Focus On Your One Thing

As I get older I have been narrowing my focus bit-by-bit. At one time I had the energy, interest, and the time to jump in to a large number of things, learning as I went along. It was fun. It was exciting. It was fulfilling. And, much was accomplished and learned along the way. 

I learned a lot about God’s purpose for my life. I gained a Kingdom perspective – His perspective on life, ministry, and the world. I became away of His plan for the Kingdom, His Church, and my own life within the Kingdom and the Church. Once in a while, I got a glance at the prize the faithful will receive when all is said and done. But, only recently have I come to realize that there is one other thing that pulls all of these — purpose, perspective, plan, prize — together. To move forward in all of these, regardless of what season of life you are in, you must find your passion and then give your life to that one thing; the thing you are seriously and deeply passionate about.

An old Russian proverb puts it this way, “If you chase two rabbits, you’ll not catch either one.” So focus on one thing and then pursue it and don’t lose focus as life happens around you each day.

I like someone who has focus — someone who never loses focus, who runs to win (to quote Paul the apostle), whose life is defined by one thing. You see this kind of focus often in the Bible, because the writers of the Bible knew something about focusing on one thing.

      • David said, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD…” (Psalm 27:4).
      • Jesus said to the rich young ruler, ““You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (mark 10:21)
      • He told the distracted homemaker, Martha: “One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part” (Luke 10:42).
      • The man healed by Jesus said, “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
      • And the apostle Paul said, “I focus on this one thing” (Philippians 3:13)

The phrase one thing implies consecration  — a word meaning to dedicate yourself and your every day to the wonderful will of God.

At the core of Paul’s life was one motivating principle: he focused on Christ. He concentrated on his walk with Jesus. He said in effect, “Lord, Your will be done — today and every remaining day I have on earth. Not my will, but Yours be done!”

Kent Hughes (an author whose books I have read over the years) wrote:

“Single-mindedness, the ability to focus, to shut everything out when necessary, is the key to success in virtually every area of life. It is the essential ingredient of the manic virtue of basketball heroes Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, or the golf great Jack Nicklaus, or the creative musical genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

But here the focus is not a basketball rim, a flag fluttering on a distant green, or a musical score — it is Christ Himself and how to please Him. The single-minded disciple is in the world but he does not get ‘entangled’ in the world. He avoids anything that will hinder single-minded dedication to his Master.”

And the secret of a focused life? — Staying committed to your passion … to your one thing. 

The older I get the more narrow my focus. This is a good thing. I am putting all of my effort, time, energy, thought, work, and emotion into my now one thing … bringing the Church worldwide (yes, a big vision – why not, I have a big God) into biblical order and seeing the Church built according to the plan Jesus has for its construction as outlined in the Scriptures. There are many parts to this one vision, one task, one focus. But I am focused and am saying “no” to a lot of things that are good but that no longer fit into ’this one thing.’ 

In my life, and in yours as well, the passion for ‘this one thing’ will slowly pull together His purpose for you in this season of life, His perspective, His plan and His reward for you when it is all done. The key is to focus on this one thing and maintain the passion. 

Risk-Taker

Most of us think of risk as a negative situation we should avoid. But risk is a part of life, and it’s a big part of faith. Not every risk is worth taking, but if you’re too overwhelmed by fear to correctly assess a situation, you’ll miss many opportunities for growth, increased strength, deeper faith, and success.

Have you been playing it safe? Too safe? If forward is the direction you choose in your journey of faith, be prepared to take some faith-based risks. Being a follower and disciple of Christ in today’s world its not safe. And it isn’t intended to be.

In his 2002 book, Seizing Your Divine Moment, Erwin McManus wrote, “I want to reiterate the fact that the center of God’s will in not a safe place, but the most dangerous place in the world. God fears nothing and no one. God moves with intentionality and power. To live outside God’s will puts us in danger, but to live in His will makes us dangerous.”

Think of the people in Scripture who took great risks.

