confident in the Word of God, and more committed to making His Word known throughout this world, no matter what it cost you…realizing that God’s reward is far greater than anything this world could ever offer you. 

The Strategy of Satan Is Simple – Part Two

We are thinking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to be involved in His mandate to “seek and save the lost” as we “go into all the world and make disciples.” We looked at the simple strategy of the Devil and the issue of believers who don’t take seriously the task or mandate of the Church to complete the work the Lord came to establish (read Part One posted yesterday).

Our problem is not simply a lack of concern. And our problem is not that we are unaware or disinterested. We know what is happening around the world. We know about sacrifices that are made for the faith. We know more about the health and the whereabouts of members of the Body of Christ today than at any other time in history.,

It’s not enough to feel grateful for the blessed circumstances in which we live. It’s not even enough to do a better job remembering and praying for the suffering believers around the world. It’s not even enough to identify with the other parts of Christ’s Body around the world.

Ultimately the problem is one of emphasis and focus. Instead of recognizing, thinking about, remembering, praying about, identifying with and focusing on the suffering of fellow believers around the world, we would do well to shift our focus. Quite simply, we would do well to ask ourselves whether or not we are being obedient to Jesus. He is asking us — He is expecting us — He is commanding us to share Him wherever we go. He is commanding us to do that wherever we are today.

It is simply a matter of obedience. If He is our Lord, then we will obey Him. If we do not obey Him, then He is not our Lord. He said, If you love Me, you will obey Me.” Obedience is one of the main keys and is missing in so many churches and in the lives of many believers.

Perhaps the questions should not be: “Why are others persecuted?” Perhaps the better question is: “Why are we not?”

I think the answer is obvious!

As believers we are seriously “self-focused.” We are always looking at and dealing with our needs, our wants, our hurts, our reputation, our dreams and, yes, our ministry. As local churches we are busy with programs and meeting the needs of those who attend. 

Here’s a life-changing thought: It is not the task of the Church to meet your needs. You have the Great Shepherd and He loves you and cares for you. He can and will meet your needs and heal your hurts.

Here’s a life-changing thought: The Church exists for it’s non-members. It exists to seek and save those who do not have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, the Christ. 

Here’s another life-changing thought: “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father” … and the will of the Father is to be a labourer in the harvest field and daily to share Jesus as we live among the lost.

So, I believe it is time to take a good, hard and honest look at our lives and our churches. Then we need the courage to make the needed adjustments in focus and what we value so as to come into line with the Scriptures. A change in priorities will also be necessary. It is time for some serious thought followed by concrete actions that will aline us with the heart of the Father. 

The Strategy of Satan Is Simple – Part One

As I travel and minister I encounter committed followers of Jesus who trust even His toughest teachings. They understand that anyone who wishes to save his life must first be willing to lose it.

They are willing to take that risk because they believe that, ultimately, good will defeat evil. Love will finally overcome hate. And life will conquer death forever by the power of our resurrection faith. They know that the final chapter of the greatest story ever told has already been written. And they know that, in the end, and, for all eternity, God will have His way.

In the meantime, in the here and now, a real battle continues. This is the same spiritual battle that the apostle Paul talked about. First-century believers understood Paul when he described an epic struggle that was “not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Followers of Jesus in persecution today understand this battle well.  

In fact, everyone in the world today that claims to be a follower of Jesus plays a part in this battle. Faithful believers who are paying a personal price in pain and persecution for the cause of Christ truly understand the crux and the cost of their faith. Their witness, their lives, and their examples should inspire and instruct us. Their experience reveals what is at stake, and their experience also reveals much about evil and its power.

Believers who know what it means to suffer for their faith help us recognize and understand the Enemy’s tactics and his ultimate goal. Satan at his worst, evil at its core, and persecution in its essence, does not overtly seek to starve, beat, imprison, torture, or kill followers of Jesus. The strategy of Satan is simpler and more diabolical than that. 

