Let us be equipped for the coming days

An apostolic perspective from Raffi Shahverdyan – apostolic leader living in Armenia and ministering worldwide.

Let us be equipped for the coming days

Scripture gives us many examples of good administration.  Our Lord calls the Church both to pray, equip itself for times of crisis, and to minister to those who are in need.

1 – You have something to do today

“I sought for a man among them to build the wall and stand in the breach in my presence on behalf of the land so that it won’t be destroyed, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30, ISV).

God relies on you.  There is no such thing as a retired leader.  That is, if you were ever called to be a leader, then you are called to be a leader now also.  Even if you’ve never been a leader before, you can start being one right now. Along the way, you’ll discover aspects of your own personality that you never thought you had.

“When will all of this end?” -This is the question that all of us ask in difficult times, but let’s just change the question and begin to pray like this: “God, what should I do?  How can I serve you in this situation?  How can I be effective with the gifts that You have given me?

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many people” (Mark 10:45, ISV).

Depression conquers some people. It isolates them, and they become passive, but you must not be found amongst them. You must defeat depression and stand strong in the Lord by faith.

Don’t sit still.  Keep calm. Don’t slow down, don’t waste your time, but do something for God’s Kingdom and His people. Just one word of encouragement from you can change a person’s life. The Angel of the Lord once said to a very frightened Gideon: “The LORD is with you, you valiant warrior!” (Judges 6:12, ISV).

2 – Communication: the biggest need of the Church in these days

Someone needs you!

The Church is a body, whose parts are intimately connected to each other (see 1 Corinthians 12:12).

The Lord has said: 

“Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20, ISV).

Moreover, the Scriptures command us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (see Hebrews 10:25).

While anti-Christian systems like communism and Islam forbid believers to assemble together by closing churches, today’s pandemic is an unseen enemy that is also working to prevent us from assembling ourselves together.  To meet the challenge, we ought to start thinking creatively about how we can communicate with one another, whilst still aiming to respect our governments’ health regulations.

To that end, we can communicate using these methods:

A – Managing all the projects of the church through the internet.  Download appropriate social networking apps on your devices such as WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook, Telegram, Signal, etc. Those of us who are tech-savvy need to help those who are new to technology and/or new to using these kinds of apps.  

B – Making phone calls (for those who don’t have an internet connection).

C – Communicating through printed literature and written letters.

D – Outside gatherings of small groups (maximum 5 people).

3 – Form and activate cell groups by using the internet

“I tell you that you are Peter, and it is on this rock that I will build my congregation, and the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18, ISV)

In other words, start a small Church.

Let us not be overwhelmed by this crisis, but let us find ways of communicating and building relationships with our brothers and sisters in the Church. Let’s not wait for “someone else” in the Church to do something.  Rather, let us be the ones who take initiative by the Word and Spirit of God – and act on it.

A – Take part in the group in which you are already a member.  Don’t stand alone.  You can join or form a group of intercessors, a youth group, a missionary group, a group from Sunday school, a home church group, etc. 

B – If communication has stopped for a while, don’t wait for someone else to start it back again.  Instead, you be the one to get things going again. Send invitations out and start new groups.

C – Make a new group with 5-10 members and have communication with each other via the internet once a week.

D – You can start with a few members and then add new members as you go. Seek out and make contact with those who are isolated and/or don’t have any means of communication.

E – Aim to have a mixture of ages – men and women, boys and girls, from different backgrounds, so as to keep the group both dynamic and persistent. You can start a conversation with some of your friends, and then your group may grow organically from there. 

F – The aim of the group can first be to establish communication.  Once you have a base of people connected, you will be able to add programs such as praying, preaching, teaching, and group Bible readings.

G – You can request study and ministry themes from the Church’s secretary or create them by yourself as you study various parts of the Bible.

H –For those who don’t have an internet connection, you can give them print outs of different Biblical lessons and themes.

I – You can meet with the members of your group in open areas.  For now, this should be done with a limited number of people and with, of course, masks and proper social distancing measures in place.

J – Find and invite those especially to whom reaching out is difficult.  Those who have, for whatever reason, been left out of the normal means and methods of communication ought to be a special focus of our efforts. Make new groups and don’t get complacent with existing ones.

