What Do You Worship?

The question is “what” do you worship – not “who” do you worship. I am quoting from a book I recently read while on a three week retreat in the north of my province….

And, please note my definition of idolatry. Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

A friend of mine who visited a remote, impoverished village in India told me a story. He saw a woman sacrificing a chicken as an act of worship to her god. My friend was shocked to see such blatant, modern-day idolatry. After striking up a conversation with the woman, he was impressed with her. She was well-spoken, kind, and educated.

When he learned that she had visited New York City three years earlier, he asked what she thought of America. She explained that she hated it. She had never seen more idolatry anywhere in her entire life. When my friend pressed her, she described three areas of idolatry that she saw.

First, she said, not so gently, the Americans worship their stomachs. Her eyes wide as she talked, this woman from a simple village described the massive stores overstocked with food to sell to people who had already had too much to eat. Evidently this woman was offended by people who are overweight when so many people in her village go hungry. 

Second, she described how Americans worship television. From her perspective, they design their homes around the television. It takes the most prominent place in the most important room, and the furniture is arranged not for talking to people but for watching television. It was almost too much for her to comprehend that some people even allow a television in their bedroom — of all places!

Finally, she said the worst form of idolatry was in the relationship people have with their phones. She was deeply offended that people use them while driving. Even worse was that no one (at least in her experience) could have a full conversation without reading something on their phone.

Kind of gives new meaning to American idol, doesn’t it. My friend didn’t try to disagree with the Indian woman. He knew he couldn’t. Everything she said was true. And she hadn’t even scratched the surface. 

Without getting into our obsessions with food and media, I’m simply raising the question about what we worship when we click. You are probably not putting a statute of a turtle ahead of God, and you probably aren’t a star-worshipper, but is your obsession with your phone gearing out of hand?

Some of us can honestly answer no. We are already using technology with good boundaries. We control it. It doesn’t control us. We might have a healthy view of social media and how we interact with it. If so, I’m thankful, and you should be too!

Yet I know many well-intentioned followers of Jesus who are being seduced, sucked into, and consumed by the virtual world. They think, “I just want to help my business.” Or, “This will give more exposure to my ministry.” Or, “I just love staying in touch with so many friends and family members.” 

As I read this and then took a long walk to think about it I had mixed feelings and several distinct reactions. I was pleased that for several years now I have set boundaries on my iPhone. It turns on at 9:00a. Before that is my time with the Lord, in prayer, reading and studying the Bible. It turns itself off at 10:00p so that I have an uninterrupted 90 minutes to read before heading to bed. I work so many hours in front of the computer screen in my office (9:00a to 1:00p) with emails and texts and then shut it down and go about other things – appointments, meeting with non-believers, and time in my study writing a book I am currently working on.

But I did realize that I needed to put up better boundaries regarding how much time I “waste” watching television some evenings. I realize there are more productive things I can do. But, after a normal day and early evening I am tired and want to simply relax and not have to think. But, that is simply a rationalization and an excuse. So, I have been changing my evening routine and putting my time and limited energy to better use. Establishing boundaries. No longer spending more time binge-watching than I do with the Lord in any given day.

Idolatry is still very much alive in the world today … no matter where you live or what language you speak. And, with all the technology now available idolatry has become an acceptable aspect of life. It is time to reclaim the precious time the Lord given to us each day. 

Remember: Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

Let us be equipped for the coming days

An apostolic perspective from Raffi Shahverdyan – apostolic leader living in Armenia and ministering worldwide.

Let us be equipped for the coming days

Scripture gives us many examples of good administration.  Our Lord calls the Church both to pray, equip itself for times of crisis, and to minister to those who are in need.

1 – You have something to do today

“I sought for a man among them to build the wall and stand in the breach in my presence on behalf of the land so that it won’t be destroyed, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30, ISV).

God relies on you.  There is no such thing as a retired leader.  That is, if you were ever called to be a leader, then you are called to be a leader now also.  Even if you’ve never been a leader before, you can start being one right now. Along the way, you’ll discover aspects of your own personality that you never thought you had.

“When will all of this end?” -This is the question that all of us ask in difficult times, but let’s just change the question and begin to pray like this: “God, what should I do?  How can I serve you in this situation?  How can I be effective with the gifts that You have given me?

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many people” (Mark 10:45, ISV).

Depression conquers some people. It isolates them, and they become passive, but you must not be found amongst them. You must defeat depression and stand strong in the Lord by faith.

Don’t sit still.  Keep calm. Don’t slow down, don’t waste your time, but do something for God’s Kingdom and His people. Just one word of encouragement from you can change a person’s life. The Angel of the Lord once said to a very frightened Gideon: “The LORD is with you, you valiant warrior!” (Judges 6:12, ISV).

