Personal Character in 2021

There has been a shift going on for the last decade or two. It has not always been noticeable but there is a definite shift in the way people today, regardless of the nation they live in, are thinking.

One researcher did a study of American self-help literature covering a 200-year span. He observed that literature written during the first 150 years focused on developing what he called the “character ethic” as the foundation for success in life and in relationships. In essence, success in life was defined according to virtues such as honesty and integrity and the golden rule. In sharp contrast, literature written in the last 50 or so years focuses on what he termed the “personality ethic”; that is, success is defined by a person’s ability to achieve, improve performance, and simply get ahead.

The subtle change in the definition of success caries with it some devastating consequences to our perception of character. If honesty and integrity are no longer highly sought-after values, a shift occurs in our moral and ethical framework. If virtue is no longer the objective, then what you are isn’t nearly as important as what you do. And how you think means nothing compared to how you feel.

Suddenly, the ultimate goals are position and achievement. The first priority is personal fulfillment. So what we’re really saying is that right and wrong are now determined by what helps or hinders our progress. And if we’re totally honest, right is defined in terms of what moves us towards our goal. Wrong is defined as anything that gets in our way.

When achievement takes precedence over character, a new code of ethics has been introduced:

    • If the family stands in the way of someone’s career, then the family is sacrificed.
    • If honesty impedes the accumulation of wealth, then deceit becomes the norm.
    • It’s right to steal if stealing means progress.
    • It’s right to claim another person’s idea as your own.
    • If cheating means winning, then cheating is right.

When personal fulfillment takes precedence over character, a new moral standard is introduced:

    • If it fulfills me, it’s moral.
    • If it doesn’t meet my needs, it’s immoral.
    • Self-control is renamed self-denial and is considered unhealthy.
    • If cheating on my spouse makes me happy, then unfaithfulness is moral.
    • If an unexpected pregnancy threatens my career or social goals, then abortion is not only an option; it is the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, we invent an endless stream of subconscious rhetoric to justify and qualify our actions in our minds:

    • “This isn’t immoral, I need this because….”
    • “How else am I suppose to compete?”
    • “I just can’t seem to stop…”

There was a time in the Church world when men and women made the development of character a top priority. But somewhere along the way, the focus shifted … following the trend that was evident in the secular world. The Church was and still is no longer a counterculture but became a sub-culture of the everyday society and world in which we lived. Almost a mirror-image with a thin ‘Christian’ veneer. We lost our bearings. Christians stopped emphasizing the inner person and began to measure success by what they saw on the outside. So, we experienced this personal war – the inner person against the outer person. And as the outer person has prevailed, the outer person is establishing a new, acceptable way to express the faith which is totally not biblical. 

Choosing in 2021 to take up the pursuit of character – becoming more and more like Jesus – will mean choosing to stand against the prevailing culture. You won’t fit in. Not only won’t you not fit into the society and neighbourhood in which you live. But, you most likely will also not fit into the normal, every day life of the local church. You are simply not going to get much help or even encouragement from the outside. 

But, as you will soon find out, character has rewards that far outweigh anything you may be forced to give up along the way. 

Let’s reclaim “character” in 2021 as something important that we need to focus on and work with so that we truly live life in a manner that is biblical and honours the Lord whom we follow and serve. 

A New Year – A New Church?

At the end of the first week of 2021 I am thinking of all the new things we will be facing in the next 12 months. Things can change so quickly. I mean, who would have thought that we would be living through a worldwide pandemic in 2020? And, who could imagine how the pandemic would change our daily lives? And, did anyone think that we would still be living within the confines of the pandemic almost 12 months later?

2020 was not an easy year. 2021 has started with major restrictions because of the pandemic. And now we have been hearing of new strains of Covid that spread more rapidly and are moving from country to country around the world. We are living in uncertain times.

God’s people have often lived in uncertain times where the familiar was gone and their way of life was changing. In one such time God spoke through the prophet Isaiah (43:19) and said,

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. (NLT)

Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. (MSG)

I am doing something brand new, something unheard of. Even now it sprouts and grows and matures. Don’t you perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and open up flowing streams in the desert. (TPT)

I believe that God is taking this opportunity to bring massive changes to His Church. And, let’s admit it, the Church needs to change. A church built upon programs and personality is no longer working. If, in fact, it ever did work. A church that is simply a powerless sub-culture of the prevailing culture is not the church. God created the Church to be a counter-culture and to powerfully impact the culture like leaven in the loaf. So, in a season when we have been forced to “do Church” differently I believe God is bringing massive change to His Church if (and that is a big if) we will listen for His voice and watch for what He has already begun to do.

