Sometimes I Feel Disconnected

Dad and Mom were generous with the advice they offered as I was growing up …

They would often look at a situation and give me their viewpoint even when I was not looking for input

In hindsight they had a lot of wisdom which they were sharing when they thought it would help

Most times I really was not all that appreciative of their input

One tidbit of wisdom I always remember was from my dad – I remember it because I heard it so often 

“You can do anything you set your mind to”

And that has proved true over the years since I first heard it

The other piece of advice came from my mom and dealt with my friends and those I chose to hang around with

“You are who you run with” she would say

Sometimes, I have to admit, I was not sure if she was approving of my buddies or encouraging me to find better replacements

This too was a powerfully wise statement that I should have listened to and taken more seriously than I did

Whether you’re a kid, a tween, a teenager, a young adult, or middle-aged, you will become like your closest friends

Trust me in this – trust my mom

Count on it – the company you keep determines who you become

When we connect with another person — we become a conduit for their values, beliefs, and decisions

We are affected by their behaviour, life-style, and morals

This is not just based on my mother’s advice and is not just some pop psychology gained from a self-help book…

In the Bible, Solomon wrote:

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20)

If you stick close to people who are wise, you’ll become wiser

If you hang out with people who are godly, you’re likely going to grow closer to God

If you become close friends with people who make good decisions, chances are you’ll make good decisions too

But the opposite is  dangerously true as well

If you hang out with the wrong crowd, you’ll likely end up doing stupid and dangerous things along with them

If the people you surround yourself with are passive, unmotivated people, you’ll likely do less, not more

If your best friends constantly ignore God, chances are you’re going to drift from Him as well

PERSONAL COMMENT:

When I reflect on my life, I realize I rarely got into trouble by myself

Almost every time I did something stupid or unwise, I was running around with people who were equally foolish

On the flip side of that coin,

I rarely succeeded at anything on my own

When I grew as a believer it was because someone was discipling me

When I grew as a leader it was because another leader was mentoring me

People speaking into my life – offering me valuable feedback and their hard-earned wisdom

When I am closest to God, I’m always simultaneously close to godly people as well

THE TRUTH: Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future

 Any success I have in life and ministry is the direct result of my connecting with the best, God-loving, wise people I could find

Anything good that I’ve done or am doing comes from God using the right people to influence me and make me better

I am who I am today because of the people I choose to connect with in the past 

You are too

The people you know determine the story your life will tell

The people you’re hanging out with today are shaping the person you will become tomorrow

When trouble hits and hard times happen other than a close family member most people either call a close friend

Or wish they had someone they could call

In those moments when bad news is received, we desperately need other people

We need someone who cares to be present with us

We need someone to listen to us vent – to hold us while we cry

We need trusted friends to love us and remind us of God’s peace and presence in the midst of life’s unexpected storms

And not only do we need this type of friend, we need to be this type of friend to others

The kind other people trust and respect, confide in and love to be around

But, regretfully, in our day and age of social media such connections are becoming rare

As a pastor, I often hear the secrets that people are afraid to tell anyone else

They tell me because they trust me

They tell me because they decide it’s safe because I am a pastor

People often bare their hearts to me because they just can’t keep it inside any longer and they have no one else in their lives they trust enough to keep their secrets and to help them overcome whatever they may be facing

And, that is a serious tragedy

Life today are messy — mine, yours, everyone’s

So, if we are going to connect with others, we have to help each other clean up some of the messes

That’s why it’s absolutely essential to have real friends – and the right friends in your life before your life derails in some way

Real friendships, though, take time, effort, focus and an emotional investment, which is part of what makes it so difficult for us to connect

Today it almost seems old-fashioned to hope for the kind of friendship that endures

The kind that sustains you through all the highs and lows of life 

In our fast-paced, mobile culture, we have become suburban nomads

It is just not reasonable to expect relationships to last for years and years

Plus, we now have all kinds of great ways we can stay in touch:

      • Texts
      • Emails
      • Instagram
      • Facebook
      • Twitter
      • What’sApp
      • Viber
      • And other social media

You can always Skype or FaceTime or Zoom with those long-distance friends, right?

But few do and the connection is not the same … it lacks depth and the real personal, in-person touch

The relational impact of social media and technology has redefined the word friend

Once upon a time, even just a decade ago, when someone said they were your friend, you both understood what that meant:

          • You shared interests
          • Understood each other’s goals
          • Enjoyed doing life together
          • Shared holidays
          • Engaged in their life and embraced their issues

Things are no longer that simple

You can have dozens — even hundreds — of friends that you’ve never met IRL (in Real Life)

BBF — but not IRL

They may follow you on social media without really knowing who you are or what makes you tick

Today … the average person has more than 300 Facebook friends, but only one or two that they consider “close friends”

And, two out of three people say they have zero close fiends

Zero, nada, zip, zilch, goose egg, none at all — close friends

There are four reasons people have few friends – and definitely fewer friends than a few years ago…

