This World is not my home

Life is hard–even when things are pretty good. The little things are what throw me, especially when they come in waves. Like the last few weeks…

I’ve been driving a 93 Lincoln Town Car for the last year, a wonderful providential gift from the Lord. There’s a really cool story that goes with that. Suffice it to say here that I told my wife Susan one day, “I just need to get a different car and the next one is going to be white!” (The Florida sun burns off every other color if the car sits out.) Two days later, an acquaintance from Texas texts us and tells us they have a car we can have if we want it. “But,” they say, “you may not want it because it’s white.” Listen, a Town Car was choice number 178 in a list of my most wanted cars, but if that’s what God had to give me, I was going to take it. It’s actually been a great car.

Having driven the Lincoln for a year, I had been looking at used vehicles. I had been saving for five years! I finally made a private party purchase to replace the Town Car. It drove like a dream the 35 miles home. Susan and I were thanking God for allowing us to find a great deal on a pretty nice car — a 2012 GMC. The next morning, as I was driving to register the car and transfer the title, the engine started on fire! That was five weeks ago and it’s still isn’t running. It may be a total loss.

And there are so many other things, like the prominent hotel chain that can’t figure how to cancel a $620 charge on my card–after a week of trying. Or the repair shop that charged me $1500 dollars for…nothing! and won’t communicate with me at all. Or the ongoing thyroid struggles Susan is dealing with that affects about 37 other systems and symptoms in her body. Or the sizable reimbursement check from a family member that got lost in the mail. Really, it is lost!

Then I remember Jesus’ words, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world,” John 16:33. The Devil loves to toy with us, the world wants to assault us, the hosts of evil look to discourage us. But when I think of the tantamount victory of Jesus on Easter, my issues don’t seem so big.

I’m reminded of an old gospel quartet chorus:

“This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’ open door and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

Ragamuffin

Brennan Manning describes a ragamuffin as one who is dirty, bedraggled, and beat-up. None of us like to think of ourselves this way, but for many of us, it’s a mighty accurate description. Though I may look good on the outside, I’m fighting like crazy on the inside. Even as I produce notable accomplishments for Christ’s kingdom, I find myself struggling for spiritual survival much of the time. Yes–dirty, bedraggled and beat up is a pretty good description, not only of a ragamuffin, but of me.

Of course, this shouldn’t be any surprise. We’re in a war!

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” Ephesians 6:12.

This is not a theoretical war–it’s real! It’s not something far off like Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen–it’s in our mind, heart, homes and closest relationships! It affects us every day. To pretend the war doesn’t exist is to sentence your life to ruin or insignificance. To fight the battles in human strength is futile. We must use the weapons and equipment Christ has provided as described in Ephesians 6.

We Christians are quite proficient at presenting ourselves as victors. We aren’t too fond of revealing our real selves, the ongoing struggles, the temptations we fight nor the battles we lose. But remember, even in the losing, in the fray of battle, in the wrong moves, missed opportunities, stupid choices, areas of weakness and remorseful decisions, God loves us and is waiting to make something beautiful in the midst of the mess.

Want to see a GREAT movie that shows it well? Watch Ragamuffin (it’s on Prime)–the true story of Rich Mullins. It’s unsettling, sobering, inspiring, and real.

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:3-4)

Thinking Little of Yourself

I have often thought little of myself. That is, I’m not of any great significance so what difference can I make or of what value are my thoughts, words, or input? After-all, I grew up on a farm in tiny Woodstock, Minnesota. Can anything good come out of Woodstock? My town was 213 people–we had twice as many cattle on our farm than people in our town! I grew up carrying corn cobs into the house for the kitchen stove, used a two-hole outhouse, took baths in the barn, and the first phone I used was a wooden box on the wall with the ear-piece on a wire you held to your ear. I milked cows every day and wore hand-me-downs from my older brothers until I left for college. We talked simple, ate farm food, were unrefined and lived by biblical wisdom and old-fashioned values.

None of us thought much of ourselves. We actually didn’t think about ourselves hardly ever! Life was about hard work, standing up for family and enjoying the little things–like fresh boiled corn on the cob and a good night of fast-pitch softball at the local diamond.

That’s why this little statement in 1 Samuel 15:17 grabbed my attention. The prophet Samuel said to King Saul, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel?”

Saul was shocked when he was anointed to be Israel’s first king, mostly because he thought so little of himself. His tribe of Benjamin had a not-so-distant shameful history and his family was small and of no significance. Saul probably never thought much about being a person of influence. And then one day, while on a stray donkey hunt, God arranges a divine appointment to inform him of Heaven’s plans.

Years later, when Samuel makes the above statement, Saul has strayed from his devotion to God. He’s “playing by ear” and doing his thing the way he wants to do it. It’s fascinating that Samuel would refer back to Saul’s view of himself in a moment of undeniable waywardness.

This got me to thinking…. How dangerous is it for me to “think little of myself?” Yes–I know, pride goes before a fall, God gives grace to the humble, etc. I’m certainly not diminishing any of that. But how often to do I downplay the significance of my role because of how I feel about myself. After all, if God has called, anointed and equipped me, who am I to diminish what God has planned for me to do?

Saul thought little of himself and failed desperately. I want my simple beginnings to be a strength that God can use, not a weakness upon which I will stumble.

How about you?

Saul’s Fall

I’m intrigued by the life of Saul, first king of Israel. Though not God’s best plan, since Israel demanded a king in their rejection of God, he chose Saul and anointed him to be the ruler of Israel. He was filled with the Spirit and promised a great future IF he would obey all that the Lord told him to do. His first act as King was a raving success as he freed the city of Jabesh-gilead from the ruthless Ammonites. Scripture says, “The Spirit of God came powerfully upon Saul” (1Samuel 11:6) enabling him to succeed in his first act as king.

