Sheep and Wolves – Part Two

Continuing on from last time…

Jesus said plainly that He was sending His followers out “like sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16). Then He told them even more. He told them that they would be handed over to the local councils, flogged in the synagogues, and brought before governors and kings as witnesses. He told them that they would be arrested, betrayed, and hated (verses 17-22). In a word, His followers would be persecuted (verse 23). Jesus made it clear that this impending persecution was not merely a possibility; for those who would obey Him, persecution is a certainty.

In response to His instructions, Jesus’ followers set out on this grand and frightening adventure, and sure enough, they experienced everything that Jesus had promised. They went out as sheep among wolves, and they experienced what sheep typically experienced in the presence of wolves. Predictably, the sheep were true to their identity. Just as predictably, the wolves wet true to theirs. And the inevitable result is precisely what Jesus has promised: persecution.

If there is any possible way to do it, we generally want to relegate passages like Matthew 10 to the distant past. We want to keep passages like Matthew 10 as far as possible from our own experience. Obedience to these ancient words, in today’s world, would potentially be seen as unbalanced — even insane. Especially within the church today, we might be encouraged to avoid taking Jesus’ instructions too seriously.

All the same, we claim that we are utterly devoted to Scripture. With great respect, we study to understand the world of these earliest followers of Jesus., We read about their suffering and we celebrate their costly obedience to Jesus’ call. Jesus clearly told His followers long ago that they wold suffer, and they did suffer. We know the story of these faithful followers is true.

As true as this story of ancient persecution is, however, we long to believe that these verses are merely “history.” We want very much to believe what happened to these earliest disciples is not what will happen to us. We want to believe Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 do not apply to believers today — at least, not to all believers!

But what if Matthew 10 is not merely “history”? What if Matthew 10 is a true word intended for Jesus’ followers of every time — a true word intended for even our time? What if Matthew 10 is about your and about me? What if “sheep among wolves” is an accurate description of both our calling and our world today? What if Jesus’ followers — His followers today — really are like sheep? And what if the world — the world today — really is filled with wolves?

Opening ourselves to the truth of God’s Word is dangerous. Popular theologies would tell us suffering can be avoided, that there is a way to be both faithful and comfortable at the same time, that there is a way to be both obedient and safe, that persecution is the destiny of believers who live only at certain times or in certain places, that God will reward obedience with success and security. Popular theologies would tell us that, even if we are sheep, it is possible to minimize our exposure to a world filled with wolves.

God’s Word — lived out in present active tense — however, tells its something very different. Jesus would have us understand that His followers — His followers long ago and His followers today — are, in fact, sheep. Jesus would have us understand that our world — our world long ago and our world today — is filled with wolves. And knowing the certain outcome of that encounter between the sheep and the wolves, Jesus would have us understand, even in this kind of a world, He fully intends to accomplish His purposes. Jesus will use these sheep to complete His great plan. 

Judging by what eventually happened to Jesus Himself, we come to understand that persecution and suffering and sacrifice are necessary parts of His ultimate strategy, even today.

Jesus’ instruction is compelling in its clarity. It is not a suggestion: it is a command. “Go!” He says. “I am sending you!”

We have the high privilege of answering Jesus’ call to go. But let’s be clear about this: we go on His terms, not ours. If we go at all, we go as sheep among wolves.

Why then, given that Jesus led His disciples every day to be with Him “to seek and to save what were lost” (Luke 19:10), did He feel it necessary to one more time command us with the Great Commission of Matthew 28?

Can it be that which Jesus lived and commanded to most is what we ignore obeying the most?

Today are we willing to follow Jesus to the tough places; anywhere and anytime He still commands?

Sometimes I Can Get Angry

When I am wanting to unwind I will spend a few minutes watching the highlights of America’s Got Talent or one of the other “Got Talent” shows from numerous countries. Occasionally as I scroll through the feed looking for one I have not see I run across someone commenting on a Christian leader, a specific Christian teaching (I use the word ‘Christian’ loosely there). And, most times the reviews and comments are negative. I understand that people want to vent. And, we are free to do so publicly.

The other night I was watching a post from someone I had not seen before … He was commenting on a specific movement within the Christian Church that I am familiar with and that I usually don’t completely agree with. So, I watched a few minutes of the You Tube posting. So, please note, I am watching someone I don’t know talking about men and a movement that I do know and mentioning things they teach that the reviewer believes are not biblical.