      • People are working more – so fewer hours available to relate socially. So, any friendship is usually a working relationship
      • People are moving more frequently so geographical closeness is no longer a fact of life and close friendships don’t usually survive distance
      • People are getting divorced more often and so friends tend to side with one or the other in the break-up  and thus friendships are lost
      • People are talking more online and less in person and so filter out the ‘personal content’ to present only their best self – not their real self

As a result people are experiencing less and less personal intimacy

And true friendships are quickly fading and even disappearing altogether

The result of these major changes: 

    • We’re connected, yet feel lonelier than ever
    • Our connections are mostly surface level without personal depth
    • We prefer to control the relationships so let calls go to voice mail and then listen and answer only if we want to and when and if time allows
    • We honestly no longer know how to have a meaningful, fulfilling personal friendship
    • We live life an inch deep and a mile wide without engaging in or embracing the life of another person … so live friendless in the true meaning of the word “friend”

Poverty use to mean only one thing

Now sociologists are acknowledging a least three levels of poverty

            • Material poverty: the lack of basic needs
            • Spiritual poverty: the lack of eternal meaning
            • Relational poverty: the lack of intimate friendships

This third one seems to have taken many people by surprise

But if you think about it, you may realize that it’s true of you as well

Something is wrong

Something is missing

You might even acknowledge that it isn’t actually something but a someone

Most believers need to make a quality decision to connect

Because, believe it or not, you could be one friend away from changing direction

Remember my mom’s wisdom and advice: You are who you run with (hang around with)

When you decide to connect with people — you change the story you will tell one day

That has been true throughout history 

Just consider the man who wrote more than 1/3 of the New Testament – the apostle Paul

Paul wasn’t always a Christian

Before he was a follower of Jesus, he was Saul from a city called Tarsus

He was an angry guy who persecuted and killed Christians

But after taking the lives of those who believed that Jesus was raised from the dead, Paul became one of them himself

His transformation was so big, so radical, so life-changing that Saul-turned-Paul immediately wanted to tell others about Jesus

The problem was that no Christians trusted him, for obvious reasons

Luke – a doctor who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts put it simply:

Acts 9:26 “And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.”

You can’t blame the disciples for their skepticism

I wouldn’t want the guy who killed Christians last month leading my house church! Would you?

So Paul had a problem

He’d been transformed by the love and grace of Christ

Because of Jesus, Paul wanted to preach

He knew he was called by God to do so, but he didn’t have an ounce of credibility with the people who had been following Jesus for a long time

So Paul reached out to anyone who would give him a chance to share his newfound passion and love for Jesus

Little did Paul know that his decision to connect wouldn’t just change his story

it would add to God’s Word and change history

You see, Paul was one friend away from altering the course of his destiny

And that friend was a guy named Barnabas

Luke shows clearly how Barnabas lent Paul his credibility and put in a good word for him

Acts 9:27-28 “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.”

What happened?

Barnabas staked his reputation on Paul’s conversion being real, not just some Trojan horse ploy to infiltrate Jesus’ disciples

Barnabas vouched for his new friend’s faith in Christ, telling the other disciples about the passion Paul had when he preached about Jesus — something that is hard to fake

Because of Barnabas, the other disciples and leaders of the church gave Paul a chance

One friendship

One massive difference in Paul’s life

An even bigger difference in the world

You may be one friendship – one relationship – away from changing your destiny if you just decide to reach out and connect with the right people

You may be one connection away from changing the world

As you consider what it might mean to risk connecting with people

To reveal your heart

To reveal your real struggles

To reveal your thoughts and feelings

To reveal your crazy dreams

Consider the three types of friends everyone needs to reach their God-given potential and destiny

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

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

Listen: Everyone needs a good, close friend who makes them better, and makes them want to be better

1> A friend to challenge you and bring out your best – the real you

You don’t need 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 the king (different than the New Testament Saul who became Paul) 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 this son’s 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 who 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 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

Everyone needs a friend who makes them better

A person who encourages you to be the best you that you can be — the person God created you to be

Walk with the wise and grow wise

David’s son Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said,

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17)

Instead of hanging out with people who dull your skills or put down your dreams

It’s time to start finding friends who make you sharper

If you connect with someone who makes you better today, the stories you tell tomorrow will become even more meaningful to you and others

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

2> A friend to help you find strength in God and to grow in your faith

This second type of friend can help you find strength beyond yourself in the midst of temptation and weakness

Just as Samuel helped David see that God wanted to do more in his life than he ever imagined

A guy named Jonathan helped David find strength in God when he needed it most

David was chosen to be the next king, but God didn’t promote him to the throne immediately

God still had a lot to do before He replaced Saul with David

First, David became a war hero, winning the hearts of thousands

David was so effective on the battlefield that women danced in the streets singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens off thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7)

You can just imagine how jealous that made an already insecure king.

Feeling threatened by David’s rising popularity, King Saul plotted to take David’s life

David was forced to flee to the mountains to hide from the raging monarch’s posse

There, in David’s darkest moments, God sent him an unlikely friend to help him find spiritual strength

King Saul’s own son Jonathan recognized the error in his father’s ways and stood faithfully by his friend David

Here’s how Samuel describes the courageous show of support:

1 Samuel 23:15-16 “While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” (NIV)

I love that simple phrase, which describes so clearly one of the key ways Jonathan served David: he “helped him find strength in God.”