    • Moses wasn’t playing it safe when he returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh – Exodus 5:1
    • Gideon wasn’t playing it safe then he dismissed most of his army – Judges 7:7
    • David wasn’t playing it safe when he strode up to Goliath – 1 Samuel 17:31
    • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren’t playing it safe when they refused to bow to the image Nebuchadnezzar had erected in the Babylonian plains – Daniel 3:16-18
    • Esther wasn’t playing it safe when she put her life on the line to save her people, telling Mordecai, “If I perish, I perish” – Esther 4:1
    • Peter wasn’t playing it safe when he stepped out of the fishing boat to walk across the water to Jesus – Matthew 14:29
    • Paul wasn’t playing it safe when he preached to Governor Felix about “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” – Acts 24:25
    • The apostle John wasn’t playing it safe in his old age when he sent a book from Patmos filled with images of dragons, beasts, and coming days of wrath and judgment.

You can’t play it safe either. Not if you want to seize tomorrow and accomplish the dreams God places in your heart. You will need to be a risk taker.

The best example of a risk-taker in my mind is Caleb. We were speaking about him yesterday. Many people don’t know a great deal about Caleb, because he only occupies thirty verses in the Bible. But what verses they are! What a man of faith! He is a powerful and wonderful example of risk-taking, future-grabbing grace.

In the book of Numbers, Moses sent twelve men – Joshua, Caleb, and ten others — as an advance party to reconnoiter the Promised Land. These men left the safety of their encampment, forded the Jordon River, and slipped into Canaan. Their mission: to make notes of the land, observe the enemy, study the fortification, estimate the population, and bring back enough intelligence to aid Moses in planning the coming invasion of the land God had promised the Israelites. 

The Bible tells the story this way: “So they went up and explored the land from the wilderness of Zin … Going north, they passed through the Negev and arrived at Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai—all descendants of Anak—lived” (Numbers 13:21-22 NLT)

The city of Hebron had been the ancestral home of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now it was inhabited by an evil tribe of huge warriors known as the descendants of Anak. The sight of these warriors terrified some of the scouts.

The scouts quickly harvested some pomegranates and figs from the orchards of Canaan, and two of them lugged back an enormous cluster of grapes, carrying it on a pole between them. Imagine the excitement when the spies returned to Kadesh Barnea! Their mission had taken forty days, during which no one knew if they had survived or perished. Day after day, sentries on Israel’s parameters watched for them. Now that were back — all of them safe and sound.

But they were not united. Ten of the twelve had the fear of failure. The were not risk-takers.

Have you ever heard these names: Shammua, Shaphat, Igal, Palti, Gddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, and Geuel? No? These are the names of the ten spies who risked their lives on an espionage mission only to lose heart, doubt God’s power, and miss Good’s will (Numbers 13:4-15). They came back so discouraged they disheartened the people of Israel. And God determined that because they were not risk-takers and would not believe Him that they would not enter the Promised Land. In fact, they would all need to die in the wilderness before their decendants could cross the Jordan and take Canaan. All must die except Caleb and Joshua. 

Two of the spies had risked their lives to go into Canaan and report to the people what they had seen and encountered. Joshua and Caleb gave a positive report because they believed God when He said to Israel that this would be their land and they would defeat those who currently occupied the land. The other ten saw the same things but from a perspective of fear and not risk-taking and faith. 

Remember, Paul wrote to young Timothy and said, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

To be a risk-taker, stepping out in faith, we must remember that we do not need to fear. That God has given to us everything we need to fulfill His will for our lives. That we walk in Power, love, and have self-discipline. No matter what our age we need to overcome our hesitancy and defeat fear so we can carry on and fulfill the plan and purpose of God for our life.

He calls everyone of us to be risk-takers.  

Thirty Verses That Changed My Life

There are 31,102 verses in the English language Bible. Of all those verses there are thirty of them that changed my life in a very deep, foundational way. They were and are life-changing. And the older I get the louder they are speaking to me.

