Sounds Like Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Friday and COVID-19

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

Reaching Your God-Given Potential – Part One

Let’s consider the three types of friends everyone needs to reach their God-given potential:

      • A friend to challenge you and bring out your best
      • A friend to help you find strength in God and grow in your faith
      • A friend to tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it

To look at and illustrate these three types, let’s look at the life of David in the Old Testament to see the people that God used to make him the man God wanted him to be.

First, everyone needs a friend who makes them better, and makes them want to be better. You don’t have to know much about David’s life to know he was far from perfect. But even with all his mistakes, sins, and shortcomings, David was still described as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). If you study David’s life, it becomes clear that the right people at the right time helped him become the right man.

Although David had many people who made him better, I’d like to start with Samuel. During the time when God rejected Saul as king (and this is a different Saul than the one we read of in the book of Acts), God chose Samuel the prophet to identify and anoint the next king of Israel. When Samuel visited the house of Ben Jesse (David’s dad), he saw an obvious candidate. The oldest son was strong, handsome, and qualified. Samuel thought that surely this man was God’s chosen king. But God told him not to consider his stature, because God doesn’t look at the same things people look at. Most people judge others by their appearance, but God looks past their appearance and into their heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

When all the obvious sons turned out not to be God’s chosen one, they finally called in the least likely one, the youngest, who was out tending sheep. And God spoke to Samuel and said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one” (1 Samuel 16:12). Everyone would have been shocked by this announcement. David was just a kid, and a little rough around the edges, camping next to his family’s flock of sheep. There wasn’t a single person in David’s family who would have picked him as the next king. But God used one man, Samuel, to help David see that God’s will for his life was more significant than anyone could have imagined. 

Samuel made David better – much better. The prophet helped David see himself the way God saw him – as a leader, warrior, poet, and king. He wasn’t just some kid, cut out for nothing more than wrangling sheep for his whole life. Samuel told David, “You’re the one! God has chosen you!” God had a glorious plan, and Samuel helped David glimpse it.

Do you have a few friends who make you better, people who see your potential? Think about it. Do your buddies at the gym make you better? Or the ladies in your Bible study help you grow? Do the people you work with make you sharper? Do the people you run with make you stronger?

If not, connect with someone new, someone who makes you better.

If you need to get closer to God, connect with the right person who can help. If you want a good marriage, there’s nothing like befriending people who have strong marriages. If you want to grow in your parenting skills, you might find someone wise and do life with them. Walk with the wise and grow wise. If you hope to start a business, then gleaning from someone who started a successful business is a great place to start. If you need to learn to handle your finances better, I know that if you pray for the right influence, God will answer that prayer.

David’s son Solomon, the wisest man who ever lives, said, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17 NLT). Instead of hanging out with people who dull your skills or put down your dreams, it’s time you start finding friends who make you sharper. If you connect with someone who makes you better today, then you will write a totally different future for yourself – God’s future. This is what David did with the help of Samuel.

Who sees you, the real person inside you, the way God sees you?

More next time….

Coronavirus Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

YOU ARE LOVED AND CHOSEN

In July, 2007 when I became serious about Ralph Howe Ministries – the exact launch date being July 1st – I started using what was then a new copy or a new version.

A  new version to me – ESV (English Standard Version)
It is now the battered and tattered well-worn friend that I still preach from although near  retirement as I have broken in its twin brother recently…
The first thing I read when I first started this version was the book of Ephesians
In this book Paul, the author and apostle, tells us a lot about who we are as believers and what we have been given…

Read more

COMPELLING

Several years ago I was in a rundown Russian resort built by the Communists during their control in the U.S.S.R.

No heat, no hot water, and a building that hardly slowed the wind down
It was February and cold but a powerful 4 days with 350 youth from 5 nations
I was sitting waiting to listen to the night speaker – my night off – when someone came to me and told me the car and driver were waiting
They had forgotten to inform me that I was heading into the city of Yaroslavl to minister in a church that served only addicts
Several hours later after driving through a blizzard we arrived to a group of 200+ addicts
Drug addicts and alcoholics who were in recovery

Read more

YOU MIGHT DIE TOMORROW

The Coronavirus and its current form called Covid-19 has certainly suddenly ended what we consider to be “normal life” here in Canada and around the world
International flights (except to London) have been cancelled
Schools and universities are closed for March and maybe into April
Events being cancelled …
Sports leagues cancelling a substantial number of games and even, in several situations, the rest of the season
Playing to empty stadiums and arenas or not playing at all
Airlines cancelling all international flights

Read more

Preaching Without a Pulpit

The idea of preaching without a pulpit might seem a little crazy to some, evoking images of shouty people standing on street corners, waving Bibles at pedestrians. But the concept of pulpit-less preaching is not so narrow not so strange.

Jesus did not have a pulpit. He simply taught and shared with people who were hungry enough to take the time to listen. And, preaching without a pulpit is one of the callings God has placed on each of our lives. Not only are we called to share the gospel with the nations, but we are also called it do it in a fearless way: “Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold” (2 Corinthians 3:12).

A question to consider: If you were to ask yourself when the last time you shared Jesus with someone was, what would the answer be? The answer will tell you a lot about your relationship with Him. After all, He did say, “follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). So, if you are not fishing then you are truly not following Him who came to fish – to seek and save the lost (Luke 10:19). 

