Too Pooped To Participate

The last few days I have been in meetings with people from different churches in three different cities and towns. We have been discussing the same thing in each meeting. The topic: seeking and saving the lost.

As I have been out walking today – I walk three to four times a day covering 6 or 7 miles in any given 24 hour period – thinking things through and sorting impressions, feelings, and things the Lord has been saying to me during the meetings or about the meetings one thing became crystal clear.

In these meetings there were two kinds of believers. Those who were dealing well with issues and challenges in their lives and those who were feeling overwhelmed by circumstances and their current situation.

When you listened to the comments being made it became evident that one group of those participating in these three different meetings were ready to give, meet needs, reach out with the gospel and seek and save the lost. The others wanted to and, I believe, sincerely desired to be doing it but felt, at this point in their lives, unable to participate. It was like they were too pooped to participate. Life was heavy at the moment and it was taking everything they had just to keep their heads above water and one foot in front of the other. It was not that they were in trouble or in dire straights – simply “up to here” in the everyday affairs of life and it was coming at them faster then they were, at this time, able to handle. So, to add one more thing – reaching out to seek and save the lost – would cause a crash. Not going to happen.

Now, what made the difference between these two groups of people? It wasn’t the topic as it was the same in all three locations. It was not age or ability or family responsibilities – as the mix was fairly much the same in all three places. It was not education, finances, job situations, family life, marriage issues …. I have thought about all the people (I know them fairly well) and all the possible reasons or issues that would cause such a stark contrast – none of the above!

Here is what I think it is. One group, when they get up in the morning, have a shower to be refreshed, cleansed and ready for the day. Then they go into their quiet time because they know that just as their physical being needed refreshing and washing – that their spiritual being also needs to be refreshed and cleansed. They know that there are “times of refreshing in the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Then having been with the Lord in their Bible receiving fresh heavenly manna they then move to the kitchen to make their toast and eat earthly bread. Remember – “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). These people are ready to face the day and witness, sharing the gospel whenever they have opportunity. They are ready to give because they have already received.

The second group – because life has been and still is coming at them so fast and so much of life is coming at them at the same time – they no longer have that time in the morning set aside to be with the Lord and hear His voice, His directions for the day. They no longer take time to experience His love at the start of each day. They start the day running without thinking that their gas tank is almost empty from the day before and that they should stop and be refilled with the Holy Spirit – refreshed in the presence of the Lord. So, they run on empty for a while, then they keep going by sucking fumes and then they crash. This, of course, totally eliminates them from any fishing they might have sincerely wanted to do.

The solution: As simple – or simplistic – as it may sound the solution is to carve out time to be with the Lord first thing in the morning, every morning. “Seek first the Kingdom” (Matthew 6:33) and then you will be able to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Make a rule – no Bible, no breakfast!

God said that “if we would seek for Him with our whole hearts we would find Him” Jeremiah 29:13). That is exactly what we must be doing every day – first thing in the morning. Saints, it is time that we got our priorities straight no matter how busy we are. In fact, the busier we are the longer the time with the Lord in the early morning should be.

So, turn the television off and go to bed earlier. Come home from coffee with friends earlier. Put the book down one chapter sooner. Do whatever it takes it be able to rise early enough to have adequate time with the Lord each and every morning. It is foundational to your spiritual walk and obedience to the Lord. Foundational to becoming an effective soul winner.

Bored With Church?

I preached twice yesterday, worshipped twice, fellowshipped twice, and drove 565 Km between the two opportunities to do so. I get paid to do this, I admit. However, I don’t do it because I am paid to do so – is there any dollar value that would take you on the road at 2:30 p.m. after a nine hour work day to return at 11:00 p.m. at night? I do it because I am excited about worship, I am deeply moved by God’s Word (even when I am the one teaching it), and love to fellowship with other believers.

But most believers today are bored with Church. Worship is a drag and they may sing and even raise their hands to God but it is more motion and less emotion than it once was. There is little heart in it any more. They may listen to the Word being preached but with less attention than they once did and often wondering what relevance this ancient book has for their life, their family issues, their financial situation, and their ‘near-divorce’ marriage relationship. And the fellowship after the service – well, let’s just be the first out the door as we have a busy day ahead and we have already been here two hours and these people are boring – we will grab a coffee on the way to Walmart.