There may not be a more valuable gesture one friend can make to another than pointing them toward God, encouraging them, to seek His power, loving them towards God’s unending strength

Who helps you to find strength in God?

If you don’t have anyone, it’s time for you to connect with someone who can help

God already has that person ready for you

It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help

It’s a sign of wisdom

Everyone needs a friend who helps them get better (#1)

And we all need someone to help us find strength in God (#2)

3> A friend to tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it

The third type of friend that we must have is one who will tell us the truth — the whole truth, God’s truth, the truth that brings a reality check into your life

A truth: the more successful and established you become, the more you need this person in your life and, oddly, the harder they are to find

“Established” = Married, steady job, house, decent income, vehicle

King David discovered this the hard way

During the season when kings were suppose to be at war, David decided to stay home rather than go to battle

One night he was out on his rooftop when he saw his neighbour’s wife, Bathsheba, bathing outside her house

His selfish lusts spoke louder than his wisdom, so the king sent someone to bring the woman to him

What’s interesting is that whomever King David sent to get Bathsheba had to know that she was married to Uriah, one of David’s closest friends and one of Israel’s greatest war heroes.

But since the messenger was on the king’s payroll (and he might have been afraid of losing more than just his job), the guy did exactly as he was told

He summoned the woman to the king’s palace

And if you don’t know the story, well, one thing led to another, and Bathsheba ended up pregnant

Recognizing that this could become a scandal, David tried to get control of the situation

He called her husband home, figuring Uriah would sleep with his wife and then assume the baby was his

But when Uriah refused to enjoy intimacy with his wife while his men were still on the battlefield, David changed his tactics.

He issued the order to move his friend to the front line where he was sure to be killed.

And he was!

Unfortunately, everyone in the king’s court was too afraid to tell David the truth.

So God sent a man who cared enough to help David see the way back to the right path

The prophet Nathan met with David and told him a story that went something like this:

“Once upon a time there were two men. One was very rich and the other very poor. The rich guy had an unlimited number of sheep and wealth. The poor guy had almost nothing and only one lamb, who was almost like a pet to him and his family. When the rich man had a guest come to town, he took the poor man’s lamb and had it butchered for their meal.”

When David heard the story, he was beside himself with anger

David ranted, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:5-6)

Fortunately, Nathan loved David enough to tell him the truth

“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” (2 Samuel 12:7)

That was enough to jolt King David out of his denial and bring him to his knees in repentance before God

Many people around us tell us the things we want to hear, rather than helping us to see the truth

And the more established we become, the more difficult it is to find people who have our best interests at heart

That’s one reason we must connect with people who love us enough to be blatantly honest and “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

David’s son Solomon wisely said, “An open rebuke is better than hidden love. Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5-6 NLT)

When was the last time a friend loved you enough to tell you the truth and even give you an open rebuke?

Has someone loved you enough to offer helpful correction?

If not, you might be missing one or two very important relationships that could help you grow, thrive, and succeed

Everyone needs people in their lives who will candidly tell them the truth

Maybe you need to connect with someone who is willing to show you what you need to see so you can become the person you are suppose to be

Which kind of friend do you need most in your life right now?

      • Someone who helps you get better?
      • Someone who helps you draw closer to God?
      • Someone who tells you the truth about yourself?

Hopefully you would agree with my Mom that you become like those you run with (hang out with)

Many sociologists say that you eventually become the average of your five closest friends

Your morals will be similar to your five closest buddies’ morals

Your finances will look a lot like those of the people you spend the most time with

Your spiritual passion (or lack of it) will be similar to those who have the most influence in your life

Keeping this in mind, ask yourself, “Who am I becoming?”

Be honest

Be Nathan for yourself

Is one or more of your closest friends battling with dangerous addictions?

 

Are they struggling financially?

Living risky lives?

Making bad decisions?

Are their relationships toxic?

If so, you’re either right there with them or on your way

On the other hand, are you surrounded by people who know and love Christ deeply?

Are they blessed and generous?

Do they have positive, faith-filled perspectives on life and on the future?

Are their relationships thriving?

Are they using their influence to help make the world a better place?

If so, praise God!

You’re likely seeing many of those same blessings in your life as well

You have so much to give to others who want to connect and discover all that God has in store for them

Regardless of where you see yourself, I encourage you to take an inventory of your friendships (relationships)

Which of your friends are close enough to you, intimate enough with you, that you would want them to speak at your funeral someday?

Who would you want describing the special, close bond you shared and telling others about how you helped each other love and serve the Lord more completely?

It’s not too late to connect (or reconnect) with someone who will change your destiny

Your decision to connect will change the story you tell one day

 

 

Risk-Taker

Most of us think of risk as a negative situation we should avoid. But risk is a part of life, and it’s a big part of faith. Not every risk is worth taking, but if you’re too overwhelmed by fear to correctly assess a situation, you’ll miss many opportunities for growth, increased strength, deeper faith, and success.