It is important to keep moving forward in our walk with the Lord. As a disciple there is no reverse or park – simply forward. And, each day we should be moving forward into greater intimacy with the Lord as well as pursuing – barreling forward – into the remainder of God’s will for our lives.

One of the Bible characters that encourage me to do just that as well as lending insight into how to do that is Caleb, a friend of Joshua and one of the two spies who came back from the Promised Land with a positive report as to what was there and how Israel would certainly be able to take the land as God had spoken to them to do. The story of Caleb’s life is told in thirty verses in the Bible. But six times in those verses we are given the secret of his forward motion and his risk-filled and risk-taking life as he pursued the plan and purpose of God for his life.

Numbers 14:24a “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully…”

Numbers 32:11b-12 “… they have not wholly followed me, none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the LORD.”

Deuteronomy 1:36 “… Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the LORD!”

Joshua 14:8b-9 “… I wholly followed the LORD my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.

Joshua 14:14 “Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the LORD, the God of Israel.”

Caleb wholly followed … wholly followed … wholly followed …. Wholly followed! But the time he was eighty-five most of his generation had given up hope and died. But Caleb still had a bright fire burning. He still wanted to risk his life on the greatest possible task God could give him.

Maybe, like me, you are in your mid-seventies. Or maybe you are just graduating from college and want to establish yourself in your career and all that comes with that – a car, a house, recognition, authority, power, wealth. Whatever your age and stage of life you are in — fulfillment will only come as you seek God and His Kingdom. Satisfaction will only be found as you discover God’s plan and purpose for your life and then pursue it with your whole heart as Caleb did. Yes, there will be challenges and setbacks … but take each step in faith knowing that God’s plan and purpose for your life is unfolding before you as you walk with Him into your divine destiny. And, keep walking with Him and pursuing your unique, God-given purpose with your whole heart no matter how how old you are or become …

What risk is God leading you to take as you go forward in your walk and journey with Him? His will for you is not earthly comfort but divine courage. Courage in the face of opposition. Courage in the face of cultural change. Courage when confronted with the unknown. Courage in the midst of a pandemic. God will never choose safety for us if it will cost significance. God created us to count, not to be counted.

This is your time to move forward, out of the safe zone and into the faith zone. 

Knowing and Experiencing God’s Love

With Covid-19 continuing now into its second year we are seeing more signs of people losing hope. The loss of hope around us today is rampant, and it’s lethal. It touches families all around the globe in ways hard to comprehend; and I believe it stems for a growing ignorance or even rejection of God’s love.

We need, even as believers, to revisit Romans 8: 38-39 which says, 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Consider the reasons for having hope packed into this passage. Not only is God real but He loves us. And not only does God love us, but nothing we might experience can separate us from His love. Country music singer Carrie Underwood commented on this passage: “I love all the commas in these verses — neither death, nor life, not angels, nor demons. It’s so powerful.”

The ten things Paul lists in these verses could each be a potential barrier between you and God. But Paul says, with absolute assurance, that none of them can separate you from God’s love.  That should bring us hope!

The powerful words in Romans 8 about God’s love are reinforced by a blessing Paul offers toward the end of that same book. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Take a moment to say that verse aloud but make one little change. Turn it into a prayer that’s personal to you: “Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may about in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

It might be good for you to pray those words aloud every morning, every noontime, and every evening until you know them by heart. That prayer can adjust your mindset in any given season of life, deepen your core convictions, and strengthen your belief. Might even permanently change your life.

I encourage you to make this a regular prayer — maybe for the next month or maybe for years to come: “Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may about in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God loves you and wants you to overflow with hope and optimism! Never forget that. Let that conviction dwell in the very core of your being.

In his book, The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the story of Edward Farrell, a man who decided to travel from his hometown of Detroit to visit Ireland, where he would celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday. Early on the morning of his uncle’s birthday, they went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. As the sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight into the breaking light. For twenty minutes they stood there is silence, and then his elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.

After catching up with him., Edward asked, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”

“Yes, lad,” the old man said, tears washing down his face. “You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me.”

