Passion For God

I am amazed as I read Scripture of the passion that people had for the Lord. 

Paul states: “I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites” (Romans 9:3-4) He was offering to exchange his own salvation for the salvation of others.

Moses shared Paul’s self-sacrificing passion for others. He asked God to blot him out of His book if the Lord did not forgive the idolatrous Israelites in the Sinai desert (Exodus 32:32).

Then there are the many biographies that I read … Rosa Park who refused to give up her seat for a white person on a bus in the southern United States that began the Civil Rights Movement. A passion to make things right. Jim Elliot – a passionate follower of Jesus who went to share the Gospel with the Auca Indians in Ecuador in 1956. And died for his faith and his love for others that motivated him to approach this remote tribe to share Jesus with them.

Today I read the story of a young man called Joseph – who lived in Africa… Let me quote the story as it appears in a book I am reading.

One day Joseph, who was walking along one of these hot, dirty African roads, met someone who shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with him. Then and there he accepted Jesus as His Lord and Saviour. The power of the Spirit began transforming his life. He was filled with such excitement and joy that the first thing he wanted to do was return to his own village and share that same Good News with the members of his local tribe.

Joseph began going from door to door, telling everyone he met about the Cross of Jesus and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way he had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn’t care, they became violent. The men of the village seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.

Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and there, after days of passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception he had received from the people he had known all his life. He decided that he must have left something out or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. After rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and share his faith once more.

Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began tp proclaim Jesus. “He died for you, so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God,” he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him, reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.

To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised and scarred – and determined to go back.

He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him the third and possibly the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.

This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ.

Passion is not cheap. But it is real; it is priceless. It may cost your life, but it will save your soul. Generations of believers, now passed from the earth, handed down the gospel so that you could hear it. Now it’s your turn. 

Overnight Success?

Behind every great story there’s always another story. Rarely does success come without time, discipline, and hard work. Successful people often joke that they spent years becoming an overnight success. What many people don’t realize is that it’s the things no one sees that result in the things everyone wants. It’s the faithfulness to do mundane things well, to develop productive habits, and to remain faithful that eventually leads to success.

Old Testament prophet Daniel is a great example of this. Whether you know a lot or a little about Daniel, when you hear his name, you probably think, Oh, yeah . . . Daniel in the lion’s den. Any kid who grew up attending Sunday school or visiting vacation bible school, has heard the amazing story of Daniel surviving the night in a cave filled with hungry felines.

Let me refresh your memory, and then we’ll go back to the part many overlook. King Darius was the reigning king of Persia. As his kingdom grew, he appointed 120 satraps (similar to our present-day governors) to handle regional matters and help govern the people. The king then chose three administrators to oversee those 120 satraps. Daniel was one of the chosen leaders. Over time, by consistently serving the king with an excellent spirit, Daniel stood out among all the other satraps and administrators. Eventually the king decided to place Daniel in charge of the entire kingdom.

So Daniel was an overnight success, right? Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t forget, there’s a story behind every story. Why was Daniel successful? Why was he favoured among others? Why did the king respect him so much? Promote him so quickly? Believe in his leadership? Why did God look favourably on Daniel? Why did God close the mouths of the meat-eating lions?

We find the answer in a part of Daniel’s story that many people skim over. His divine favour was the result of one small decision he made at some point in his life. We don’t know when Daniel made this decision or why. We don’t know whether someone helped him or he decided it on his own. All we know is that Daniel made one decision, starting one habit that changed his story.

As you might expect, the other leaders were fuming with jealousy of Daniel. The story continues, “Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, ‘Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.’” (Daniel 6:4-5)

Let’s consider for a moment some of the great qualities of our hero Daniel. Even though the other guys did everything they could do to find something wrong with him, they couldn’t find anything. Daniel was honest, trustworthy, and dependable in all that he did. He was exactly the type of person the king was looking to promote. So his opponents decided there was only one way they could trap Daniel into doing something worthy of punishment. They needed to devise a plan that involved his faith in God. They knew he wouldn’t do anything wrong. They were going to have to back him into a spiritual corner.

“So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:6-7)

The king apparently liked the sound of their plan because he agreed to their proposal. No one could pray to anyone but him for the next month. And so the plan to trap Daniel was set in motion. 

