A Historic Jewel That Can Help Us With Prayer

practice-the-presencePrayer is our soul’s traffic way to heaven where God communicates to us and we to Him.  Prayer is as important to our spiritual life as breathing is to our natural life.  Prayer is like spiritual breathing.  This is why the Bible says to “pray without ceasing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:17 no matter what; pray all the time (never be finished with prayer). 

Probably one the best books every written about living in an ongoing daily awareness of God’s presence through prayer was a book titled “The Practice of the Presence of God” which was written in the 1600s by Brother Lawrence.

Brother Lawrence started out life as Nicholas Herman of Lorraine. He lived in France from 1610 to 1691.   He worked as a soldier and footman.  Later he decided he wanted to walk in a closer relationship with God and joined a monastic order called the Carmelites as a lay brother among them.  He was not a priest but just an ordinary man who wanted to walk closer to God.  This should be the testimony of every authentic Christian, “an ordinary man/woman who wanted to walk closer to God.”

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Lawrence worked in the kitchen as a cook for 15 years.  It wasn’t something that he necessarily wanted to do.  As a matter of fact he had an aversion to kitchen work.  But he decided to do it to the glory of God and cultivate a sense of God’s presence as he did.

The book is largely a compilation of letters.  It can be read, or listened to for free online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/lawrence/practice.

Arthur Wallis,  A movement of God will last as long as the Spirit of prayer that inspired it. Any claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit but our prayer life is unaffected is suspect.  The Holy Spirit is an intercessor.  His work in our life will be seen resulting in prayer.

Breath Prayers

One of the features of the book is his cultivation of a continual sense of God’s presence. Not only would Brother Lawrence anticipate his regular extended times of prayer in the mornings but he would also cultivate a habit of praying to God continually throughout the day.  He used the idea of “breath prayers” throughout the day, as many Christians have done for centuries.

Breath prayers are traced to ancient Eastern Christianity.  They were ways to help move towards ceaseless prayer (1 Thes 5:17). The breath prayer is a short, simple prayer you can speak in one breath .  Gregory of Sinai said, “One’s love of God should go before breathing.” The idea is to address God with the inhale, as though you were breathing God in. Then the petition you make is said on the exhale.  You choose a brief sentence or a simple phrase that can be repeated in one breath.  In doing so over the course of time you cultivated a sense of God’s presence throughout the day.

Lawrence describes this practice and how it cultivated a close relationship with God.  Thus by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I am come to a state wherin it would be a difficult for me not to think of God, as it was at first to accustom myself to it…As for my set hours of prayer, they are only a continuation of the same exercise.

Listen to some of his approaches to developing the habit of continual prayer.  It’s possible to accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with God, speaking to Him freely and in simplicity. We need only to recognize God intimately present with us and to address ourselves to Him every moment… God requires no great matters of us; a little remembrance of Him from time to time, a little adoration: sometimes to pray for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, and sometimes to return Him thanks for the favors He has given you and still gives you in the midst of your troubles, and to console yourself with Him the oftenest you can…. It is not necessary for being with God to be always at church; we may make an oratory of our heart, wherein to retire from time to time, to converse with Him in meekness, humility, and love. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God, some more, some less: He knows what we can do. Let us begin then; perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on our part.

He also addresses the issue of feeling God’s presence.  We pray continually not to feel God’s presence, but to cultivate a sense of focus upon Him.  The awareness of feeling God’s presence often follows but it shouldn’t be our aim.  We should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence, by continually conversing with Him…. In order to form a habit of conversing with God continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficult.

One key God has shown us to a fruitful life full of His purpose is taking root downward in His presence through prayer.

Isaiah 37:31 (1 Kings 19:31)  “The surviving remnant of the house of Judah will again take root downward and bear fruit upward.

John 15:4  “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.

The Practice of the Presence of God is a short book that I would encourage everyone to read or listen to.

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Upside down or Right side up

jesus-therapyLk 9:23-37 MSG…“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?… (Lk 14:26-27,33; Mt 10:24-40; Mt 16:24-25;  Mk 8:34-35).

Christians often attempt to twist the wondrous God of salvation history into the role of a divine therapist who aids the individual Christian in his or her personal quest for spiritual fulfillment and self-discovery.

Christians often attempt to twist the wondrous God of salvation history into the role of a divine therapist who aids the individual Christian in his or her personal quest for spiritual fulfillment and self-discovery. In doing so we have reduced the sweeping biblical narrative of “God redeeming for himself a people” (God’s family Tit 2:14-15) through whom He demonstrates His glory as they walk together (Eph 1:22-23, 3:10-11), to little more than “receiving Jesus into my heart as a personal savior.” Little wonder that we so casually take our personal savior from relationship to relationship, marriage to marriage, and church to church, desperately hoping that we can somehow improve our quality of life by escaping the immediate pain which often clouds the very redemptive relationships that God has placed us in.

We often want a just my size God, fluffy and approachable who doesn’t care about His own commandments.  Surely these were mere suggestions that served some other purpose for some other day.  After all, He understands our weaknesses and only wants us to be happy. Those commandments and our obligation to them are surely eclipsed by His unconditional love for us and His desire for our self fulfillment.  Sounds logical and therapeutic but that doesn’t mean these ideas are right.  We must keep in mind that while God “made us into His image” (Gen 1:26-28) we should not attempt to make Him into ours.

I grew up in the 60s and finished High School and College in the 80s.  Near the end of it I gave my life to Christ but before that I lived with the current philosophies of the day. Because I had a lot of training in Psychology I was very familiar with the thoughts behind many of them.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Hierarchy of needsOne of the philosophies that had taken hold of culture (and continues to do so) was put forth by Abraham Maslow called “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”  He began to develop it in the late 50’s and by the time of his death in 1970 it had become a cornerstone of the anti establishment 60s and self-help culture of the 70-80s. It continues to fuel the narcissistic culture of today. Unfortunately, like many cultural philosophies, it was and is often embraced by Christians.