Have you been playing it safe? Too safe? If forward is the direction you choose in your journey of faith, be prepared to take some faith-based risks. Being a follower and disciple of Christ in today’s world its not safe. And it isn’t intended to be.

In his 2002 book, Seizing Your Divine Moment, Erwin McManus wrote, “I want to reiterate the fact that the center of God’s will in not a safe place, but the most dangerous place in the world. God fears nothing and no one. God moves with intentionality and power. To live outside God’s will puts us in danger, but to live in His will makes us dangerous.”

Think of the people in Scripture who took great risks.

    • Moses wasn’t playing it safe when he returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh – Exodus 5:1
    • Gideon wasn’t playing it safe then he dismissed most of his army – Judges 7:7
    • David wasn’t playing it safe when he strode up to Goliath – 1 Samuel 17:31
    • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren’t playing it safe when they refused to bow to the image Nebuchadnezzar had erected in the Babylonian plains – Daniel 3:16-18
    • Esther wasn’t playing it safe when she put her life on the line to save her people, telling Mordecai, “If I perish, I perish” – Esther 4:1
    • Peter wasn’t playing it safe when he stepped out of the fishing boat to walk across the water to Jesus – Matthew 14:29
    • Paul wasn’t playing it safe when he preached to Governor Felix about “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” – Acts 24:25
    • The apostle John wasn’t playing it safe in his old age when he sent a book from Patmos filled with images of dragons, beasts, and coming days of wrath and judgment.

You can’t play it safe either. Not if you want to seize tomorrow and accomplish the dreams God places in your heart. You will need to be a risk taker.

The best example of a risk-taker in my mind is Caleb. We were speaking about him yesterday. Many people don’t know a great deal about Caleb, because he only occupies thirty verses in the Bible. But what verses they are! What a man of faith! He is a powerful and wonderful example of risk-taking, future-grabbing grace.

In the book of Numbers, Moses sent twelve men – Joshua, Caleb, and ten others — as an advance party to reconnoiter the Promised Land. These men left the safety of their encampment, forded the Jordon River, and slipped into Canaan. Their mission: to make notes of the land, observe the enemy, study the fortification, estimate the population, and bring back enough intelligence to aid Moses in planning the coming invasion of the land God had promised the Israelites. 

The Bible tells the story this way: “So they went up and explored the land from the wilderness of Zin … Going north, they passed through the Negev and arrived at Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai—all descendants of Anak—lived” (Numbers 13:21-22 NLT)

The city of Hebron had been the ancestral home of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now it was inhabited by an evil tribe of huge warriors known as the descendants of Anak. The sight of these warriors terrified some of the scouts.

The scouts quickly harvested some pomegranates and figs from the orchards of Canaan, and two of them lugged back an enormous cluster of grapes, carrying it on a pole between them. Imagine the excitement when the spies returned to Kadesh Barnea! Their mission had taken forty days, during which no one knew if they had survived or perished. Day after day, sentries on Israel’s parameters watched for them. Now that were back — all of them safe and sound.

But they were not united. Ten of the twelve had the fear of failure. The were not risk-takers.

Have you ever heard these names: Shammua, Shaphat, Igal, Palti, Gddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, and Geuel? No? These are the names of the ten spies who risked their lives on an espionage mission only to lose heart, doubt God’s power, and miss Good’s will (Numbers 13:4-15). They came back so discouraged they disheartened the people of Israel. And God determined that because they were not risk-takers and would not believe Him that they would not enter the Promised Land. In fact, they would all need to die in the wilderness before their decendants could cross the Jordan and take Canaan. All must die except Caleb and Joshua. 

Two of the spies had risked their lives to go into Canaan and report to the people what they had seen and encountered. Joshua and Caleb gave a positive report because they believed God when He said to Israel that this would be their land and they would defeat those who currently occupied the land. The other ten saw the same things but from a perspective of fear and not risk-taking and faith. 

Remember, Paul wrote to young Timothy and said, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

To be a risk-taker, stepping out in faith, we must remember that we do not need to fear. That God has given to us everything we need to fulfill His will for our lives. That we walk in Power, love, and have self-discipline. No matter what our age we need to overcome our hesitancy and defeat fear so we can carry on and fulfill the plan and purpose of God for our life.

He calls everyone of us to be risk-takers.  

Knowing and Experiencing God’s Love

With Covid-19 continuing now into its second year we are seeing more signs of people losing hope. The loss of hope around us today is rampant, and it’s lethal. It touches families all around the globe in ways hard to comprehend; and I believe it stems for a growing ignorance or even rejection of God’s love.

We need, even as believers, to revisit Romans 8: 38-39 which says, 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Consider the reasons for having hope packed into this passage. Not only is God real but He loves us. And not only does God love us, but nothing we might experience can separate us from His love. Country music singer Carrie Underwood commented on this passage: “I love all the commas in these verses — neither death, nor life, not angels, nor demons. It’s so powerful.”