What is Satan’s paramount intent? Quite simply, it is this: denying the world access to Jesus!

Satan’s greatest desire is for people of this planet to leave Jesus alone. Satan desires that we turn away from Jesus — or that we never find Him in the first place. If Satan cannot be successful at that, he desires to keep believers quiet, to diminish or silence our witness, and to stop us from bringing others to Christ.

It is that simple.

Once we understand the nature of this spiritual battle and the strategy of the Enemy, we see clearly the role that believers have been called to play. We also see the importance of our choices regarding witness and faithfulness and obedience.

At the beginning of every day, we choose. It is simply a matter of identification. Will we identify with believers in persecution — of will we identify with their persecutors?

We make that choice as we decide whether we will share Jesus with others or keep Him to ourselves.

We identify ourselves as believers by taking a stand with, and following the example of those in persecution. Or we identify with their persecutors by not giving witness of Jesus to our family, our friends, and our enemies. Those who number themselves among the followers of Jesus — but don’t witness for Him —  are actually siding with the Taliban, the brutal regime that rules North Korea, the secret police in communist China, and the many other nations where believers are persecuted. Believers who do not share their faith aid and abet Satan’s ultimate goal of denying others access to Jesus. Our silence makes us accomplices. 

I am often asked if I believe that persecution is coming to Canada. My response is often rather pointed. I say, quite sincerely, “Why would Satan want to wake us up when he has already shut us up?” Why would Satan bother with us when we are already accomplishing his goal? He will likely conclude that it is better to let us sleep. 

More next time…

A Biblical Church 

I have always been captivated by the vision of what a church can be — an authentic community of faith that reaches increasing numbers of lost people and helps them grow into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Yet sometimes churches do not reach their full redemptive potential. They motor along year after year, well entrenched in programs and traditions, but ineffective in their main calling.

My hope – and what I work for in my ministry to the nations – is that churches around the world will make regular, strategic adjustments towards finding and following their true calling of reaching people with the Gospel of the Kingdom. Any time we can become more effective in this task it is well worth the effort.

We are in a season when we need to adjust our course to follow the whispers of His leading. We don’t need more programs and continued traditions. We need obedience. We should desire to become churches that people love to attend and that God uses to advance His Kingdom. We must desire to live the words of 2 Corinthians 5:9, both individually and as churches: “We make it our goal to please Him.”

Since the day I was saved in a small town in my province I became aware that I only have this day until my final day to get the word of Christ out to as many people as possible. And the older I have become the shorter that available time frame becomes and so the stronger the urgency I feel. I, like Paul, feel ‘compelled.’

I have this desire – inner compulsion: I want everyone I meet to experience the saving grace found in Jesus Christ. My aim is to rid myself of life’s superfluous activities and take the transforming message of saving grace to everyone I’m able. And as I mentioned, as my remaining days get fewer, my sense of urgency for the sake of the Kingdom is going up, not down. 

I believe that through Jesus Christ, the Church is the hope of the world, and we as Christians need not make any apologies for wanting to get better at what we are called to do. We must be dead serious about helping people come to know Christ and about helping Christians grow to be Christ-centered.

Our one task – our calling – as the Church is to “go into all the world and make disciples.” This is the task of every believer and not just those called to the office of evangelist or those extroverts gifted in carrying on conversations with everyone and anyone. It is the work (ministry) of everyone who declares the Name of Jesus and follows Him as a disciple. It is the reason Jesus came to earth. He Himself states that He came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) and He calls His Church to complete that task in each generation.

As believers we cannot sit back and leave it to the leaders to win the lost. Programs within the Church, no matter how good, seldom bring people into the Kingdom and ground them in God’s Word. The task was left to individual Christians to share their faith with their family, friends, neighbours, and those they meet in the daily activities of life. Sharing Jesus must become a part of everyday life and not a program run on Tuesday nights from the church building. The motivation to tell others comes from the natural overflow of the love that we have received from the Lord.