K –Talk to your pastor about your activities and be open and ready to receive direction, input, and advice.

L – Our main purpose is to feed and build the Church; to aid and arm God’s children to build His Kingdom and preach His Message.  Implementing measures to increase our communication and fellowship by whatever means available will not only help maintain the health of the Church, but it may also serve as an effective method of increasing evangelism and stimulating discipleship.

“…I kept them safe in your name which you have given to me: I took care of them and not one of them has come to destruction…” (John 17:12, BBE).

4 – Common means of communication and their potentials

Zoom – This is currently the most common app for video-calls.  It has the capacity to host large numbers of participants. A video-call up to 40 minutes is free.  After this expires, however, the connection may be reestablished to begin another 40 minute session.

Skype – You can have up to 50-minutes of video-calling, and it also gives other options not mentioned here.

Messenger – You can make hold a video-call with 8 members. There is an option to have a video-call with 50 members, but it is not available in Armenia yet.

Facebook / Instagram – Here you can share your messages with one another, individually or in groups.

Viber, WhatsApp, Telegram – These means of communication give you the opportunity to send large voice-recordings.  You can record and send your messages via these apps. You can communicate individually or create group-chats.  

SMS – This is the simplest means of communication, which is available on almost any kind of phone.  SMS messaging also allows you to correspond individually or in groups. Depending on the kind of phone that a given user has, you may be able to share voice recordings as well.  I would also like to utilize online Bibles and Bible apps, as well as implementing other methods for encouraging the reading and sharing of Bible verses.  Examples of some popular apps are YouVersion, Biblestone, and My Bible.  Most of these apps allow users to not only access, but download and synchronize information across multiple devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, etc.) so that everyone can read and share God’s Word effectively and conveniently.

God bless you all.

With love, Raffi Shahverdyan.

When You Are Excited About Something

I have written a fair amount recently about the boldness of the early Church. We looked recently at Peter and John, the healing of the lame man, and the resulting boldness of the early Church in the face of religious persecution (Acts 4). I want to revisit that story another time if I may.

The religious leaders confronted by Peter and John’s healing in the Name of Jesus couldn’t deny what happened, and they didn’t know what to do with it. But they did know that it would be a disaster if this kind of thing spread. They said, “To stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:17-18). 

Notice that these religious leaders wouldn’t even say Jesus’ name; they decided to warn Peter and John not to speak to anyone in “this name.” The other notable point here is that they commanded them not to speak or teach about Jesus. It was understood that such a command from this group carried with it the threat of punishment — imprisonment at the very least. This wasn’t a friendly suggestion: “I’ll let you off with a warning but please don’t speed again.” No, this was a promise of pain if Peter and John keep on talking about Jesus.

But I’m sure you know there was no stopping these guys. “But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to Him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:19-20). Because they believed deeply, they were going to speak boldly. You always speak boldly about what you believe in deeply. Ask any Harley Davidson fan. Hockey fan. Soccer fan. The two words in the Greek translated here as “cannot help” basically mean “it’s not possible.”

The phrase conveys a sense of conviction every bit as firm and powerful as the Jewish leaders’ command. Basically Peter and John said, “You need to understand, you can threaten us, but we’re still speaking. You can beat us, but we’ll speak louder. You can put us to death, but the last words we are going to speak will be the Name of Jesus, because if you’ve seen what we’ve seen and if you’ve heard what we’ve heard, you have just got to tell it. It’s that good! If you saw the people that we were and the people that we are now, if you saw the sins He’s forgiven, you’d have to talk about it. If you saw the miracles we’ve seen, you wouldn’t be able to keep it to yourself.”

When you’re excited about something, you talk about it. When you see a great movie, you want to tel your friends to go see it. If it is a guy movie, you tell them, “Yeah, and all the trucks blew up before the big shootout It was awesome! You’ve got to see it.” Or if it’s a chick flick and you’re telling your chick-flick-loving friend about it, you say, “You’ve got to see it. It’s just so romantic! He walked in the room and said, ‘Toy had me at hello.’”