The ten things Paul lists in these verses could each be a potential barrier between you and God. But Paul says, with absolute assurance, that none of them can separate you from God’s love.  That should bring us hope!

The powerful words in Romans 8 about God’s love are reinforced by a blessing Paul offers toward the end of that same book. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Take a moment to say that verse aloud but make one little change. Turn it into a prayer that’s personal to you: “Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may about in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

It might be good for you to pray those words aloud every morning, every noontime, and every evening until you know them by heart. That prayer can adjust your mindset in any given season of life, deepen your core convictions, and strengthen your belief. Might even permanently change your life.

I encourage you to make this a regular prayer — maybe for the next month or maybe for years to come: “Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may about in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God loves you and wants you to overflow with hope and optimism! Never forget that. Let that conviction dwell in the very core of your being.

In his book, The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the story of Edward Farrell, a man who decided to travel from his hometown of Detroit to visit Ireland, where he would celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday. Early on the morning of his uncle’s birthday, they went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. As the sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight into the breaking light. For twenty minutes they stood there is silence, and then his elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.

After catching up with him., Edward asked, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”

“Yes, lad,” the old man said, tears washing down his face. “You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me.”

In that moment Uncle Seamus experienced how much he was loved by his Father in Heaven, an overwhelming sense of joy flooded his heart. And he began to dance along the shoreline.

Have you ever had a moment like that? Have you ever awakened and said, “He really does love me”? Do you know what it means to overflow with hope and optimism? Paul, did, and you can too. Hope and optimism can become your habitual attitude because you have encountered and experienced the love that God has for you and as a result you live with tremendous hope. 

Guard Your Heart

In this last entry for January 2021 and a look at life as we enter February 2021 tomorrow,  I want to chat about “Loving Who? And Why?”

Life (and particularly Covid-19) has a way of eroding our confidence in the goodness of God. After all, where was God when Covid-19 hit and took away someone we loved or someone we knew – a friend or someone we work with? Where is God now almost a year later? So, we could — and maybe should — question and wrestle with this whole concept of the goodness of God. And, in the process take an honest look at why circumstances and situations beyond our control cause our hearts to question God’s love and care. In other words, work through what we really think and believe about suffering and chronic disappointments of every day life. Both of which can cause us to pull away from God. Not so far as to abandon the faith … but still creating emotional distance between us and God, the Father, as we question (doubt) his goodness towards us in particular.

Life is a savage assault, striking at random, poisoning our heart’s assurance that God is good, or at least good towards us. This makes it so hard to find more of God, to receive Him in fresh and wonderful ways into our being and daily life. So it’s here we must seek healing within our intimate relationship with the Living God.

Allow me to explain an essential dynamic to the soul’s relationship with God. More of God comes to us as we love God. The more that we love God, the more we are able to experience Him. Part of this has to do with the nature of God, and part of it has to do with our own human nature.

You understand from your own relationships, your story of life, love, and relationships, that you don’t give your heart away to just anyone. You don’t give access to the deeper places in your soul to just any idle acquaintance — certainly not to someone who is at the same time keeping themselves distant from you. We know from your own experiences that when someone loves us, we are much more ready to make ourselves available and vulnerable to them. What we keep forgetting is that God feels the same way.

2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

Psalm 91:14 NLT “The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.’

John 16:27a NIV “… the Father himself loves you because you have loved me…”

I’m really surprised that the human race expects God to pour Himself and His blessings into their lives when He is not even the slightest priority, let alone a close and dear friend. Would you give the best of your life to people who couldn’t care less whether or not you exist? God’s outpouring of Himself is conditional. I know, I know — we’ve all been told all about the unconditional love of God. Absolutely — his grace is unconditional; His forgiveness sis available to all. However, intimacy with Him, the treasures of His presence, the outpouring of His vibrant being into our thirsty souls — that’s for those who love Him. Even in the best friendship, the act of giving and receiving love ebbs and flows with the willingness of the two involved to make it a priority, to invest themselves. God’s heart is very much like yours in this way, for your heart is made in His image.

Now on our side of the exchange, loving God opens our soul up to the presence of God and the gifts that He has for us. Remember — your soul is the vessel He fills. So, we need, as in any friendship, to position our souls into the place whereby we might receive so much more of God. There’s no practice that facilitates the opening of capacity to perceive Him, and receive Him, like the turning of our hearts and souls toward God in repentance and love. Active loving — love as a verb, not a noun. This is what we’re made for, and the soul knows it, even if it’s long been unused. We know it even through we’ve pulled back in sorrow or disappointment. 

So, we need as we continue into month two of the new year to examine our hearts and open them wide open so that we can receive His love and forgiveness and find a time of refreshing in the presence of the Lord.

I love how our wildflowers track to course of the sun through the sky, slowly turning to face the warm, passing brightness from east to west in such a sweet act of humble adoration. Many flowers fold their petals inward come evening, through the chilly nights at seven thousand feet, then open again with the rising of the sun and turn its direction. “Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,” goes the great “Hymn of Joy,” “opening to the sun above.”

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;

Drive the dark of doubt away.

Giver of immortal gladness,

Fill us with the light of day!”