His theory was attractive.  Instead of the determinism (do your duty based on what life brings your way) of the previous centuries that fought 2 world wars and suffered a worldwide depression, it offered a new sense of freedom.  The previous generation’s life was in many ways “determined” by intense sacrifices and fulfilling duty and responsibility.

Maslow’s theories offered freedom from that bondage of duty and responsibility.  You could grow past those motivations to what he called “Self-actualization.”  Self-actualization is achieved when you are able step into fulfilling the highest expression of you (expressing your individual talents, gifts, and desires that give you a sense of harmony with the universe).  In other words you fulfill you “self-destiny.”  I think it is ironic that it is very similar to what many eastern religions call “nirvana” which is an “ultimate experience of some pleasurable emotion of harmony and joy in your life.

I remember working in a University book store in the early 80s and the growing self-help section of books were filled with different angles of Maslow’s basic premises.  They offered all kinds of advice, help, and techniques to help achieve personal fulfillment.  Now 38 years later we see fruit of many of those ideas that have lead to the breakdown of important areas of life and culture.

Famous feminist Gloria Steinem released a book about her life journey called “Mygloria-steinem-book-dedication life on the road.” While I probably won’t read it I did read the opening dedication to Dr. John Sharp of London who helped her end the life of her child through abortion.

 “Dr. John Sharp of London, who in 1957, a decade before positions in England could legally perform an abortion for any reason other than the health of the woman, took the considerable risk of referring for an abortion a 22-year-old American on her way to India. Knowing only that she had broken and engagement at home to seek and unknown fate, he said, “you must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.” Dear Dr. Sharp, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death: I’ve done the best I could with my life. This book is for you.

 “You will do what you want to do with your life.”  Sounds pretty Maslowish.  As I read it I wondered how many children were prevented  from coming in the earth due to this idea?  How many children grew up with absent or nonexistent parents due to this idea?  How many men and women have undergone the pain and abandonment by a spouse or “partner” due to this idea?  How many children have grown up in foster care, like a dear friend who lives with us now, because one or both parents pursued this idea?

I am not just thinking about unbelievers here.  How many Christians have embraced this idea to the detriment of their own families or the family of God?  I remember a relative of a young disciple years ago who gave her advice at her at her graduation, “you just have to do what’s right for you.”  Unfortunately in following this advice she has struggled through a series of bad relationships that has cost her and now her child is paying the price.  A narcissistic pursuit of self fulfillment will always end up working to destroy the most valuable/eternal things in life, relationship with God and people He places in our life.   

Jesus’ Design turns Maslow’s upside down and right side up

Christian MaslowIf we are followers of Christ we need to heed His call.  His destiny isn’t rooted in some sort of Maslowian crapshoot leading to personal fulfillment.  It is about following Him and letting Him lead.  It is about valuing what He values and giving our lives to that end.  Contrary to avoiding sacrifice and responsibility that would seem to limit freedom, it is through those things He guides our lives and works His will in us.  As we follow His design we end up finding the fulfillment and freedom we all wanted in the first place.  After all, He is the Creator and like any creator He knows how what He created works the best.  

 

 

 

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No Other Plan…so walk in it!

ErasmusThere was a story allegedly told by Erasmus, the famous Renaissance scholar and early church leader from Rotterdam, about the importance of God’s plan.  It was designed to emphasize how important it is that we take up the torch of Christ’s ministry with great commitment to love Jesus and His people, the church.  In the story, Jesus returns to heaven after his time on earth. The angels gather around him to learn all that happened during his days on earth. Jesus tells them of the miracles, his teachings, his death on the cross, and his resurrection. When He finished, the archangel Michael asked, ‘But Lord, what happens now?’ Jesus answered, ‘I have left behind eleven faithful men who will declare my message and express my love. These faithful men will establish and build my church. And that church will take my message, my life, to the world.’ ‘But,’ responded Michael, ‘What if they fail? What then?’ Jesus answered, ‘I have no other plan.”

Paul reveals the central feature of God’s plan in Ephesians

Eph 1:18-23  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling….22-23 MSG  He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church.  (23)  The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

When God’s people walk together with Him and each other according to His design they become a manifestation of His life and Kingdom on earth.  We are “Christ body, in which He speaks, and acts, by which He fills everything with His presence.” The church becomes the signpost to a watching world of Who and what the gospel of Jesus is.

When God’s people understand His calling it changes their whole approach to their life together.  They end up doing what Jesus said in Matthew 16:24-25,  Then Jesus said to his followers, “If any of you want to be my follower, you must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me.  (25)  Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for My cause will find true life.   

What was His cause, what is His will, He had already said it verse 18,  upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not stop it.   

God does not give us the choice of commitment to loving Jesus and His church.   Even when church programs are static, personalities are irritating, and hypocrisy is among them, the Bible doesn’t give us the choice of loving Jesus and not wanting anything to do with His bride. 1Jn 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

Don’t fall for the devil’s primitive way of dealing with problems

Civil war amputeesNot long ago my wife and I went to a display on the medical advances that happened as a result of the civil war at the Lincoln Historical site in Springfield IL.  What is often shocking when you look at medical care during the civil war was one of the main treatments for injury or infection.   They simply amputated the injured or infected limbs.

That was a large part of the display we witnessed.  It was shocking to see the photographs of all the people under care that had limbs cut off.  It showed doctors with their primitive saws out cutting off limbs.  This display also showed the later shots of military veterans at various celebrations who were missing limbs.  Their whole lives and their families were obviously affected by their relative having lost their limbs.civil war amputees 1

Over the 39 years I have been serving the Lord and participating with Him as He builds His church, I realized that our enemy influences God’s people to deal the same primitive way with injury or infection.

 

I have seen quite a bit of the primitive approach of amputation in the two institutions God created and ordained to carry His image, marriage and His church.

 

Ephesians 5:28-32  So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;  (29)  for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,  (30)  because we are members of His body.  (31)  FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.  (32)  This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.