If you go to a restaurant and have an incredible meal and amazing service, then you can’t wait to tell others how great your experience was. You want them to go there and enjoy the same kind of experience. When you hear a great new song on the radio, you want your friend or your spouse or kids to hear it.

When you experience something so powerful, so life-changing as the love of God and the gift of Jesus Christ, then you’re compelled (driven) to tell others about it. And no authority on earth can prevent you from speaking bold words of truth for all to hear. We must tell others about Jesus and all that He has done for us and all who repent and turn to Him. 

You speak boldly about what you believe deeply. 

I Know, It’s Crazy, Right?

Jesus said to His disciples that we were to go into all the world and make disciples. To do this He appointed us as ambassadors of His Kingdom which means we represent Him and the Kingdom as we go into our neighbourhood, work place, and community. We are ministers of reconciliation. Crazy, eh?

And, He tells us that we have His authority to be the ambassador of His Kingdom and ministers of reconciliation. Not only do we have the appointment and the authority, He promises to go with us and be there for us each and every time we step out “in His Name.” I know, it’s crazy, right?

And, He promises that we need not worry about what to say or do because He will give us the words to speak when we need them and will show us what to do and how to do it. So, we don’t need to know what to say or what to do; just listen to the One who sent you. It’s His authority that authorizes us to speak on His behalf and not our own. We are speaking on God’s behalf. Again, crazy, right?

Take Paul; over and over again he said, “I’m not an eloquent speaker, I just preach by the power of the gospel. I’m the least of all the apostles. I just do this in the authority that’s been given to me by Christ.” And he wasn’t afraid of what people thought or how they might misunderstand. He explained, “I may seem to be boasting too much about the authority given to us by the Lord. But our authority builds you up; it doesn’t tear you down. So I will not be ashamed of using my authority” (2 Corinthians 10:8 NLT).

We must not be ashamed of using the same authority. It’s not our power; it’s the power of the One who appointed us. If I stand in the middle of the street with traffic everywhere and you’re driving towards me and I tell you to stop, what could you do to me? You could run me over, right? Because I’m just some goofy guy standing there talking. I’ve got no authority to tell you to do that.

If, on the other hand, I have a badge that says I’m a police officer and I tell you to stop, you know what you’d better do. I have the whole government standing behind me, and it’s not me telling you to stop; it’s the law. And so, as Christians, I come not in my own authority, but in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

First-century believers understood that their power was in Jesus and not in themselves, that they had that authority to use His Name. They would say, “Sick person, I’ve got no power to heal you, but in the Name of Jesus Christ, be healed,” and sick people were healed. They would say, “Demon-possessed person, I’ve got no power over demons, but in the name of Jesus Christ, come out!” or, and this is freaky, they would say, “Dead person, you’re dead; in the Name of Jesus Christ come back to life.” I know, it’s crazy, right?

Even crazier is that the New Testament says that we, as believers, can do even greater things (see John 14:12). Why? Because there’s no such thing as a “regular Christian.” You are an ambassador of Christ. You were not elected by people, but you were chosen and appointed by God to represent heaven on earth. I know, crazy!

You carry with you the message of reconciliation, as if God were making His appeal through you. And you never represent yourself; you always represent God. Why? Because just like Paul, you can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; my old life is gone. Nevertheless, I live. But it’s no longer I who live, you see; it’s Christ living through me.”

“But I’m just a stay-at-home mom.” You are not just a stay-at-home mom! You are an ambassador raising the next generation of world changers. You are called by God in your home with a divine mission.

“Yeah, but I’m just a student.” You’re not just a student! You are an ambassador in your chemistry class; you are an ambassador to your teachers at your school.

“Well, I’m just an entry-level bank teller.” You’re not just an entry-level bank teller; you’re a secret agent of the most high God, planted in that bank to represent Christ to people that you see all the time!

When you know who you are, you will know what to do; and you are, if you’re a Christian, an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ, not elected by people, but called and appointed by God. You never represent yourself, but you always represent Him. This is not your home; you’re from another country. You represent the King from the Kingdom that sent you, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and that makes your role on earth very important. There’s nothing regular about you, you see. You are the highest-ranking diplomat sent by God from the Kingdom of heaven, to this earth.

You know who you are.

So you know what to do. 

 

The Impact Of One

Ed nervously paced the crowded sidewalk outside Holton’s Shoe Store in downtown Boston. His brief lunch hour was nearly over, but he had not yet done what he had come to do. Inside the shoe store was an eighteen-year-old clerk who was a member of the Sunday school class Ed taught at church. The young man had seemed bored in class and generally disinterested in spiritual things since he began attending church one year earlier. Ed felt burdened to talk to him about his relationship with Christ, and today was the day he had planned to do so. But he was nervous about it. What if he won’t listen to me? What if he thinks I’m being too pushy and quits the class all together? What if he gets angry and throws me out?

Breathing a prayer for courage, Ed finally walked into the store and found the clerk busy at work. The young man was surprised to see his Sunday school teacher, but Ed quickly got to the point. “I came to tell you how much Christ loves you,” he said. They talked for several minutes, then the young man knelt down on the spot and opened his life to Jesus Christ. Later the clerk related the impact of his conversion: “I was in a new world. The birds sang sweeter, the sun shone brighter. I’d never known such peace.”

Ed left the shoe store that day rejoicing that he had overcome his self-doubt and fear and let God use him to share the good news with the young shoe clerk. This fearful Sunday school teacher could not have imagined that, during the next 150 years, millions of people would be just as thankful that he had overcome his anxiety and hesitation that April day in 1855 to share the gospel in a shoe store. Though unaware until now, you may be one of the people whose spiritual journey was influenced by this Sunday school teacher, Edward Kimball.

You see, the eighteen-year-old shoe clerk Kimball talked to that day was Dwight L. Moody, who became one of America’s great evangelists in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Moody had an impact all over the world. In addition, Moody later counselled a young man named J. Wilbur Chapman on the assurance of his salvation. Chapman became a Presbyterian minister, evangelist, and Moody’s friend and colleague in ministry. Moody and Chapman strongly influenced a young professional baseball player named Billy Sunday, whom God also called to evangelistic ministry. It is estimated that three hundred thousand men and women came to faith in Christ during Billy Sunday’s two hundred campaigns.

But Kimball’s legacy didn’t stop there. A 1924 Billy Sunday’s evangelistic campaign in Charlotte, North Carolina, resulted in the formation of the Charlotte Businessman’s Club, which continued to evangelize the region. In 1934, the CBMC invited evangelist Mordecai Ham to conduct a campaign in Charlotte. A young man of eighteen reluctantly attended one of the meetings and then gave his life to Christ. His name was Billy Graham. No one has preached the gospel to more people than Billy Graham.

Was Billy Graham instrumental in your coming to Christ? If not directly, perhaps the person who brought you to Christ was influenced by his preaching. At the very least, you likely know someone who became a Christian because of this great evangelist’s ministry.

The gripping reality is this: Countless millions of people have been brought to faith in Christ through the preaching of D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham during the past century and a half. What would have happened if a Sunday school teacher named Edward Kimball had allowed self-doubt to detour him from living out his passion for sharing Christ with others?

Who is God asking you to share the gospel and His love with today?

Nick at Night – Part Four

Let’s finish looking the civil conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. 

We started with seeing that “What the World Needs Now Is Love” …

Then we had a look at the fact that in His conversation with Nicodemus Jesus:

Went straight to the point speaking the truth in love

And that the Spirit of God is always moving and we partner with Him in the work of winning the lost

And a third element – third element in this civil conversation between the Lord and Nicodemus – Patience … Even When They Don’t Understand

As I attempt to put myself non Nicodemus’s sandals after this fascinating conversation with the Saviour of the world, here is what I imagine Nicodemus saying or thinking:

“Jesus, everything that You’re saying has completely turned my thought process upside down. Everything I have ever been taught since I was a child is that the law is what saves! You come along with these miracles and signs that force me to listen to You. You  tell me I have to be born again of the Spirit. And that the Son of Man must be lifted up (crucified and glorified).”

I imagine him continuing, “Jesus, I’m an educated man, but I need you to simplify this for me. I’m very interested – but I don’t understand. I know the Scriptures front to back. I know what the rabbis have taught for thousands of years, but … I have no idea what You are saying.”

Then, in perhaps the greatest verse in John’s entire gospel, Jesus really did simplify it all for Nicodemus when He declared: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

People can keep all the laws, but the law can’t save. They can be leaders among leaders, but fame and recognition can’t save. They can be wealthy, but material possessions cannot save. Only knowing the Son of God – Jesus – can save a person.

Christ went to the cross and died for the sins of the world. All who believe in Him will not perish (go to Hell) but have everlasting life (know God personally and the, when they die, go to Heaven)! As Jesus spoke amicably with Nicodemus, we can show others through patient civil conversations that it was all part of God’s plan.

God’s story.

God’s love.

God’s Spirit.

God’s calling.

God’s Son.

God’s salvation.

Any time you see people getting saved, lives being changed, miracles and signs, and people moving from darkness to light – it’s all God. Anything good you see is because God is at work around the world to redeem mankind before Jesus returns. Unbelievers may not understand this, but we can help them. Today, you can initiate civil conversations about matters of faith with someone you meet. 

Nick At Night – Part Three

We are looking at the civil conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. This is the first of three recorded connections that this religious leader and teacher had with Jesus.

We started with seeing that “What the World Needs Now Is Love” …

Then we had a look at the fact that in His conversation with Nicodemus Jesus:

Went straight to the point speaking the truth in love

And that the Spirit of God is always moving and we partner with Him in the work of winning the lost

Today – Let’s look at a third element in this civil conversation between the Lord and Nicodemus.

Patience – Even When They Don’t Understand

After Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” Jesus continued to talk with him and explained Himself in quite some detail, Even though Nicodemus was a teacher of the law and should have been able to grasp these concepts. Even though, by all appearances, his conversion was nowhere in sight.

And what we learn from Christ’s approach and demeanour is that be must be patient with others, even when they don’t understand. 

Jesus patiently took Nicodemus back to a familiar story in the Old Testament – Numbers 21 – to explain salvation. The people of God were complaining when they should have been rejoicing because God had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and was leading them to the promised land.

They questioned Moses’s leadership abilities.

They didn’t like the monotonous and dry food. 

They began to second-guess leaving a life of slavery in Egypt.

And they began to infect the camp with poisonous words

So the Lord sent real, live snakes into their midst, to do literally the very thing the people were guilty of doing figuratively: poisoning. Many of the Israelites died. Those who were left realized their sin and went to Moses to repent. They knew they were doomed and beyond hope.

In recounting this story, Jesus reminded Nicodemus how Moses lifted up a bronze snake on a pole and whoever looked upon that snake would live. Just as He did with His “born again” statement earlier, Jesus was juxtaposing the physical with the spiritual. In fact, He told Nicodemus that He was speaking about heavenly things: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15).

Jesus was patient with Nicodemus as He led him to the truth of the Gospel. We are called to do the same in our civil conversations with others. It may look like they don’t understand. It may look like they are never going to receive it. But God has called us to lift up Jesus so that He can draw all people to Him (John 12:32). That is our only job. That is all we have to worry about.

More and more every day, our world is becoming so divided and confused. Like the Israelites who had snakes in the midst of the camp, it may seem as though we are all doomed.

Our only hope is Jesus Christ.

In everything we do, in every conversation we have, we believers must be loving, patient, truthful, and above all, lift Jesus so that the entire would will believe. 

More next time… 

Nick At Night – Part Two

We are looking at the civil conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus recorded for us in John’s gospel, chapter three. On May 12th we saw that “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and that Christians often fail to show love. We often don’t share the Gospel of the Kingdom because we fear upsetting others or having them reject us. And, often Christians have an adversarial attitude to those who are not believers. Being defensive and antagonistic. 

Then yesterday, “Nick At Night – Part One” we saw that Jesus lovingly shares with Nicodemus his need to be born again. And that Jesus went ‘straight to the point’.

The second thing we notice in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is that “The Spirit Is Always Moving.”

Jesus says to Nicodemus, “The winds blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” (verse 9) The reason he asked this question is because he was convinced that the law was what saved a person.

But since the law cannot save, there was a restlessness in Nicodemus’s soul. Despite the fact that he was a “law man” – and had money, fame, power, position, and religion – he was empty inside. He was searching. He didn’t know why he was searching. He didn’t know why he was feeling what he was feeling.

I imagine Jesus was trying to quiet the noice in Nicodemus’s mind and heart by saying, “Shh! Listen to the sound of the wind. The Holy Spirit of God is drawing you toward something that can save.”

And here’s the best part: even though Nicodemus came searching for Jesus that night, it was actually Jesus via the Holy Spirit who was searching for Nicodemus.

Do you remember the story in the Bible about a man named Zacchaeus who was small in stature? He climbed up a tree to look for Jesus, who was passing through the town of Jericho. Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).

Let me ask you a question: Was Zacchaeus searching for Jesus, or was Jesus searching for Zacchaeus? Even though Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector, a “sinner” by everyone else’s account, he was valuable to the Lord. Jesus was looking for him and wanted to be a guest in his home. After encountering the Lord, Zacchaeus repented of his sins, vowing to give half of what he owned to the poor and pay restitution to anyone he had cheated in the past.

If there was any doubt that Jesus was in fact looking for Zacchaeus, what the Lord declared next should clear things up: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

The Spirit of God moved in the heart of a wealthy tax collector to climb that tree in Jericho in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world., As we have already discovered, God’s Spirit also moved in the heart of Nicodemus to seek out Jesus for the answers to his questions. 

Behind the scenes, this very moment, the Spirit of God is moving! He blows wherever He wants to. As you approach casual conversations with others, I hope you will take comfort in the fact that God’s Spirit is always moving and wooing – even in folks you think would never be saved. 

Author Russell Moore penned this powerful statement:

“The next Billy Graham might be passed out drunk in a fraternity house right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be making posters for a Gay Pride March right now. The next Mother Teresa might be managing an abortion clinic right now.. But the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so.”

Don’t ever doubt whom God can reach or whom God can save!

Right now there are people in your life – and perhaps even folks not yet met – who are restless just like Nicodemus. They are wondering what it means to be born again. There is an emptiness in their hearts that the law, or self-righteousness, or money, or power, or fame, or relationships, or drugs, or alcohol cannot fill. The Spirit of God could be reaching out to them through you. Let this amazing truth be your confidence as you initiate civil conversations with them about matters of faith. 

More tomorrow…

Nick At Night – Part One

Last time (Blog: What the World Needs Now – May 12th, 2020) we looked at the fact that what the world really needs from those of us who call ourselves Christians is love. This love will be seen first in the way we talk with people. In other words, knowing how to have civil conversations where we can express the Gospel while treating people with dignity and respect. We saw some examples: Philip and the Ethiopian, Peter and Cornelius; Jesus and the woman at the well, Paul and Lydia, as well as Jesus and Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was someone you might meet for the first time and think, He’ll never become a Christian. The guy had political influence and clout. He represented the status quo. He was wealthy. A guardian of the rules. A keeper of the laws.

Were you raised in (or have you ever been to) a legalistic church? The kind of church that emphasized “keeping the rules” – lots and lots of rules! Sadly, sometimes even “unwritten” rules are considered biblical.

Nicodemus most likely subscribed to all kinds of unwritten laws as a teacher to Israel. He represents the people who believe that by keeping all the rules they are somehow saved or made righteous. And yet Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he was probable very intrigued by Him. He wanted to learn more about Him and the things He had been teaching. So Nicodemus said, “Rabbi,” which means “teacher,” and the conversation began.

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him (John 3:2).

There are a few things I want to highlight within Jesus and Nicodemus’s exchange and conversation that will be immediately helpful to you as your share your faith.

1> Straight to the point

Jesus was willing to have a civil conversation with Nicodemus, but He also got straight to the point, as we see in the third verse of John 3. It could have been because it was late at night and Jesus was too tired for small talk. But it probably had more to do with Jesus’s desire to see Nicodemus saved. He pulled no punches. He did not shy away from this opportunity to converse with one of Israel’s most important political and religious leaders.

He said to Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

That’s pretty direct. Nicodemus heard this phrase born again and he couldn’t figure it out; he didn’t understand it. So he asked the question heard around the the evangelical world: “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4)

Jesus answered, and once again, He did not mince words: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5-6).

And what He meant by that was that Nicodemus had already been born physically; he needed to be born spiritually. Nick at night still didn’t get it, but to be fair, consider where we are in history: Jesus hadn’t died on the cross yet, the day of Pentecost was still three years away, and the church hadn’t started yet. There were no baptisteries, no communion trays, and no crosses on church buildings. Jesus was speaking somewhat prophetically when He pointed out the truth about being born of water and the Spirit. 

No wonder Nicodemus didn’t understand. I’m not sure he was suppose to understand. Even mature Christians today have difficulty understanding this text! But Jesus laid everything out directly anyway.

Sometimes when believers are talking with someone who doesn’t know Christ, we beat around the bush. We use too many words. We preface or sugarcoat or water down the message. Jesus’s civil conversation with Nicodemus teaches us that sometimes we need to get straight to the point. This doesn’t mean you should be frantic, rude, or abrupt. Jesus was gentle and at ease as He shared the truth. He is the way, the truth and the life, after all, so it was probably completely natural to Him!

It may not be as natural to us, but you and I can learn to hone our message. As we practice sharing our testimony and the Gospel message, we will learn to cut out all the hemming and hawing and get down to what’s most important: the simple story of Christ’s transforming love. 

More next time…

 

“Yes, But…?”

I connect with believers every day. Even when I am not on the road ministering my “office time” is usually absorbed by connecting with people. I love it. After all, ministry is about people. So, as I sit in my sunny office in the morning I connect with people through emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, Instagram, Twitter, iMessage, and FaceTime. Topics vary. People are looking for help. A prophetic word. Some information. Planning of a future trip when flights go back to normal (hopefully). Just to touch base with a person who cares because they are on lockdown like most of the world. Some people are connecting because we are friends and so keep in touch on a regular basis regardless of where life is taking us. You get the idea. 

I also hear from leaders and believers who want to share what is happening in their lives and ministries. That’s good. I want to know. I care. And, I read a limited number of “Christian” newsfeeds. I don’t read or watch or listen to anything anyone “forwards” to me. If I didn’t ask for it, I don’t have the time or the interest to work with it. 

In the midst of these connections with leaders and believers I hear about the “Christian” conspiracy theories. I hear that people are focusing just on prayer and no longer teaching on the Church, the fivefold ministry, or other topics. Just prayer. I relate to people who are convinced that ‘the government’ is behind the Coronavirus pandemic. All night soaking meetings of worship and prayer. “Burn” meetings. That we need to fight the demonic powers that are preventing Christians being free to minister and preach – especially in the prisons during the COVIT-19 outbreak. Christian television and radio and the deception and false teachings propagated through this segment of the media. Prophetic words being declared. Prophecy being examined and interpreted in light of the pandemic. The anti-christ that is now loose on the planet.  And, on the list could go. 

This goes on even when we are not in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Believers, churches, denominations, movements … the focuses are constantly changing. There is an old or new bandwagon for us all to jump on (Toronto Blessing, Bethel…). There are church planting movements where we franchise out a form of planting and running a church (MacChurch franchises). 

I sit back as all of this swirls around me. I have been in ministry for over 50 years. I have seen a lot of this many times over … it is like the waves on a beach. New programs. New methods. New presentations. New television shows. New ways to communicate. They just keep coming. New outreach methods. New worship styles. New dress code for with-it senior leaders. And, each wave continues to keep us focused on something other than what Jesus told us to do. Jesus gave a mandate to the Church. Marching orders to His arm. He said, “Go into all the world and make disciples…”

So, as I hear about all this “stuff” going on and everything that people are focusing on I have to ask myself, “Yes, But…” 

Yes, but how is this helping people to know the love of God?

Yes, but  how is this increasing the influence of the Church in the world?

Yes, but is this really training and equipping the saints for the work of ministry?