In that moment Uncle Seamus experienced how much he was loved by his Father in Heaven, an overwhelming sense of joy flooded his heart. And he began to dance along the shoreline.

Have you ever had a moment like that? Have you ever awakened and said, “He really does love me”? Do you know what it means to overflow with hope and optimism? Paul, did, and you can too. Hope and optimism can become your habitual attitude because you have encountered and experienced the love that God has for you and as a result you live with tremendous hope. 

A Display of Raw Power

There is nothing quite as awe-inspiring as a display of raw power. If you have witnessed any of the following, especially in person, you know what I’m talking about:

    • With a deafening roar and a gush of flames, two rocket boosters release more than six million pounds of thrust, defying gravity and hurtling the space shuttle into orbit.
    • Muscles rippling and hooves flying, a thoroughbred horse sprints away from the pack in the homestretch to win the Kentucky Derby by three lengths.
    • A symphony orchestra charges through the pulse-pounding climax of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” complete with cannon fire and a sky full of fireworks.
    • Tons of strategically placed explosives detonate with such precision that a forty-story skyscraper of concrete and steel is reduced to rubble in seconds 

Breathless at sights and sounds of power like this, all we can utter is “wow!”

But our awe is short-lived, isn’t it. In less than two minutes, the flaming rocket boosters are spent and jettisoned. Crossing the finish line, the thoroughbred slows to a gallop then to a harmless trot. And once the condemned building collapses into a cloud of dust, the spectators go home. That’s the way it is: Most explosions of power cannot be maintained indefinitely. Other forces at work, such as gravity, friction, limited capacity, fatigue, etc., eventually tame the outburst, quiet the thunder, and cool the flames.

Sir Issac Newton, the famous seventeenth-century mathematician and physicist, discovered a law of motion that helps explain some of these realities. It’s called Newton’s first law of motion. The second part of this law states: “An object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

In other words, It it were not for fatigue, last year’s Kentucky Derby champion might be still racing around the track and Lance Armstrong could race his bike through the Alps twenty-four hours a day. The point is this: There are a lot of forces at work that can diminish, dissipate, deflect, detour, discourage, or destroy unleashed power.

Any forward motion will encounter resistance — including your forward motion. There simply haven’t been any great causes in history that didn’t struggle against opposition. They would not have been great movements otherwise.

So, today would be a good day to take stock….

      • Is there a real passion in your heart – a fire in your bones – for the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of that Kingdom?
      • Have you discovered God’s purpose for your life? The specific and unique purpose He has for you which, we must remember is built upon the generic purpose of all believers to “follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”?
      • Have you accepted that call upon your life to follow Him and do what He has called you to do regardless of the cost or the inconvenience?
      • Have you received His two promises made to all His disciples – His presence and His power?
        • If you have a deep, daily walk with Jesus where your level of intimacy is good and getting better … then you are experiencing His presence
        • If you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and have chosen to move in the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit … then you are experiencing and walking in His power

Good. Then now all you need is the boldness and courage to go on. To move forward as an irresistible force in life and ministry. Take the first step. Step out in faith. You don’t need to understand all the ins and outs of what the Lord is asking you to do. You need to simply trust Him and take that first step in the direction He has called you to go. Leave the details to Him. If you will stand up and step out then He will show up and show off.

Mark 16:20 “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.”

There you see it … the disciples have just been told to take the world for Jesus — spread the Kingdom to every corner of the known world. They really had little to no clue how they were going to accomplish that. They were short on the details. And, now Jesus has ascended into Heaven and even He will no longer be available to help them or answer their many questions. But they stepped our in faith and He showed up – His presence and His power were there and event in their everyday lives. 

In spite of the circumstances and situations we are to trust Him, stand up and step out in faith. He will show up (presence) and back up His Word with miracles, signs, and wonders (power).

What is stopping you? It is time for true believers to stand up and step out and experience His presence and His lower. 

 

What is Your Dream?