When Daniel heard about the new thirty-day restriction on prayer, he did the same thing he’d done three times a day for months, maybe years, possibly decades. Daniel went to his house and prayed to God.

As a result, Dan the Man was arrested and had to stare down the big cats and prove that God was his one and only. But think for a minute. It wasn’t just that Daniel wasn’t afraid of lions or had some super courage that mere mortals can never hope to attain. No, Daniel had started a regular practice much earlier in his life that helped him face this impossible situation. To others, prayer might have seemed insignificant. But to Daniel, it was a discipline that shaped his story.

We don’t know how many years Daniel had been practicing this habit, but three times a day, every day, Daniel stopped and looked toward heaven. He worshipped God. He aligned his heart with God’s heart. He sought God’s will to be done through his life. Because of Daniel’s consistent and prayerful focus, he grew as a God follower, as a person, and as a leader.

Daniel wasn’t an overnight success. He was able to stand tall because he’s faithfully knelt before the one true king. The small, daily discipline of prayer equipped him to face the big, scary test of those hungry lions, both the peers who were attempting to destroy him as well as the big cats in the arena. Starting something small and then faithfully continuing it made his story so rich that it’s been told for thousands of years now, and still counting.

The moral of the story: It’s the things not one sees that result in the things everyone wants. 

May I Take Your Order?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burger King Church Culture 

All of us can be a bit self-centered. By nature, we are selfish people. Just think about it: you don’t have to teach a child to be selfish. Have you ever seen someone sit down with a two-year-old and say, “Sweetie, today I’m going to teach you to be selfish. It won’t be easy, but I think you’re old enough now to make the jump. So I just want you to hold this ball, and when I ask for it back, you scream as loud as you can, ‘Nooooo! Miiiine!’”

That’s never happened in the history of the would. When push comes to shove, as it often does, we all look out or number one – me, myself, and mine.

Not only do we have our sinfulness working against us, much of what we see in culture affirms our self-centred tendencies. Some argue that a massive cultural shift in 1973 changed everything and made being focused on self culturally acceptable and solidly confirmed as right and okay. You might not have been even close to being born then, but it was a change experienced by my generation. It was a major cultural climate change. A new perspective on life. 

For decades, if you wanted a hamburger at almost any fast food restaurant, it would come however that restaurant prepared burgers. If you didn’t like the tomatoes, you could take them off yourself. If they used mayonnaise and you preferred mustard, you were free to scrape off the mayonnaise as best you could and squirt a mustard happy face across the bun.

Perhaps the best-known fast food chain at the time, McDonald’s, had a song about one of their burgers. When you ordered a Big Mac, you got, “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.” If you didn’t like the special sauce, the lettuce, the pickles, the onions, or the sesame seed bun (and trying to pick off the cheese was the worst), too bad for you. Why didn’t you order a Quarter Pounder instead? The song told you what you were getting. That’s how to burger was meant to be eaten.

Until the competition changed the rules.

In a move that rocked the fast food world, Burger King boldly declared that you had choices, options, decisions to make: if you wanted a burger, you could “have it your way!” You read that right. It was crazy! It was your burger, and you could choose what you wanted on it. No mayonnaise? No problem. No pickles? No big deal. No onions? No worries. Extra ketchup? You got it. Burger King even developed a song that, once you heard it, was stuck in your brain forever:

Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce,

special orders don’t upset us.

All we ask is that you let us serve you your way.

Have it your way.

Have it your way at Burger King.

And the self-centered, consumer-is-king mindset spread like wildfire. There was a new sheriff in town who was always right – you.

You deserve it.

You’re worth it.

Get what you want.

Enjoy life your way.

It’s natural in our world (and even today in the Church) to want it our way, and Burger King nailed it, even if it was just a smart marketing move. According to Jesus, life (and Church) is not all about us, and everything in culture tries to tell us that it is. Without realizing what a rabid monster we’d unleashed, we became more obsessed with self than ever before. 

One of the quickest ways to forget about God is to be consumed with self. It is also one of the fastest ways to destroy the Church. Jesus had pretty direct works for those who wanted to follow Him. He said, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). We are called not to celebrate, promote, or advance ourselves but to deny ourselves. To pick up our cross, to suffer through not having everything our way, to die to our selfish tendencies.

God wants us to have it HIS way.

And we’re not talking burgers. 