Yes, but how is this helping people to be born again?

Yes, but how is this working to move people forward in their walk with Jesus?

Yes, but, what about discipling?

Yes, but what about being salt and light, impacting your community?

Yes, but how is this communicating the life-changing gospel of the Kingdom?

Yes, but how is this in any way impacting the culture?

Much of what we do today in and with the church is seriously just maintenance and not ministry. We are maintaining the sheep – caring for them, loving them, making sure they are comfortable. Real ministry is reaching out to the lost as Jesus did on a daily basis. And, while doing so, discipling those closest to us. Again, as Jesus did. If what we are spending our time on does not encourage and strengthen our evangelistic outreach, it is not the right focus. If what we are doing simply occupies the believer’s time and energy taking them away from building relationships in their community … then we are simply spinning our wheels and playing church. 

So, I am constantly asking myself, “Yes, but…” 

In fact, I have become bold and have begun to ask those I am communicating with, “Yes, but…” and the responses are interesting. Very interesting. And, there is a lot of silence and fewer long conversations. But, that’s okay.

In your walk with the Lord it might be good to occasionally ask yourself, “Yes, but …” what difference is ‘this’ (you fill in the blank _______________)  making in my life, the life of the church I attend,  and the life of others who don’t know Jesus?

The answer – if you are being honest – might cause you to pause and reexamine your Christian experience. I hope it does!

A Friend Of Sinners

If the church wants to reach the next generation – and we are the church – it has to allow more apostles, prophets, and evangelists to lead and influence the direction of the church. Right now the ministry office that impacts the church the most if that of pastor-teacher. Once the other offices of the fivefold ministry begin to influence the church that Jesus is building we will inevitably move the body from a church-focused mindset to a culture-focused mindset which will also then include a Kingdom-focused mindset. The apostles, prophets, and evangelists think externally, which is where the young people are. When we keep our people inside the church by keeping them busy with “Christian activities,” we reject culture. But when we disperse our people, we redeem it. Maybe even create it. 

There was a day when Christians created the culture. (Now we just seem to copy it). Our faith influenced the birth of hospitals, universities, and even some nations. For example, 106 of America’s first 108 colleges were started as Christian institutions.

I like to remind people that Jesus, during the course of His public ministry, performed around forty miracles. Most of them happened outside the temple. The same goes for His disciples. Of the forty miracles in the book of Acts, only one happened in the temple. You don’t get labeled a “friend of sinners” if most of your time is spent in church. 

The mantra of shepherd and teachers leans towards “Come as you are.”

The mantra of apostles, prophets, and evangelists leans towards “Go where they are.”

Which one sounds more like the mantra of the younger generation? Honestly, both. They’re inclusive and adventurous. So what if we changed it to “Go as you are”? Wherever God has you,, be all there. It reminds me of Matthew 10:7: “As you go, preach” (NASB). Steward the mysteries of God exactly where God has placed you. If you are a scientist, do careful research in the context of learning and caring for God’s creation. If you are an athlete, compete with self-discipline, resilience, and integrity. If you are a business owner, make high-quality products while serving the dignity of both your customers and your employees. 

Shepherds (pastors) and teachers tend to want young peopler to come in and serve the church, giving up or minimizing their outside activities. But pastors need to understand that the more you empower young people to go and serve outside the church, the more they will be inspired to come and serve inside the church.

The test for gauging whether your church is internally or externally focused is a simple question. If your church closed its doors, how long would it take for the neighbourhood to notice?

A week? A month? A year? Would the neighbourhood ever notice? And if they did, would they care? This is how young people think – and all Christians really should be thinking this way as well. It is a very practical question that each and every believer needs to answer for themselves. 

I believe it is time to return to the mandate Jesus gave to the Church. Jesus only left us one task to be involved in as the church. And remember, you are the church. The mandate was and still is: “Go into all the world and make disciples.” It is time we make whatever changes – all the changes – needed to refocus on that one mandate. It is time that we, like Jesus, “seek and save the lost” and stop playing church. 

For this to happen we need to welcome and release the ministry gifts of apostle, prophet, and evangelist into the leadership of the church.