He entered into my territory … commenting on the original twelve apostles and how, after Judas was replaced by Matthias (see Acts, Chapter 1) and the early Church was established (see Acts, Chapter 2) that the ministry of the “apostle” was done away with. He simply states this as a fact. Which, by the way, it is not. He does not back it up with any credible biblical research. He just states it like it is absolute truth. Which it is not. In fact, there are 15 others in the New Testament who are referred to as apostles. In fact, the ministry of the apostolic that Jesus initiated continues today (Ephesians 4:11-12) and is foundational to all church planting and movements (Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 12:28).

Of course, he was probably simply repeating what he was taught by others (see the blog on “monkeys” posted on November 27th). It seemed to me that he was repeating what he was taught – repeating it as a truth without ever examining the “truth” to see if it really was true. He obviously did not read the book of Acts nor Paul’s epistles as they mention many others who occupied the role and function of apostle in the early Church. He simply repeated something he was taught. Something that is biblically wrong. 

This type of ignorance and arrogance makes me mad. A totally dishonest presentation of his own beliefs passed off as absolute truth when really it is just his opinion not based in biblical fact at all. But, others will believe him. After all, he has a You Tube channel and a large number of followers. Not to mention that in the process of teaching heresy he runs down and speaks again the ministry of a number of true men of God. Again, I don’t agree with everything these men of God teach but my disagreements are in matters of interpretation and the way their ministries are operated. I do not disagree on the basics – and apostles and the other fivefold ministries are basic to the Church that Jesus is building. This man on You Tube was running down and speaking against their character, motives, and honesty. And doing so “publicly”.

Folks, we can disagree on interpretation of biblical verses and even on how we understand some basic theological truths … but these disagreements must be based on sound biblical research and a true understanding of both church history and church tradition. We have to be careful with teachings we receive and don’t examine to see if they truly contain biblical truths. We must discern what is man’s opinion and what is truly God’s Word and thus eternal truth. We must be careful with what others are saying – and posting – when often they are representing their opinion of their own church tradition as absolute truth. 

The Bible tells us that “even the very elect of God will be deceived in these latter days” (Matthew 24:24). Let’s be wise in what we do with what we hear, read, and see. Not everything is truth and even the Devil (and his ministers) can twist the truth today as he did when quoting Scripture during the tempting of Jesus (Matthew 4). 

Sometimes I get angry when I hear opinion passed off as truth. And, when I hear a so-called believer use their You Tube channel to destroy the reputation of good men of God who are out there on the front lines seeking and saving the lost … not sitting in front of a camera sprouting off about things and ministers of the Gospel they don’t even know. The man whose You Tube video on the false teachers and false movement of the Spirit I was watching is the true “False Teacher.” 

God Moving in Our Lives

The young apostle moves on to a Central Asian country…

During my time there, a forty-three-year-old-Muslim-background believer somehow heard through the oral grapevine that a Westerner had come to his country wanting to discover how Muslims were finding Jesus and what challenges these converts were experiencing as they lived out their faith in hostile environments. I still have no idea how he learned that I was coming or where I would be.

It turns out that Pramana traveled 29 hours to find me. He had lived his entire life in a remote, tropical, and rural region of his third-world country. He had never before been on a bus. He had not even traveled on a paved highway. Yet, somehow, he found me in one of his country’s major cities. Upon his arrival, he matter-of-factly announced: “I have heard about what you are doing. You need to hear my story also.”

This man had been born into a people group with a population of 24 million. In his people group, there were only three followers of Jesus, and no church. The only religion that he had ever practiced or known while growing up had been a sort of folk Islam. Pramana knew the Quran by rote. He couldn’t actually speak Arabic, so (as an oral communicator from an oral culture) he simply memorized the words of the book as if they were part of some sort of magic formula. He knew the story of Mohammad, of course. But he had never heard of anybody called Jesus, he had never met a believer, and he had no idea what a Bible was.

“Five years ago,” he told me, “my life was in ruins. My wife and I were always fighting; I was ready to divorce the woman. My children were disrespectful. My animals were not growing or multiplying. My crops were dying in the fields.

“So I went to the imam of the nearest mosque for help,” Pramana continued.

The imam, who also functioned as the local spiritualist, told him, “Okay, son, here is what you need to do. Go buy a white chicken. Bring it to me and I will sacrifice it on your behalf. Then, go back to your village to meditate and fast for three days and three nights.  On the third day, you will receive the answer to all the problems that you are having with your wife, your children, your animals, and your crops.”