With little vision worth sacrificing for, and God’s people being motivated by a consumer brand of Christianity, people treat injury and infection in the same primitive ways they did in the civil war.  Just remove the limbs from the body both in marriage and the church.

Some would say the immediate relief from the pain associated with the injury or infection was worth it, but there are long term consequences, especially if it was not directed by Jesus.  There is long term effects on their legacy.  How much better it would be if the people involved in marriage and church were committed enough to laying down their life for Jesus’ sake to work with Him (the Great Physician Lk 4:23) through the pain and infection.

Ephesians 4:1-3  Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,  (2)  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,  (3)  being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

 

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Spiritual Theater or a Spiritual Gym

Iwarfare.1up.qxdJohn 6:26-28 MSG Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. (27) “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.” (28) To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?”(29) Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”

Eventhough Jesus cared for people, healed them, and fed them He was never big on leaving them in some sort of consumer relationship.  The kind of authentic Christian life Jesus sacrificed to bring into existence is not living as a finicky spiritual consumer picking and choosing the best God deal at the lowest cost. It really is living a life consumed by Him (a people for His own possession).  Titus 2:13-14  looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,  (14)  who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

Not long ago the wife of popular leader stood in front of their large congregation on a Sunday morning and sent shock waves of controversy with a statement she made about serving God.

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?” (The congregation applauds.)

It triggered quite a bit of debate about this mentality that critics referred to as a propagation of cheap me centered Christianity. Even at the time the story was breaking it was hard to rectify God’s main goal of “God wants you to be happy because when you are happy that what makes God happy” with other headlines about Christians being martyred in Iraq and Syria.  Those losing their lives obviously didn’t get the message from the leader’s wife about God’s goal of happiness.   

Is church to be like a movie theater or a gym?

These types of issues bring up the whole idea of consumer Christianity versus the call to gym“make disciples (those who lay down their lives for His sake in order to follow Him) who obey everything Jesus commanded” (Mt 28:18-19).  When the goal of the Gospel and the church is about making us happy then “going to church” becomes more like going to the movies rather than going to the gym.  Why do we go to the movies?  Primarily to be entertained.  They even have movies that offer more entertainment and comfort with reclining chairs and bottomless appetizers.  You go there to watch with the goal of being entertained and happy.

We were never called to be watching stones but living stones actively working to see His house become what He intends her to be       1 Peter 2:1-4.


The gym on the other hand has different goals.  Ultimately happiness is part of those goals but it is a happiness that comes from becoming healthy.  You go there to be active, not to watch.  You sacrifice, sweat, and become uncomfortable, but those sacrifices ultimately cause health which in the end truly satisfies.

The most important issue for disciples is that they become like Jesus which leads to eternal happiness beginning now.  There is an exercising of faith that is part of the process.  In becoming like Jesus there is often a denial of selfish interest for a greater purpose, being with Him, and becoming like Him.  Paul says that was a main aim in Jesus’ death.   

2 Corinthians 5:14-17   For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;  (15)  and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf…(17)  Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

When churches appeal to consumer instincts in the way they practice church it sends mixed messages.  The highest good is being happy.  Following anything that would make us happy is never to be questioned. They can say God wants us to be like Jesus but the subtle message is only if you feel like it, it makes you happy, and it requires no self denial. This can present a relationship with Jesus that is really more of a no-obligation relationship.  You can have a relationship with Jesus as long as you feel like it … and if not, that’s totally okay. Come and go as you wish.

I remember a marketing campaign for multiple services that a church put forth in advertising it’s services, “Because Christians should have choices.”  I have seen other churches over the years launch marketing campaigns for their openings with letters, phone calls, and post cards appealing to this same consumerist nature. These things can be good in getting the word out about a new church.  The problem comes with the subtle but often clear message, we will give you what you want.  One church offered, “energetic music with fresh hot Starbucks coffee waiting for you at the front door!”

God’s purpose through Christ isn’t about Christians as consumers getting what they want.  It is about God’s design and getting what we need that should reign supreme.

Consumerism turns the God of mercy into a god at our mercy who lives to satisfy our wants and desires.

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Trendy or Transcendent?

Christianity liteWe are called to advance God’s Kingdom.  We must identify the spirits of the age lest we become immersed in the culture and end up advance its agenda in the name of Christianity.   We are called to impact the culture not be impacted by it.  If we don’t see this distinction we will offer a form of “Christianity lite” in which we promote culture with a watered down version of Jesus.  If we are simply reflecting culture what is the point of our mission?

We are not called to offer a Christian version of culture to entertain people and get them to consume a cultural Christ.

We have already been discipled by culture as we grow up.  How about discipling the culture by the Kingdom and power of God? 

Salt and Light is Transcendent 

Mat 5:13-16 MKJV You are the salt of the earth,…(14) You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden… (16) Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.

God’s call upon His people revealed throughout the Bible can be summed up with the phrase, “God’s family of Spirit filled disciples together on God’s mission.”  A central feature of this call is being salt and light.  The idea of salt and light has to do with our contact and influence on the world. In Biblical times salt made an impact by being directly applied on something, like meat, in order to slow down the deterioration process. Salt had a way of impacting and preserving.

The idea of light, as a city set on a hill, spoke of the distinct culture that gave testimony of a different way of living (God’s way). In our case it is the culture of heaven (as revealed through God’s word) demonstrated through the church. In that day cities were places of distinct culture and life. In our day as individuals walk among God’s community there is encouragement and reinforcement of His ways.  This helps all of us stay on track with God and provides a collective witness of Heaven’s culture lived out on earth.

Trendiness without Transcendence

In an effort to be both salt (able to be rubbed on unbelieving humanity) and light the ideacool Jesus of trendiness comes up. A while back I read of a church in England that unveiled a bronze statue dubbed “Jesus in jeans” depicting Christ as a man of the 21st century. One of the local leaders was quoted as saying, “You are always looking for new ways to enrich people in the experience of Christianity and it is good people can be open-minded to appreciate it.” The good side of this argument is portraying Jesus and Christianity as relevant to the 21st century. Obviously if Jesus walked the earth in physical form today He would probably wear blue jeans at some point. This is part of the idea of incarnation which is God coming in the form of common man.

