2021 – Focus on God’s Purpose

Bob Weighton celebrated his 112th birthday during the Coronavirus outbreak in 2020, which meant he wasn’t able to have a party or be with friends. That’s a shame, because on that day Bob became the oldest living man on earth. The Guinness World Records organization sent him a certificate, and newspapers hailed him in heroic terms. Friends sang “Happy Birthday” from a distance while Weighton, a former missionary school teacher, listened on his balcony.

“I can’t say I am pleased to hear that the previous record holder has died, but I am pleased that I’ve been able to live so long and make so many friends,” he said.

When asked about the virus, he said, “It’s bizarre. I’ve never experienced anything like coronavirus before. I’m a bit frustrated, but then again I’ve been in situations where you just had to accept what was happening.”

Then he summed up the wisdom of a 112-year-old: “There is nothing we can do about it so you might as well do what you can. Never mind about the things that you can’t.”

That’s the key. Focus on what you can do. There’s plenty you can’t do, but there’s one thing we can all do: we can follow God’s deep desire for us to grow into the image of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “I press on. That I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

That is God’s ultimate purpose for you and for all of us. Of course, He also has an individual plan for your life and for mine. But seriously, consider God’s ultimate purpose for your life — that you may become more and more like His Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 8:29 says, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”

John Bray was Dean of Chapel at Indiana Wesleyan University. He and his wife were popular with students, and his chapel messages were full of life and truth. Then Bray was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The onset of symptoms led him to resign his position, but he simply continued looking ahead. He continued moving forward.

“Everyone gets a diagnosis of some kind sometime in their life,” Bray told the campus newspaper. “There’s no reason I shouldn’t.”

He told his students he is not asking why. “I can’t change what’s happened to me, so why is not a pivotal question in my life. Now, ‘how will I glorify God in the midst of all this?’ That’s at the heart of almost every major decision a Christ-follower needs to make.”

Speaking of his disability, Bray said, “Even this, that I don’t like, is designed to shape me more like Christ.”

That is the voice of someone who has grasped onto God’s purpose for his life, and no matter what comes at him, he will not let go.

Matt Mooney is a professional basketball player who, like every athlete, tries to excel at his sport, with its victories and setbacks. He’s also a dedicated follower of Jesus. “I know God has a great plan for me. I trust in Him. His purpose for me is to glorify Him playing the game.” 

He said, “I can’t take the game of basketball with me to eternity. The only thing that is eternal is God and Jesus. I realized that years ago. When I started really focusing on my faith, I realized no matter how I played, good or bad, God still loved me and I still had my salvation intact.”

Pastor Rick Warren wrote, “Your spiritual transformation in developing the character of Jesus will take the rest of your life, and even then it won’t be complete here on earth. It will only be finished when you get to heaven or when Jesus returns.”

When God looks at you and evaluates you, He wants you to become more and more like Jesus, to follow Him closely and to emulate His life so that Christ is seen in you more and more. That only happens as you put your focus on Him. 

2021 – Look Around and Meet a Need

Many years ago I heard a phrase that has stuck with me ever since. The phrase was, “Find a need and meet it.” Good advice then when I first heard it and still good advice today. Often in the Church we see people struggling to determine the calling on their life. What is it that God wants them to do? Of course, they are thinking about being a pastor, an evangelist, a teacher of the Bible… But, they have no idea how to really find out what it is God wants them to be doing. 

Well, it is simple really. Live life to the fullest engaged with others and the real world. As you engage with and embrace life you will find a need and meet it. Then, in the process of helping others, you will sense, feel, and discover what it is that God is calling you to do. That one, unique thing that you were created to do. Often you will find this ‘one thing’ almost by accident as you live life and meet a need.

A true story….

One Sunday afternoon in 1771, a man named Valentin Haüy ducked into a restaurant in Paris for dinner. He sat near the stage, and the show that evening featured blind people in a comedy routine. They were objects of ridicule and cruelty. The act was designed to make fun of their blindness. Deeply offended, Haüy began to develop a burden for the blind.