Jan Koum was born into a Jewish family in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1976, during the Soviet era when anti-Semitism was rampant. There was no running water in their home, and his parents were seldom home together because of work. They assumed their phone was tapped, so they had limited contact with the world. Jan grew up with a constant feeling of being bugged and surveilled.

When he was sixteen, Jan and his mother immigrated to California. (His dad planned to come later but died before he could make the trip.) Jan’s mother found work as a babysitter, and Jan swept floors to help pay bills. When he got his first computer in high school he taught himself programming by buying used computer manuals. That skill led to a job as an internet security tester, and later he was hired by Yahoo.

One evening Jan visited the home of Alex Fishman, who often invited the local Russian speaking community to his home for pizza and movies. Forty or so people showed up, and that’s when Jan’s dream was born. He wanted a way for people to stay in touch without Big Brother listening — an encrypted phone app. Apps were a new thing, and Jan had bought his first iPhone and visited one of the first app stores a few months before. He wondered if an app could actually help people stay in touch around the world. He remembered the difficulty of communicating with his family in Ukraine and the expense involved. He also shuddered as he thought of being monitored. Koum began to envision an app that would safely connect people around the world.

He thought of the name WhatsApp because it sounded like “What’s Up.” Jan found some cheap cubicles in a converted warehouse and worked day and night, covering himself in blankets to stay warm. Instead of making money, he drained his bank account. This was during the great recession of 2009. Who launches a start-up in a downturn?

Still, Jan Koum and his partner from Yahoo days, Brian Acton, worked on. “We won’t stop until every single person on the planet has an affordable and reliable way to communicate with their friends and loved ones,” Jan promised.

When Jan Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook for $19.3 billion in 2014, he chose an unusual place to sign the papers: an old white building that used to house the social services office in the California town where Jan went to school. He and his mother had stood in line in front of that same building to collect food stamps.

When Jan Koum had nothing, he actually had the one thing many people never find: he had a dream (vision). Despite hardship, and against great odds, the vision of a better tomorrow drove him forward in life. That’s what a dream can do for you. All you need is a picture of what your tomorrow could be as you follow Christ. 

2021 – Passive or Passionate – Part Four 

We saw Jesus had some issues with the church of Laodicea …

1> The Laodicean church had compromised its faith

2> The Laodicean church was conceited

3> The Laodicean church was Christless (Revelation 3:20)

They were so focused on themselves and their so-called success that they didn’t notice who was missing from the assembly: Jesus. To spiritually lukewarm believers, it doesn’t matter if Jesus is present or not. They become so caught up with themselves and busy with their agenda that they carry on without Him. And when Jesus does come near, they won’t let Him warm their tepid hearts.

So we see that passion for God and His Kingdom must move from something we occasionally think about to something we embrace heart and soul. Sue Monk Kidd writes:  “I’m discovering that a spiritual journey is a lot like a poem., You don’t merely recite a poem or analyze it intellectually. You dance it, sing it, cry it, feel it on your skin and in your bones., You move with it and feel its caress. It falls on you like a teardrop or wraps around you like a smile. It lives in the heart and the body as well as the spirit and the head.”  

Churches fall into spiritual passivity the same way they lose their passion: one careless believer at a time. If the church today — yours and mine in particular — is going to be a passionate influence on our needy world, it will only happen as individual Christians like you and me throw off the conceit of this age and pursue whole-heartedly an intimate, passionate relationship with Jesus.

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England is the home of a large painting by artist Holman Hunt that is known the world over. This marvellous painting features the front of a neglected cottage. Thistles have grown up the front wall and grass cores the entry walk. Vines, weeds, and rusty hinges in the painting convey a sense that nobody cares about the cottage or its residents. The scene represents a neglected life, a heart where passion has long since cooled.

But standing at the door of this cottage is the kind King, Jesus Christ, holding a lantern from which the painting derives its title, “The Light of the World.” The lantern light casts a warm glow over the front of the run-down home. And with His upraised right hand, Christ is knocking on the door.

It is a painting of stark contrasts. King Jesus, resplendent in royal robes, bathed in the light of His own glory, seeks admittance to this humble home. The most intriguing aspect of the painting is the fact that there is no latch on Jesus’s side of the door. An early viewer of the painting approached the artist to point out the “mistake” of forgetting to put a latch on the door. Holman’s reply reflects the key to Christ’s gaining entrance into our lives: “No, it is not a mistake. The handle is on the inside. Only we can open the door and allow Christ to come in.”

How often have I seen Christians whose lives are represented by the neglected cottage of Holman Hunt’s famous painting. Where the fire of passion once filled the windows with the light of vibrant life, now only the dimness of passivity is evident. Once the pathway was packed firm and the grounds weeded and trimmed for the frequent, welcomed visitor, but now the threshold is rarely crossed. And the door that was always ajar in anticipation of the Master’s fellowship is now shut and locked from the inside against a friend who is now regarded as a stranger.

Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelations 3:20). The key to unlocking the door to passion in your life, not just for spiritual things but for every facet of life, is throwing open the door to your life to Jesus and inviting Him to enter. It is impossible to be passive in the presence of Passion Personified! 

If the vines of passivity are creeping up the walls of your life, if the path to your door is nearly impassable, if Jesus’s knock at your heart’s door has gone unanswered in recent days, I beg you to throw off your passivity. Open yourself once again so that passion rules. Allow the Light of the world to so fill your life that His warmth and brilliance flows out to others in darkness. A.W. Tozer said, “Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will. Refuse to be average or to surrender to the chill of your spiritual environment.”

If you have surrendered to passivity by allowing your passion for God and life to become lukewarm, you must heed the call Jesus issued to both the Ephesian and Laodicean churches: “Repent!” (Revelation 2:5; 3:19)

“Isn’t that something for non-Christians to do?” You may ask. Yes, and if you are still investigating the Christian life, you no doubt sense Christ gently knocking at the door of your life. He wants you to change your mind about Him by surrendering to His Lordship. But repentance is also something for Christians to do when the flame of passion inside has dwindled to a flicker or gone out. 

Repent. Change your mind. Don’t lock passion or the Passion Giver out of your life any longer. That door handle is on your side, and no one can fling the door wide open but you — just as no one can give you an amazing and abundant life but Jesus. He stands at the door and knocks … and knocks … and knocks. 

2021 – Passive or Passionate – Part Three

This is part three in a series…

Losing our first love is another way of saying we have lost our passion. And the way the church at large — or any local church like yours or mine — loses its passion is by individual Christians becoming passive about devotion to Christ. A passionate life is not about doing great things for God apart from knowing and loving God intimately. You can serve tirelessly on every committee and ministry team, and faithfully attend every function of the church. But without the fire of passion for Jesus burning within you, you won’t accomplish much more than the space shuttle under butane power. We must say with St. John of the Cross:

Forever at this door

I gave my heart and soul.

My fortune too. 

I’ve no flock anymore,

No other words in view.

My occupation: love. It’s all I do.

Let me state the problem with the church in Laodicea up-front: When God finds apostasy in the church. He is unhappy. But when God finds passivity in the church, He is angry. Passivity is unacceptable.

Laodicea was perhaps the wealthiest city in the Roman province of Asia Minor in the first century. The money had gone to their head and dampened their heart. The church had once been soulful, passionate, and wide open. Paul mentioned the Laodicean believers several times in his letter to the church at Colossae, encouraging the Colossians to share his letter with the church at Laodicea (see Colossians 4:12-16).

Despite Laodicea’s material prosperity, the city lacked one important thing: an adequate water supply. They had to run a pipeline from nearby Hierapolis to obtain hot water from the mineral hot springs, and they piped in cold water from the springs in neighbouring Colossae. But since the pipelines were built above ground and not insulated, the water the Laodiceans received was neither fully hot nor fully cold, but lukewarm.