One thing we must be careful of however,  is that we chase the idea of being trendy while neglecting the real impact of Jesus and the power of God which leads to transcendence. Many churches and Christians seem to always look for the newest, coolest, most trendy approach that comes out. This is great and important as long as we do not lose sight of the real foundation of Christ and Christianity that affects culture summed up with the idea of transcendence.

The salt and light are in the alternative life that is only in Jesus.  The transcendence is the powerful changes Jesus makes in the lives of people that have no earthy explanation.

It is the alternative way of living that originates and is sustained by the power of God. It is the change Jesus makes in every area of our lives. This has both the quality of salt and light in it.

Example of Transcendence in the Early Church

We can be trendy but not transcendent. All through the history of the church the thing that made impact was the transcendent lives that real Christians lived. Unbelievers noticed the changes, not by their cool clothes or trendy style, but by their changed lives.   There was an early letter written sometime around the year 100-150 AD called the letter to Diognetus who was a well respected pagan. It extolled the virtues of Christianity over paganism. In it you see that the thing that caused Christians to make great impact was their transcendent lives. Here is the letter.

If there is no transcendence among God’s people that demonstrates an alternative way of living by the power of God then we are just offering dead religion in contemporary clothes.

 “Christians are indistinguishable (cannot be distinguished) from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries (invented by the ingenuity or speculation of men) inspired by the curiosity of men.

Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine (nor do they advocate mere book learning). With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is  Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them (practice infanticide). They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated.

 A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As  the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures.

Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments. Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the

Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.”

You can see that the world wasn’t impressed by Christian’s trendiness or contemporary “coolness.” It was the alternative way of live they lived out before an unbelieving world. Obviously this is why they were so persecuted in the first three centuries and also why they made such an impact as salt and light.

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Worth the Fight #3: Narcissistic or Kingdom Advancing Relationships

Everything exists for me

Everything exists for me

Author Rodney Clapp wrote, A noted western Philosopher introduced to the world in 1926 was one day sitting on a log when he heard a buzzing sound.  He was puzzled and fell to pondering.  As his leading chronicler remembers the event he reasoned along the following lines.  “If there is a buzzing noise somebody is making a buzzing noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know of is because you’re a bee says the Poo.  Then he thought another long time and said, “And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey.  And then he got up and said, “And the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it.” 

Unfortunately Winnie the Poo’s attitude reflects how mankind often approaches their lives. Like Pooh they see “the only reason” things exist is for our personal likes, desires, and consumption.  It is a reflection of a narcissistic approach to life that is all too common today.

Narcissism is based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, the proud young man who saw his reflection in a pool and fell in love with it.  Narcissus was unable to break away from his own gaze, and eventually died by the side of the pool.  The psychological definition of Narcissism is an egotistical preoccupation with self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how he/she is perceived by others.   

This is what the Bible calls “pride” which is the opposite of humility. C. S. Lewis aptly described humility as, “not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”


Pride and narcissism are bad in any arena but especially among the people of God. It will result in taking precious truths of the design of God and making them about our glory instead of His.  We can do this with something as important to our lives as relationships with God and others.  This is why Jesus was so clear in His calls to follow Him in which He clearly puts “self” in a secondary/denied place.  

Luk 9:23-24  And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  (24)  “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it (MSG Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self).

Mark 8:34-35  “If anyone wishes to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it (See also: Matthew 10:39,  Luke 17:32-33, Matthew 16:24-25, Mar 10:21, Luk 18:22, Luk 14:33).   

In the church world “relationships” or “fellowship” conjures up images such as sitting around a living room, eating refreshments, talking about life, enjoying each other’s company, and doing fun things together.   Being around people who are interested in our life is a very appealing.   A good relational church can be imagined as a nice sheep pen in which the sheep are cozy with one another and the shepherds are constantly attending to their needs.  Even Biblical ideas such as “accountability” can be viewed narcissistically.

Accountability can be twisted to simply cause us to be a little more open and honest.  We may share more about our struggles and challenges if we know others have imperfections like we do but where does it lead us?  Instead of motivation to change it becomes almost therapeutically comforting to know we are all imperfect, and God loves us just they way we are.  What about growth, change and progress in pleasing Jesus? 

This type of relational life seems very safe, sanitized, tame, but also self serving. It can seem like a “nice” effort designed to produce “nice” people that feel better about themselves.  While these things have their place, if this is the extent of fellowship then we are missing something very important.  God joins people together for His purpose, not ours.  The church is not to be a narcissistic body consumed with itself.  It is a body designed for a purpose beyond itself. 

Eph 1:22-23  Msg…The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

God isn’t about simply filling the confines of the church with cozy groups of fellowship.  He wants to fill the whole earth with people expressing His life.

Kingdom Relationships Should Stimulate Zeal for God

An important element that is often missing in “church relationships” is seen in Hebrews. Heb 10:23-25  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;  (24)  and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,  (25)  not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

The word “stimulate” one another is a very interesting word.  It is far from the safe and sanitized form of relationships.  The word “stimulate” means “incitement, provoke unto, contention.”  It means such things as “to call into action; to arouse; to excite; to provoke anger or wrath; to provoke war; to excite or challenge; to stir up or arouse.”  It means to incite to action with a zeal for God.

This isn’t a tame word!  There is an element of danger and forward action in it.  As the church goes forward and “fills everything with His presence,” darkness is destroyed.   It is the idea Jesus declared when He said in Matthew 16 “I will build my church and the gates of hell can’t stop its forward advance.”   When our relationships stimulate us to go forward, the fire of God moves through us to destroy the works of the enemy in every square inch of our lives and God’s earth.

The prophet Zechariah spoke of these types of relationships among God’s people.  Zec 12:5-6 “Then the clans (social units) of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘A strong support for us are the inhabitants of Jerusalem through the LORD of hosts, their God.’  6  “In that day I will make the clans of Judah like a firepot among pieces of wood and a flaming torch among sheaves, so they will consume on the right hand and on the left all the surrounding peoples, while the inhabitants of Jerusalem again dwell on their own sites in Jerusalem. 

Like Samson, Jesus gathers His people around His fire

Like Samson, Jesus gathers His people around His fire

A great Old Testament story that depicts these types of relationships comes from Samson.  Their enemy, the Philistines, had planted crops on God’s land.  Samson, who was a judge God raised up to deliver His people and advance His purpose, did something very interesting.  He caught 300 foxes, put a torch between every pair of them, and tied their tails to that torch.  He then set the torch on fire and sent each pair throughout the enemy’s crops.  This resulted in the crops that the enemy had planted to be burnt down.

Jdg 15:4-5 NASB  Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took torches, and turned the foxes tail to tail and put one torch in the middle between two tails.  5  When he had set fire to the torches, he released the foxes into the standing grain of the Philistines, thus burning up both the shocks and the standing grain, along with the vineyards and groves.

What a story to show us what this type of Biblical fellowship is like!  God’s sets His fire (Holy Spirit) among us, and ties us together with Him and each other.  If we are on fire for God as we move out, “two by two,” we end up spreading a fire that destroys the work of the enemy.  This is what Peter and John did when they went together to pray in the temple.  They encountered a beggar and out of the Spirit filled fire among them they prayed for him and he was healed.

Our relationships should “stimulate” us to action and Kingdom advancement.  They should work to light the torch of the Spirit among us.  They should produce a zeal for God and change in us. These type of relationships destroy the enemies crops in our lives and in the lives of others.   This is far from sitting around a living room having coffee and therapeutically focusing on ourselves.    Let us seek the type of relationships that “stimulate one another” by the fire of God to overcome the work of the enemy.   

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Worth the Fight #2: Myth of the Self-Made Man

Self-Made-ManOne of the most celebrated American holidays is Independence Day.  One of America’s most revered documents is the Declaration of Independence.  Independence in these examples was set in the context of a corporate nation yet as a culture we have morphed the idea more towards personal independence rather than corporate.  Unfortunately the church has often followed in culture’s wake rather than God’s design.

Independence can be a problem when people begin to follow Jesus.   The very nature of Jesus and the Godhead is that they live and move together as One.  They are Three perfectly in sync with each other.  They are part of each other’s lives.  Jesus only did what He saw His Father doing (John 5, 8, 15:15).  At the same time Father and Holy Spirit were moving to glorify Jesus (John 8:54, 16:14, 17:5).  

In Jesus’ last prayer on earth He prayed 3 times that His people would have the same type of relational oneness with each other that He has with the Godhead (Jn 17:11, 21, 22).  We also know that when people take up the call to follow Jesus He immediately puts them in connection with others who follow Him.   It isn’t based on their personal preference but His.

1 Corinthians 12:13-18  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit….18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

Rom 12:1-11…4  MSG In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. (Amp mutually dependent on one another).

Ephesians 4:25  And so, putting away false words, let everyone say what is true to his neighbour: for we are parts one of another.

 His call is not based on our personal preference but His design and destiny.

Jesus didn’t allow His first disciples to make the choice on who they would follow Him with.   He placed them as Paul said, “in the body, just as He desired.”  He placed the 12 with others that they would not have liked very well outside of following Him. He put tax-gatherers and zealots, rich and poor, and physicians and fishermen together.  Tax-gatherers and zealots were people from two groups in Palestine who would have hated each other and wished them dead.

As we follow Jesus with those He joins us to they become part of our life and destiny. Click To Tweet

Myth of the “Self-Made Man

Read any biography of a successful entrepreneur, CEO, or media personality and self-made manit will have the familiar ring of the “self-made man.” It usually goes something like this; from humble beginnings, or a disadvantaged situation, _______ refused to give in to the odds stacked against him or her. They didn’t give up but they got up and made something great of themselves.

This isn’t completely true in anyone’s life! Consider someone’s relational biography. Do your own. A relational biography describes people God has used to get others where they are today. If it is done in an objective manner we will be amazed how the influence of other people over the years has been essential to us getting where we are.

Think of your life. You owe your life to a lot to people. People are the main source of supply God used in your life (Eph 4:16, Col 2:19). Think about your natural family or others who helped raise you. Someone had to provide things for you that you couldn’t on your own. Someone provided food for you and changed your diapers when you couldn’t do it yourself. While those same people may have hurt you or let you down in various ways they did provided something for you that you couldn’t do yourself.

You didn’t educate yourself.  You had teachers and schools. There were people in your life who warned you to stay away from harmful things which probably spared you a lot of mistakes and grief. Others protected you at times when you didn’t even know it. Even in the choosing of your career someone probably influenced you with an example of a field of work that was appealing. Someone probably told you about the job your currently have or at least was involved in getting your application to someone who hired you.

If you are a Christian, someone, or several someone’s, helped you get to the place you are in God. They brought the message of Christ to you, helped you develop a walk with Christ, and provided instruction and example of how to live for Him. It reminds me of a quote from the angel Clarence to George Bailey from my favorite movie It’s a Wonderful Life, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” 

Destiny Carriers

My walk with Jesus continues to be shaped, influenced, and aided by the people God has joined me to. There has been so much revelation, example, and even correction from His people in my life. They have also opened doors for me to move in His destiny. This highlights an important Biblical concept that we all have ‘Destiny Carriers’ that help us come into the place He has for us.

All through the Scripture we see examples of people coming into their destiny through relationships. There are potentials in each person and the relationships He joins them to that hold a key to help unlock them.

Joshua had Moses, Ruth had Naomi, David had Jonathan, Elisha had Elijah, Jesus had Mary, Joseph, and John the Baptist, Paul had Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus, as well as others, and they had Paul.  The list goes on and on.