Sometime later he spotted a sightless street urchin who was begging for coins outside a Parisian church. Giving the boy some money, Haüy was amazed to see the boy feel the raised markings on the coins to distinguish the amounts. That gave Haüy an idea. Why couldn’t books be written with raised letter, like images on coins? Why couldn’t people learn to read with their fingers? Haüy took the boy off the streets, offered him food and shelter, devised a plan with wooden blocks and numbers, and taught the boy to read. In 1784, Haüy started the world’s first school for blind children. It was in Paris, and one of the first teachers was the blind boy rescued from the streets.

But that’s just the beginning.

Several years later, another boy named Louis was born in the village of Coupvray, France. His father was a farmer and harness maker, and as a toddler Louis loved watching his father work with leather tools. But tragedy stuck in 1812 when three-year-old Louis was playing with a leftover strap of leather, trying to punch holes in it. His hand slipped, and the sharp tool punctured and put out his eye. An infection set in that spread to the other eye, and little Louis ended up blind in both eyes for life.

A local minister names Jacques Palluy loved the boy and began visiting him to read to him the Bible. Seeing the boy had a good mind, Father Jacques determined he should receive an education. So at age ten. Louis was enrolled in the school Haüy had established in Paris, where he proved to be a brilliant student.

Eventually Louis began teaching other students in the Paris School for the Blind. He studied Haüy’s method of reading, and he also became aware of a system of military communication developed by a French army captain that allowed soldiers to communicate in the dark by running their fingers over a series of dots and dashes. Though still a teenager, Louis Braille began adapting these systems into a program of his own; in 1829, at age twenty, he published a little book on the Braille method of reading.

The school resided in a damp building by the River Seine. It was cold and unhealthy, and the food and conditions were poor. Louis developed tuberculosis, but he continued working on his system of reading, which began catching on and soon was being exported around the world. As his health failed, Louis said, “I am convinced my mission on earth has been accomplished, I asked God to carry me away from this world.”

Think of the chain reaction of that cascading dream. One man developed a burden for the blind when he saw ridiculed actors on stage and a begger boy on the streets. He was just going about his normal, every day life and was impacted by something he experienced and this led him to seeing a need and meeting it. We call that having a ministry. His burden led him to establish a school and attempt a system of reading. Then a local pastor developed a burden for a blind boy in another village (saw a need and met it) and taught him the Bible and longed to send him to a school. That blind child, Louis Braille, developed a burden to improve and to expand Haüy’s work. The world was changed, and as a result, millions of sightless souls have experienced the joy of reading the Bible and other books for themselves for almost two centuries.  

So, as believers we should simply live life to the fullest and along the way be sensitive to the needs of others. When we spot a need, step in and work to meet it. You will then be ministering in compassion as Jesus did and using your talents and skills to meet the need that you encountered. This is real ministry. 

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. 

2021 – Living What You Believe – Part Three

We are looking at how we, as believers, can determine if we are living with integrity in 2021. In the past two days we have examined four elements of our life that need to be regularly examined and front and center in daily life if we are going to live life in a manner that lines up with what we believe as Christians. It would be good for you to examine your own lifestyle to see if your priorities are set within biblical parameters; to see if your focus is truly on the Kingdom. Remember, Jesus did say, “Seek first the Kingdom…”

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

2> Intimacy with Jesus is foundational and a serious priority

3> Love for the lost is essential

4> Passionate prayer unleashes power

Continuing on…

5> Biblical conviction keeps our vision clear

One of the quickest ways for a believer to see their integrity wane is to begin compromising their biblical beliefs. When a disciple of Jesus no longer holds to the Scriptures as the absolute truth of God’s Kingdom vision dies.

Nonbelievers will often disagree with Biblical Christians, but most will maintain a level of respect if we hold our convictions with grace-filled confidence. When born again believers are quick to apologize for the Bible, sand off the sharp edges of our doctrine, and adjust the teaching of the Word of God to accommodate the ever-changing norms of our culture, our integrity goes out the window. 

Jesus was clear that following Him would not be easy. If our goal is to fit in, get along and seem normal in this world, we are walking the wrong path. Integrity in the life of a believer means knowing, loving, and following the teachings of the Bible, even when it is awkward or downright painful.