That’s it — we need the clouds of sin and sadness melted away; we need the dark of our doubts driven off like night flees before dawn. We need our heart free of clutter. So that the Giver of immortal gladness might fill us.

Remember: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (proverbs 4;23).

It Is No Secret!

It seems that believers have forgotten that preaching and sharing the Gospel is the call upon the life of every believer. As Christians we may fool ourselves into believing that making money or being liked is more important than the preaching of the Gospel. Success, notoriety, and influence can call to us like sirens, pulling up into their unfulfilling whirlpools. Clever deception masquerades as authenticity, and temptations abound.

We live in a day and age when sound doctrine is being replaced with self-serving ideas devoid of spiritual truth. Churches across the world are dying because they no longer accurately preach and teach God’s Word. It is quite possible that we have arrived at the dreadful hour Paul warned his disciple Timothy about. A time “when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Paul also predicted that there would be terrible times in the last days. In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, he writes, 

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…”

Does any of this sound familiar to you? To love oneself is humanism. To love money is materialism. To love pleasure is hedonism. All three are major motivations in the world today. Even among believers.

Since its release in 2006, a self-help book titled The Secret has sold more than nineteen million copies worldwide and has been translated into over forty-six languages. The premise of the book is that you can create whatever you want by using the power of your mind. It is a self-centered philosophy that is actually nothing more than recycled Hinduism and New Age folly. Many people think if Oprah endorses something, that makes it okay and truth.

According to the book, to attract your perfect weight you just think it in your mind and then you become it! (Oh, if that only were true — I would have six-pack abs and a full head of hair!) The book also suggests that everyone has his or her own personal genie standing with a “your wish is my command” policy. I want to share with you what one fan of The Secret wrote — not to poke fun, but to demonstrate how far the world has come in creating substitutions for a relationship with Christ:

“The one thing that stuck with me was the Genie. I immediately felt a connection to this concept. I drew a Genie with a handsome face, a look of satisfaction and a perfect body to compliment it. He is there in my room on the wall and he is like the most perfect thing that ever happened to me! Be it exams, practicals, relationship problems, health problems, or just something I am scared of, I just tell it to Genie and believe that he will manage it somehow. After telling my problems to Genie and asking him to take care [of] it, I just stop thinking about it. Somewhere in my heart I feel that he’ll take care of it, and trust me, he has never failed me once! He is my universe, my personal Genie and he fulfills all my wishes, no limitations.”

When I read that testimonial, I can’t help but feel both sadness and frustration that such a simple book could lead so many people astray. Jesus Christ — not some imaginary genie — is real and alive (Ephesians 1:19-20). He is the One who truly cares and asks us to cast all our burdens upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). Hebrews 1:3 puts it this way:

“The Son is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

In its futile attempt to be the answer for all of mankind’s needs, The Secret fails to address the most basic reality of life: death! If the Law of Attraction really worked, then no one would ever die, because most people would like to live forever. This fact becomes painfully clear when a viewer of the Oprah show, after seeing episodes dedicated to The Secret wrote to Oprah to “announce that she had decided to halt her breast-cancer treatments and heal herself with her mind.”

It is time to return to the Word of God, the Bible. It is time to discover the truth, God’s eternal truth. It is time to believe and apply the truth to our lives in practical ways. It is time to stand up and declare that Jesus is the Truth. He is also the Way and the source of all Life. It is time to declare the truth for all the world to hear. But first, believers need to move away from teachers who tickle their ears and seek those who speak the truth. Not entertainers who are charismatic and can spin a tale but men and women of God who speak the truth in a way that speaks to today’s world and the problems people in the world face today. 

Kingdom Voices – Part Three

Most of the indigenous churches are not under any denomination. They are independent and small. Most of the pastors of those churches have only a little training or no training at all. Not even informal training. They just jump into the arena and start leading the church. So sometimes it looks a little out of control, humanly speaking. But I think the Holy Spirit is leading them. 

My observation is that God is going to use house churches, not the denominational churches. Most of the churches will be led by people — we would say lay leaders — who take the responsibility of leading these small churches. And that brings several challenges. Because what I believe is, no church is independent. I mean, one church is born out of the work of the believers from another church. I think in God’s Kingdom, every church is connected organically and spiritually. So, how do we best bring a structural expression of that association God has already created among these churches — a structure that would give them complete freedom to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit without any control from the above? And at the same time, how do we have them come together and work together?

In Acts 20, Paul called together the elders from the city of Ephesus. There were house churches led by a team of elders, but they all came when Paul called them to come together. So though they were independent churches led by elders, Paul somehow connected them to each other — in a kind of hub. Eventually Timothy came and led that hub and gave them direction. But Paul created a kind of structure, a free structure, a hub model that took the gospel out in a concentric way. Paul got them to focus while he enabled them to develop. We can learn from this and do the same. 