Hot mineral water is good for bathing and gargling. Cool spring water is good for quenching a blazing thirst. But lukewarm water is neither refreshing nor therapeutic. The lukewarm water of Laodicea became a picture of the passive faith of the church there. Jesus said, “You’re not cold, you’re not hot — far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit” (Revelation 3:16 MSG).

Jesus had three problems with the church at Laodicea, all of which grew out of its lack of passion for Christ.

1> The Laodicean Church had compromised its faith (see Revelation 3:15-16)

The Christian life is supposed to be hot, passionate, and fervent — not tepid. Apollos taught the Scriptures in Ephesus with great energy and excitement (see Acts 18:25). The word used in that verse is fervent, defined as “showing passionate enthusiasm” or “glowing hot.” Paul urged us to be “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). James called us to “effective, fervent prayer” (James 5:16). And Peter states that we are to have “fervent love for one another (1 Peter 4:8).

Does your faith have passionate enthusiasm? Is it glowingly hot?

2> The Laodicean church was conceited.

This church boasted “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17). Jesus disagreed, stating that the church was oblivious to being “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Verse 17).

Conceit can’t see the faults in its own character, but Jesus can see them. Laodicea was wealthy, but the church was spiritually destitute. The city boasted of its textile business, but the church was spiritually naked. And though Laodicea was famous for its eye medicine, the church was blind.

More next time…

2021 – Passive or Passionate – Part Two

In the first century, Ephesus was the most prominent city in the Roman province of Asia. The city held one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Temple of Artemis, a magnificent structure built in honour of the Roman goddess of fertility. But by the end of the first century when the book of Revelation was written, Ephesus was in decline. And new religions, Christianity among them, were competing for the attention of its citizens. Ephesus was a city whose passion had flickered and died.,

The church followed the city’s lead. The flaming fellowship was now reduced to dying embers. Where does the passion go when it leaks out?

We can’t say that the church at Ephesus lacked dedication. Jesus opened His message to them with these words: “I know your works, your labour” (Revelation 2:2). They were active and busy, and Jesus commended them for it. The word labour implies working to the point of exhaustion. There were apparently many in the church who were so busy in the service of the church that they were worn out. They were dedicated to building the church in Ephesus and making an impact on the city.

Nor was there a problem with a lack of determination. Jesus also commended them for their patience in service (verse 2) and in suffering (verse 3). Acts 19 tells about the persecution that came upon the believers in Ephesus from those who rose up against them. The silversmiths union, which profited from selling silver statues of the goddess Diana, was not happy with the anti-idolatry message of the Christians. The clash escalated into a riot. But the Christians there persevered in their determination to make a difference.

This kind of determination in suffering reminds me of a wonderful statement by the great nineteenth-century London preacher, Charles Spurgeon:

Pray God to send a few more men with what the Americans call ‘grit’ in them; men, who when they know a thing to be right, will not turn away, or turn aside, or stop; men who will persevere all the more because there are difficulties to meet and foes to encounter; who stand all the more true to their Master because they are opposed; who, the more they are thrust into the fire, the hotter they become, who just like the bow, the further the string is drawn, the more powerful it sends forth arrows, and so the more they are trodden upon, the more mighty they come in the cause of truth against error.”

Determination to hang in there seems to have been present in the Ephesian church. 

We also know that the problem in the church at Ephesus wasn’t a lack of discipline or discernment. In fact, the twenty-first-century church would do well to imitate the church discipline practiced by the Ephesian believers. They did not allow evil to spring up in their midst and bear fruit, and Jesus commended them for their discipline. They “tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (verse 3). It was not uncommon for apostle wanna-bes to circulate through first-century churches, looking for hospitality and a place to exercise their self-appointed authority. This church grilled the visitors on their theology and practice and sent them packing if they didn’t measure up. 

So what was the problem at Ephesus? Today, if we described a church as dedicated, determined, discerning, and disciplined, we would be talking about a church with some notoriety. And that’s the root of the problem. Despite all the Ephesian Christians had going for them, Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (verse 4). In less than a century, the church at Ephesus had moved from faith to formalism. In all their busyness they had lost their passion for Jesus. They were so involved in keeping up the religious practices of the church that they had become passive in their devotion to the Head of the Church. 