As The Message Version states… “Be alert, be present…” We need to be aware that change is already happening even if we don’t fully understand what is happening and how it is happening. And we need to be living in the present with an eye to the future and not living in the past, anchored to traditions.

As The Passion Translation states… “something brand new, something unheard of…” What God is doing right now – here and now – in His Church is something brand new. It is not an old idea recycled. It is not the same old, same old. It is something we have not heard of in the past. Something new (to us), better, exciting, challenging, dynamic, powerful, and of God.

And the question is valid: “Don’t you see it?” “Don’t you perceive it?” And the answer is ‘no’ if you are wanting the status quo. If you are safe, comfortable, and secure and want it to remain that way then you will not perceive it. You will not see it. But others who are dissatisfied with what is; those who have a holy discontent on the inside; those who ask “Is this all there is? Will perceive it and eventually see it. Because, as an older version states, “Behold” It’s here. It’s now. It’s real. Just let go of what you know as Church and grab hold of what Jesus is now doing. He is doing a new thing and many (including this author) have been speaking and writing about it for over a decade. But, it is happening now – in the midst of a continuing pandemic when so many things have changed … the Church is changing. Behold! Don’t miss it.

God is making a way where there is no way. He is showing us the way in the midst of a spiritually desolate time. A time when the Church has been wandering around in the wilderness having lost her way over the past hundred or so years.  Especially over the past 12 months. And many in the Church today will miss what He is planning and already doing because they are not looking for change, a challenge. They are comfortable and apparently feel secure in what is and don’t want to stretch for what could be.

But for those who are hungry and who are willing to step out in faith risking the familiar and the comfortable…. “Behold!  I am doing something brand new and totally different. Grab hold of it as it is a new and better way. My way. And you will be refreshed and will be refreshing like a stream or a river in the desert place.”

I for one am very excited. It is a tremendous time to be alive and a believer.

2021 – Living What You Believe – Part One

As we enter the first full week of the New Year 2021 my thoughts turn to behaviour and lifestyle. 

As a leader I realize that I can’t lead what I don’t live. In other words, my actions can speak louder than my words and nullify what I am saying. As a leader I can’t ask my people to do what I am not willing to first do myself. 

As believers we should take the start of a new year to examine what is it we believe as Christ-followers and then see if how we live lines up with what we say we hold to be the truth. Again, often the way we live, the way we speak, and the way we behave can speak louder than what we say we believe deep in our hearts. One contradicting the other. Our talk and our walk must line up. What we believe on the inside must effect and even transform how we live on the outside – in our family, at work, in the community, and even in the church fellowship itself. 

This is a question of integrity. Living what we say that we believe. Leading in a way that shows what we truly believe. 

We are flawed, weak and broken people being put back together by the grace of Jesus. That is all our God has to work with. Even the apostle Paul, after being transformed by the grace of Jesus, was still in awe that God would use “the worst of sinners to accomplish heavenly purposes” (1 Timothy 1:15).

So, how do we live (and lead) with integrity when we are broken vessels?

I have been a follower of Jesus and a leader in the Church and ministry now for45 years and have some thoughts that help me to navigate this journey with Jesus that we are all on. Life as a believer can be complex, complicated, and often challenging. As I walk with Jesus year after year I have become stronger in my faith. But, I have also become more aware of my personal weaknesses. I am humbled to be called a child of God, and amazed that the Lord would use me as an instrument to expand His Kingdom and even lead His Church. There is a tremendous obligation on each of our lives to live and relate in such a way as to impact those who do not know Jesus and to share the Gospel of the Kingdom with the lost, the least, and the last. Maybe you feel the same way. To fulfill this mandate we must be people of integrity.

Here are some reflections on growing to be more like Jesus and thus living with integrity in our hearts and lives. These ideas apply to every aspect of life and ministry.

1> Practice what you believe (leader: Practice what you preach)

We believe that there is no other way into Heaven other than by being born again and receiving the gift of eternal life which by biblical definition is to have a personal and intimate love relationship with the Lord and with His heavenly Father (see John 17:3). 