Maybe I am exaggerating a little – but not much. Either that or I can’t read people as well as I think I can. Believers today are not that excited about “the package” they come to on any given Sunday in any church. However, I don’t believe that this is a problem the church can solve – because I don’t believe that it is a problem with the worship, teaching or fellowship (even though the coffee is usually not worth drinking). It is a problem deep in the heart of the individual believer.

They have absorbed and taken in for years and are now spiritually fat but not spiritually mature. Maturity comes from actually doing something with all the spiritual food being taken in. It is important to be exercising the spirit man so that the food does not just go to produce more spiritual fat and thus spiritual obesity. Many believers are spiritual hearers only and not spiritual doers. And, when they do do something with what they hear – it is more self-application … doing something or changing something that benefits them or makes them feel better about themselves or helps them to accomplish something important in their life. It is usually “me” centered.

Here is what I believe – and I believe it with my whole heart. The dissatisfaction with ‘church’ today is God-given. The flat worship experiencs, the ho-hum preaching of the Word, the surface fellowship talking about the weather … those feelings (because I don’t believe that it is true in fact – it is simply the feeling a believer has) are God-given so that you will do something about your spiritual situation. No! Not switch churches. The church you are in is not the problem – YOU ARE THE PROBLEM!

You need to begin to apply your faith and become obedient to the Lord’s command to “go into all the world”. Stop making excuses. IF you really believe that Jesus is the only way and that without the forgiveness of sins offered only through Jesus a person goes to Hell when they die… IF you really believe the basics of the Christian faith…PROVE IT! Get out there and tell others the good news that you have come to accept and believe in. Tell others of the wonderful and only foundation upon which to build your life – Jesus. Tell people how they can be saved from sin and Hell and from being eternally separated from God – I mean forever separated.

Do we really believe it or are we simply giving lip service to the Gospel and the message of the Christian faith? Maybe we are simply still very self-centered and if reaching out makes us uncomfortable, nervous, fearful, or anxious we simply avoid it altogether. That’s selfish, seriously selfish.

But, I digress. If we are out sharing our faith during our everyday activities – grocery shopping, buying gas, waiting in line at Starbucks (or Tim Hortons), standing waiting for the bus, shopping at Staples, getting a new tattoo (who would want an old one, right) … If we are out looking for opportunities to share what we believe – even if it makes us feel all of the above feelings – then we will come to Church on Sunday hungry for whatever is being offered up as spiritual food. We won’t be picky – just hungry. We will be celebrating what Jesus has been doing during the week as He uses our efforts at sharing the gospel to influence people’s lives. We will be worshipping with our whole hearts because we are so thankful that we are saved and so grateful to be given the opportunity to work with Him in this wonderful adventure of “seeking and saving the lost”. When the Word of God is opened and the teaching is happening we will lean forward physcially and spiritually sucking in every ounce of anointing and power that exists on God’s Word (Isaiah 55:11). We will take notes because we are constantly needing “new material” to use in our times of sharing Jesus and His Gospel with others. We will be writing questions down that arise out of what we are hearing from the pulpit and will search and research until we can answer our own questions … or, if we can’t find the answers ourselves we will ask others who are more mature and more experienced what they believe and what they understand about what we have heard. Fellowship will be sweet because we will be so pleased and deeply happy to be among God’s people and to share His love with one another as we talk about Him over a cup of steaming brew.

The problem with Church is really a problem with the believer. It is time to get up and move out – every day seeking and saving the lost – fishing for men. Jesus said: “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” Are you following? The answer to that question is another question – Are you fishing? If you are fishing then you are following. If you are not fishing them maybe you are not following – or, at least, not following up close and personal but rather you are following from a distance.

So, when I stand on a Sunday (or any other day – as I teach almost every day of every week – great job I have) and I feel like I have trying to stuff the message down people’s throats … that I am needing to pry people’s mouths open and force feed them what I know God wants them to have and what is good for them. Then, I know I am dealing with people who are not obeying Jesus and are not soul winners. I know that the people I am teachings are not out seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10) because, if they were, I would not be working as hard as I am trying to push a morsel of living bread down their throats so they can receive some spiritual nourishment. They are so full – and probably constipated – that they simply don’t want any more. They are spiritually obese and needing to exercise and begin to do what the Lord told His Church to do … “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel….” THEN the assembly on Sunday would become an exciting time of refilling and refreshing and we would be so excited that we are able to attend and receive – we would never want to miss the worship service! And, the preacher will apparently preach better and the worship leader will be more anointed than ever. Well, really the only change will have been in you. It has always been this good!

We Have Messed It Up Royally!

In the beginning God

God birthed the Church in power (Acts 2:1-5)
God gave a mandate to the Church to go into all the world and preach the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20)
God stated that the Church would do that by bearing witness to Jesus – especially His resurrection (Acts 1:8)
God gave us authority to make disciples (not believers) and bring them to maturity (Matthew 28:18-20)
God promised to go with us and back up His message (the gospel) with power so that the gospel would be fully preached (Matthew 28:20 and Romans 15:18-19)

We have messed it up royally!

Somewhere between then and now – Christianity became something to be practiced inside a building instead of being a pulsating, life-transforming encounter with the living God that spills over and impacts the unsaved world.

Christians have stopped having true faith in Jesus and have learned to rely totally on their pastors or priests. For some the only time they connect to the Lord is on Sundays when they assemble together with other believers (not disciples) to worship and hear the pastor or teacher share his thoughts on a few verses of the Bible. This is also the only Bible they feed on in any given week. Witnessing about their faith to others is obviously non-existent for most of today’s believers. And, miracles, signs and wonders don’t follow them as Jesus promised they would – they chase them by running from one conference to another.

Unless the Western Church returns to biblical roots, it will continue its rapid downward slide to irrelevance and oblivion.

Jesus will not tolerate a rebellious and dead Church for long, for the Church is meant to represent His Kingdom to the lost people of the world. He is warning all such Churches today:

Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:5)

Up until 15 years ago I was a conference-holic. I needed my fix every three or four months. I just itched to attend a set of meetings, talk with other leaders, listen to the ‘big guys’ who had made “it” work (I never did define “it”). They had radio and televsion programs, published books and were in great demand as speakers. Successful. I just had to go and learn more (not a bad thing) and get away to exercise my brain and recharge my spirit. Again, not a bad thing!

Then I became involved in a course through my doctorate studies that took me for 10 days to Dallas, Texas along with 26 others from various nations around the world. This “course” was headed up by Leighton Ford and with the help of some tremendous men and women we did classroom “stuff” during the day and then, in the evenings and late into the night, we went on the streets to practice what we had been learning. We went out street witnessing. Change my life – permanently.

Since that time many years ago I have spent at least one full afternoon a week (usually 2) on the streets (and in coffee shops – it gets cold here in the winter) engaging others in conversation, working at presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since that time I work at sharing the gospel every day during regular life events – grocery shopping, walking the dog, buying gas at 2 in the morning as I return from an out-of-town ministry trip, supper out with my wife. The methods I use have changed at least three or four times but the actual getting out of my study and office, away from helping and listening to believers, and into the world (as Jesus commanded we do) has never changed.

Now I don’t go to conferences or specials. I don’t have the time as I am “about my Father’s business of seeking and saving the lost” (Luke 19:10). And, I no longer have a need to go to these special events. Where I use to go to these conferences to exercise my brain and recharge my spirit – that now happens on a regular basis as I hit the streets and businesses sharing Jesus and as I talk to others on a regular daily basis as I go about normal life activities. It is definitely a lift to my spirit – and sorting out answers to the questions raised and thinking through what went wrong and what worked during the day’s outing is all the exercise my brain needs on a regular basis.

I was talking with a couple yesterday in the City of Moose Jaw (the hour-long coffee became almost three hours). They are constantly sharing Jesus so when we get together He is always the focus and we just have a great time. In the midst of our conversation we began to think about a good-size town that has absolutely no gospel witness and where there is not a gospel-believing Church. Well, it got electric in the coffee shop – well, at least in our corner of it.

So, this coming week we are getting together to drive out to this town to walk around and pray and see if the Lord wants us to plant a new Church in this area that will not practice it’s faith inside a building – instead it will be, from the start, a pulsating, life-transforming encounter with the living God that spills over and impacts the unsaved world.

A Chapter in the Life Of

I was in Chapters Bookstore the other day … I am addicted and need a bi-weekly fix. You know, look and touch, breath deep and smell the printer’s ink, drool and covet. I can’t help it – it is all my father’s fault. When he was alive he owned a printing company and so I am addicted as a result of his influence and my disfunctional upbringing. But, when I leave the store and get into my car – before driving away I sincerely repent in the front seat of the car. Got to keep things right with the “big man upstairs”, right? And then, of course, I get my Blackberry out and picked a time several weeks down the road when I can come back again and touch, feel and smell, look and drool. Not my fault, I was born this way!

While in the ever-shrinking “religious” section … right next to the ever-increasing “New Age and Occult” section … I met a woman who was deeply engrossed in looking through the various books on the shelves … Close quarters as there are now only 6 shelves of books in the section – Political Science has been slowly creeping in and taking over one end. So, it was not difficult to know what she was picking out to look at. I’m a people watcher and so I do watch and I did notice. It was all over the map – the fluff of Joyce Myers, the self-help, feel-good, non-gospel gospel of Joel Osteen, the Dummy books on other religions, prayer, the Christian faith and the Bible for Dummies. Then into some “Gospel of Judas”, “The Da Vinci Code”, Mary Magdalene and the cult following she still gathers today, MAry the Queen of Heaven heresy … Boy, this lady was picking up and looking at books from A to Z and back again.

Being the extreme introvert that I am, I started a conversation with her. I mentioned how the section was shrinking and that I was finding less and less to draw me here – now doing most of my book buying on line. (Secretly knowing I only came down here to smell and touch – not buy). She agreed about the smaller selection and expressed how frustrated she was as she was trying to find a ‘Bible study book’ to help her study the Bible at home. I responded with a few suggestions – Max Lacado, and others like him. That is when the explosion happened.

Here is where we went in 20 minutes – not in order as my memory is not that good and confusion reigned…
1> Just moved back here from… never told me from where or why she moved away in the first place
2> Lutheran to the core
3> Attending a Lutheran Church that does not preach the Bible
4> Her friend who use to teach a Bible study was told to sit down and shut up and so packed up and left – voila, no Bible study to attend so needing one for herself at home
5> Interested in other religions – thought that they all contain some truth and all lead to the same place
6> Not sure where that place is or what it is really called but it is for everyone
7> She thinks she has a good grip on the truths of the Bible and believes she now needs to be studying theology and maybe attending a seminary or a university where theology is taught
8> She is thinking of studying theology at home but can’t find a good book – I suggested R.T. Kendall’s “Understanding Theology” Volumes 1, 2 and 3.
9> She does not like most books in print by major authors because after you have read their first book almost all the others they publish are a disappointment and contain either repeated material or simply lack substance (Ah! Something we can agree on)
10> She is attending a Lutheran Church that belongs to the Synod that does not ordain women
11> She knows there are basically two Synods – one believing in being born again and one that is liberal and does not believe this … and did not elaborate any further
12> She knew the word “evangelical” and applied it to the branch that she was not attending in the Lutheran systems
13> She was aware of other denominations and believed they were all good – Anglican, Roman Catholic, Baptist … but had some harsh statements and observations about Pentecostals and speaking in tongues
14> I could go on but you get the picture…

All through this I was trying to talk to her about her relationship or non-relationship with Jesus. I was trying to steer the conversation gently towards salvation and the need to have an encounter with the living God and have your sins forgiven. I am decent at doing that as I do it daily … no go, Joses!

It was imposible to direct this conversation. And the longer we spoke the more aggitated she became and the less control I had on the direction the conversation was heading. She was moving facial muscles, twiches becoming stronger, pushing glasses up on her nose, fiddling with her hair, moving her body back and forth, speaking faster and saying less … unless you were there you would not believe what I saw and experienced.

It quickly became evident that she just might have some company – say, a religious spirit or a spirit of tradition and it was becoming upset. I don’t say that lightly and I’m not one to go looking for demons behind every bush or under theatre chairs.

I eventually simply had to walk away as I had a coffee appointment on the opposite end of the city and, in my estimation, this encounter was not going to go anywhere except around and around and around and around and around…

I ended the conversation and walked away. I always think through my encounters later in the day to see what I could have done differently or what I would do next time I found myself in this type of situation … I am hungry to learn from these encounters.

Still working on the list…

Touching Base or Touching Hearts

I thought that I was finished for the day. Day’s work was done! I had spent a great deal of yesterday talking to non-believers inbetween appointments with members of the Church I help to lead. So, today I was simply going to touch base with several businesses that I go into several times a month. You know, drop in and if they were not busy offer to buy the office staff a coffee and then have a 20 minutes – at the most half hour – chat and move on. One business especially as the owner has just had two weeks in Chicago and Winnipeg on holidays and I wanted to show that I remembered and cared -He got back this morning for his first post-holiday day in the office.

Went just as planned. Better than planned. Much better than yesterday. More on that in another blog. I even had the opportunity after one conversation – before leaving the store – to buy some basics to go towards making my supper (I have been a bachelor for a week as my wife is in the north visiting with family).

I rush home to walk the dog – and as I’m leaving the front yard a white van pulls up AND STOPS. Nope, not the police. It is a neighbour from a few houses down the lane (around the corner on the next street but we connect from the back end of our homs on a connecting laneway). Normally a few words of “Hi, how are you?” or “Nice day!” or “That was some game last night” with me hoping I reference the right game (I watched the Chicago Cubs play baseball – research for a December trip to Chicago).

Today – not the case. He needed to talk. He has no idea what I do for a living … He and his wife had recently gone to Casino Regina for breakfast (news to me that they were open that early) and she had stayed afterwards to gamble a bit … He went home to clean up and work around the house. Got a call within the hour that his wife had fallen – within 24 hous she was dead. Brain anorism … no warning that it was coming. Fine one morning having a breakfast out and dead before the sun rose the next morning.

Needless to say it was a long chat … and the dog was really great – he just sat in the middle of the road next to me patiently waiting for me to get on with important business – his walk and bathroom break.

It really brought focus back to my day – no, two days. I had tried to share the gospel numerous times with a number of people over the last 48 hours and was feeling slightly down about things. I had made some good contacts and kept in touch with several others I have been working with – building relationships for a fair length of time. But, none of them had “heart” if you know what I mean. Yes, started some new relationships. Yes, kept older one moving along in the right direction. But it all lacked heart, substance, feeling, gut, meaningful discussion, depth … it was just conversation.

Then standing in the middle of the street in the 5 p.m. traffic I actually had an opportunity to really enter a man’s life in a time of need and loss. He talked and I listened. I talked and he listened. His wife was only in her mid-50’s and so this was totally unexpected. Death usually is. No, they had not prepared themselves for this eventuality. No, they did not have an active faith or involvement in a local church. No, they did not have an understanding of life after death. Yes, they knew the right religious phrases and the basic concepts of religion – but did not know the life-giving message of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

No, I did not share the gospel with him earlier tonight. It was not the time for that. It was time to talk about memories, pain (still very fresh), should the house be sold, why didn’t we move out to the farm like we always wanted to (regret over lost opportunities) …

But, we see each other daily – and I think a good home-cooked meal (or my burnt offerings from the BBQ) – would be in order shortly. Then my wife and I can listen and in the quiet of our home – not in 5 p.m. traffic – share the gospel in a gentle way with a man whose wife most likely will not be in Heaven…

Now, yesterday’s encounter is another story…