I see the same thing happening today. There are churches in every city and town with new ones springing up on a regular basis – being planted by believers who are out seeking and saving the lost. But we need to ask, what real effect are we having? We are making an impact to some degree – people are being saved on occasion. And, I would hate to imagine what any given country would look and act like if the church were not there. But are we having the level of impact that we could? Are we turning our society upside down the way Jesus and His disciples did theirs? I don’t think so. And in my view, it’s because we are more in love with the church and our ministry than with the Lord of the church. We have moved from faith to formalism. We have lost our first love. 

Losing our first love is another way of saying that we have lost our passion. 

More next time.

 

 

2021 – Passive or Passionate – Part One

Killer Dana was the most notorious wave in California. When it was really ripping and roaring, the best surfers in the world gave it plenty of distance. Legendary surfers knew that given the traditional techniques of their sport, that wave was more than they could handle.

Then came a teenager to prove them wrong.

In 1953, a boy named Phil Edwards paddle out toward Killer Dana beside the best surfers in the business, and people gasped. Was this kid crazy? He wouldn’t last three minutes against the tightest wave the West Coast had to offer.

But Edwards came right at Killer Dana behind amazing, award-winning suffers and shocked the rest of his party of suffers by cutting back into the foam. The rest of the surfers were riding their boards back to the shore – after all, that’s how it was usually done. But Edwards challenged the wave with a style and artistry that gave birth to a whole new sport: performance surfing. He quickly became the great superstar of the sport, just at the time when surfing came into its own in the popular imagination through movies, Beach Boys songs, and California culture.

Edwards was unimpressed with the crowds. “There are uncounted millions of people who now go through life without any sort of real, vibrant kick,” he said. He gave these people a name: “the legions of the unjazzed.”

He was talking about people who live their entire life without taking risks. “There is a need in all of us for controlled danger,” said the surfboard philosopher. Edwards believed that life is lived out where the foam is breaking, out where it’s easy to take a tumble and get a mouthful of salt water. In his lingo, to face that kind of excitement is to “be jazzed.” Even the best practitioners of his sport, in his view, were taking it easy, avoiding the risks.”

The passionate life, the life Jesus has called His followers to live, is about playing to our potential — giving it the best shot we have, even when the odds are against us, even when we’re weary, even when nobody else advises it. Passion pushes us forward as it did Phil Edwards. Athletes call this effort “leaving it all on the field.” But as we all know, sometimes a team doesn’t’t play to its potential. Sometimes an army doesn’t give its best fight. Sometimes we are all numbered among the legions of the unjazzed.

I’m talking about the sinister cancer of passivity that is so prevalent in the life of individual believers as well as the local church. This cancer slowly but inexorably squeezes the passion out of our life. I’m talking about how the adventure, excitement, and fulfillment we all crave is smothered by the wet blanket of apathy, indifference, and stoicism. The passionate life is one of activity, enthusiasm, and energy. Passivity shorts out all the circuits and leaves us bored and in a rut. Ferdinand Foch, marshal of France at the turn of the twentieth century, said, “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” Passivity snuffs out that vital inner blaze.

Passivity doesn’t only attack our spiritual life. It is just as easy to slip into a passive lifestyle in our relationships with family and friends, in our work, in our activities and ministries at church, and in our extracurricular activities. In fact, if these other areas of our life are marked by apathy, boredom and a Who cares? attitude , it’s a sure bet that the vitality of our relationship to Christ has dwindled to a simmer. Unleashing the power of a passionate life begins by defeating passivity in our heart towards God. 

In the book of Revelation, Jesus spoke pointedly to two groups of Christians whose once-fiery passion for God and for life in general had cooled to a mundane and ineffective existence. I believe the churches in Ephesus and Laodicea demonstrate two stages many of today’s churches and individual Christians go through in the decline from passion to passivity. 

More next time…