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.

The Tradition Keepers – Part Three

We are called to “guard our hearts” and no set of official commandments from the Lord or man-made rules from religious authorities will enable us to do that. The commands and the rules help us to have right behaviour and provide a standard to live by or, at least, live up to. But, all of that is on the outside and the heart is an inside issue. But, please note once again, that the inside “heart issues” are really the source of the outside behaviours. An understanding that seems to be have been lost in the Church and in the lives of believers today.

Jesus’ words inspired by the Holy Spirit stated … “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:18-20).

There are four primary enemies of the heart — four life-blocking agents that become lodged in the heart, poisoning our relationships, our faith, and our character. We could spend days discussing these. But let’s just list them so that you are aware of what they are. These four damage the heart and result in the  ungodly behaviours contained in Jesus astonishing comments. These four enemies of the heart are what we need to be guarding against. They are: Guilt, Anger, Greed, and Jealousy. As I said – the topic of a book in itself.

So how do we “guard” or protect the heart? Again, the topic for a whole book. But, I would suggest the root of “guarding your heart” is to first give your whole heart to the Lord. When we are truly born again we encounter Jesus as more than Saviour from our sins. He is more than our friend. He is more than our new “crisis management expert.” He is Lord. And, we need to make Him Lord. This means selling out totally to Him. Recognizing that He purchased us back from the devil by His death on the Cross of Calvary. He owns us. And we are no longer our own. As Paul writes, “it is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives His life through me.” This selling out and truly understanding that Jesus is Lord —and personally accepting Jesus as YOUR Lord — is the starting point of being transformed, receiving a new heart, and beginning a new life “in Christ” as a ‘new creature.’

Then, He helps us to guard our new heart. His Spirit living in us helps us to deal with the issues that have wounded our heart before we met Jesus and brings healing and freedom. As He does that, we work at truly knowing how to love the Lord God with “all your heart.” The more junk and baggage that we allow the Spirit to deal with the more of our heart is free to worship, serve, and love God. 

As this process continues (and it is a process or journey) we would do well to read through the New Testament (take a fresh copy and a different version so that you are free to see it with new eyes) and note the references to heart and, in particular, the need to guard it. For example, Luke 12:15 states (Jesus speaking): “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” As you read with fresh eyes and ears — heart eyes and ears — you will note an abundance of verses such as this one. Don’t just jot them down. Pray about them. Meditate on them. Think about them. Think about how they apply to you right now, right where you are. Deal with what the Lord reveals to you. This will free the heart up and heal the woundedness thus allowing you to truly love Him with your whole heart. 

So, it is not a matter of rules and more rules. It isn’t even a matter of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, and fasting (which can be just more rules and more tradition). These are all things that are on the outside and they do not defile you. Often we fall back into the “religious rut” and do our praying for an hour, reading three chapters of the Bible every day, and so on. Don’t be a tradition keeper. These things are just tools to help us in our journey and often we have turned them into rules. It is what is in your heart that is the real issue right now. Not all the external structure and routines that we fall back onto most times. Don’t become one of The Tradition Keepers.

As you move forward in this you will note that you are experiencing more and more freedom and feeling more spiritually alive and alert than ever before. That is great. So great. But, don’t let your guard down as there is so much more to experience. So, “guard your heart” and aim for the goal of loving the Lord your God with ALL your (healed and set free) heart.

The Tradition Keepers – Part Two

As I mentioned last time – the implications of Jesus’ words are huge and life-changing. You see, our tendency is to monitor our behaviour while pretty much ignoring our hearts. After all, how do you monitor your heart? Keeping an eye on your behaviour is easy. Besides, I have lots of help with that. I can’t get too far off base in my behaviour without somebody drawing it to my attention. But my heart? That seems a bit more complicated.

But if the items on Jesus’ list emanate from the heart (Matthew 15:19-20), then clearly we need a new monitoring strategy. After all, if we knew how to monitor our hearts, if we knew how to deal with trouble at its source, then perhaps we would see a marked improvement in our behaviour. Makes you wonder why no one ever taught us to do this.