Forms of Fatherhood – Part Two

Some time back I was continuing an intense and in-depth conversation with a young father and husband who lives in another nation and not in Canada. He made a comment in his email about still struggling to relate to God as his Father. We had spoken about this in person a number of times over the last 6 or more years. His comment got me to thinking once again about God our heavenly Father and how our relationship with Him is helped or hindered by our relationship, healthy or unhealthy, with our earthly father. And, I remembered reading some information about fathers in a book I finished in early January. I will summarize my findings and thoughts…

We are living with a “fatherless generation.” I don’t just mean kids who are raised by single moms. Fatherlessness is more complicated than that.

Types of “dad’s” today ( we looked at the first four lot time)…:

1> DEADBEAT DAD

2> DISTANT DAD

3> RELIGIOUS DAD

4>”IF ONLY” DAD

5> GOOD DAD

This dad may go to church every Sunday. He may have fun with his kids on the weekend, taking them to soccer games and the lake for fishing or whatever. But he is not the spiritual leader in his home. He is not a spiritual cultivator.

He provides for his kids, but he isn’t providing what they truly need: spiritual direction. For whatever reason, these men treat God like he’s in the mothering category. They often defer to Mom for spiritual things. 

The interesting thing about this guy is he can be found intimidating his daughter’s new date, but he can’t be found instigating his daughter’s new faith. He can play the macho part but not the part that requires spiritual vulnerability.

Now, don’t get me wrong. These men have fun. These men prioritize their family. These men make many memories and many moments that are to be applauded. They just haven’t prioritized the faith of their family as a personal responsibility. I think deep down you’d find that there’s a desire to be a spiritual leader, but maybe they missed it. Maybe they just don’t know what it looks like. But at the end of the day, they are active, good dads, but they are passive spiritual fathers.

6> FAITHFUL FATHER

I’ve found God to be unpredictable in his methods. He’s always on the move, always shaking things up in our lives. Sometimes it’s hard to know what exactly He’s up to. But one thing is for sure. God wants our hearts.

That’s what he is after. He searches our hearts. He guards our hearts. He even delights in us when our hearts are broken and honest before Him. He wants to transform every crevice and every corner of our hearts, and I think that’s at the core of what a faithful father does.

A faithful father is still dating his wife. He is still pursuing her heart. The same goes for the kids. So, the faithful father doesn’t just ask: “How was your day?” He wants to know: “How is your heart?” And this is true no matter what age the children might be. He is grounded in God’s Word. He asks for forgiveness often. And he strives to give more than leftover energy to both his wife and children.

He is patient and relentless, like our Father in heaven. He does not just focus on surface-level stuff. He is interested in his family’s inner lives. 

Since the main goal of life is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, this dad has made this the highest priority for the hearts, souls, and minds of his children. He wants them to have life, and life to the fullest. 

In the end, it all comes down to Jesus. I’m not saying faithful fathers are perfect. I’m saying that for a faithful father, Jesus doesn’t just describe him. Jesus defines him. So what if we looked to Jesus as our role model for manhood?

He was humble, He was strong, and He sacrificed everything. Jesus was marked by an unconventional, unconditional, unbelievable love this world had never seen before.

If we have a skewed image of what it means to be a man and a father, it affects everything: our family, our friends, our future, our legacy. A man’s ability to lead his family is completely dependent on his ability to follow Jesus. 

Forms Of Fatherhood – Part One

Some time back I was continuing an intense and in-depth conversation with a young father and husband who lives in another nation and not in Canada. He made a comment in his email about still struggling to relate to God as his Father. We had spoken about this in person a number of times over the last 6 or more years. His comment got me to thinking once again about God our heavenly Father and how our relationship with Him is helped or hindered by our relationship, healthy or unhealthy, with our earthly father. And, I remembered reading some information about fathers in a book I finished in early January. I will summarize my findings and thoughts…

We are living with a “fatherless generation.” I don’t just mean kids who are raised by single moms. Fatherlessness is more complicated than that.

Types of “dad’s” today:

1> DEADBEAT DAD

This is what our culture calls men who bail out of their responsibility to their family. If a man has become a father, he has a duty to then be a father. A deadbeat dad is a dad who refuses to be a father and is either totally absent from his child’s life or exists somewhere on the periphery.