We believe that the Lord has called each one of us, as believers and followers, to take this message out into our personal world – where we live and work and play. And then even to the whole world. We call this The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) and commands us to work with him and complete this task. 

Do we live what we believe?

In my experience most church leaders do very little to reach the lost outside of the formal church services and programs. It is not a way of life for them. The same is true for those who attend church services on a regular basis and are thus “active Christians.” 

To lead and to live with integrity is to align our lifestyle with the things the Bible teaches and what Jesus expects from us as followers. Jesus said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). He expects us to fish – to seek the lost, the least, and the last – and not to rest until every people group in every nation (including where we live) have heard the gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14). I once heard a preacher say, “If you are not fishing, you are not following. You are simply deceiving yourself that things are good between you and God.”

This will mean learning how to share our faith in a natural and organic way. We need to be praying for the lost, building deep and decent friendships with people who are far from God, and regularly having spiritual conversations with people in our lives. This alignment of words, actions, and beliefs is a powerful witness. 

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

Christian Martyrs

I read an interesting statistic the other day. 80% of the world’s true believers are living in persecution. A true believer is a follower or disciple of Jesus. People who know who Jesus is and people for whom the Christian faith is central to life and life-shaping. These are people who have encountered the living and loving God and embraced the message that Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave destroyed the power of sin and death. People who have embraced the love of God and whose lives have been totally changed as they became new creatures in Christ.

The 80% of the world’s believers who live in persecution refers to hardship and even death that is the result of being true followers of Jesus and not for some other reason. Not all persecution ends in death. Some does, however. The word martyr describes those who have died for their faith as believers. It is claimed that over the past 20 centuries of the Christian faith, some 70 million believers have been murdered for their faith and can rightly be called martyrs. And, it is estimated that currently more than four hundred believers are killed every day for their faith. Numbers can speak loudly but we must look carefully are how those numbers are determined. 

The basic definition is that Christian martyrs are “believers in Christ who have lost their lives prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility. This definition has five essential and distinct components:

1> Believers in Christ. These are people who have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom and due to the conviction of the Spirit were led to repent with godly sorrow and receive forgiveness for their sins. These are people who have had a life-changing encounter with the love of God the Father and, as a result, have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. These are people who have truly become new creatures in Christ and are living lives focused on the Kingdom. These are people who have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and thus are able to fulfill John 14:12 and are obedient to the command to “seek and save the lost” regardless of the cost. The number of true Christians is really much smaller than the number who claim to be followers of the Christian faith. 

2> Lost their lives. The Christians numbered among the martyrs have actually been put to death. There are many levels of persecution, but martyrdom results in death.

3> Prematurely. Martyrdom is sudden, abrupt, unexpected, and unwanted. It is a death that happens before it “should” happen; it is, in that sense, premature. Had martyrdom not happened, these people would have lived longer. 

4> In situations of witness. By definition, the word martyr suggests the idea of witness. In traditional usage, a martyr is a person who bears witness to Christ in his or her own death. So, dying a martyr usually means giving some form of testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ before they die or by the way that they died. 

5> As a result of human hostility. The martyr’s death happens at the hands of a persecutor. A human being is involved in the martyrdom.

And we could add that the witness of the martyr stands the test of time. That means at least two things. First, the martyr’s way of living will not later be revealed to be untrue or inauthentic. As people look back and consider the life of the believer who has died, they will see that there was, in fact, true belief. Second, whether we can measure it or not, the death will serve as testimony. The death will encourage and even bear fruit and it will do those things over time. There will be evangelistic impact in the setting where the martyrdom takes place, within the group that sent out the believer, or in both settings. 

So, the reported annual number of Christian martyrs might be much higher than the actual number of people who died for their faith. Using these elements contained within the understanding of what constitute a martyr an accurate count is really hard to obtain and there is little gained by guessing at and then publishing the “estimate” number of martyrs annually. 

Becoming “Favour Friendly”

The Bible states that “As a person thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7). So, what we focus on and think about has a powerful impact on the direction that our lives take. 

As I was thinking about that verse recently, I realized that God’s grace (favour) is impartial from one person to the next. It simply is not compatible with everyone’s attitude and mind-set. Believers simply don’t expect to see God move in their everyday life and thus limit what God is doing in and through them. The attitude and mind-sets of some people keep God’s favour at a distance, while the attitude and mind-sets of others draw it in.

1 Peter 1:13 states, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace (favour, charis) that is to be brought unto you.”