2 – Communication: the biggest need of the Church in these days

Someone needs you!

The Church is a body, whose parts are intimately connected to each other (see 1 Corinthians 12:12).

The Lord has said: 

“Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20, ISV).

Moreover, the Scriptures command us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (see Hebrews 10:25).

While anti-Christian systems like communism and Islam forbid believers to assemble together by closing churches, today’s pandemic is an unseen enemy that is also working to prevent us from assembling ourselves together.  To meet the challenge, we ought to start thinking creatively about how we can communicate with one another, whilst still aiming to respect our governments’ health regulations.

To that end, we can communicate using these methods:

A – Managing all the projects of the church through the internet.  Download appropriate social networking apps on your devices such as WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook, Telegram, Signal, etc. Those of us who are tech-savvy need to help those who are new to technology and/or new to using these kinds of apps.  

B – Making phone calls (for those who don’t have an internet connection).

C – Communicating through printed literature and written letters.

D – Outside gatherings of small groups (maximum 5 people).

3 – Form and activate cell groups by using the internet

“I tell you that you are Peter, and it is on this rock that I will build my congregation, and the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18, ISV)

In other words, start a small Church.

Let us not be overwhelmed by this crisis, but let us find ways of communicating and building relationships with our brothers and sisters in the Church. Let’s not wait for “someone else” in the Church to do something.  Rather, let us be the ones who take initiative by the Word and Spirit of God – and act on it.

A – Take part in the group in which you are already a member.  Don’t stand alone.  You can join or form a group of intercessors, a youth group, a missionary group, a group from Sunday school, a home church group, etc. 

B – If communication has stopped for a while, don’t wait for someone else to start it back again.  Instead, you be the one to get things going again. Send invitations out and start new groups.

C – Make a new group with 5-10 members and have communication with each other via the internet once a week.

D – You can start with a few members and then add new members as you go. Seek out and make contact with those who are isolated and/or don’t have any means of communication.

E – Aim to have a mixture of ages – men and women, boys and girls, from different backgrounds, so as to keep the group both dynamic and persistent. You can start a conversation with some of your friends, and then your group may grow organically from there. 

F – The aim of the group can first be to establish communication.  Once you have a base of people connected, you will be able to add programs such as praying, preaching, teaching, and group Bible readings.

G – You can request study and ministry themes from the Church’s secretary or create them by yourself as you study various parts of the Bible.

H –For those who don’t have an internet connection, you can give them print outs of different Biblical lessons and themes.

I – You can meet with the members of your group in open areas.  For now, this should be done with a limited number of people and with, of course, masks and proper social distancing measures in place.

J – Find and invite those especially to whom reaching out is difficult.  Those who have, for whatever reason, been left out of the normal means and methods of communication ought to be a special focus of our efforts. Make new groups and don’t get complacent with existing ones.

K –Talk to your pastor about your activities and be open and ready to receive direction, input, and advice.

L – Our main purpose is to feed and build the Church; to aid and arm God’s children to build His Kingdom and preach His Message.  Implementing measures to increase our communication and fellowship by whatever means available will not only help maintain the health of the Church, but it may also serve as an effective method of increasing evangelism and stimulating discipleship.

“…I kept them safe in your name which you have given to me: I took care of them and not one of them has come to destruction…” (John 17:12, BBE).

4 – Common means of communication and their potentials

Zoom – This is currently the most common app for video-calls.  It has the capacity to host large numbers of participants. A video-call up to 40 minutes is free.  After this expires, however, the connection may be reestablished to begin another 40 minute session.

Skype – You can have up to 50-minutes of video-calling, and it also gives other options not mentioned here.

Messenger – You can make hold a video-call with 8 members. There is an option to have a video-call with 50 members, but it is not available in Armenia yet.

Facebook / Instagram – Here you can share your messages with one another, individually or in groups.

Viber, WhatsApp, Telegram – These means of communication give you the opportunity to send large voice-recordings.  You can record and send your messages via these apps. You can communicate individually or create group-chats.  

SMS – This is the simplest means of communication, which is available on almost any kind of phone.  SMS messaging also allows you to correspond individually or in groups. Depending on the kind of phone that a given user has, you may be able to share voice recordings as well.  I would also like to utilize online Bibles and Bible apps, as well as implementing other methods for encouraging the reading and sharing of Bible verses.  Examples of some popular apps are YouVersion, Biblestone, and My Bible.  Most of these apps allow users to not only access, but download and synchronize information across multiple devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, etc.) so that everyone can read and share God’s Word effectively and conveniently.

God bless you all.