Paul writes, “And may the Lord make your love to grow and overflow to each other and to everyone else…” (Philippians 1:9)

So, as we have been loved unconditionally by the Lord we are to love others in the same way – with no strings attached. And, as we do, we will see opportunity arise to share the Gospel. Doors will open for you to tell others what Jesus has done in your life and is still doing as you walk with Him daily. 

A biblical church is not self-focused. It does not exist for itself or its members. It exists for the non-members … those who do not attend. It is a community of believers who gather to encourage and strengthen each other so that they can become true “fishers of people.” That is what Jesus called us to when we answered His call and became born again. He stated it plainly and in a very clear manner. “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). If we are not fishing then we are truly not following.

I believe it is time for the Church – the true believers  – to step out in faith, build relationships with non-believers, and then show them the love of God as truly experienced in Jesus – inviting them to join with you on this amazing journey of faith. 

 

 

The Passionate Life

Like many kids his age, Will wandered through the jungle of adolescence with no clue about what to do with his life. He was sharp and intelligent, though more than a few at his school snickered because he was quiet and scholarly. Will didn’t pay much attention to them; he was deep into his books of science, history, world travel, and adventure. His room resembled a lab experiment gone awry, cluttered with specimens of plant and insect life.

But even quiet, studious teenagers need a little pocket change. Will found an entry-level job in a shoe shop. That was his life — reading, puttering with his specimens, and selling shoes. But in time he realized that it wasn’t enough. He knew that if he had all the books in the world, all the scientific knowledge attainable, and all the money he could earn, there would still be a hunger inside him. There were questions his science books couldn’t answer. A shelf of history offered no clues about the meaning of life. Will had followed his passions but found they couldn’t satisfy him. 

At eighteen, Will left his parents’ church in search of a livelier and more fulfilling Christian fellowship. He found what he was looking for in a little congregation in a neighbouring town. His faith in God sparked to life and began to grow, slowly but surely. Being an ardent reader, Will devoured the Bible while continuing to read volumes of books about the world around him. He began to think about the ideas in the Bible.

In the meantime, his shoe business was flourishing, and Will opened a store of his own. Yet he continued to sense that life must hold more for him — he was certain of that.

In his early twenties, Will married a lovely woman. He tried the life of a preacher and then the life of a teacher. But he lacked those skills and still couldn’t decide how to focus his life. He finally turned back to the shoe shop — which, of course, looked more like a bookstore with Will’s library filling the shelves. The volumes kept coming, and so did the forming of Will’s mind. He taught himself Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Italian, Dutch, and French.

Then, during his late twenties, the vision for Will’s life came into focus. He was fascinated by a book about the last voyage of the great navigator and explorer Captain James Cook. To many people it was a thrilling story of adventure. But to Will it was a revelation of human need. While sketching a crude map of the world, he realized that there were vast numbers of the earth’s population who had never heard about Jesus Christ. It occurred to him that if all people must believe in Christ to be saved, then that placed a crucial burden on every believer. Those who hadn’t heard about Jesus would never hear unless some believers told them.

It was a simple but profound truth. If a man knew Christ and was serious about knowing Him, then the very meaning of his life was clear: He must tell as many others as possible. Suddenly the books, the shoes, the scientific pursuits — all these things were swept aside in favour of a new, controlling passion. Will followed his passion resolutely until his death at age seventy-three, and we remember him today as the father of modern missions.

“Will” is better known as William Carey, shoemaker by trade, scholar and missionary (apostle) by God’s training. In the late eighteenth century in England, Carey was overwhelmed by the need for worldwide evangelism, and he committed himself wholeheartedly to that work. In 1793, at age thirty-two, William Carey set off with his family for India, where he devoted his entire life to sharing the gospel. Utilizing his skills and resources as a linguist, Carey played a major role in translating the Bible into more than forty languages.