The word “charis” comes from the Greek ‘xdris’ and from the Hebrew word ‘kand,’ which is a reference to God’s grace expressed through His favour and kindness towards us. But it has an even deeper connotation: ‘charis’ describes God reaching (inclining) to people because He is ready to bless them.

A visual image of ‘charis’ pictures God leaning in, eagerly extending Himself to show His favour to us. The apostle Peter, the author of this verse, is telling us to rein in our thought life so we’re not distracted or drawn into speculations and fears but we remain hopeful, expecting to experience God favour (grace) at all times. He’s saying that we should stay mindful ( keep your mind full) of favour so we can experience the fullness of favour that is “to be brought unto you.” There is favour that is coming our way! We should remind ourselves, Don’t blow it … Don’t let your mind mess it up … Heaven has some awesome things planned for you! 

When you have the right mind-set you become ‘favour friendly.’ You’ll think in way that cause favour to be released and drawn into your life and be a part of your life. Nothing increases favour in our lives like thinking about favour and expecting favour.

Being favour minded means you have hope … you live with expectation of the best, God’s best in your life. You have a confidence in God and believe that He is for you and with you, and that He is working all things for your good, even when you can’t see it and are not experiencing it yet. 

Nobody is ‘favour minded’ every moment of every day, but being favour minded means you are intentionally doing what the Bible refers to when it tells you that you can be transformed by the “renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

For centuries renewing the mind was mostly a biblical concept that wasn’t supported by science. During most of the twentieth century, the consensus among neuroscientists was that brain structure was fixed and didn’t change after early childhood. Since, then, however, scientists started changing their opinions and created a term – neuroplasticity – that is defined as “the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.”

What God has known since the beginning, science is now discovering: no matter what our age, we have the ability to change the habits of our mind.

Research shows that how we think repeatedly does literally create small pathways or ‘grooves’ on our brains. With some intentional effort, we can redirect our habits of thought and create new grooves or pathways in our brains. It takes time and effort, but it is the key to transformation.

For example, you may have heard it takes twenty-one days to form a new habit. The reason for this is it takes about that much concentrated time for our new thoughts to build a new path to travel on. In other words, this is what the Bible refers to as the renewing of the mind.

One reason for this renewing of the mind is so that we will think in a way that is congruent with having faith in God. If someone hasn’t been thinking about God’s grace (favour), blessings, and promises, new thought patterns will not be set overnight. However, by being deliberate, the mind will adapt quickly to a new way of thinking – becoming “favour friendly.”

Playing It Safe

Because we have all been hurt by others at one time or another we tend to “play it safe.” You don’t let people get too close to you again. Or, you keep your conversations superficial, sharing little to nothing of your personal or private life. We do whatever it takes to protect ourselves from being hurt again and so play it ‘safe,’ whatever that looks like in your life currently. The interesting thing is that when we do this, it seems that it rarely occurs to us that there are some very real dangers in playing it safe as well. 

Helen Keller said, “Avoiding danger in the long run is no safer than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” 

This logic is counterintuitive to most, if not all people – most believing that avoiding danger is safer than outright exposure. So, they avoid risk no matter the cost. What I am saying is that avoiding risk is not a less dangerous approach to life than taking risks. Avoiding risks has it own horrific consequences that most people are less aware of because they don’t appear in the media reports and are not talked about nearly as much.

Playing it safe is the ultimate attempt at self-preservation. It passes up the opportunity to have an incredibly meaningful life in exchange for mere existence. The sure way to look back in the future with massive regret is to pay it safe, be guarded, be suspicious of people who are friendly, assume the worst, and refuse to take chances. Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do.” That’s a big thing thing for a guy whose life was filled with lots of mischief and adventure to admit.

When you play it safe, you pass up the opportunity to have the conversations that could have changed your life and someone else’s. When you play it safe, you never discover or know what is possible. When you play it safe, you lack passion for life, other people don’t feel your love, your potential is not discovered, and God’s purpose for you goes unfulfilled.

There’s a story in the Old Testament about four lepers in Samaria in a time of famine. The only food source was in the neighbouring community, where food was stockpiled by their enemy. These lepers were starving to death. They had every reason to believe that the enemy would not give them food and would kill them if they made any attempt to enter enemy territory. That’s when one of the lepers did a risk assessment. He began to question the sanity of staying where they were and certainly dying versus taking the risk of going to the neighbouring city in hopes of finding food.