Jesus wasn’t the first to point out the importance of the heart. Nearly a thousand years earlier, Solomon echoed Jesus’ concern when he wrote, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23 NASB). Here we are actually commanded to “watch over” or guard our hearts. The heart is the source.

Somehow, what’s in our hearts, good or bad, is eventually translated into words and deeds. That’s a bit crazy, I know. Especially since it’s so hard to know what’s going on in there. For example, when we hear or see something and suddenly we’re overwhelmed with emotion, we think, That really touched my heart. But we’re always surprised when it happens, aren’t we? Why? Perhaps because we’re so out of touch with our hearts. On the flip side, we’ve all seen and heard things that should have affected us emotionally , and … nothing. No response. And we wonder, What’s wrong with me? Why was everyone else impacted and I just stood there unmoved? Perhaps we have even been accused of being ‘hardhearted’ or having ‘a heart of stone.’ If you’re a guy, you may have even taken pride in the fact that your heart’s not easily moved. But is that a good thing? And is that even true?

The heart is such a mystery. In fact, one prophet asked of the heart, “Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Good question. The implication is, nobody. With which I really concur. And even if we do understand it, we certainly can’t control it — which is all the more reason we need to learn to monitor it. Like the seismic activity of a dormant volcano, what you don’t know can hurt you. If you’ve suffered the consequences from anything on Jesus’ from-the-heart list, you know that to be a fact.

Suddenly someone files for divorce.

Suddenly a kid’s grades drop and his attitude changes.

Suddenly a harmless pastime becomes a destructive habit.

Out of nowhere devastating words pierce the soul of an unsuspecting loved one.

We’ve all seen it, felt it, even caused it. Just as Jesus predicted, what originates in the secret place won’t always remain a secret. Eventually it finds its way into our homes, offices, and neighbourhoods.

Okay, so we’re all volcanoes waiting to erupt. Now what? How do we combat something we can’t even see? How do we guard — or maybe it would be more appropriate to say, guard against — our hearts? How do we monitor what’s going on in that secret place that has the potential to go public at any moment?

I’m glad you asked! 

Next time…

The Tradition Keepers – Part One

My parents had a set of rules by which we, as a family, lived. They were based loosely on the Ten Commandments. Sort of rules that help us to apply the rules. Some were well known and referenced often. Other were somewhat unspoken but recognized and upheld nonetheless. 

Mt parents were not the first to establish a secondary rule to keep someone from breaking a primary rule. Thousands of years ago certain religious leaders were making careers out of it. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, more than five hundred rules had been added to the laws handed down to Moses by God Himself. This ever-growing body of regulations was called “the Tradition of the Elders.” Its sole purpose was to prevent the Jewish population from accidentally breaking one of the original commandments. For example, the Law of Moses forbade commerce on the Sabbath; so they added a clause that forbade the handling of money on the Sabbath, thereby ensuring that no one would violate the original Sabbath law. Over time, the religious leaders had assigned to these traditions a status equal to the Law of Moses.

To the continued chagrin of the Pharisees and Sadducees – the self-appointed guardians of “the Traditions” – Jesus paid very little attention to their traditions. While He and His disciples observed the Mosaic Code, Jesus seemed to go out of His way to violate the man-made laws of the Jewish hierarchy. The religious authorities would often point to these infractions as evidence of His blatant disregard for the Law, thereby refuting His claim to be a spokesman for God.

Matthew records once such incident. Interestingly, the rule that got Jesus into hot water on this occasion was a rule we had around our house when I was growing up. He forgot — well, I guess Jesus never forgot anything. He decided not to wash His hands before He ate. And His disciples followed suit. This was troublesome to the Pharisees, just like it was to my mom.