William Carey is a sterling example of the passion principle in Colossians 3:23-24. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (ESV)

 

We are called to do what we do with all our heart and soul …“heartily” — wide open, pedal to the metal, no holds barred, no turning back. Burdened as a young man by the plight of the lost, Carey sobbed to God, “Here am I; send me.” Then after pouring out his life in whole-hearted service to Christ, he uttered from his deathbed, “When I am gone, say nothing about Dr. Carey. Speak about Dr. Carey’s God.” During the forty years between those two statements, William Carey lived out his purpose with sustained, heartfelt passion.

“But wait just a minute,” you may argue. “If committing to passionate living means I have to spend the rest of my life toting Bibles through some bug-infested jungle, I’m not sure I want to sign on.” If that’s what you’re wondering, you can relax. William Carey spent his life taking the Word of God to India because that’s what God gifted and called him to do. Being an apostle to India was Carey’s primary “whatever.” The passionate life God has for you will center on your “whatever” — the combination of your gifts and talent and God’s unique call on your life. And as you move into your life with passion, you will find as much satisfaction and fulfillment as William Carey did in India.  

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….

Coronavirus Response

We are on total shutdown due to the rapid spread of the Covet-19 strain of the Coronavirus. 

Each days we receive reports of the number of new cases and the increasing number of deaths due to this epidemic. We listen carefully for further instructions and notices of shutdowns. As I write this MacDonald’s has just shut everything down but their drive-thru. And so the precautions continue and proactive decisions are being made and communicated.

Meanwhile those who are approaching this worldwide situation in “panic mode” are preventing others who are taking one step at a time and remaining calm and level-headed from purchasing some of the essentials – paper towels, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and various canned goods. Shelves are empty and line-ups are long. And the line-ups now put you in the situation of breaking the law as more than 50 people are gathered together. In my city the limit is 5. In Germany it has become 2 people.

And believers are sending out messages that are continuing to convince the rest of the world that we are close to insane. Prophetic words that do not glorify God nor encourage people and certainly do not call people to repentance and the cross (biblical purposes of the prophetic). Others are looking for the “political side” of the issue… like it is a plot against the people. I quote a message from earlier this morning… “Am currently working to put together a local meeting for next Sunday with Art Lucier. (head of Battle for Canada) He is doing a whole bunch of small meetings in Canada. I want to hear what he has to say. We need to know what’s going on. There’s way more to this than meets the eye. It’s a political issue.” Really now!

Let’s stay focused shall we. Let’s not get carried away with political plots and biblical ‘types’ and reading in end times prophetic warnings into what is happening. This is life happening on a crowded and fallen planet. And, we are able to avoid getting sick by following some simple rules – like wash your hands. Believers need to stop reading into this end-times events, false prophetic words, government conspiracies … Give me a break! 

You know what you need to do? Simple … go for a walk and talk to your neighbours one-on-one maintaining the 2 meters distance that the medical people are recommending. Tell them about Jesus and His offer of forgiveness and eternal life. That’s our mandate. We are to “go into all the world and make disciples.” Like Jesus we are to “seek and save the lost.” We are to “love our neighbours as we love ourselves.” Let’s let go of the panic button. Let’s stop reading in your pet end-times doctrine into what is happening. Let’s stop stockpiling food and toilet paper. Let’s act with level heads and lend a helping hand to those who need help at this time in the history of the human race. 

Whatever you do, please “shut-up,” and stop gossiping.  Stop forwarding all these social network messages that are neither right nor biblical. And they are certainly not helpful. Let’s see if, in the midst of this rather difficult time, we can help improve the reputation of the born again, Spirit-filled Church and not simply send our reputation further down the toilet.

Take a moment and read the following … from Martin Luther during an epidemic in his lifetime. 

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and … so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” 

 

Martin Luther Works v. 43, p. 132 Letter “Whether one may flee from a deadly plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess