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. 

2021 – Time to Plant a Tree

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”

And I would say that the best time to have told your friends and neighbours about Jesus was 20 years ago. The second nest time is now.

When I was first saved and born again there was a move of the Holy Spirit that was setting people and churches on fire for God. Back then (late 1970’s) you would hear things like this:

    • “Be on fire for Jesus!”
    • “Invite all your friends to Church!”
    • “Tell everyone you know about Jesus!”
    • “Change your school with the gospel!”
    • “Make Him know on and off the playing field!”
    • “Be a cry on the hill, different than others!”
    • “Be salt and light in your community!”

Fast forward a few years and you don’t hear those kinds of comments any more. The Great Commission to go into al the world and make disciples” is seldom taught on and few ever hear about it from the pulpit and church classrooms. Today you’ll be hard-pressed to find people in the pews who are sharing the gospel with their neighbours (if they even know them), who are changing their workplace for Christ, and who are using their talents to impact the city.

It seems that the older we get and the longer we have known Jesus, the safer we live. But Jesus never called us to live safe, secure, and comfortable lives. Safe faith isn’t biblical faith! It seems the longer we have known Jesus the less likely we are to tell our neighbours and friends about Him. 

Now, let’s comment on the fact that young people are leaving the Church. Those who are in the age group called the Millennials are leaving the Church in substantial numbers. Stay with me as these two different streams of thought are really one. I will link them up in a minute.

Research has found that 70 percent of young adults leave the church at or about the age of nineteen. I am often asked “why has the younger generation abandoned the Church?” My answer is that I think the older generation has abandoned the mission of reaching the lost. So, the Millennials see a Church that has no purpose and no vision or goal and thus leave it because to them that means the Church is irrelevant. 

Statistics also show that among Millennials the number of them sharing their faith on a regular basis is increasing. They no longer attend Church but they are still in love with Jesus and more determined than the Church to share Him with others.

These studies are basically saying there is a mass exodus of young people from the Church, but they are sharing their faith more than ever once they’re out. It’s as if they’re graduating from the Church but not necessarily abandoning the faith. It seems this younger generation see the need for this dark world to know Christ but does’t see the Church as a viable way to make that happen.

It seems that the young people share because they have nothing to lose. But the older we get the less we share Jesus because we have more to lose – reputation, position, income, wealth, authority, friendships. 

It’s a lot safer to just be a believer and not be a disciple maker. Then you can agree but not do. There’s less risk involved when we just agree with Jesus. We abandon the mission because it costs us too much — our time, our resources, and especially our convenience. 

Have you ever noticed that older people don’t usually have scabs? Think about it. Scabs are what you get when you’re young. You get them on the playground from running too fast, jumping too high, or playing too hard. But as you get older, you don’t attempt anything that could give you scabs. Because our bodies have more to lose if something goes wrong.

Again, it seems that the older you get the safer you live. It seems that this is true of our faith journey also. It seems we have restricted the fun and powerful glory days of our faith to our youth. 

Francis Chan once spoke about his frustration with this notion. Both of his parents passed away in their forties, so it taught him to number his days. He talked about how he never knows if this is his last day before meeting Jesus. But instead of letting this sobering reality paralyze him, he’s allowed it to ignite his faith. He said, “It just doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re close to seeing God, why are we living such a safe life? And what the heck are we saving for? We go backward in the church, where we do crazy things when you’re eighteen, and then we start to live safer and safer every year.”

So, no matter what age you are, consider this: if today truly was your last day, what would you do with it?

I can guarantee that whatever you’d do, it wouldn’t be safe. It would involve meaningful risk. Whether it was restoring a broken relationship, telling that loved one about Jesus, or fulfilling an item on your bucket list, it wouldn’t be safe.

Time to plant a tree … 

A New Year – A New Church?

At the end of the first week of 2021 I am thinking of all the new things we will be facing in the next 12 months. Things can change so quickly. I mean, who would have thought that we would be living through a worldwide pandemic in 2020? And, who could imagine how the pandemic would change our daily lives? And, did anyone think that we would still be living within the confines of the pandemic almost 12 months later?