Pramana did exactly as he was told. He went back to his village. He meditated, he fasted, he waited. Then, as he explained it: “I’ll never forget, on that third night, a voice without a body came to me after midnight. That voice said, ‘Find Jesus, find the gospel.’”

This Muslim man had no clue what that even meant. He didn’t know if Jesus might be a fruit or a rock or a tree. Pramana told me that the voice without a body also said, “Get out of bed, go over the mountain, and walk down to the coast to name of city (a city where he had never been). When you get that city at daybreak, you will see two men. When you see those men, ask them where such-and-such a street is. They will show you the way. Walk up and down that street and look for this number. When you find that number, knock on the door. When the door opens, tell the person why you have come.”

Pramana did not know that it was an option to be disobedient to the voice (Holy Spirit). He simply assumed that he was required to obey what he had been instructed to do. So he went. He didn’t even tell his wife that he was leaving, let alone where he was going. It turns out that he would be gone for two full weeks. During that time, his family had no idea where he was.

Pramana simply got out of bed, hiked over the mountain, trekked down the coast, and arrived at the specified city the next morning at daylight. He saw two men who told him where to find the street he wanted. He walked up and down that street until he found a building with the right number on it. He knocked at the door. A moment later, an older gentleman opened the door and asked, “Can I help you?”

The younger man declared: “I have come to find Jesus; I have come to find the gospel!” In a flash, the old man’s hand shot out from the darkened doorway. He grabbed Pramana by the shirt, dragged him into the apartment, and slammed the door behind him. The old man released his grip and exclaimed, “You Muslims must think I am a fool to fall for a trap as transparent as this!”

The very startled and confused traveler replied, “I don’t know if you are a fool or not, sir. I just met you. But here is why I’ve come.” Then Pramana told the older man the story of how he had come to be there that day.

The Holy Spirit of the Living God had led this young Muslim man through his dream and vision and his obedience to the home of one of the three believers in his 24 million people group. Stunned, the older man explained the gospel to this young Muslim man and led him to Christ. For the next two weeks, the old man discipled this new convert in the faith. 

That had been five years ago. Now, Pramana had made another journey. This journey was to find me and to tell me his remarkable story. He had travelled 29 hours to share how his life had changed since he had found Jesus. There had been blessings and trials and tribulations during the last five years, but his life had clearly been changed in startling ways. 

You know — that sounds so much like the story of Saul of Tarsus finding Ananias to instruct him in the teachings of Jesus – Acts 9.

I read these stories and something inside me starts to cry…

There is this hunger for the New Testament times to become real once again in this day and time … and, if I may say, in my life

There is this desire for the adventure to start in a fresh and new way

There is a deep dissatisfaction right now – inside of me – that what I have, what I’m experiencing, what I know as Christianity is no longer enough

It is like my spirit is crying out “there has got to be more”

Deep inside there is a ‘divine discontent’ letting me know that major change has begun for me in my walk with Jesus and in my every day life

I am seriously “Sometimes Disappointed With God” but it is a good thing because it motivates me to move forward regardless of the cost

And, I have begun to think through what needs to change for me to experience more of God in my life

And my desire is that you will also experience this hunger if you haven’t already

And that you will think through what needs to adjust and change for this type of lifestyle to become real and an every day occurrence in life right here and right now

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…

Asking Yourself The Hard Questions

Early in my life as a believer I knew that God had called me, and every believer, to “go into al the world and make disciples.” When I read about God’s desire to reach the entire world with His love and grace, I quickly saw that I had a personal responsibility to fulfill that mission. And when I opened the book of Acts and encountered God’s desire to reach the nations, I concluded quite simply that God intended for me – and every born again believer – to play a part in that. 

Early in my life as a believer, it was so matter of fact: this is what God offers His people; this is what God intends for His people; this is what God expects from His people — and His people, obviously, will respond with obedience and trust. I am not suggesting that I always got it right, because I did not. But, still, the way to be obedient and trusting seemed so clear. And the need to be obedient was beyond question.

I am not sure if I ever heard it said out loud, but I also picked up the idea that obedience to God’s call would result in a life of safety and security. Obedience, it was implied, would lead to effective ministry and measurable results and even success. “The safest place to be,” I was told more than once, “is right in the center of God’s will.” And that sounded both true and reassuring.

I admit, however, my surprise when, many years later, I found myself living a life that was neither safe nor secure. I was stunned when, despite what I considered to be a life of obedience – even, at times, sacrificial obedience – I could point to very little in my ministry that appeared “effective.” In certain situations there were simply no results to measure. And ‘success’ was a word that I would have never used to describe what I had done.