6> Invite accountability and seek wise mentors

We all have blind spots. It is easy to deceive ourselves and get off track. When we have godly, strong, honest people in our lives who speak the truth (even when it hurts), we have a much greater chance of maintaining a life of integrity. 

Every believer should have a mentor and every believer should be mentoring or discipling a younger believer. In other words, every Timothy needs a Paul and every Paul needs a Timothy. Since just after I was born again and baptized in the Holy Spirit I was blessed with a powerful man of God as my mentor. He lived in the state of New York and I lived in Central Canada but we stayed in touch. This was pre-internet and email but he wrote letters almost on a weekly basis (remember snail mail?). And, during each calendar year he spent two different two week periods of time in my city during which we spent time together daily. This went on for 30 years. When he died I felt like an orphan. I immediately went searching for another man of integrity and experience who might be willing to mentor me and speak into my life. I found him and he is still speaking into both my personal life and my ministry.

Throughout my ministry I have always mentored (discipled) younger believers and those with a similar call of God on their life as exists on my life. Some of these young men have even travelled overseas with me over the past 20 years. 

In a world where integrity can seem old-fashioned and believers live life on the surface – often an inch deep and a mile wide – Christians are wise to look closely at their heart and lifestyle. Anything and everything we can do that leads to greater integrity will forward the work of the Gospel and bring honour to our Saviour. 

Sheep and Wolves – Part Two

Continuing on from last time…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheep and Wolves – Part One

At the risk of sounding a bit “preachy,” allow me a moment to restate the obvious — for what we have heard the most often might well be the very command we ignore the most. As the Gospel of Matthew comes to a crescendo, Jesus gave His followers a final word of instruction. We often refer to these words as the “Great Commission.” And, often the reality is that they are the “Great Omission.”

With stark simplicity, Jesus set out the calling and the mission of those who would follow Him. “Go,” He commands, “and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). From that day until now, Jesus’ followers have endeavoured to fulfill that assignment. Whatever else the church takes on, it is broadly understood that both “going” and “making disciples” are essential and defining tasks. The church cannot be the church unless it is going and making disciples. 

Interestingly, Jesus’ final instruction was nothing new; it is utterly consistent with His overall ministry. He came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) Early on, as Jesus invited Simon and Andrew to follow Him, He explained that He would make them “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Later, Jesus designated twelve apostles. They were appointed “that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). He called them close, building an intimate relationship with each of them. Then He sent them out. Consistently, this invitation to walk closely with Jesus is linked with the command to go out with Jesus. In fact, it becomes clear that an intimate relationships with Jesus necessarily leads to a life of ministry and service and mission for all believers. God is a sending God. Repeatedly, He draws people close and then He sends them out. In the Gospels, we encounter this same pattern over and over again.

When Jesus sent His followers out, He gave explicit guidance. He also explained clearly what would happen to His followers as they obeyed Him. In Matthew 10, Jesus gave the twelve “authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Matthew 10:1). He told His followers exactly what message to proclaim (verse 7). He also gave them specific instructions about their upcoming journeys (verses 5-15).

Some of His instructions sound uncomfortable and even potentially dangerous. For these specific and short trips, Jesus told His followers to take no money as they journeyed. He told them to take no bag. He told them to take no extra clothing or shoes. Evidently, Jesus wants His followers to experience God’s sufficient provision firsthand.

As challenging as some of Jesus’ specific instructions were, however, what He had said to this point was downright encouraging compared to what He said next. “I am sending you out,” He explained, “like sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16).

Like sheep among wolves. With that simple, startling phrase, Jesus defined the identity of His followers: they  are like sheep. At the same time, He clarified the identity of the people they would meet in the world: they were like wolves. It is not especially difficult to ascertain what will happen to sheep in the presence of wolves. Even if we have no personal experience with either sheep or wolves, we plainly see how this scenario plays out. Frankly, it is not good to be sheep in the presence of wolves. Sheep don’t normally survive in the presence of wolves! Even so, Jesus wanted His followers to understand both their true nature and the true nature of the world in which  they would journey. Jesus wanted His disciples to understand both the content of the gospel and the context in which it was to be shared. What He offered was a simple statement of fact.

And notice this: Jesus did not ask the sheep to behave like wolves, and He certainly did not suggest that the wolves would behave like sheep!

After setting this image before them, Jesus did not give His followers the opportunity to revisit their earlier commitment to Him. He did not ask them if, in the light of these new words, they still were serious about following Him. After all, they had already answered His call, and obedience to Him was the necessary next step. With some notable objections, His followers obeyed. They went.

And ever since, His followers have continued to go. At least some of them haver!

More next time.  

The Lesson From a Group Of Monkeys

I am always astonished at what people believe. Not just in matters of the faith but in all aspects of life. Of course, with COVID-19 there are so many differing opinions and viewpoints. The most obvious currently: the mask or no mask debate and divide. We have people who believe that asymptomatic people cannot spread the virus when scientific and medical experts tell us the opposite. We have conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus…

People put their thoughts and opinions on social media and repeat them often enough that some people begin to believe they are true. And, of course, then they retweet or repost and thus spread them further ‘as truth.’ So we end up with large numbers of people believing something that is not true. 

The other day in a series of interviews with doctors and nurses they were sharing that people who they are ministering to in hospital and the ICU – people who are dying from COVID-19 – think the COVID-19 virus is not real and simply a hoax. They believe what they have been told and what they have heard over-and-over again … not checking the facts, just believing. Even when dying they still do not believe they were really dying of COVID-19. 

It reminds me of the scientific study done a number of years ago. I have reproduced it below….

Scientists once conduced a very interesting experiment

In the middle of a room, they hung a bushel of fresh bananas halfway up a pole

Then they let four monkeys loose in the room.

Immediately the hungry monkeys dashed towards the bright yellow bananas

As they climbed the scientists blasted the monkeys with icy-cold water

The monkeys backed off, regrouped, then made a second attempt. As they started to climb the pole, once again they received the discouraging dousing

After several unsuccessful attempts, the monkeys became convinced that failure was inevitable and finally stopped trying.

The next day, the researchers removed one of the four monkeys and replaced him with a new monkey.

What did the rookie do?

He went straight for the bananas

But before he even reached the pole, the three veterans pulled him away

Undeterred, the new money tried again. 

Again his compassionate roommates intervened

At last he gave up and adopted their fatalistic attitude

Each day, the scientists replaced one of the original monkeys with a new one

By the fifth day, four monkeys occupied the room, not one of whom had ever been sprayed with cold water

From that day forward, whenever a new monkey was traded in, the others would prevent him from going for the bananas … without even knowing why 

Four had failed, and then they conditioned the novices to not even try

This happens with more than a group of monkeys. 

This happens to us as believers more often than we care to admit

People hear what we are wanting to do and tell you all the reasons we should not. You hear it often enough and you decide that you likely were not hearing God or misinterpreted what you heard.

You were in a friendship that didn’t work – others tell you that friendships are always unpredictable and usually painful so you decide not to risk another attempt at friendshipwith someone else

You were married and the marriage failed. Others tell you to just stay single as it is not worth the pain to remarry

Your first child was a pain in the neck an totally upset your life – so you don’t ever have a second one

Once burnt – twice shy

Several people I know were told by their parents and teachers as they were growing up that they would never amount to anything. Born losers. And, having heard it often enough – they  live up to the negative expectation and never use their abilities, skills, and talents to build a life that they could be proud of; a life that would benefit others and be a blessing.

It seems that we can be programmed to believe anything if we hear it often enough. And, it seems that the source of the ‘belief’ matters little. What matters is that it is repeated over and over again until it “becomes truth” to the hearer although not based in any facts. 

Remember: just because you read or hear or see something on social media does not make it true

Remember: what others say about you is not near as important as what God has declared about you

Remember: what God declares about you is always, and I repeat, always true

Remember: it is perfectly alright to check out every thing you hear or read to see if it is based in fact and is not just someone’s opinion. This is true even with teachings and sermons you may have heard. Don’t believe it because someone said it; believe it after you check it out with the written Word of God – the Bible. 

Don’t let others “make a monkey out of you.”