Most good things of God flow through relationships (His body). That is how He designed it. We were made in His image and as it says in the Genesis account of creation it was the image of the Trinity “let Us make man in Our image” (Gen 1:26). The Trinity are mutually dependent on each other for their continued place of existence.

This is why the people who prosper in God tend to be planted among relationships. This is why it is so sad when Christians fail to commit over the long haul to walk with people God joins them to.  

Psa 92:12-14 The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree,…(13) Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God. (14) They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green,

The proper response of any true disciple of Jesus is a similar posture the prodigal son had when returning to his father, “make me” (Lk 15:19).  He is the Potter and we are the clay (Jer 18 etc.). God uses people that we walk together with as tools that shape/make us as we follow Him. 

I am not the same man I was before I was joined with my wife.  In the context of walking together we both have become something different, better, and more than what we would have been on our own.  The same is true as we walk together with those He joins us to in the church.  There are no “self-made men/women” in the Kingdom of God.   We should thank God for those He uses to shape our life in Him through both the good times and the bad and the easy as well as the challenging.  

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Worth the Fight

worth the fightWe live in a culture that is committed to relational convenience.  The remote control and the friend/unfriend button are metaphors for our current view of relationships. Friendships can be made or abandoned with the simple click of a button. Many growing up today have felt the sting of this disposable approach to relationships. The security of committed family relationships was either never formed  or quickly abandoned in pursuit of happiness by those who should have been there for them.

In the wake of this, people still desire authentic relationships that have permanence and security.  Everyone was made in the image of God and family is the essence of who He is.  The very thing that has held the relational life of the Godhead together for eternity, “faithfulness and covenant,” is what everyone hungers for deep down inside.

Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep his commandments…

Faithfulness and covenant do not come easy.   They are always tested.  That is why most marriage vows contain certain phrases, “for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”  There are challenging times and for the sake of happiness it sometimes seems easier to walk away.  Unfortunately this is true, even among God’s people.  I read an article from a pastor’s son who spoke of this happening over and over as he grew up in the church.

As a pastor’s son, I know how frustrating that can be when it seems like people are constantly looking for something that makes them happy.  At the same time, my Dad cared about true spiritual life being given in the body of Christ.”  He echoed the hurt when God’s people walked away.

Worth the Fight

Caleb kept fighting for it till the end Josh 11

Caleb kept fighting for it till the end Josh 14

If somebody is 85 years old the last thing they are probably thinking about is mustering up enough strength and determination to engage in a fight with enemies who are bigger and stronger than they are.  Yet we find Caleb doing exactly that in Joshua 14:11-15.

He was requesting with great anticipation and zeal for Joshua to let him have “Hebron” as a possession.   He wanted to take on several enemy giants who lived there.  Why would a guy in the latter years of his life want another fight?  He had just spent several years helping others fight for their inheritance.  Most people at 85 are thinking of kicking back, getting an RV, and going around the country to look at things.  What was it about Hebron that caused such a response?

In the Old Testament names meant something.  Places and people were often named because of something God did, was going to do, or in honor of success or failure.   You can say it like this, there is a nature in the name.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines “Hebron” as  “A community, alliance, or league.”  It is a relational definition that contains the idea of covenant and faithfulness which are part of God’s nature.  The relational idea of Hebron played out through the history of God’s people.   It was the place Abram dwelt and built an altar to God after separating from Lot in Gen 13:18.   Isn’t it interesting that after Abram endured relational infighting between his servants and Lots (his relative), as well as a separation because of it, he “moved his tent” to the place of community/relationships and built an altar to God there.   Most people who had just experienced relational turmoil would have moved away from anything  having to do with relationships, but Abram moved toward them.

Hebron was the place where Abram was prophetically anointed by God with a name change to Abraham which means the “father of a multitude of nations” (a relational family term) Gen 17:5.

Hebron was the place where David and his men fled when Saul turned against him.  Again it was someone going to the place of community/relationships in response to relational breakdowns.

Later when an enemy attacked and took all of David’s possessions (and his men’s), his own men spoke of killing him.   He got his stuff back then went back to Hebron the place of community/relationships  1Sa 30:31 He didn’t let any work of the enemy causing relational breakdowns keep him from that important place.

Hebron is also the place where David was anointed King by Judah 2 Sam 2:1-11, and later the tribes of Israel  2 Sam 5:1-10.   Leadership, like it is in the Godhead, is to be set among community/family life.  It is where God’s blessings flow.  Psa 133:1-3 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!  (2)  It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard (leadership), Coming down upon the edge of his robes.  (3)  It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing–life forever.

In His last prayer on earth (John 17) Jesus prayed three times that the family/relational life that the Godhead experiences would be among His people.  

God lives and works among relational family life because it most reflects His nature.

 

Why Caleb Wanted to Fight For It

Why was Caleb so intent on going after the enemy at Hebron?  It has something to do with his personal experience.  Caleb was one of the twelve spies who were sent into the land of  promise to see how they were to take it.  The giants that discouraged the ten spies, and later the people, lived in Hebron.  Num 13:17-30…Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan…(22)  When they had gone up into the Negev, they came to Hebron where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak were (the giants). …(25)  When they returned from spying out the land…they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land.  (27)  Thus they told him, and said, “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  (28)  “Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak (giants) there... (30)  Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.”

I think there is a spiritual parallel today.  It seems that the biggest enemies live in the place of community/relationships.  They cause failure and discouragement that keeps God’s people from pursuing their inheritance.   I have heard it said, and it has been my personal experience in over 38 years of church life, that over 90% of church problems are not theological but relational.  Even the theological issues or other problems have underlying relational components to them.   What usually happens is that people have a hard time getting over relational hurts or challenges.  Later when theological or directional issues come up,  people’s unresolved relational issues get mixed in with them causing a much bigger problem that destroys or separates.

This is why so much attention is given in Scripture about how to walk together relationally. About 44% of the instruction in the NT letters is about how God wants us to treat one another and resolve relational conflict.  Even in the important Last Supper dialogue (John 13-17),  75% of the instruction is about walking in friendship/association with God and one another.