It might, in fact, be safe to be in the center of God’s will — but we would be wise to stop and think about what it means to be safe. I feel that I have lived a life in response to the call of God. But as I look back on certain situations and ministry opportunities, I don’t see a lot that I would call effective ministry that brought long-term results. And, I certainly have not always felt ‘safe.’

So, this honest evaluation led to a number of questions that I needed to answer:

    • Does God, in fact, promise His children safety?
    • Does God really ask us to sacrifice — and to sacrifice everything?
    • What happens when our best intentions and most creative ideas are not enough?
    • Is God at work in the hard places? And does He expect us to join Him in those hard places?
    • Isn’t it possible to love God and to pretty much keep living the life I already have?
    • What does it mean for God to tell us that His ways are not our ways?
    • Would He really allow people who love Him dearly to fail? And, if so, is this a God who can use even holy failure for His purposes?

All of these questions and others I have struggled with, boiled down to: Would I choose to trust this God who I could not control? Would I be willing to walk with this God whose ways are so different? Would I, once again, lean on this God who makes impossible demands and promises only His presence?

When I began to honestly ask these questions – it was the start of the real journey of faith. A journey where I discovered what I truly believed. A journey where I learned to trust and to follow without knowing all the answers or even all the questions. A journey where I discovered the joy of serving – and even more, the necessity of dying. A journey where I discovered who I really was “in Christ.” A journey where I became secure enough to begin to reveal the real me and express myself openly because I discovered God accepted me for who I was. A journey where I was able to see the Kingdom of God expanding in the nations where I worked. And oh so much more.

I don’t have answers to all of my questions. In fact, I have even more questions as I move forward in my journey. I am not sure where this journey might lead. But I am sure that the questions are worth asking — and I am certain that the journey is God-given and God-lead. That He is patient with me and walking with me as I ask the questions and seek His answers. 

I continue to give myself permission to ask myself the hard questions!

The Insanity of Christ’s Teachings

As I read through the New Testament – which I do on a regular basis – I always note something new or see something in a different light than the last time I visited the story or the passage. It has been true this time as well. As I have been reading the four gospels and the story of Jesus’s birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection I have noted how tough some of His comments and commands really are. And, how crazy-sounding some of them are.

It seems to me that those of us who have grown familiar and even comfortable with the teachings of Christ may have allowed His teachings to lose their edge. So much of what Jesus taught makes no sense from the human perspective.

      • Love your enemies
      • If you want to be great, first learn to be a servant
      • If someone smacks you across the face, turn your head and let him slap you on the other side
      • If someone steals your coat, offer him your shirt as well
      • If you want to live, you need first to die to yourself

The complete list of Jesus’ crazy-sounding teachings is a lot longer than that. But, you get the idea. A little insane. A completely different perspective from the way the world lives. 

To me, the most startling thing Jesus ever said was when He assigned His followers the task of going out in pairs to share His good news with lost people. He said that He was sending them “as sheep among wolves.” Still, He expected them to prevail. In the history of the world, no sheep has ever won a fight with a wolf. The very idea is insane. Yet, it was a direct command and Jesus expects His followers to be obedient to His commands. 

We often don’t deal with these statements that Jesus made. They appear not to relate to us or to our world and so we are able to discount them or simply ignore them. But, we should not push our questions and our struggles out of sight. In fellowship with other believers who love us and in the local house church where I attend and belong –  it is safe to deal with these ‘insane teachings’ the Lord has left us. 

This one comment in the midst of many “insane teachings” leads us to ask ourself:

      • Can God truly overcome evil?
      • Is love really more powerful than hate?
      • How can a person maintain even a small hope in a dark place?
      • How is it possible for faith to survive in an insane environment where war rages and radical religious fanatics follow their own destructive disregard for human life?
      • How can someone live the abundant, victorious life that Jesus promised in our world’s hardest places?
      • Can Christianity work outside of western, dressed-up, well-ordered nations? 
        • If so, how?
      • How does the Christian faith fit into the insanity of evil, the inhumanity of people, and the pain of loved ones dying needless deaths?
      • Is the good news of the gospel powerful enough to overcome the forces of evil in our world’s darkest places?
        • And if it is, why do we see so much ‘crucifixion’ and experience so little of the resurrection?