The Strategy of Satan Is Simple – Part Two

We are thinking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to be involved in His mandate to “seek and save the lost” as we “go into all the world and make disciples.” We looked at the simple strategy of the Devil and the issue of believers who don’t take seriously the task or mandate of the Church to complete the work the Lord came to establish (read Part One posted yesterday).

Our problem is not simply a lack of concern. And our problem is not that we are unaware or disinterested. We know what is happening around the world. We know about sacrifices that are made for the faith. We know more about the health and the whereabouts of members of the Body of Christ today than at any other time in history.,

It’s not enough to feel grateful for the blessed circumstances in which we live. It’s not even enough to do a better job remembering and praying for the suffering believers around the world. It’s not even enough to identify with the other parts of Christ’s Body around the world.

Ultimately the problem is one of emphasis and focus. Instead of recognizing, thinking about, remembering, praying about, identifying with and focusing on the suffering of fellow believers around the world, we would do well to shift our focus. Quite simply, we would do well to ask ourselves whether or not we are being obedient to Jesus. He is asking us — He is expecting us — He is commanding us to share Him wherever we go. He is commanding us to do that wherever we are today.

It is simply a matter of obedience. If He is our Lord, then we will obey Him. If we do not obey Him, then He is not our Lord. He said, If you love Me, you will obey Me.” Obedience is one of the main keys and is missing in so many churches and in the lives of many believers.

Perhaps the questions should not be: “Why are others persecuted?” Perhaps the better question is: “Why are we not?”

I think the answer is obvious!

As believers we are seriously “self-focused.” We are always looking at and dealing with our needs, our wants, our hurts, our reputation, our dreams and, yes, our ministry. As local churches we are busy with programs and meeting the needs of those who attend. 

Here’s a life-changing thought: It is not the task of the Church to meet your needs. You have the Great Shepherd and He loves you and cares for you. He can and will meet your needs and heal your hurts.

Here’s a life-changing thought: The Church exists for it’s non-members. It exists to seek and save those who do not have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, the Christ. 

Here’s another life-changing thought: “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father” … and the will of the Father is to be a labourer in the harvest field and daily to share Jesus as we live among the lost.

So, I believe it is time to take a good, hard and honest look at our lives and our churches. Then we need the courage to make the needed adjustments in focus and what we value so as to come into line with the Scriptures. A change in priorities will also be necessary. It is time for some serious thought followed by concrete actions that will aline us with the heart of the Father. 

The Strategy of Satan Is Simple – Part One

As I travel and minister I encounter committed followers of Jesus who trust even His toughest teachings. They understand that anyone who wishes to save his life must first be willing to lose it.

They are willing to take that risk because they believe that, ultimately, good will defeat evil. Love will finally overcome hate. And life will conquer death forever by the power of our resurrection faith. They know that the final chapter of the greatest story ever told has already been written. And they know that, in the end, and, for all eternity, God will have His way.

In the meantime, in the here and now, a real battle continues. This is the same spiritual battle that the apostle Paul talked about. First-century believers understood Paul when he described an epic struggle that was “not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Followers of Jesus in persecution today understand this battle well.  

In fact, everyone in the world today that claims to be a follower of Jesus plays a part in this battle. Faithful believers who are paying a personal price in pain and persecution for the cause of Christ truly understand the crux and the cost of their faith. Their witness, their lives, and their examples should inspire and instruct us. Their experience reveals what is at stake, and their experience also reveals much about evil and its power.

Believers who know what it means to suffer for their faith help us recognize and understand the Enemy’s tactics and his ultimate goal. Satan at his worst, evil at its core, and persecution in its essence, does not overtly seek to starve, beat, imprison, torture, or kill followers of Jesus. The strategy of Satan is simpler and more diabolical than that. 

What is Satan’s paramount intent? Quite simply, it is this: denying the world access to Jesus!

Satan’s greatest desire is for people of this planet to leave Jesus alone. Satan desires that we turn away from Jesus — or that we never find Him in the first place. If Satan cannot be successful at that, he desires to keep believers quiet, to diminish or silence our witness, and to stop us from bringing others to Christ.

It is that simple.

Once we understand the nature of this spiritual battle and the strategy of the Enemy, we see clearly the role that believers have been called to play. We also see the importance of our choices regarding witness and faithfulness and obedience.