In my ministry most of the young men I relate to, disciple, and mentor have this kind of “father” and thus are having a hard time relating to a loving, heavenly Father – the One revealed in Jesus and the pages of the New Testament.

2> DISTANT DAD

This is the dad who plagues the church. The dad who is there but not really there. This is the dad who shows up at the game but keeps his head buried in his phone the entire time. The dad who comes to church but only because his wife forces him to. This is the most common form of dad today in this generation. And, the one who has done the most damage in the church. 

He is physically present but emotionally and spiritually absent. Instead of being a transformational leader in the home, he is simply a transactional ATM for his family, necessary in times of need but absent for the rest of life.

Comparing the first two types of dads … Deadbeat dads see their kids as burdens as opposed to blessings, which is why they leave. A distant dad, however, doesn’t leave physically. Instead he sticks around but leaves spiritually and emotionally. He is with his child physically, but his mind is still back in the office. A deadbeat dad leaves one day. A distant dad leaves every day.

3> RELIGIOUS DAD

This dad wants his family in church, but he never communicated why it’s important. You might say he is religious but not spiritual. For this dad, being in church is more about doing the ‘right thing’ than about making sure his family cultivates a healthy relationships with the Lord. Because there is a lack of emotional connection, this dad can make God seem like a taskmaster. Even a killjoy. Rules without a relationship breeds rebellion. This form of parenting can make kids bitter towards God and especially toward the church.

4> “IF ONLY” DAD

This dad puts in the hard work of emotionally investing in his children. This dad puts in the hard work of developing a spiritual relationship with his kids. This dad totally gets that he needs to be the spiritual leader of his home. The problem is that this dad also wants to be this for lots of other people, and he is not home enough to experience the benefits of his labour. He is a terrific role model for his kids, but he’s too often being this from too great a distance 

He’s just not home enough. It’s not that he’s out drinking with his buddies or playing golf. He is doing good things in he world, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s gone. Gone is gone. 

His kids would say, “I love my dad. I wouldn’t be who I am today without him. But I wish he had been around more. If only he had been around more.”

The “if only” dad has the right intentions. He wants to do right by his family and the world. His problem is one of priority.

More next time … Part Two

Sensuous Christians

In his book Knowing Scripture, R.C. Sproul writes about the “Sensuous Christian.” Sproul doesn’t mean that in the usual physical use of that word. He defines that term as the domination of the Christian life by the intangibles of feelings. “Many of us” he writes, “have become sensuous Christian, living by our feelings, rather than through our understanding of the Word of God. Sensuous Christians cannot be moved to service, prayer, or study unless they ‘feel like it.’”

This hapless believer does good things when he is feeling close to God. But when he is depressed, he does nothing of service to Christ. He therefore looks for stimuli to ignite his emotions because he wants to experience God rather than genuinely know Him. The sensuous Christian evaluates the Word by his feelings rather than the other way around, and he stays immature because he believes this is childlike faith, when it’s actually childish. The Word constantly admonishes us to grow in our faith, but the sensuous Christian simply wants an experience of some kind. What eventually happens? He encounters tough times but he lacks the wisdom to meet the challenge.

This is, by the way, the basis of the apostle Peter’s two letters to believers. Letters written during tough times when believers were being persecuted and tempted. Peter is speaking to these believers about the need to establish their lives on the Word of God and not on their feelings or the circumstances they see around them. 

Sproul and Peter make me realize I need to ask this question of myself, just as I ask you to ask yourself: Is my walk with God all about emotions and feelings? Or is it driven by faith and the Word? When I have one of those days when I don’t feel the victory of my faith, do I continue to serve Him in obedience? Or do I let my feelings hurt my faith? Strong faith is based on the facts of God’s Word – the truth of our salvation, the historic fact of Christ’s resurrection, the understanding that He will come again. Those things are true even if I’m not as excited about them as I should be on a gloomy day. 

Peter in his letters to believers (1 and 2 Peter) is talking about laying a foundation of faith based on the solid and substantial Word, so that no bad day, no bad event, no national recession, not even COVID-19, can shake it. These are times when God smiles upon our response – when the world is treating us poorly, when our spirits are low, yet we pray anyway; we serve anyway; we open the Word anyway and say, “God, I’m not at my best today, but all that I have is still yours.” Any child that tells Him that is going to be taken up in His embrace and comforted.