I work hard to answer these questions and others because although we are sent out as sheep among wolves we don’t want to be or have to be stupid sheep among wolves. 

Never be afraid to ask yourself and others the hard questions. They need to be answered and can be answered as we take our faith into all the world and make disciples. 

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. 

 

 

Giants That Kill Our Passion

From the time he was five, Hudson Taylor was consumed by an intense passion to be a missionary to China. He dedicated every thought and action toward that desire. He learned Mandarin Chinese, studied medicine, corresponded with mission agencies, spent his money in mission training, and above all else, waited for God to send him.
The young man prayed as if it all depended on God and worked as if it all depended on Hudson Taylor. He was convinced that he would never make it unless he learned to depend on God for everything. Toward that end, he put himself under strict daily training. Her studied Latin, Greek, theology, and medicine while keeping up with his ordinary daily responsibilities. He flirted with the edges of financial disaster in order to allow God alone to meet his needs. He lived on a diet of oatmeal and rice and sent the savings to missionaries. Nobody would have questioned Hudson Taylor’s passion.
He set sail for China in 1853, filled with hope and excitement. When he arrived, he found that those who were supposed to meet his ship had either died or fled. Rebels had overrun Shanghai. There was fighting in the streets, hostility toward westerners, and not a friend in sight. His support system had evaporated. So there stood a young Englishman, Hudson Taylor, staring at the face of a giant named China. I can’t promise you that I wouldn’t have climbed right back on the boat and booked homeward passage.
But then I’m not Hudson Taylor, who not only stayed in China but committed to going further inland with the gospel. There had been missionaries around Shanghai, but no one had ever taken the Word of God to the vast, mysterious provinces of the hidden China. He faced illness, heartbreak, setbacks, hostility from the Chinese and from other missionaries, and — I’m certain — the occasional feeling of being overwhelmed. There were so many millions of unsaved people in China and so few missionaries. How could the lost souls ever be reached?
Taylor simply kept trusting God and facing down the giants. By the time he died, there was a significant and fruit-bearing Christian presence in China. Even the era of communism hasn’t driven our faith out of that country. Hudson Taylor was the superior of that giant too.
When have you felt discouraged or overwhelmed? When have you felt that all your efforts were for naught, that maybe it was useless to go on trying? It’s no fun to feel pint-sized when facing a giant. And that giant can take many forms. It could be one person or a group of people. It could be a problem. The giant could be financial in nature, or it may be something within yourself.
Anything that distracts from our focus on Christ, detours us from our service for Him, and drains us of our driving passion is a giant that must be slain. In order to live a life of purpose, passion, and meaning in response to God’s call, we must learn to take down the monsters that stand in the way of great accomplishments for God.
Who can show us how to be a giant-killer? My suggestion is that we couldn’t do better than the shepherd boy named David. He was a kid who knew nothing about military strategy, yet he went one-on-one with a grizzled warrior — a card-carrying giant. Goliath stood nine feet tall and had a snarling attitude to match. He had paralyzed Israel’s fighting force with his intimidating presence. He arrogantly mocked the children of Israel and their God. No one dared protest. With Goliath looming over them, this army — and the whole nation of Israel — was dead in the water.
Which giants have blocked your path to a life lived fully, all out for God? Which giant has robbed you of your passion for the Kingdom and the King? You many find them in this brief list of giant-sized problems that believers need to defeat so they can live passionate lives as believers.
Let’s list them and then look at them briefly one at a time …
Resentment
Fear
Discouragement
Loneliness
Worry
Envy
Guilt and shame
And then we will look at how to slay your giant.
Many different giants block your path to a life of passion for God and His purposes. A life lived passionately. You may find some of them in this “rogues gallery” of giant—sized problems to living a passionate life where you embrace each day fully and engage with all that the day brings your way.
1> Resentment
Your spouse forgets to pick up your package at the post office, and you sulk about it for hours. A church member sitting near you sings loudly and off key, and you can’t resist scowling at him. A friend hasn’t called you in several days, so you’re not going to call her either. We all get slighted. Ignored, offended, and hurt by other people. Resentment holds these offences like a sponge instead of letting them roll off our back by living in grace and forgiveness.
2> Fear
Everyone is afraid of something. Israel was pinned down in fear of Goliath. What strikes terror in your heart? Flying? Spiders? The threat of nuclear war? The death of your spouse or child? The loss of your job? To whatever extent you are immobilized by your fears, to that extent you will lack the full experience of passion in your life. Theologian Paul Tillich said, “Fear … has a definite object … which can be faced, analyzed, attacked, endured.” If you want to live a life wide open to all the opportunities God has and will offer to you, the giant of fear may be your first enemy.