Rev. Vasantharaj Albert

Vice-President of the Non-Denominational Association of Independent Churches (NAIC)

Just a thought to add to and interact with the above…

It could be that the elders were “elders of the city of Ephesus” and that they had oversight of the ‘Church in Ephesus.’ That these elders were not ‘in charge’ of individual house churches but were in oversight of all of the work of the Kingdom (and thus the church) in the city. That Ephesus was an apostolic center from which the gospel spread out into the surrounding provinces and regions. The churches were, to my understanding, led by regular believers who taught from the Scriptures and led the house church to which they belonged. The elders were in oversight of all of the house churches as ‘THE church in Ephesus’ and this eldership was most likely composed of members of the fivefold ministry – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds), and teachers. 

If you interpret Acts 20 as the Kingdom Voice quoted above did then each house church would be led by an “elder” which really is the old, traditional pattern we now have of the Church with each church being led by a pastor. Changing the words does not change the structure or give new life to an old wine skin. 

Each house church being led by a regular-type believer who has some leadership motivation (Romans 12:4-6) is my understanding of the biblical church. The ‘elders’ were in oversight of the Church in the city which would be comprised of hundreds if not thousands of small house church. 

This would make a lot more sense and incorporate the fivefold ministry into the life of the church (read: house churches in the city). 

Kingdom Voices – Part One

A series of thought provoking short articles that I have recently come across. Although I may not agree with everything the authors state I found the articles caused me to do some deep thinking with a new perspective as I wrestled with what I read …

Meeting people at their point of need — that’s discipleship. That’s what I see as discipleship. Discipleship means reading the Bible, understanding the Scriptures, and living the scripture out alongside Jesus. It’s not, “Okay, so here are some of the things that I’ve learned from the Bible. Now let me go do it.” No. It’s, “How do I live my life with Jesus, in my context, in the power of the Holy Spirit?”

In India as a new Christian, you’re ostracized. As a new Christian, you face all kinds of persecution. As a new Christian, you have so much unlearning to do, and you can be misunderstood. So you accept these truths: I cannot do this by myself. I cannot go and talk to people in another caste. I cannot abstain suddenly from going to the temple. I cannot stay away from eating the temple food. How do I handle these situations? Who do I turn to? Jesus. He’s walking on the road, and I have to walk with Him, and when I do, He will bring these answers to my life. 

Somebody beautifully explained what following Jesus looks like. They said that the disciples, the ones that followed closer to Jesus, were the ones that had more dust on their feet because they were always running and trying to catch up. Their feet were dirtier and dustier because they had to keep up with the Master. So I think discipleship is in a way like that. You’re following your Master so closely because you want to live life with Him — in the journey that He’s taking you on, not on your journey.

So, it’s not just head knowledge. It’s not just compassionate acts of service. It’s not just a formula. No. It’s a way of life that is totally surrendered. I don’t know how else to say it. The way Paul says it is, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). This is the life of a disciple. And that’s what we try to engage our new believers in, telling them, teaching them. “Yes, you come to conferences, you study God’s Word, you have to understand who Jesus is — His nature, His teachings, His principles, His idea of life.” In all of that, you learn, you understand, but the head knowledge has to translate to the heart. And even then, both the head and the heart have to completely surrender and live that crucified life. That’s discipleship for us. 

Becky Stanley

Director of Children’s Ministries, 

India Gospel League

Something Is Missing!

Everyone in the world is searching. Each of us is searching for something that gives meaning to life. To bring purpose to our work. We all know this; we’re familiar with this emptiness, this longing for more.

We’re looking for a story to make sense of, a role to play that has meaning. Despite our best efforts, activities and adventures barely touch the tip of the iceberg. We sense we were made for a great purpose, some cause to make the world a better place. Maybe it’s as simple as the realization that our lives aren’t a total waste, or maybe it’s something more. Whatever the case, most of us despair of ever finding it. It feels so distant, so unattainable.

We begin life with a simple understanding — that our lives are tales worth telling and we have an important part to play. Children understand this: what it means to live and love without condition, to be delighted in. Their lives are full of reckless abandon and no one has to tell them so. They don’t need to be reminded of the crucial roles; they know intuitively. Without prompting, kids know how to dream up adventure and slay dragons. To embark on epic journeys and live out idyllic scenes. To spend hours in the backyard with nothing but their imagination.

As children, most of us needed no prompting to play, to engage in the grand experience of life.

But as adults, many of us do. Somewhere along the journey we lost our way. We get caught up in the pursuit of trivial things. For some, it’s money; for others, sex or fame. Some get stuck in the cruel cycle of moralism, endlessly striving to be “good enough.” Whatever our fixation, we obsess over it. We give our lives to this pursuit of a promise that eludes us. And we wind up years down the road wondering what happened and why we feel so empty. This happens at age twenty, forty, or even sixty. Emptiness knows no boundaries.

We would do well to remember that this is strictly an adult problem. Children do not wait all year for two weeks of vacation. They don’t spend their lives doing things they hate so they can earn the right to do what they really want. They live life to the full, children do, and somehow we have to regain that innocence.

Something is missing. Something important. Something necessary to making a difference in the world. And most of us are afraid to find out what it is. Because we know. It’s the secret we’re afraid to admit; this will cost us our lives.