“Why stay here until we die?” He asked (2 Kings 7:3). He wasn’t being irrational. He was pointing out the danger of playing it safe. He was saying, It may be risky to walk towards our enemy, but at least there is a potential for a better life than we’ll have here if we stay where we are.”

It’s true for us as well. The dangerous consequences of playing it safe may be less obvious, but they pose a greater threat in the end. The dangers aren’t sudden and dramatic. They develop slowly over time and can be difficult to identify, which is what makes playing it safe more dangerous than the high-profile missteps we hear about or see in the news. Like a slow leak in a tire, the dangers of playing it safe aren’t something we see or feel on a daily basis. We become aware of them only when we realize we’re stuck and wondering how it happened. That’s when we take note of the bigger picture and realize that playing it safe isn’t as safe as it appears to be.

What I love about the story of the four lepers is that heaven suddenly backed them up when they finally make their gutsy move to stand on their feet and begin walking in the direction of the food. When they headed into enemy territory, God caused the enemy to hear loud, thunder like noises, which they thought were the chariots and horses of an army coming to attack them. The enemy fled for their lives, leaving behind everything, including the food that they had stockpiled. The four lepers walked into the city and found it vacated and filled with plenty of food, not only for themselves but also for the people of Israel. 

This is what happens when we have the courage to not stay where we are or as we are even if it means risking failure. Acts of faith always attract God’s attention and cause Him to move mightily on our behalf. This doesn’t happen when we sit in safe places. It only happens when we dare to move in the direction of our dreams. 

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?.

Gathering and Scattering

There are five stages of God’s relationship with man.

1> God and us … Adam and Eve walked naked in the garden with God. They had no shame. God and man lived in perfect harmony with one another. Unfortunately, this was short-lived.

2> God for us …After the fall, man couldn’t be in the presence of God. God, however, sent guidance. Whether He did it through prophets, judges, commandments, or covenants, God was still for us.

3> God with us … Then God took on the form of man. He sent His Son to preach the good news and call people home. His Son was born in Bethlehem, and His name was Immanuel, “God with us.”

4> God in us … As Jesus predicted, the temple was later destroyed (in 70 A.D.). Fortunately, God’s presence was no longer bound to a temple and accessed through a high priest. Jesus put an end to animal sacrifices when He became our sacrificial lamb. The temple’s curtain was torn. The altar closed. And the temple was multiplied. The cross of Jesus changed the church. God moved from being for us, to being with us, to being in us. We became the temple of God. And the Bible states, “Christ in you [is] the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

This idea of God being in us is laced throughout the New Testament.

  • 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”
  • 2 Timothy1:14 says, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
  • Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

All these verses point to one revolutionary idea. The Church is no longer a place. It’s now a people. Wherever we are, there the church is. Basically, Christians turn buildings into churches. Churches don’t turn people into Christians.

How you view God’s Church changes how you view God’s mission. And vice versa.

According to the Barna Group, 71% of Christians say the main influence in their salvation was not going to church but a personal relationship with a Christian. This is so important for us to recognize, because this generation don’t trust institutions. But they will trust someone who represents one.

Things have changed in this generation. Young people don’t read the Bible. They read Christians. Although millennials and Gen Zers may not be going to the event on Sunday, they are meeting Christians throughout the week. They’re meeting us at their job, in their neighbourhood, in their daily rhythms. We have ambassadors all over the world. But many don’t realize they are called to be ministers of reconciliation right where the live, work, and play. 

One of the issues is that churches are strong at gathering and weak at scattering. Barna found that within two years of conversion, 80% of Christians give up their former friendships with unbelievers. We subtly construct holy huddles. We become comfortable with the 99 and forget the one.

Remember, the Bible says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news” (Romans 10:15). Not, “How beautiful are the churches we bring people to.” When we shift our focus from creating great temple experiences (Sundays) to training Great Commission disciples, we leverage the full benefits of the cross. After giving us His commission, Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). So God is with is, because God is in us. 

Do people in the pews live like this? What a shame if they don’t realize it’s “through the church [that] the manifold wisdom of God should be made known” (Ephesians 3:10).

5> God and us … One day Christ will return and all things will be made new. God and man, back in harmony. What a redemption story! The beautiful irony is that there is a fifth stage, which is simply a return to the first stage. 

This is good news. This is worth sharing.