3> Discouragement
It is difficult to move forward through life at any speed when we have lost courage or confidence. Things don’t go the way we plan, so we get discouraged and give up. We fail at a task or a relationship, so we shrink back from entering into the next one. Discouragement tends to pull in the sails and toss out the anchor. “If it’s going to be like this,” we mutter, “why go on?” The giant of discouragement must be brought down to live passionately.
4> Loneliness
God created us for intimate relationship with Himself and with others. We feel most alive and passionate when we are enjoying rich fellowship with the Lord, getting along well with family members, and having fun with friends. But we feel lost and cold when there is painful distance or division in our dearest relationships. The giant of loneliness scorns out attempts at living passionately.
5> Worry
British educator W.R. Inge once said, “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due.” Most people worry about things that will never happen. What a waste of emotional energy! Worry levels a burdensome tax on our joy and passion. It’s difficult to charge into life enthusiastically every day when you are worried about everything that could go wrong. No wonder Paul exhorted us, “Be anxious in nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6)
6> Guilt and shame
Psychologist and educator Lewis Smedes explained, “A person feels guilt because he did something wrong. A person feels shame because he is something wrong … We may feel guilty because we lied to our mother. We may feel shame because we are not the person our mother wanted us to be.” Unresolved guilt and shame are deadly to living a life of passion.
There are many more Goliaths in the army that lines up to challenge the passionate life. You may struggle against doubt, temptation, jealousy, procrastinations, anger, rejection, bitterness, hopelessness, or another equally debilitating giant of a problem. You may be hindered from a life of passion by old scars and still painful wounds inflicted by these brutes. If you hope to break through to the passion-filled life, you need to meet your Goliath head-on.
Most of us need our soul restored before we can become fully engaged in a life of passion. All the motivational pep talks and spiritual disciplines are hollow for the person who struggles with unresolved pain from the past and unconquered problems in the present. The path to passion for wounded people begins by choosing no longer to be your Goliath’s victim and to take whatever steps God makes available to you to heal the past and help you move confidently into the future He has for you.
So, let’s look at slaying your giants.
Do you feel small compared to your present-day Goliath? Perhaps you feel  too weak or inadequate to put up a fight. Giants can be intimidating, as King Saul and the army of Israel know. But God has empowered us and equipped us to bring them down. Let’s take several points of instruction from David’s triumph over Goliath, as recorded in 1 Samuel 17.
1> Confront your giant
When Goliath, the jumbo-sized Philistine, taunted Israel and dared them to send someone to fight him, Saul and all the Israelites “were dismayed and greatly afraid” (Verse 11). King Saul had a history of being a mighty warrior. He should have picked up the gauntlet and confronted Goliath in the power of the Lord. Yet Saul, along with the whole army, stood there quaking in his sandals. Do you think God could have used Saul to slay the giant? Absolutely! But since the warrior-king was too fearful to confront Goliath, God had to look for someone else.
The first step to getting past your problem to a passionate life is to confront your giant head-on. Here’s a good place to start: Turn to a fresh journal page and identify in writing the giants you are facing. Write down their names: guilt, envy, fear — whatever they are. Describe them. For example, you may write something like, “I feel guilty for what I’ve done in the past” or, “I harbour resentment toward my spouse for his/her insensitivity toward me” or, “If I give myself fully to God, I’m afraid He might ask me to do something I don’t want to do.” Add specific example of how your giant has terrorized you. The more you get down on paper, the clearer your Goliath will be in your sight.
2> Remain consistent in preparation
David the shepherd may have been young, small, and inexperienced in military combat; but he was not unprepared for meeting Goliath. For one thing, the boldness and naïveté of youth was on his side. Remember some of the daredevil things we did as kids, when we didn’t know enough to be scared? Those were the days where it seemed easier to ask forgiveness after the fact than to ask permission ahead of time. As Pearl S. Buck has said, “The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.” That’s probably where David was.
Long before his dynamic showdown with Goliath in the valley of Elah, David had defended sheep on the hillsides of Bethlehem. He explained to Saul that watching sheep had involved facing the occasional lion or bear; when some predator attacked the sheep, he simply killed it (see verses 34-35). David had learned courage when nobody was around to see it. It was his consistent integrity and commitment that prepared him to meet Goliath when that moment came.
As a giant-slayer, you prepare for battle by practicing consistency in your spiritual disciples, You must spend time faithfully and privately before God, poring over His instruction manual for spiritual battle — the Word of God. You must humble yourself in prayer before your “Commander in Chief,” just as Joshua did prior to the battle of Jericho (see Joshua 5:13-15). Don’t skip any of those routine steps hoping to jump ahead of God’s schedule. God desires to train you in private through consistent personal discipline.