I work with young people in most places where I am honoured to minister. I love seeing teenagers who are fired up for Jesus sharing His story with people at malls, schools, and grocery stores. Many of today’s youth have more audacity and boldness than those who claim to be mature believers in Christ. 

The quietness of those who are older and more mature in the faith may be the result of “growing up,” and being told to chill out over the years and act more mature. But I believe this is something my generation needs to evaluate and change our view on. We need to go back to being radical. I believe, we can keep that radical way of living in our hearts. We can keep living an audacious life in the Name of Jesus. We are called to be radical. There is no other way to live the Christian life. So, those of us who were once wild stations for Jesus and were tamed and told to be still and be quiet need to regain the enthusiasm and boldness that we once had. Today’s youth are an example of how it should be – how we should be living our lives as believers and disciples of Jesus.

I see youth groups and young believers excited to use the people around them as personal mission fields. I would hope to see my generation and beyond once again passionate for the same thing.

So why do so many of us hold on to the idea that we need a church building, or some sort of official sanction or title to preach the Word of God? There are many events in the Bible where Jesus preaches to the masses. Not in a church building, temple, or religious organization, but in the open for all to hear. Jesus constantly used His surroundings as a platform to share truth and religious liberation. 

One of the most classic examples of this is described in the book of Matthew. The story goes, “One day as He saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around Him, and He began to teach them” (5:1-2). No pulpit, No ushers. No printed bulletins. Jesus saw the people, and dug in for the long haul. He must have looked around and seen the faces of hundreds of people who were hurting – who needed hope. And He reacted with a set of teachings we now call the Sermon on the Mount. It’s one of the most intense streams of wisdom in the Bible. All from a dusty and windy hillside in Judea. 

When you are at work. When you are at home in your neighbourhood and community. When you are out with friends. You don’t need a pulpit. We simple need to share boldly and with confidence what the Lord has done and is doing in our lives. As Paul the apostle wrote: “Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold” (2 Corinthians 3:12).

Eight Differences Between a Believer and a Follower

1> A believer believes in Jesus. A follower honours His commands

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” (James 2:19 NIV)

2> A believer reads the Bible when things get tough. A follower reads the Bible to engage in a deeper understanding of Jesus Himself.

“Look to the LORD and His strength; seek His face always.” (Psalm 105:4 NIV)

3> A believer prays when things get tough. A follower gives thanks no matter the circumstance.

“Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20 NIV)

4> A believer twists the Bible to fit his or her lifestyle. A follower works to make his or her lifestyle resemble the teachings of the Bible.

“Some of His comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

5> A believer gives when it is easy. A follower gives out of the abundance of his or her heart.

“They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, our in everything – all she had to live on.” (Matthew 12:22 NIV)

6> A believer conforms under the pressure or culture. A follower holds fast against temptation.

“Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:13 ESV)

7> A believer will share his or her faith when it’s comfortable. A follower will share his or her faith regardless of the scenario.

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15 ESV)

8> A believer knows about Jesus. A follower knows Jesus as his or her Lord and Saviour.

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 ESV)

Which are you? A believer or a follower?.

The Word “Christian”

It’s sad to sit back back and watch the media cover nothing but the faults and failures of proclaimed “Christ-followers,” instead of getting down to the truth of what 98 percent of us do differently than the 2 percent who make us look bad. If the negativity that the media portrays is in fact the world’s view of what it means to be a Christian, please don’t call me one. I’d rather call myself a Christ-follower than be thrown into the twisted view of what we’ve made “Christians” out to be. I understand that Christian actually means Christ-follower, but you get where I am going with this I am sure.

The word ‘Christian’ has become too common over the years. Not for the sake of spreading the good news of Jesus, like we’d hoped for, but instead that of comfort and ease. People say “I’m a Christian” as easily as they would “I like hamburgers.”

For many reasons, the word Christian has stopped being associated with the word “love.” It’s stopped being associated with “grace.” This isn’t a matter of theology, doctrine, or philosophy, but instead of the actions people take – or don’t take – in the name of Christ. Jesus called us to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34). Simple. This means we are to relentlessly, passionately, and fervently love one another just as He has loved us, no matter the circumstances. But does this really happen?

The ideology of “hate the sin, not the sinner” has not converted well into today’s culture. If you take a moment to look around, you’ll notice that we are very good at showing hate to the people whom God has called us to love. Regardless of what the Bible says about cursing, drinking, drunkenness, homosexuality, sex, cheating, lying, or stealing, we are still called to ‘love one another.’ It’s that simple. No questions asked, regardless of how you interpret Scriptures.

Does this frustrate anyone the way it frustrates me? And before you say anything about seeking to keep your brother or sister accountable, please remember that you and I both sin as much as the next person. The goal isn’t to look away when someone is struggling, but instead to engage and embrace people in a way that reflects the loving comfort of Christ. A way that shows the love of Jesus. A way that turns from anything to do with hate, rejection, and judgmentalism. Period.

So, we are to love without limits. You know, I can’t ever recall a person who came to know Jesus because of hate. And, I am certain you cannot argue someone into the Kingdom, either. Jesus clearly stated that the non-believers and skeptics would come to know that we are His disciples by the way that we love one another and most certainly they way we treat others who are not believers and thus do not yet share fellowship with us and with our Heavenly Father. 

As I have been thinking about this in the last few days I realized that there are four things that God’s love won’t hold against you…

1> Your past

2> Your mistakes

3> Your confusion

4> Your addictions

Let’s look at those next time we are together…