Jesus told us this… if you want life, you must die. If you play it safe and protect life you will lose life. God has created us to move into areas that are unfamiliar. To step out of our comfort and security and touch others with His love. To “go where no man has gone before” as Star-trek so kindly reminds us. 

As believers we should be willing to go wherever there is pain without explanation, hope amidst despair, redemption in spite of tragedy. That’s where God wants us to be. And, that is where believers — disciples of Jesus — want to be. But to ‘be there’ we must let go of living life on our terms and the whole notion that as followers of Jesus it is okay to be safe, secure, and comfortable. 

Once you have experienced an adventure outside your comfort zone and touched a life or lives with the love of God there is no going back. Your life will be changed forever and there is no returning to how life use to be. Your paradigm will have shifted. Your focus has gone from you to them, from church to kingdom. Your worldview is infected with a contagion that spreads to ever facet of your life. You simply will no longer be able to go back to who you were. You will have changed.

This is what the Christian life is really all about. An adventure beyond what we can imagine. And, a purpose to live out that is greater than ourselves. But to live this adventure we must first leave this life — self-centered and egotistical life — dying to self and then learning to serve others outside of your personal comfort zone. To ‘get a life’ as Jesus sees life.

Just a thought!

Will the Real Christians Please Stand Up

There seems to be multiple definitions of the word Christian. It is used in a variety of ways. So, I have found it helpful for myself to define the word and even group those who call themselves Christians into these categories.

Census Christians are people, who, if asked about their religion, would say “Christian.” This designation might not relate at all to anything that these people believe or practice. Often, this is a cultural answer. If asked about their religion in certain geographic areas, for example, many people might answer, “Of course I’m a Christian. Isn’t everybody?” These people are “census Christians.” On a census, these people would check the “Christian” box. What that designation actually means is anybody’s guess. 

These people are also known as Cultural Christians as their lives are identical to their neighbours — those who are not believers.  Being a Christian has not altered their values, morals, ethics, priorities, or lifestyle. 

Member Christians claim some sort of identification with a particular Christian institution or organization. Again, this does not mean that these people necessarily participate or even that they show up at their church. These people simply have some sort of personal connection with a church and they identify themselves with that church. They might say, “I am Catholic,” or “I am Baptist,” or “I am Methodist.”

Practicing Christians actually participate in the life of a church. They typically attend worship services. In some fashion, these people are involved in the forms and rituals of the faith. Often their connection with the church is limited to weddings, baptisms, and funerals. They usually attend at Easter and Christmas. 

Believers (or Committed Believers) are people for whom the Christian faith is central, life-changing, and life-shaping. These Christians strive to live out their faith and communicate their faith to others. To use the language of the evangelical world, these people have a personal relationship with Jesus. Often they will use the language of John 3 and talk about being “born again.” They have a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus (John 17:3)

Hidden Christians are people who believe secretly. Fearful of persecution, these people keep their faith to themselves. In some settings, these believers might keep their faith secret from government officials and employers. In other settings, they might keep their faith secret even from family members and friends. These believers might not ever experience specific acts of outward persecution, but the fear of persecution has caused their faith to be completely inward. For the most part, their faith, though real, is hidden. In most cases, they have not “joined” a church, through this might be an artificial measurement since, in many settings, there is no official institutional church to join.

When I use the word Christian I am referring to and speaking of people who know who Jesus is and who have had a personal encounter with Him and are thus born again. I am referring to people for who knowing Jesus has transformed their life. People who are a journey as they obey the will of the Lord. They are followers of Jesus, His disciples. So they wold fit into the last two categories — Believers (or Committed Believers) and Hidden Christians. 

For me this means I see that many who call themselves Christians are not and so are still in need of being born again. Just because someone calls themselves a Christian does not make them a Christian. Just because they go to church regularly also does not make them a Christian. Having a life-changing encounter with the love of God as found in Jesus Christ — being born again — is what determines if you are a true Christian and follower (disciple) of Jesus. So, I can honestly say that I view many who call themselves Christians as people who need to be evangelized. For truly they are religious and not righteous.

And, even in the born again church I believe well over 50% of those who are members and attending are not truly born again. They said a Sinner’s Prayer and were told that they were now born again. That’s a lie. To be born again one must experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit, respond with godly sorrow, and repentance. Then pray and ask the Lord to forgive you and become Lord in your life. (See: 2 Corinthians 7:8-10) To be born again is more than having a head knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the Cross of Good Friday and then praying a Sinner’s Prayer. Head knowledge is not enough – you need to encounter the truth and have it change your heart. 

So, Christians are those who have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) and responded with godly sorrow and repentance are true believers. If you have only heard the gospel of salvation and not experienced conviction and godly sorrow with repentance then you know the truth but it has yet to set you free. Head knowledge is not enough. The Bible says that even the demons know who Jesus is and what He did and they are not saved and are not going to heaven (James 2:19).  

The “Gospel of Salvation” is a man-made belief. The Gospel of the Kingdom is the only true Gospel and it will set you free and through it you become a true believer, a Christian. 

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