3> Consider the cost
Author Ray Bradbury said, “:Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.” Taking on a menacing giant involved some risk. After all, this is war. In fighting for what is rightfully yours, you will still be under enemy fire. People have wondered why David carried five stones in his pouch when he needed only one to fell Goliath. Perhaps he would not presume that his first shot would do the trick. He probably expected some kind of battle, slinging stones, dodging Goliath’s big javelin. He was confident about victory, but he may have approached Goliath wondering if he would be wounded in the skirmish. At some point the shepherd boy considered the cost and took the risk.
If you want to achieve great things in your life, you’s better be ready for risk-taking. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” If you’re a Christian, you know that the “gray twilight” he’s talking about isn’t mysterious or elusive. It’s called lack of faith. We can risk the cost of battle because Jesus promised, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23)
When you go to war against your giants, it probably won’t be easy, and you likely won’t dispense your problem with one shot. You may be in for a long battle. It may get worse before it gets better. You may take a hit or two along the way. But if the skirmish gets you past this giant and on the road to the passionate life you desire, it’s worth the risk.
Giants That Kill Our Passion – Part Four
Blog for November 4, 2020
We are looking at the life of David and his fight with the giant Goliath and pulling out some personal observations to help us fight and defeat the giants in our personal lives. Giants that stand in the way of living passionately.
So, in review…
1> Confront your giant
2> Remain consistent in preparation
3> Consider the cost
There are three more observations that will help us in our battle against giants in our personal lives…
4> Be courageous in battle
King Saul attempted to equip David for battle by outfitting him in his own battle armour. You need to remember that Saul was a big man, at least a head taller than his peers (see 1 Samuel 9:2), but David was just a kid. After trying to walk in the armour, David declined the offer. He didn’t need armour and a big sword when defending his sheep. His strength and protection were in the power of the Spirit. David announced, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37). So he courageously marched into battle with the five small stones and one big God.
There have been times in your life when you have seen God knock your big problems down to size. Reflect upon those victories. Replay them in your heart and mind. Take courage and “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). As someone has said, you plus God equals a majority. No giant can withstand you when you are led an empowered by God’s Spirit.
5> Be a champion for God
When you step out boldly to confront your giant, you join the ranks of God’s army of champions. David is in that brave band, as is Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, Peter, Paul, and countless numbers of heroic warriors in the pages of the Bible.
But be aware that when you move out as God’s champion, you may be criticized by others, even those closest to you. Some family members and friends may feel threatened as you step out in the Spirit to pursue your passion. When David showed up on the front lines and began inquiring about Goliath, his own family shot him down. His eldest brother said, ““Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28). Instead of lauding David’s courage, his brothers chided him for abandoning the sheep.
Like David, silence your critics with your courage, determination, and trust in God. The Spirit-empowered shepherd boy strode confidently into battle armed with a sling and five stones. The first stone flew and found its mark. Goliath toppled like a felled tree, and Israel enjoyed a great victory and new freedom to be God’s people in their world.
The same God who brought victory to an underdog shepherd boy stands ready to help you conquer your giants and to free you to the passionate life He created you to enjoy. Like David, you have a choice before you: You can remain paralyzed by your pain or problems, going nowhere; or you can face them, overcome them, and follow your passions.
6> Don’t give in to the giant of false humility
There are a few confused saints among us who have taken the notion that Christians should not desire success. Imagine David saying, “Oh, but God wants me to be humble, and I’d look so pompous challenging giants.” I suggest you read these words from Erwin Raphael McManus and take them to heart:
“It is important to note that ambition is not wrong. In fact, the Bible never speaks of ambition itself as negative. Ambition is a God-given motivation. One of the great tragedies among many followers of Christ is the loss in ambition after coming to faith. They have become convinced that any personal ambition is dishonouring to God. I have met some who have gone as far as to only do the opposite of what they desire because they were so persuaded that any passion to achieve had to be rejected and overcome. The simple reasoning is “it can’t be God’s will if I want to do it.” (Erwin Raphael McManus, Uprising — A Revolution of the Soul, page 38)
If you want to do it, and it’s something you know Good wants done, then ambition is just another gift God has given you for the task. Ambition can be a very important element of your passion. So, move forward and don’t be so critical of yourself. Move forward to the glory of God, and you’ll begin the see the giants fall in your life.