At the beginning of every day, we choose. It is simply a matter of identification. Will we identify with believers in persecution — of will we identify with their persecutors?

We make that choice as we decide whether we will share Jesus with others or keep Him to ourselves.

We identify ourselves as believers by taking a stand with, and following the example of those in persecution. Or we identify with their persecutors by not giving witness of Jesus to our family, our friends, and our enemies. Those who number themselves among the followers of Jesus — but don’t witness for Him —  are actually siding with the Taliban, the brutal regime that rules North Korea, the secret police in communist China, and the many other nations where believers are persecuted. Believers who do not share their faith aid and abet Satan’s ultimate goal of denying others access to Jesus. Our silence makes us accomplices. 

I am often asked if I believe that persecution is coming to Canada. My response is often rather pointed. I say, quite sincerely, “Why would Satan want to wake us up when he has already shut us up?” Why would Satan bother with us when we are already accomplishing his goal? He will likely conclude that it is better to let us sleep. 

More next time…

Muddy Waters

The Bible consistently reminds us to check our spiritual diet for toxins. Proverbs 25:26 says, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.” How muddy is your water right now? Is your well – your inner life, your heart – polluted by all the cultural toxins seeping in? Maybe it is polluted by your thoughts, your actions, and your lifestyle. Or does your spiritual well draw on Living Water as its pure thirst-quenching source? Maybe you’re a Christian — you’ve been made righteous by Christ — yet you’ve become a muddied spring or a polluted well, and you don’t even know it.

You might believe, “My thoughts don’t matter. As long as they stay tucked away inside my head, they’re not hurting anyone. We all think about things that we’d never do, right?” All the while your negative thoughts are silently poisoning your soul, pouring lies into your spiritual water supply. Unfortunately, our thoughts don’t just stay in our head, disconnected from our words and our actions. Unhealthy thoughts often lead to unhealthy words. Without even knowing it, you might be talking yourself, and others, out of God’s best.

Or maybe it’s the people that you hang with regularly. You know they aren’t full-on for God, but no big deal. You don’t want them to think you’re some kind of religious freak or anything. So you keep doing whatever they do, going wherever they go. Though you believe one thing, you live a totally different way.

Maybe you’ve resigned yourself to certain struggles in your life — anger, lust, discontentment — as nothing more than your personal quirks. “It’s just the way I am,” you tell yourself, all the while your spiritual enemy laughs at the cancer you continue to feed in your soul. You continue to muddy the waters. 

Rather than experiencing the richness of a dynamic, intimate relationship with the righteous One, you put God in a little box that you can check off your to-do list each week. By settling for rules and religion and feeling pretty good about how much you’re doing for the church and those less fortunate, you become blinded to legalism and self-righteousness. Your water becomes muddy

It’s time to come clean.

If you’re tired of the stain of sinful habits discolouring your life; if you long to breath the fresh, clean, life-giving air of God’s holiness; if you would love to detoxify your soul from guilt, fear, regret, and all the impurities that pollute your relationship with God; then it is time to come clean. You’ve been breathing smoke-polluted thoughts, life-draining words, and sin-filled actions without realizing the toll they are taking on your relationship with God. Deep down, you know there’s a truer way to live, a deeper, purer way to love, and a larger impact to make on the world around you. It’s time to open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to the cleansing power of God’s truth.

His Word is filled with stories of men and women who needed to come clean, who longed for more. One of my favourites is David, who’s described as “a man after God’s own heart” but, as you may know, was far from perfect. Shortly after he committed adultery and murder, David experienced a soul sickness that affected him on every level – physical, emotional, and spiritual. He knew his sins of lust, entitlement, and deception were killing his heart. He was drinking from “muddied waters” of his own making. He knew the only way to be restored and experience a joyful, fulfilling life again was to come clean before God. In his prayer of repentance, he wrote, 

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin!

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:2, 7, 10, 12)

You can pray the same prayer. As you do so from your heart and not just your head, God will bring healing and deliverance so that the muddied waters become fresh, life-giving, life-producing waters. He will renew your relationship with Him. And, you will experience a deep peace and contentment as He floods your heart with His love and sets your focus on Him and His Kingdom.