I have seen many people over the years see the relational aspects of the church and Kingdom and agree that it is God’s way.  Some even get excited about it and attempt to build that way only to face the biggest giants of opposition.  People end up faltering, disappointment sets in, and they abandon Hebron.

Others don’t even attempt it because they feel it will only cause pain and heartache.  But then there are those like Caleb, who won’t give up on Hebron because it is God’s possession for His people.  Like David, even after relational challenges, they keep moving their tents (their dwelling place) there.   Like Caleb, even in their old age, they are still going  after the giants that attempt to keep God’s people from community/relational life.  They know it is where God’s people should live.

One leader summed it up well, “God’s family can be a huge painful annoying mess.  Yet I will love His family, commit to His family, serve His family, and do everything I can to see it become all He intends it to be.”

 

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Authentic Leaders Living Credible Lives Among God’s People

false teachersUnfortunately, both in the history of the Bible as well as our contemporary scene, there are examples of both good and bad leadership in the House of God.  In this past season I have personally come across the amazing contrast of both.  It has caused me to freshly realize some important aspects of God’s design for leadership that we must not lose sight of.  

On the good side I was recently at a service in which a man from the congregation brought up the eldership team and had the congregation pray over them as they were heading on a retreat.  It was very touching as he cited the passage in Hebrews 13 about local church leadership.  Hebrews 13:7-17  Remember those leading you, who have spoken to you the Word of God, whose faith follow, considering the end of their conduct… (17)  Yield to those leading you, and be submissive, for they watch for your souls, as those who must give account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you.

With tears in his voice he said, “We know these men, we know their lives, they have laid down their lives for this church, and we want to live in a way that the Bible says ‘that they could serve us with joy and not grief.’  Let us honor and pray for them as they go to this retreat.”  This was both touching and a fresh revelation of what Paul said was an important part of leadership, “Know (to perceive with the eye) those who labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord, and give you instruction that you esteem them very highly” (1 Thes 5:12-13).

With the rise of the online avenues and social media there has never been a time in which teachings and ideas from both God ordained, as well as self-proclaimed leaders, reaches far beyond people personally “knowing” their lives.  With over 550 million Christian based web and blog sites along with an unknown greater number of Christian social media sites, good and bad spiritual ideas are being perpetuated by both good and bad leaders.  We have an internet smorgasbord of just about any theology you like coming from people that you don’t really know.   

When it comes to leadership and teaching in the house of God the fruit of leaders’ lives is to be connected to what they teach. 

Jesus tells us when He speaks about false leaders that the fruit of their lives is the most accurate indicator of their authenticity.  Matthew 7:15-16  “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  (16)  “You will know them by their fruits….  Paul says similar things when he is contrasting false apostles in Corinth who were trying to discredit him (2 Cor 10-11).  He appealed to what they knew about his own life when He lived among  them.

Paul makes an appeal to the Thessalonians mentioned earlier, that knowing leaders’ lives who are over them in the Lord is essential (1 Thes 5:12-13).   The idea of knowing is to know their lives not just what they teach.  He tells Timothy “show yourself an example” with his life as he “prescribes and teaches things” (1 Tim 4:11-12).   John commended the Ephesians who measured leaders and found some to be false, obviously not only because of their teaching but also because of their lives (Rev 2:1-3).

This is one of the challenges of the online world when it comes to leaders, teachers, and receiving from them.  The fruit of their lives should confirm the ideas they speak.  We must remember that what we really believe should affect our behavior.  Our theology determines our practice.  Just because one can preach or write well doesn’t mean they are living well!  When you look at Biblical maturity and authenticity it is seen in the closest relationships the leader has.  It is in the real fruit of their real lives that should be observable (usually in their closest relationships) that is the platform for any messages they want to proclaim.  I like to sum up the Biblical fruit as “if it doesn’t work in your own house, don’t try to preach it in the Lord’s house!”   

Leaders’ real lives are the authentic platforms from which they speak

One reason I was touched with the previously mentioned example was the contrast it revealed to some recent leadership scandals I have been following with leaders of worldwide, online influence.   Recently one popular megachurch leader who was a consistent preacher of certain applications of grace to the exclusion of other truths fell severely.  He inherited a popular internationally known church and began to lead it forward.  He published several books on grace and even formed an network designed to focus and facilitate the wonderful message of  “God’s inexhaustible grace.”  I read some of his books and other writings.  While he has some very good things to say about grace, seldom did he mention walking or growing in grace.  Rarely did He mention any challenging aspects of God’s nature.

It seems that his perspective on grace caused him to live carelessly and he ended up with unfortunate falls to immorality.  Marital problems and carelessness resulted in he and his wife having affairs that were uncovered and in June of 2015 he stepped down from that church.  

Only three months later in September 2015, he was picked up by another church (to the surprise of many) and continued to impart his ideas about grace to the online world.  He continued to promote a perspective on grace that “God doesn’t even see our sin.” His previous sin almost seemed to cause him to highlight his understanding of grace even more.   He continued to write and tweet things like the following which have truth in them but when ignoring other aspects of God’s truth they can be taken to promote careless living, deception, or a cover for practicing sin.  

  • “God’s ability to clean things up is infinitely greater than our ability to mess things up.” 
  • “God’s capacity to forgive is greater than our capacity to sin; while our sin reaches far, God’s grace reaches farther.”
  • “God is a good Father, and because we’re with Jesus, God’s affection for us is unchanging and His approval of us is forever.” 
  • “So grateful God is a bottom feeder.”

Five months later it was revealed that he had hidden previous affairs in addition to the one that was uncovered.  He was removed from his position at the new megachurch.  Now other attitudes are beginning to come to light.  The network he helped start to promote their perspective on God’s grace finally had to shut down as most of the board members resigned seeing the problem with proclaiming God’s grace in a way that facilitated and covered immorality.   What leaders teach should be connected to how they live.