Ten Suggestions When Using Social Media – Part Six

We have been looking at how, as believers, we can interact with social media and use this amazing technology in such a way as to glorify God. We have looked at 8 of the 10 commandments. Let’s finish up today…

The ones we have looked at….

1> Put God first in all you say and post.

2> Love others as you want to be loved.

3> Use social media to facilitate, not replace, real relationships.

4> Use social media instead of being controlled by it as an idol.

5> Turn your virtual other cheek to posts that offend you.

6> Do not post out of emotion.

7> Always reflect Jesus, loving God whether online or off.

8> Do not use social media to fuel temptation.

9> FORM YOUR OWN OPINIONS; DO NOT FOLLOW THE CROWD.

When you follow other people online, you can learn a lot of wisdom from those who are wise. Unfortunately, not only are some people not wise, they can be downright foolish. Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” I love the way the New Living Translation translates the last part of this verse. It says, “the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.” Chances are you’ve seen this type pf person let loose online.

Jesus instructs us to stay on the narrow road, warning that the broad or wide road leads to destruction (see Matthew 7:13-14). Sometimes it seems as if everyone is going the same way, but that doesn’t mean they are going the right way. Often on social media, many people jump on the bandwagons of opinions about God, politics, or the latest celebrity scandal. But just because a lot of people believe something doesn’t make it true. Especially when it comes to what people post online. 

It may be tempting to follow the crowd, but doing so can be dangerous. Exodus 23:2 says, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.” God gave you a brain to think for yourself. He gave you His Word to seek His will. He gave you His Spirit to guide you into all truth (see John 16:13). Instead of believing everything you see or hear, think for yourself.

Paul explain the importance of resisting the lure of the crowd when he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). Don’t be like everyone else. The Message loosely translates this same verse: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” Instead of doing what most everyone else does or believing what many say is true, we should have our minds renewed by God’s truth.

Resist the urge to blend in.

Don’t be a sheep and follow the herd.

Follow the Shepherd.

10> DO NOT BASE YOUR IDENTITY ON WHAT PEOPLE THINK

Anyone who spends time on social media will be tempted to compare, thinking, “How many followers do they have? Wow! That’s way more than I have.” We may also be tempted to think the opposite when we see that someone gets fewer Likes or mentions than we do — that they aren’t as important as we are. An unhealthy view of social media can cause us to feel either an ungodly pride or an unhealthy sense of inadequacy.

Not only can we be tempted to base our identity on who follows us (or by who doesn’t), but we can also allow ourselves to be consumed by what others say. If they Like our new shirt in our latest selfie, we feel great. If they don’t say anything, we might assume they don’t like it. And if they say, “What were u thinking when u bought that UGLY thang?” We might never shop at the same store again.

As Christians, we must constantly remind ourselves not to base our identity — our view of ourselves and our worth — on what other people say or think about us. Who we are and our value is determined by what Christ says about us. Others may criticize us, ignore us, or unfollow us, but that doesn’t affect who we really are. We are who Christ says we are.

In case you’e wondering what He says about you, here’s a short list.

      • You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
      • You are forgiven, and your sins are washed away (Ephesians 1:7)
      • You are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37)
      • You are God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)
      • You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14)
      • You are filled with the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead (Romans 8:11)
      • You are a joint heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)
      • You are Christ’s divine representative to this world (2 Corinthians 5:20)
      • You are the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21)
      • You are greatly loved by God (John 14:20-23)

No matter what anyone says or implies, you do not need to be moved by their words. You are secure in Christ and Christ alone. Thou shalt not base your identity on what people think.

So there you have the ten commandments for using social media. It can be tempting to view these like we often view the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses — as burdens that limit what we can and can’t do. But in truth, God’s commandments are supreme blessings that free us to serve Him faithfully and to live joyfully. In the same way, I pray these ten commandments of social media will provide live-giving and life-protecting boundaries that enable you to enjoy relating to others online without losing focus on what matters most.

So post, tweet, click, snap, text, chat, comment, and enjoy it all. But do it all out of the overflow of your love for God and love for people. Use technology, but don’t let it overtake your life. Enjoy the benefits of technology, but don’t let it define you.

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.