With love, Raffi Shahverdyan.

Simon (the Rock) Peter

One of my favourite people in the Bible is Peter the fisherman. I relate to his inconsistencies, blunders, and well-intentioned failures. Like most of us, Simon didn’t have the credentials expected of a spiritual leader or hero. Many would have described him as unstable, unpredictable, and impulsive. But Jesus saw more in him than others saw. And, because of this fisherman’s story I know that Jesus sees more in you and me as well.

Calling Simon to be His disciple, Jesus gave the fisherman a new name that carried a new purpose (see Matthew 16). After Jesus plays a round of spiritual Jeopardy! Asking His followers who He really is, Peter lands the big money with the right answer. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” In recognizing Jesus’ true identity, Simon is stepping into a new name and a new position within the group of 12 disciples and in the future Church. 

Jesus says, “And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

(Matthew 16:17-18 emphasis mine)

He is no longer Simon, but Peter. He will no longer cast nets for fish, but now he will be a fisher of men. God will use him to win people into God’s Kingdom.

Now, if you know anything at all about Peter, even after Jesus’ declaration, Peter didn’t always live up to his new name. Like us, he still had much growing to do as a believer, a disciple, and as a leader. Numerous times Peter fell short of faithfulness. When the guards confronted Jesus near the Garden of Gethsemane, rather than responding as Jesus taught him, Peter resorted to violence and sliced off a soldier’s ear. I’m only guessing, but I am pretty sure Peter was swinging for the head and missed.

Peter’s most infamous failure followed on the heels of his boldest declaration. When Jesus explained that many would fall away, Peter fought back, promising his allegiance. “Even if everyone else in the world falls away and leaves you,” Peter declared with unbending boldness, “I will always be there for You and never let You down. (Mark 14:29, paraphrased). If you know the rest of the story, before the rooster crowed, Peter denied even knowing his Lord, not once, but three different times.

Even though Peter didn’t initially live up to his new name and purpose, God helped him grow into it. His consistent shortcomings became his best teacher to learn about the grace and redemption of God through Christ, Since he was forgiven much, he knew how to preach on repentance and forgiveness. It’s no wonder that God chose Peter to be the keynote speaker on the day of Pentecost as he unwaveringly told people to turn from their sins and turn to Christ,

Peter the Wishy Washy grew into his new name and purpose — Peter the Rock, called not to fish for fish but to fish for souls. History shows us that Peter died a martyr’s death for his faith in Christ. Tradition says that his enemies planned to crucify him on a cross just like Jesus to mock his faith in Christ. But Peter begged them not to, explaining that he wasn’t worthy to die in the same way as his Saviour. Many Christians believe that Peter was crucified upside down, displaying his love for Christ and his unwillingness to end his life in the same way as his Saviour. Peter may have been born as quicksand, but he died a rock. 

So, like Simon, when Jesus looks at you He does not see what others see. He does see what you see. So often people are labeled for one or another aspect of their lives. And then they wear the label like this is who they really are. Like this is all they really are. But Jesus sees past the self-imposed labels. He sees past the other-people-imposed labels. He sees the real you, the potential that He placed within you. We need to get past the identity baggage and see ourselves as Jesus sees us.

You don’t need to think long and hard to name people who’ve been labeled. There is Attila…the Hun. There is Conan …the Barbarian. Billy… the kid. Buffy… the Vampire Slayer. And, a child’s favourite, Winnie … the Pooh. Right or wrong people are known for what they do. Tiger Woods was known for being the best golfer in the world. Unfortunately, because of his extracurricular activities, he has now picked up less favourable labels. Some people’s names even become synonymous with their crimes or failures. No one wants to be a Benedict Arnold or a Doubting Thomas. You get the idea. There is Pam the People Pleaser. Evan the Evasive. 

Whatever you have labeled yourself; whatever others have labeled you — you are more than that. Much more. And, Jesus sees the real you and wants to work with you, walk with you, to bring the real you into the sunlight. He wants to help you lose the identity baggage and become whom He created you to be. No matter what others think or see, Jesus looks past all of that and sees the potential.

Like Peter we can find forgiveness and redemption in our walk with Jesus. Like Peter, Jesus will help us to see and realize the potential that is within us. And, with His help he will lead us into His eternal plan and purpose for our lives. You and I are on an amazing and exciting journey to discover who we really are ‘in Christ.’

Time To Leave?

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

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

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

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

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

Leave and go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Ultimate Over Your Immediate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

May I Take Your Order?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What The World Needs Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Friend Of Sinners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Settle In Spain!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There seems to be three reasons people settle…

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

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

2> People settle in a place of relational wounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds Like Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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