I did come upon his last social media post that gave cause for hope that he is repenting.  The words he was saying seemed to be in contrast to and helped to correct some of his previous extreme teachings. 

“I hope and pray that the events in my own life over the past couple years serve as a warning to all who, like I did, believe they are standing firm.  Sin is deep.  It is real. It destroys. It deceives. May this be an opportunity for all of us to examine our own hearts and beg God for the mercy and forgiveness we all need.”

Credible leaders are known by credible lives that are lived out among God's people. Click To Tweet Another example was the leader of Europe’s third largest church and popular grace/prosperity preacher.  After posting a video on his blog, “Sexual Sin is Not Enough to Take You to Hell” (should have been a warning), many female parishioners began to come forward and speak of affairs and sexual abuse with this international leader.  

My pastor, who serves in many different nations, has given warnings about this man for a while.  Here is one of the biggest problems with this preacher.  While secretly stepping down for a “Sabbatical” he continues to run online sites as well as a Facebook and blog site that some of my Facebook friends subscribe to.

While we continue to have wonderful online social media tools to proclaim God’s truth beyond our borders we must keep the Bible’s perspective that credible leaders are known by credible lives lived out among God’s people

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Good Habits for Everyday Missions

Life on missionBiblical Christianity is not just about a belief or a meeting. Its is a life that we live following Jesus.  A motto we have adopted that encompasses an important theme of the Bible (beginning with the Garden of Eden Genesis 1-3, and culminating at the great end time family event “the Marriage Supper of the Lamb Rev 19:7-10, 21:9) is,  “God’s Spirit filled family together on His mission.” Christianity is not just about a belief or a meeting. It is a life that we live following Jesus. Click To Tweet

When we understand that Christianity and church isn’t a meeting or organization but a way of life (with God’s and His family) it affects the way we engage in everyday mission. Missions and evangelism isn’t a program or event but an everyday life’s journey.  It’s to be a way of life not an optional add on.  

We need to see God come into our everyday patterns of life that we already live.  What are the areas of life that everyone engages in?  Rest, Eating, Work, Leisure, and Celebrations.  Celebrations are things like holidays, birthdays, and weddings etc. (Jesus first miracle was at a wedding).  Leisure can be vacations, recreation, and sports etc.  Work is self explanatory whether it be work around the house or your job site.  Physical and emotional rest is something everyone needs.

Rather than missions and evangelism being a program added on to our already busy life, what if it really became part of our everyday life patterns/rhythms?  We either invite others into ours or we join them in theirs. 

Building Everyday Missional Habits among God’s People Missional Habits

Like any area of life good habits help us to develop and walk in beneficial endeavors. Here are two acronyms I have heard that contain ideas in developing good habits for everyday missions and evangelism.

VISA (Visit, Invite, Serve, Ask):  All foreign missionaries have to get a visa to go to their mission field.  

  • Visit – visit with your friends and neighbors showing interest, friendship, and offer to pray for them.
  • Invite  open your homes and lives to show hospitality (making people feel welcome and valued).  Invite friends and neighbors over for a meal, dessert, or conversation etc. Jesus did quite of a bit of His mission around meals.  Almost all of the book of Luke records accounts of Jesus going to a meal, eating at a meal, or coming from a meal.  Conversations around meals can be openings to talk about deeper things.
  • Serve  look for ways to practically serve neighbors or people in the community.  We are looking for ways to show the love of God through serving and caring.   
  • Ask – we are looking for ways to ask God for them.  Pray for them, and with them when you can to release the presence and power of God.  

BELLS (Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Serve):

  • BLESS – Bless means “to speak well of or to praise.” Later the meaning shifted toward “pronounce or make happy.”  Today Christians use the word “bless” in a variety ways. Even blessing someone who has just sneezed is an expression of goodwill and a desire for continued health.  In blessing someone we want to bring encouragement and help lift the burden of life even for a few moments.   How can we bless someone?

Words of Affirmation  This is the simplest way to bless someone.  Speak or send people words of affirmation or encouragement through a note, an email, or a text.  Let them know you’ve noticed something valuable about them. This isn’t flattery, but something God helps you notice to bring His light on.   I’ve heard it said that a word of encouragement is like oxygen to the soul.

Mark Twain, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” 

Acts of Kindness  Who doesn’t feel blessed when someone does them a favor or provides some kind of practical support? Cutting someone’s lawn. Babysitting an exhausted couple’s kids. Helping a neighbor move. These acts of kindness lift up and bring strength to others.

Gifts  There is a thoughtful element behind giving a small gift that shows we value and care for someone.  

  • EAT – Eating was an important part of life and ministry with Jesus, the disciples, and others.  Much Kingdom activity in the Gospels happened around meals.  We need to see eating missionally.  Eating is a normal rhythm of life. You won’t need to add a great deal into your already busy schedule. You already eat 3 times a day. That’s 21 meals a week. We simply want to see people come around some of those 21 meals.  

The table is the great equalizer in relationships.  When you sit across the table from people it is easier to open up.  When we eat together we rediscover the value of people. We share stories, hopes, fears, and disappointments. People open up, and we can open up to them to share things, including our faith in Jesus.

  • LISTEN – We listen for Holy Spirit’s voice and promptings over our neighbors and friends.  It may be a direction or an throught God wants you to share with them in a wise, discreet way. 
  • LEARN – We can learn from the life of Jesus about how He did things.  We do this by studying the person and work of Jesus in the gospels as well as reading good books about Him.  I have done a systematic study of how Jesus engaged in mission on earth in a fresh way going though all the gospels.  I am finding that He tended to do 3 things throughout the gospels.  He indiscriminately blessing and healed people.  He gave clear calls to follow Him.  He challenged people who took comfort in their own ability to please Him.
  • SENT – We need the identity of a missionary everyday.  Missions is everyone, everywhere, all the time.  Everyday missionaries, like Jesus and the disciples, alert people to God’s reign/kingdom through acts of love and kindness as well as releasing God’s supernatural power.  

Let’s incorporate good missionary habits in our everyday life.

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