His promises don’t fluctuate with our whims. We can cling to those promises and find a powerful emotional equilibrium. Living based on feelings is like riding a roller coaster without a seat belt. Living rooted in His Word is more like building a house with a foundation of pure, tempered steel. You’re going to be ready for anything that comes alone. Peter’s two epistles tell us , “Start digging! You have your shovel, you have your earth-moving equipment, now lay down that sure foundation.” You do so by applying all that is in the Word.

I’m the first to admit that I process through a series of emotions as I prepare to preach. Like most communicators, I’m always putting myself into the shoes of my listeners. How will this sound to them? What if they hear this teaching (sermon) and it drives them away from striving for Christian maturity? There’s always the temptation to give the people what they want, which may not be the same as what they need.

Every preacher and teacher of the Word struggles with this urge, but in the end, he knows that God has called him to be true to the Word. He knows the terrible implications of conforming his message to the world, rather than letting his message be transforming through the true Word of Christ, I get a sense of Peter having these same thoughts as he wrote the first chapter of his second letter:

“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12-15)

Peter knows that his old, tattered human body will soon perish. He can’t make small talk. He can’t spend his time telling people the feel-good messages that massage the ear. The situation is urgent, and he is already making arrangements to see that his words outlive him – as they have certainly done. Peter is reminding us that God’s truth is foundational to living a life pleasing to God. That God’s Word and not our feelings or even our needs are to be the guiding and motivational force in all that we do daily in our lives. 

Peter and Sproul are both saying that we need to grow up and become mature believers who walk by faith and not by feelings. In other words, no longer be “sensuous Christians.”

Sounds Like Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace in the Storm

As I write this I have been in touch with a number of leaders and believers in a number of countries. Countries where the COVID-19 virus has hit and hit hard. Church buildings are closed. Various limits have been set as to size of groups that can meet. People are shut-in and on lockdown and have trouble adjusting. Others are needing to learn new skills to connect with people electronically. There seems to be a steep learning curve for many who are not use to being home, being alone, and unable to go out for coffee whenever they want to. Everyone, regardless of where they live, is experiencing major adjustments in their lifestyle. 

We might say that we are all living in a storm which hit suddenly and unexpectedly. And, we were not really all that prepared. 

As I listen, relate, write, connect, text … I note a sense of panic and deep concern in the hearts of those I speak with. Christians and non-Christians alike. It seems that life has changed so drastically and so quickly that they are scrambling to adjust and change their lifestyle to fit the new norm. They are working to keep the 2 meter social distance. They are lining up at grocery stores waiting their turn to get in the door. They are only able to buy a coffee by drive-through. Doctor’s appointments are by phone and not in person. They can’t visit loved ones in hospital or in jail. The norm is no longer normal. And, no one can tell them when it will all end; if it will all end. It is uncertain when life will go back to normal or even if it will. And, if it does, what will the new normal look like?

Of course, I have personally faced a number of changes. I can no longer travel and so that eliminates the majority of my income. Our local church can’t meet so my ability to fellowship is seriously limited. I can’t visit people in hospitals or even shut-ins. The list of changes and adjustments in my life and ministry is almost endless.

But, I am working to see the positive. I am having many more opportunities to tell people about Jesus as they are open to spiritual discussions. I have more time to read and write. I have great office computers and technology enabling me to stay in touch with people around the world. I am home more and both my wife and my dog are appreciating that a lot. I can shop at special senior hours (7:00a in the morning). I am catching up on things around the house that have been neglected for years. And, I am heathy.

I am taking the opportunity to examine my life and my ministry and placing new value on some things and lesser value on others. I am taking advantage of the extra time at home to determine new priorities and how things will change for me and for the ministry as the restrictions on life are lifted. I am taking time to do a “spiritual inventory” and get closer to the Lord.

In spite of being in the age category (with underlying medical concerns) that needs to be extremely careful I have no anxiety or worry or even concern. As I mentioned, I have lost the majority of my income as I cannot travel to work (minister) and even that does not rattle me. I gave my life to the Lord in 1976 and since that day He has been in control and I have trusted Him with the details of daily life, including my financial well-being. I have allowed Him to guide and direct, care and protect, and I look to Him as the Source of all that I need. I have learned to rest in Him and walk in the ‘perfect peace’ that only He can supply. 