2020 was not an easy year. 2021 has started with major restrictions because of the pandemic. And now we have been hearing of new strains of Covid that spread more rapidly and are moving from country to country around the world. We are living in uncertain times.

God’s people have often lived in uncertain times where the familiar was gone and their way of life was changing. In one such time God spoke through the prophet Isaiah (43:19) and said,

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. (NLT)

Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. (MSG)

I am doing something brand new, something unheard of. Even now it sprouts and grows and matures. Don’t you perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and open up flowing streams in the desert. (TPT)

I believe that God is taking this opportunity to bring massive changes to His Church. And, let’s admit it, the Church needs to change. A church built upon programs and personality is no longer working. If, in fact, it ever did work. A church that is simply a powerless sub-culture of the prevailing culture is not the church. God created the Church to be a counter-culture and to powerfully impact the culture like leaven in the loaf. So, in a season when we have been forced to “do Church” differently I believe God is bringing massive change to His Church if (and that is a big if) we will listen for His voice and watch for what He has already begun to do.

As The Message Version states… “Be alert, be present…” We need to be aware that change is already happening even if we don’t fully understand what is happening and how it is happening. And we need to be living in the present with an eye to the future and not living in the past, anchored to traditions.

As The Passion Translation states… “something brand new, something unheard of…” What God is doing right now – here and now – in His Church is something brand new. It is not an old idea recycled. It is not the same old, same old. It is something we have not heard of in the past. Something new (to us), better, exciting, challenging, dynamic, powerful, and of God.

And the question is valid: “Don’t you see it?” “Don’t you perceive it?” And the answer is ‘no’ if you are wanting the status quo. If you are safe, comfortable, and secure and want it to remain that way then you will not perceive it. You will not see it. But others who are dissatisfied with what is; those who have a holy discontent on the inside; those who ask “Is this all there is? Will perceive it and eventually see it. Because, as an older version states, “Behold” It’s here. It’s now. It’s real. Just let go of what you know as Church and grab hold of what Jesus is now doing. He is doing a new thing and many (including this author) have been speaking and writing about it for over a decade. But, it is happening now – in the midst of a continuing pandemic when so many things have changed … the Church is changing. Behold! Don’t miss it.

God is making a way where there is no way. He is showing us the way in the midst of a spiritually desolate time. A time when the Church has been wandering around in the wilderness having lost her way over the past hundred or so years.  Especially over the past 12 months. And many in the Church today will miss what He is planning and already doing because they are not looking for change, a challenge. They are comfortable and apparently feel secure in what is and don’t want to stretch for what could be.

But for those who are hungry and who are willing to step out in faith risking the familiar and the comfortable…. “Behold!  I am doing something brand new and totally different. Grab hold of it as it is a new and better way. My way. And you will be refreshed and will be refreshing like a stream or a river in the desert place.”

I for one am very excited. It is a tremendous time to be alive and a believer.

2021 – Living What You Believe – Part Three

We are looking at how we, as believers, can determine if we are living with integrity in 2021. In the past two days we have examined four elements of our life that need to be regularly examined and front and center in daily life if we are going to live life in a manner that lines up with what we believe as Christians. It would be good for you to examine your own lifestyle to see if your priorities are set within biblical parameters; to see if your focus is truly on the Kingdom. Remember, Jesus did say, “Seek first the Kingdom…”

1> Practice what you believe (Leaders: Practice what you preach)

2> Intimacy with Jesus is foundational and a serious priority

3> Love for the lost is essential

4> Passionate prayer unleashes power

Continuing on…

5> Biblical conviction keeps our vision clear

One of the quickest ways for a believer to see their integrity wane is to begin compromising their biblical beliefs. When a disciple of Jesus no longer holds to the Scriptures as the absolute truth of God’s Kingdom vision dies.

Nonbelievers will often disagree with Biblical Christians, but most will maintain a level of respect if we hold our convictions with grace-filled confidence. When born again believers are quick to apologize for the Bible, sand off the sharp edges of our doctrine, and adjust the teaching of the Word of God to accommodate the ever-changing norms of our culture, our integrity goes out the window. 

Jesus was clear that following Him would not be easy. If our goal is to fit in, get along and seem normal in this world, we are walking the wrong path. Integrity in the life of a believer means knowing, loving, and following the teachings of the Bible, even when it is awkward or downright painful.

6> Invite accountability and seek wise mentors

We all have blind spots. It is easy to deceive ourselves and get off track. When we have godly, strong, honest people in our lives who speak the truth (even when it hurts), we have a much greater chance of maintaining a life of integrity. 

Every believer should have a mentor and every believer should be mentoring or discipling a younger believer. In other words, every Timothy needs a Paul and every Paul needs a Timothy. Since just after I was born again and baptized in the Holy Spirit I was blessed with a powerful man of God as my mentor. He lived in the state of New York and I lived in Central Canada but we stayed in touch. This was pre-internet and email but he wrote letters almost on a weekly basis (remember snail mail?). And, during each calendar year he spent two different two week periods of time in my city during which we spent time together daily. This went on for 30 years. When he died I felt like an orphan. I immediately went searching for another man of integrity and experience who might be willing to mentor me and speak into my life. I found him and he is still speaking into both my personal life and my ministry.

Throughout my ministry I have always mentored (discipled) younger believers and those with a similar call of God on their life as exists on my life. Some of these young men have even travelled overseas with me over the past 20 years. 

In a world where integrity can seem old-fashioned and believers live life on the surface – often an inch deep and a mile wide – Christians are wise to look closely at their heart and lifestyle. Anything and everything we can do that leads to greater integrity will forward the work of the Gospel and bring honour to our Saviour. 

2021 – Living What You Believe – Part Two

Let’s continue with our look at living a life of integrity in 2021 as believers and followers of Jesus Christ. We saw last time:

1> Practice what you believe (Leaders: Practice what you preach)

2> Intimacy with Jesus is foundational and a serious priority

Too many leaders and followers in the church have become religious hypocrites. They go through the motions, doing only what is required of them by their local assembly – the bare essentials. They know the right words. But they have forsaken their first love (Revelation 2:4). Leaders can teach about Jesus but spend little time at His feet. And, people can call themselves believers and also spend little to no time with Him and yet claim to follow Him. We can tell others to follow Jesus while we wander away from Him.

For Christians, modelling integrity means we hunger to be in the presence of our Saviour. We long to become more like Jesus and live in ways that grow our faith. Every believer should pause and do a heart check: Am I really following Jesus and becoming more like Him – enjoying time in His presence and experiencing His peace – or am I simply doing my thing and covering a non-biblical lifestyle with a thin outer coating of “Christian”? 

If you are a church leader and on staff with a church or ministry you should also do a heart check: Have I become a church staff professional doing my job with no passion behind my ministry?

Everyone should ask themselves: Am I propelled into each day with a love for Jesus that guides and moves me?

When we love Jesus and it shows, people are drawn to Him. To live with integrity we need intimacy with the Lord on a daily basis.

3> Love the lost is essential

Jesus was a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). The religious leaders in His day were upset that sinners liked Jesus and He seemed to like them. Church leaders and believers in Jesus (disciples of Jesus) who avoid nonbelievers and spend all of their time with church folks can’t fulfill Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).  

Living with integrity calls us to live like Jesus, and sometimes that will mean making new friends and spending less time at church or fellowshipping with other believers. Christians understandably tend to gather with others who believe the same way that they do. However, we can then become narrow in our focus and neglect those who do not yet know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. And, we can also end up with a “we” and “they” mentality. This is simply not healthy. We need to find a place where we can hang out with nonbelievers and frequent it often so as to stay in touch with the real world out there and build relationships with those who live without hope. A gym, the baseball diamond, a hockey rink, a weekly card game…

4> Passionate prayer unleashes power

Systems, programs, and tricks of the trade will never bring lost sheep home to the Good Shepherd. The best worship services with the finest music and the most articulate gospel presentation are powerless if the Spirit of God is not present and at work. Only when God moves will people surrender their hearts to Jesus.

This is true as well in the life of a believer. If we are not praying passionately for the lost then we will not influence or impact the lost. We can befriend them without prayer but we cannot see them come into the Kingdom if our prayer is weak and inconsistent. And, if we simply neglect praying for those we know who are lost. Working to influence and win the lost without praying for the lost from a heart for the lost sucks and seriously lacks integrity. 

True power resides in the prayers of believers and the prayers of the corporate church when we weep for the lost and seek God’s face on behalf of those who are in spiritual darkness. We need to ask God for His heart for the lost. That prayer, when answered, will transform your life and witness and help you to live a life of integrity.

Prayer and the power of God are central to living lives that bear witness to the nonbeliever. And, as we live with a heart for the lost then we will obey Jesus and live with biblical integrity. 

Reaching into 2021

Tomorrow is a new year – the year of the Lord 2021. And I believe it will be a year when the Church sees some major changes as the Holy Spirit moves and reveals the next steps taking us back to the biblical model of the Church and church leadership. 

Many people who have never belonged to or attended a Church will find hope and comfort in joining the community of believers. They will be looking for somewhere to belong that brings them the peace and purpose they have not found elsewhere – especially during the uncertainty of the pandemic of 2020. They will not be believers but they are searching for community and connectedness. They want to belong.

As they join in the activities of the local assembly (fondly known as the church) they will feel loved, accepted, and forgiven. This will allow them to open their hearts to actually discover what it is that those who call themselves believers actually believe. In past decades this was the opposite way around. People would discover what the church believed and then join and belong. However, now the need for community surpasses the need to know the beliefs of the group. So, they now come to belong and in the process of being accepted discover what the local church believes.

So follow the train of thought here as we enter into 2021 and the major changes the Church in general will experience. People will join to experience hope belonging before they believe. However, belonging opens the door to believing. Once they believe and are born again and their heart has been touched by the Gospel of the Kingdom they can then be expected to adjust their life style and behave as a Christian, a disciple of Jesus. Careful, I didn’t say obey the rules and regulations or come under the rituals of the Church. As they walk with the Lord they will discover what the Lord wants them to change in the way they think, live, and relate. They will change behaviour and morals and ethics. They will adjust lifestyle and behaviours. Their perspective will be a kingdom perspective and no longer a worldly perspective. This will be a slow process and a journey of adjustment. However, belong becomes believe which then becomes behave.

As their behaviour changes they will become more and more like Jesus. He will mold them and “make them” as He promises to do. Of course, this assumes they are true disciples and thus following him. The faith journey is one of walking with Jesus through daily events in life and responding to Him as He guides and directs within those events and circumstances. Thus we become more and more like Him gradually changing behaviour, words, and actions as we become more like Him.

So we belong which enables us to come to faith and believe in Jesus Christ. As we change what we believe our behaviour changes and we behave more and more like Christ and less and less like the world. As we continue to follow Jesus as His disciple and we behave in accordance with the changes He is bringing about in our lives we become like Him. Then we can be a part of what He is doing and build the Kingdom and the Church with Him. 

Simple to understand not always simple to accomplish. But this is what we are called to daily throughout 2021 – Helping others to enter into the community of faith so that they can begin the journey by belonging with our help…

      • Belong
      • Believe
      • Behave
      • Become
      • Build

 

It Only Takes a Moment

Every day, we’re looking for meaning. You can see it in people’s eyes in the mall, in the products we buy and never use, in the books that crowd our shelves, in the clothes we purchase that never make us look like we dream. When we encounter the needs of the world, however, we realize we can be part of something more than an insatiable desire to consume. When we get over our pursuit of self, everything changes. The result is a feeling of being undone and this can happen in a moment. 

In each of our stories — somewhere in our journey with Jesus — there is a moment when all our priorities and concerns shift. For me it was my first trip overseas to the former Soviet Union many years ago. It was an experience of being ‘undone.’ Everything I believe came into question. Everything I had been taught was now being questioned. My safe and secure and comfortable Christian faith was beginning to be disassembled and, in fact, quickly torn down. 

In our individual ‘moment’ our identity begins to change. We sense a disparity between what its and what should be. We become dissatisfied with what we have even though we often don’t know what else to reach out for. This dissatisfaction is like a “divine discontent” that causes us to be willing to leave what is as we move towards what could be. And this discovery changes everything for us. It turns our lives upside down.

And, today, in the midst of COVID-19 people’s lives are being turned upside down. Not just in Tanzania, but also in Tacoma and Toronto. God it seems, is not only in the business of changing hearts in Budapest, but also in Boston. In reality this moment, this “turning things upside down” is more than a good idea. It is more than a new movement of the Holy Spirit. It is, quite possibly, the answer to life’s biggest question: What is the point of my life?

Most of us sense a nagging feeling when our souls are quiet and our minds are still. We know that something is wrong with the world and has been for a while. When this ‘moment’ happens, that feeling become uncomfortable and, at times, unbearable. We can no longer sit by and watch the world go to hell. We must engage, interact, and be part of the solution to the problems we sense. A part of the redemption. As a result we no longer ‘fit’ into the old world, the old way of doing things. We’ve seen too much, heard too much, lived to much, experienced too much. And we can’t go back to life as it was. To the ordinary. To our self-centered existence.

Make no mistake; this is hard. This ‘moment’ of awakening is not easy. Our culture is so individualistic and wired for success that we often miss the real point of life. We think it is about self-actualization, about being the best version of ourselves. It’s not. It’s about losing ourselves as we focus outward on the Kingdom and the lost, the least, and the last who need to hear about the King and His Kingdom. 

The journey of any true believer is one of unbecoming. “You must unlearn what you have learned,” Yoda reminds us. Anyone who isn’t willing to leave family and friends isn’t fit for the Kingdom of God, according to Jesus. We come to faith with a front, a mask, a self-assurance. As lawyers, politicians, secretaries, store clerks, teachers and writers, we come proud, as if we have something to offer. But we soon learn how little we have in and of ourselves. We must deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and walk in the way of humility, which feels a lot like death. As it turns out, this is the only way to be useful to the world and have an influence in the world for the Kingdom. As the Borg in Star Trek Voyager teaches us, “you can be assimilated” into a new way of life. However, this means that your old way of life must be broken. 

We are in a season of ‘moments.’ Don’t let your ‘moment’ pass you by. Respond to the feeling – the dissatisfaction – with what is. Reach for what is yet to be. It’s right here. And let the process of tearing down happen so that the building up may begin.

Jeremiah speaks to this:

“See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

We must allow this work to be accomplished in us first … tear down and uproot so that then God can plant and build. 

Cleaning Out the Clutter

We are called, as disciples, to “go into al the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). This includes going and staying. “Staying” in that “all the world” includes family, friends, and neighbours. “Going” in that there are over 6,000 people groups that have not heard the name of Jesus and are not aware of the gospel of the Kingdom.

To think about “going” and “staying” in terms of winning the lost and discipleship we need to grapple with decisions about our priorities and our focus in life in general. Even with a sincere desire to be radically obedient, it is not always easy to make decisions about what matters most. 

The Great Commission is a clear word of instruction. 

Matthew 28:18-20  “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

Jesus has told us frankly that obedience – and thus sharing the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission – is the result of our love for Him.

“If you love Me, you will obey Me” (John 14:15)

That God has a special concern for the lost is beyond debate. Even so, His special concern is not always our special concern, even as we are striving, in love, to be obedient!

Consider the priorities that inform our living and the decisions we make in daily life. Typically, those priorities are clearly reflected in our conversations and gatherings; our priorities are reflected by the way we use our time and money. To illustrate the struggle of determining priorities, imagine a group of believers in a regular, traditional church or even a house church. 

What occupies our attention? What are we most concerned about? What are the most frequent topics for discussion when we gather? What do churches care most about? What matters most to individual believers? What is the mission agenda of the church? Of the individuals believer? In other words, where do we place our focus?

Generally the conversation centers in and around the needs and the lives of the believers. Their current medical struggle. Their job. Their family members. Their current pressures and concerns. Their finances. Their upcoming vacations or business trips. At times, they might be concerned about issues the local church is facing. But those times are few unless you are in leadership and thus the issues are of “personal” importance to you.

Seldom will you hear believers talking about the non-believers they are building relationships with in the hope of, one day, sharing the gospel of the kingdom. Oh, they may mention the name of a person to pray for who is not saved but that is not the same as seeking prayer for your witness to that person and the relationship you are attempting to build with them. Unless led by a mission-minded leader you will seldom hear the conversation turn to those “people groups” who have yet to hear the gospel and won’t hear it unless someone is send – which means someone must go. 

So, our concerns are often not in line with the concerns of the Father nor the concerns of the Head of the Church, Jesus. 

Here is my point: We need to clear out the clutter of our own lives until the needs of the lost become and remain our primary focus. The lost need to hear, to understand, to believe the gospel, to be baptized, and then be gathered into house churches and discipled. Responding to the needs of the lost is our God-given task. As we obediently answer God’s command, nothing can be more important than the needs of the lost. So, we need to remove the “self” clutter and focus on the needs of the lost – especially the need to be born again.

The kingdom truth: The need for the lost to hear the good news always exceeds the needs of the believer and the local church. 

Words That Have Lost Their Meaning – Part Two

Another word that has lost its meaning is the word “missionary.” Missionary is not a Bible word, but it is a word that has come to define the response to Jesus’ command to go out with His message. A missionary or a missionary group is an individual, a family, or a team committed to proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. It is often a word used to describe a person who proclaims the gospel to people who have never heard and people who have little chance of hearing. Often workers who share their faith are required to learn other languages and cross cultures; often, that is required even in our home countries due to the diversity of nationalities and languages now present in almost every nation.

In reality, the word should not be used. However, often it is used in reference to a leader in the Bible who is actually in the role and calling of an apostle. Paul and Barnabas being two examples. Words that could be used in place of the word ‘missionary’ could include “worker,” “sent out ones,” or “overseas workers.”

However, truth be known the real word to be used should be “disciple” or “follower” because all true believers are called to “go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Going  out to proclaim the gospel does not make you a missionary. Nor does it make you a “worker.” It simply means you are being an obedient follower or disciple of Jesus. Could we call them “sent out ones?” Yes! Because the church was always meant to be apostolic. The word apostle means “the sent one.” So, when apostles are part of the ministry team and the foundation of the local church, then the church, under the leadership of an apostle, becomes apostolic. The people come to understand the need to “go into all the world” and so become apostolic (sent out ones) in their nature, in their thinking, and in their actions.

The root idea of “mission” is the sending activity of God. In one sense, certainly, Jesus sends His followers to their families and friends and neighbours. In a deeper and true biblical sense, Jesus ultimately sends His followers to proclaim His grace throughout the entire world.. starting in Jerusalem, through Judea, on to Samaria, and then to all the people groups, especially in places where His grace has not yet been proclaimed. Scripture is clear in helping us to understand that, in this sense, every believer is a sent out one. The command to be on mission is a command common to every follower of Jesus. It is a command to be both local and global. 

The word “pastor” is another word that has lost its original meaning and almost any meaning in today’s world. The word ‘pastor’ appears once in the New Testament and it is in regard to the fivefold, trans-local ministry of Ephesians 4:11-12.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

This ‘pastor’ travelled as did the other four of the fivefold ministry team. However, as soon as we hear that word today we do not think “trans-local” but local … the leader of a local church. This was never the plan in the early church as seen in the New Testament. It was also not the plan the Lord had when He stated He would build His Church. The local churches in the New Testament were all led by apostles … James as leader of Jerusalem is an example. The spiritual oversight of the local assembly was in the hands of a group of elders, not a solo pastor. The work was done by the saints as they were equipped by the fivefold ministers. So, there was no need for a local full-time, paid pastor nor a part-time bi-vocational pastor.

Let’s admit it… there are 59 “one another” versers in the New Testament and no one man or woman – no pastor – can fulfil all 59 of these commands for every person who is a member of the local assembly no matter how big or small the assembly is. So the five-fold pastor comes in to a local assembly and teaches the people how to care for “one another” and thus fulfill the 59 ‘one another’ commands. 

There are many other words that we use as believers that have lost their original meaning or all meaning … but these are the ones that really bother me personally and that, I believe, are preventing the Church from the needed changes that will take it in to an effective, fruitful, and productive future. 

Words That Have Lost Their Meaning – Part One

I recently spoke on a Saturday morning to a group of believers in Eastern Canada. Near the end of the morning of teaching I asked them if they were glad that they had come to church. Everyone said that they were glad to have invested the time. Of course, they did not come to Church; they are the church. They came to an assembly of believers in a building set aside for assemblies. We are the Church. God’s people are the Church.

It got me to thinking about how we use words that have really totally lost their original meaning and now refer to something other than what the word first referred to. And, that maybe it is time to, once again, redefine the words we frequently use as believers.

The Church is the called-out, baptized, gathered-together people of God. Church is defined by community-belonging, it acts on Jesus’ call to be people on mission, it will reproduce itself (which will result in both new believers and new communities of faith), it will finance itself, it will provide care and support for those who make up the church, and it will choose its own leaders and polity. The categories and activities highlighted in Acts 2 are a helpful guide: a church will be committed to worship (usually inside of homes), and missions which lead to a fulfilling of the Great Commission from across the street to the ends of the earth. The Church includes fellowship, education, equipping and strengthening the believers for ministry, and a lifestyle of discipleship which is an interchangeable term with evangelism. When did Jesus disciple His disciples and when did He evangelize them?

Because I work with house churches in a number of nations …A house church is typically a small body of ten to thirty believers who meet together in homes. Organization of house churches can vary significantly, but leadership is normally fluid and adaptable. When a house church grows to a certain size, it will typically divide into smaller groups (thus multiplying and planting another house church). House churches were the norm in New Testament times, and they are the norm in many settings today. 

The issue I see with house churches is that when a house church is birthed or joined by  a number of traditional Christians from mainline denominations they really expect the house church to simply being a smaller version of the traditional congregation that they recently left. Thus they expect all of the elements of the traditional church service including having a “pastor / teacher” who shares a teaching / sermon each time they meet. This is not a true biblical house church. 

With churches in general – both those that meet in larger buildings and those that meet in homes – I think we have a major problem. We seldom see the Church functioning as it should be. Most churches are not “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). They are teaching believers but it is simply more information to be remembered in the head and does not touch the heart. Thus there is just information and not life-transformation. Believer’s lives are not being changed. People are not being equipped for ministry – enabling them to better touch the hearts and lives of others who do not know the Lord. The ministry is not shared equally among the many but is the work of just a few – who are often seminary trained. And, in leadership, there is simply the ministry of the “pastor” and not the fivefold ministry – thus not the full ministry of the Lord who was an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a paster (Great Shepherd) and teacher. 

So, words like “Church” and “House Church” can mean so many different things depending on who is speaking and who is listening. I believe it is time to define the words that we are using. And, to define them biblically. Then to make the changes necessary to come into line with the true meaning of the word “Church” and other words that we use regularly. 

That would be a first good step to actually becoming all that the Lord wants us to be. 

More next time…