According to the Tradition of the Elders, everybody was suppose to wash from the tips of their fingers all the way down to the elbows before partaking (there’s a neat church word) of food. Persnickety as it may seem, the Tradition of the Elders went to great lengths to explain how one should wash his hands before eating. Beyond basic hygiene, this rule was designated to keep people from accidentally becoming ceremonially unclean — that is, to keep a person from unintentionally putting the wrong thing, or something that had touched a wrong thing, into his or her body.

But washing your hands before a meal wasn’t required by the Law of Moses. Sure, it’s a good idea, but the rabbis had made it a standard for righteousness. Over time this rule had taken on the same significance in the Jewish community as the original laws handed down at Mount Sinai.

But Jesus ignored this rule and didn’t insist that His followers apply it either. Here’s how the whole thing went down as recorded in Matthew 15:1-20 (you can read the whole story ahead if you so which before moving on…)

“Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat (verses 1-2).

Clearly these guys needed something to do. Here they are, standing in the presence of a man who heals the sick and calms the seas with His words, and they’re in a tizzy over the fact that He doesn’t wash His hands before meals. 

Jesus answers their question with a question (which He often did).

“And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (verse 3)

He turns it right back around on them. The Pharisees accuse Him of ignoring the rules they’d tacked onto the Law. Jesus in turn accuses them of breaking God’s law in order to keep one of their tacked-on rules. Then before they can respond, He launches into a scathing mini-sermon. He doesn’t hold back. Calls ‘em hypocrites. He accuses them of nullifying the Word of God for the sake of their homemade traditions. It is brutal.

As soon as He finishes with the Pharisees, Jesus turns His attention to the disciples (who were probably busy high-fiving each other over the spectacle of seeing the religious referees beaten at their own game). He picks up on the cleanliness theme the Pharisees have introduced:

“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? (verse 17)

Now there’s an insight. What enters a person’s mouth will ultimately pass through the body and exit … I doubt anyone wrote that down, except Matthew. But now that He has their undivided attention, Jesus drives home His point.

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (verse 18).

His point? God isn’t nearly as concerned about what goes in our mouths as He is about what comes out of our mouth. God isn’t nearly as concerned about what goes into our bodies as what comes out of our bodies. This is new territory for the Jews; they were extremely cautious about what they put in their mouths. Now Jesus was saying that God was more offended by what came out than what went in. 

But it was this comment that must have gotten their attention: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” 

The heart? Everything that comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. Everything? Did He really mean that? At first glance, I’m inclined to disagree. Surely, not everything that comes out of my mouth originates in the heart?

If you’re like me, there have been plenty of times when you said stuff you didn’t really mean. Again, we’ve covered our mouths and muttered, “I don’t know where that came from!” But apparently, Jesus would respond, “I do. It came from within. It came from your heart.” 

But it gets worse.

Jesus goes on to say that the heart is responsible not only for our words but for our deeds as well.

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (verses 19-20).

Evil thoughts? I thought these originated in my …mind. If Jesus is right — and I’m betting He is — my mind isn’t the source of all my thoughts. It goes deeper than that. My evil thoughts originate in my heart. Take a look at the other items on His list. They are all actions, deeds, and behaviours. And they all come from the heart as well.

The implications of this are huge. More next time….

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. 

 

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. 

Act In Faith

Here is a truth to remember: You can’t play it safe and act in faith at the same time.

At a meeting of church leaders in the late 1700’s, a newly ordained minister stood to argue for the value of overseas missions. He was abruptly interrupted by an older minister who said, “Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.”

The reason that attitude is inconceivable today is largely due to the subsequent efforts of that young man, William Carey. Carey worked in various jobs to support his family while he continued to educate himself, even teaching himself New Testament Greek. In 1792 he organized a missionary society, and at the first gathering he preached a sermon with the call: ”Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Within a year, Carey, his family, and some like-minded daring people were on a ship headed for India.