So, as I listen to the panic; hear the concerns; sense the worry and anxiety in the hearts and lives of those I relate to; as I hear the issues and circumstances people are facing because of the virus; I can only suggest that Jesus is the answer in all of this. I know that sounds simple or even simplistic but it’s true. He is God and God is still in control. And, nothing that is happening has surprised Him. But, most of all when you put your life into the hands of Jesus He gives us a supernatural peace that passes all human logic and understanding. 

“I leave the gift of peace with you—my peace. Not the kind of fragile peace given by the world, but my perfect peace. Don’t yield to fear or be troubled in your hearts—instead, be courageous!” (John 14:27 TPT)

And, I would add, this is a great time to be bold and tell others about Jesus. 

The Times They are a Changin’

Guest Blogger – Bill Lewis, apostle, teacher

Here we are sitting at home, just watched our Sunday service on Facebook Live, singing to an empty building, preaching to hundreds of empty chairs. It is Palm Sunday and the streets are empty of Hosannas, palm branches, and children dressed in festive clothes. St. Peter’s Square is vacant as the Pope preaches. Around the world, the epidemic has changed everything.

Churches are trying to keep people together through media. There are live streams, websites, TV broadcasts, and personal notes.  Some pastors and churches are scrambling to learn new techniques as they are forced to do something to care for the flock. Computers, smartphones, and tablets are the connections to the flock in this moment. Education is forced into new territory as well. Students are now attending class via Zoom or some app similar. Google classroom has become, not the aid, but the mainstream for education. Teachers and parents are forced into a new paradigm. The church is forced into a new paradigm. The change is one from ancillary to primary. It is not just the “cool” thing anymore, it is the necessity.

Even this genre is fragile. If the grid were to go down, our system of communication would last as long as your battery, or maybe less. I have for a long time considered our modern and excellent forms of communication to be only as good as the infrastructure of the nation and world. One apocalypse of some sort would end or severely limit our communications worldwide.

I have pondered what affect does this have on our faith? Much of what we hold as the Christian faith is connected to relationships and interaction. Church is a lot more than the worship and preaching hour. It has a lot to do with the conversations before and after church. It has to do with the small group interactions that take place as service is being accomplished. It, too, has to do with the friendships that are developed and the non church get togethers that happen. With all or most of these interactions being canceled, where are we?

We have been reduced to core values. Your faith has to stand pretty much on your own initiative. You can sit in your pajamas and not interact electronically. You can veg out on the couch, sit silent, or run around screaming. No one knows or cares. (make sure your kids don’t see you) Essentially, our faith is being tested to see how real, deep, alive it is. We have no props to hold our faith up or, at least, they are very limited. We are challenged individually to maintain the faith and particularly the vitality of our faith.

To maintain in these times of isolation, we must develop regimes of spiritual discipline. They do not have to be over the top, but they have to be there. Reading the Bible regularly is a must. It can be as small as a paragraph, a chapter, or a book regularly, as in daily. Devotional books are great, but nothing replaces the exercise of reading the Bible in context. Prayer is necessary in whatever form suits you. It can be extended, isolated times of prayer, or conversational prayer that runs through the day. It can be table blessings to include the whole family or even family times of prayer depending on your approach. Add to these, reading good books, or listening to good books if you are not an avid reader, but the idea is to continue to challenge and inspire yourself spiritually. The books do not have to be tomes by theologians. They can be even secular in nature, but inspire the soul. There are great spiritual lessons in many of the good authors of novels, biographies, and history.

In some ways, we have been forced back into simplicity. I have seen more families out walking than in a long, long time. There are families engaging their children and rather than only having the 37 minutes a day with their kids as the national average indicates, many are spending hours each day with their children. The kids are probably going to miss that when they go back to school.

Our faith has been forced into simplicity as well. Once again, a walk gives time for worship of the creator. Time with family underlines the importance of those memories made with parents and children. The kids are going to always remember these weeks. For them, it will be their Pearl Harbor, their Kennedy Assassination, their 911. It will be like the blizzard of ’78, it will be the pandemic of 2020. Likewise, my hope is the church will simplify as well. It will be reinvigorated by these days. The church will rise to the challenge and not only survive, but see an amazing harvest.

The times, they are a changin’ -Bob Dylan