In many ways, Carey was a catalyst for change, helping to inspire a big-thinking, risk-taking, faith-filled approach to modern missions. He served the rest of his life in India at a time where there was no modern travel or communication systems. He was a minister, a translator, social reformer and cultural anthropologist who founded the Serampore College and the Serampore University, the first degree-awarding university in India. Carey even translated the Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Marathi, Hindi, Assamese, and Sanskrit. He also translated parts of it into twenty-nine other languages and dialects. He helped educate horticulturists, which raised the quality and productivity of the nation’s agricultural industry. His life was a living, breathing example that big things happen when we expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.

Our tendency is to make decisions that we are comfortable with, to play it safe and do only what we feel is rational. But God has called us to acts of faith. We’re not meant to spend our lives as mere observes and spectators who hang out in the bleachers and offer commentary as world everts play out in front of us. We’re here to engage potential, explore possibilities, and act in faith. 

Scripture tells us, “we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39). If you’re a Jesus follower, this applies to everything God has for you. When you have challenges, setbacks, even failures and mess-ups, you are not meant to be like those who shrink back. No, you are meant to take on the challenge and push through resistance that tries to contain you.

God has something for you to do for Him and needs you to keep walking by faith. Remind yourself that big things happen when you act in faith. Keep going big. Keep believing in what you don’t see. Pray bold prayers. Your life story will be dramatically different with acts of faith. Doors will open that would otherwise stay closed. Relationships with like-minded people and God-assigned connections will happen that would have otherwise never happened. When you live out of faith and not in fear, you will accomplish more, experience greater fulfillment, and leave a lasting legacy. 

Rather than seeing a need, you may start to see the opportunity. Rather than just thinking, Why doesn’t someone do something?, You may find yourself saying, I’m going to do something. 

Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. You won’t regret it!

 

Playing It Safe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hate the Sin, Not the Sinner! WRONG!!

“Hate the sin, not the sinner” isn’t working. Honestly, I am not sure it ever did work. When hating the sins of others, people just simply don’t know how to separate the sinner from the sin. Let me encourage you to instead “Love the sinner, not the sin.”

Remove the word “hate” from your vocabulary, and start reflecting an image of Jesus that portrays Him differently than a man standing on a soapbox wielding a megaphone. I can’t ever recall a person who came to faith because of hate. Let’s start a movement of people who are willing to take hate out of the equation and love people regardless of their sins.

When Jesus called us to love one another, it wasn’t limited by guidelines or parameters. The commandment was simple and to the point: “A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35 NIV).

There are no regulations on who and when to love. Love is not ours to control, monitor, and divvy up. Love was never intended to be kept to ourselves. It was meant to be shared with anyone and everyone willing to accept it.

The idea of loving without limits may seem a little intimidating, but that’s the raw beauty of it. Sometimes loving people might not make sense, but it still makes a difference. 

There is a man named Emmanuel, who was part of the Rwanda genocide in 1994. As part of the Hutu majority, he assisted in the killings of nearly a million people, and one of those people was the husband of a Tutsi woman. Emmanuel later came to find shame in his actions, and he then asked for the forgiveness of the man’s wife. Not only did she express that God had already forgiven him for his actions, but that she did as well.

What reckless love was shown through the actions of this woman. Where the rest of the world might give her an excuse to eternally hate this man, she instead harnessed the love of God and offered a place of forgiveness and grace.

If anyone should be leading the way for love and compassion, it should be the followers of Love Himself – Jesus. When we begin to view people through the eyes of Jesus, we are less likely to see their flaws and more likely to see their need for love. 

All throughout Scripture we see Jesus loving people whom others deemed foul, broken, dirty, and unworthy. For us that may mean the homeless drunk guy, the prostitute hanging out downtown, the person in jail, the drug addict – even the convicted sex offender. People may criticize you for giving your time and attention to people who are ostracized or considered permanently broken. They may say it’s not safe, that they’re not worth your time, and that these people gave up the right to be treated well when they made their bad decisions. They said that to Jesus too. But while self-proclaimed followers of God sat back and criticized the openness of Jesus’ love for people, He called them out for their lack of it:

“And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:14-16 ESV)

Take note that even the Pharisees and other religious leaders are confused as to why Jesus is extending love to those who are sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and thieves. The love Jesus showed to these people was without boundaries or regulation. He was giving it all to people who might not even recognize Him as the Son of God. The beauty of this is that Jesus knew these people couldn’t offer Him anything in return, and yet He still embraced their friendship and presence.

Jesus’ response to the religious elite was nothing short of jaw-dropping: 

“And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17 ESV)

The sick, or the sinners, were the people who needed the most urgent shot of love. You probably have someone in mind right now who could be classified as one of “those who were sick.” Hey, it may even be you. But no matter the person or their beliefs, when you show them love, you show them the Spirit of Jesus Himself. 

Uber and Airbnb

Jesus had 5,000 people following Him, far away from their homes, without food, and with no clear idea of where they were heading. And yet they went anyway. They followed because that’s how badly they wanted to hear Him and learn from Him. This wasn’t a seeker-sensitive group. This group was hungry to learn more than they were hungry to eat.

But what is even more intriguing and inspiring is not what the masses do but what Jesus does when He gets His largest audience to hear His life-changing message. He doesn’t start a megachurch, He doesn’t create a conference, and He doesn’t launch a podcast. He preaches the Word of God, feeds the people physically, and then jumps in a boat with His disciples to sail away somewhere else!

What was He thinking? Most church leaders today would call that a wasted opportunity. Possibly even foolish. But not Jesus. Jesus was not using the same scorecard we use to measure our ministries.

Jesus saw His main ministry as discipling His chosen twelve. So, he left the multitude and went off to have quality and focused time with His disciples. We often see discipleship as a burden and something we don’t have time for because we are busy ministering. Jesus knew that faith a mile wide but only an inch deep could never compare with a few good men and women who were fully devoted to the cause. Most of us in ministry are focused on building an audience, but Jesus was committed to building an army. It’s far easier to build an event people attend than a culture people adhere to. 

John Wesley, one of my heroes, understood this when he said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, [they] alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”

John Wesley discipled young men reproducing himself so that these young men would buy into the cause of the Kingdom and multiply the work that he was doing. 

Jesus changed the world, even though He lived in only one tiny corner of it. He discipled people who discipled people who discipled people who discipled people, creating an unbroken chain that continues today all around the world.

The great thing about discipleship is that when we start making disciples, we stop relying on the church to feed us. Instead we start relying on the church to launch us. We move away from being a mere member and turn towards being devoted owners. We move from an audience mentality to an army mentality. This is not only what most people want (especially millennials); it’s what they need. It’s what we all need.

The irony is that the business world is doing a better job at this than the church is. Here’s what I mean.

Do you know what car company has more cars on a global scale than any other?

More cars across the world than Ford?

More cars across the world than Volkswagen?

More cars across the world than Toyota?

That company would be Uber.

Do you know what company rents more property globally than any other hotel chain?

More properties across the world than Hilton?

More properties across the world than Marriott?

And definitely more properties across the world than Motel 6?

That company would be Airbnb.

You know what’s brilliant about their strategies? The companies don’t own any of what makes them so powerful and successful. Uber’s platform has access to millions of cars globally, but they don’t own any of it. Their people do. Airbnb’s platform is disrupting the hotel industry, but they don’t own any property. Their people do.

These companies are benefiting from the perks of discipleship and multiplication. They haven’t just gained an audience off fans (like the charismatic leaders of churches). They have raised an army of owners and have thus decentralized leadership. What is beautiful about decentralized leadership structures is that they’re not dependent on their charismatic leader for survival. It’s the devoted contributors who are the real heart and soul of the operation. 

This is what discipleship is all about. Training. Growth of the person. Ownership! Decentralization! Multiplication! 

And in the process, taking a greater market share which is what Jesus meant when He said, “Occupy until I come.” Uber and Airbnb are doing what the Church should have been doing. But, it is never too late to adjust the way we do church and become biblical. It is time to tear down the church that man has built and allow Jesus to build His church, His way.