Things took a turn quite soon, however. Saul began to rest on human wisdom rather than God’s declarations, to reason away sin by deceiving himself, to fear people more than God, and to “fudge” on practicing complete obedience to God’s demands.

1Samuel 15:22-23 record the prophet Samuel’s words clarifying Saul’s sin:

“What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the LORD, he has rejected you as King.”

What a sobering reminder of what God expects of his servants:
1. Obedience–so much more than religious activity that can often give us a false sense of spirituality.
2. Compliance–the opposite of rebellion and stubbornness, powerfully destructive fruits of the flesh.
3. Loyalty–the antidote to rejection.

I never want to live a life of regrets like Saul.

Lord, by your grace, help me to obey, comply and practice God-honoring loyalty to you.

Self-Leadership

Lagos 034Self-leadership is my most significant challenge of any sort of leadership. In order to be effective at family, team or organizational leadership, adequate self-leadership is a non-negotiable.

There are many facets to self-leadership—always being a learner, constantly acquiring skills and practices for increased effectiveness, understanding people better, and developing as a strategist and implementer. However, before all of those—foundational to everything else you are and will ever do—is the daily practice of walking with God in authentic intimacy. Quite frankly, I have found this to be the greatest challenge of self-leadership.

We can fake things for a while. We can run on spiritual fumes for a season. We can be quite adept at putting on a mask of spiritual respectability. But, we are only on borrowed time if we do not feed our soul, allow God to challenge and transform us, and daily walk the life of risk-taking crazy faith. King David learned this the hard way. After his wayward escapade with Bathsheba and eventually coming face-to-face with the ugliness of his sin, he recognized what he was missing. It is delineated in Psalm 51. Remember verse 10? “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” David finally understood that fallen people inadvertently slip away from God where intentional intimacy is overlooked.

I have been in the role of leading Converge missions for five years. I’m deeply privileged to do this. I would be untruthful, however, if I told you it was easy. And it’s not easy spiritually, either. As a pastor (and I loved being a pastor), I would spend two hours a day in the Word seeking God for spiritual truths I could pass along. As I did this, I was changed and transformed weekly. I met God again and again in astounding ways. Besides this, I would see the fruit of my work all the time—people changed, families renewed, new births weekly, kudos and warm fuzzies from congregants. Not anymore. I rarely see what my work produces and will need to wait until eternity to have even a close idea. I also find it extremely challenging to find time to bask in the Word and let God speak to me deeply. So much has changed. It is stretching me.

This may be a little of a confession time. I have not figured out a good rhythm of self-leadership in this unique role I’m in. I’m working on it and I’m committed to it, though, because I know that it is essential. I will never become who God intends for me without exercising this dimension of self-leadership. I will never accomplish what God intends for me to accomplish without living with an ongoing spiritual vitality. Neither will you.

Gary Thomas has written a book called “Sacred Pathways” in which he presents nine primary ways that people significantly connect with God. Those pathways are described as the Naturalist, Sensate, Traditionalist, Ascetic, Activist, Caregiver, Enthusiast, Contemplative, and Intellectual. We each have at least one primary and one secondary way that we worship and are transformed by God.

I have learned that if I regularly engage in my two primary sacred pathways as an Intellectual and Naturalist, it elevates the quality of my self-leadership significantly. I find myself regularly transformed by my interactions with God. It changes my life, always for the better. Knowing this, it then becomes a matter of personal discipline to be sure I regularly engage in these types of experiences with the Lord.

I encourage you to discover your sacred pathways and engage regularly in those. Lead yourself well. It sets you up for raving success in every other arena of life.

We Think of the Second Coming…

While we talk about the second coming of Jesus, much of the world has never heard of the first.

0709150402~22000 years after Jesus gave us the commission to disciple the nations, there are still over 6000 unreached people groups in the world. There are three primary reasons for this current reality:

    • The task is simply that big
    • We have been belligerently disobedient
    • We have been distracted and unfocused

Until a few years ago, we didn’t understand the size and complexity of the “every ethnos” task. The people groups are actually still being identified in their entirety, so for over 1950 years, the church didn’t really understand depth of God’s intention to reach every single people group in the world. But make no mistake, God intends that “every people, nation, tribe and tongue” is represented before the throne of God some day.

IMG_5987Belligerent disobedience has been a factor through the ages. The church has often decided to follow it’s own agenda rather than God’s. It has been guilty of building it’s own little kingdoms rather than God’s Kingdom. It has had seasons of carnality and lacked the Spirit’s leading and empowerment. This has kept the church from pushing the mission forward.

We have also been distracted and unfocused and is often the case in this current era. We can do lots of good things, but not the right things. We can even be involved in what we call missions, but it’s not actually a part of “discipling the nations.” It takes intense focus and intentionality to effectively engage in bringing the nations to Christ.

I’m so excited about the fresh initiatives in Converge International Ministries:

  • The Spice Island Initiative which will bring the gospel to dozens ofIMG_5783 people groups who have never heard a credible presentation of the gospel. We plan to send 100 missionaries there in the next ten years–each one working with nationals on the front lines who will do the critical work of  evangelism and church planting.
  • The fresh focus on Thailand (0.01% Christian) with the goal of starting 15 new English schools there in the next 15 years. This strategy has a greater goal of starting many churches among the least reached people of this country.
  • New leadership in Europe is setting the stage for an intense increase in so much of what we do there. We are confident that the years ahead will establish hundreds of new churches and thousands of new believers in some of the most godless regions of this continent.

Our priority in Converge is to reach the least reached. Come join us in this great cause. Write to us at missions@converge.org.

 

 

At the Top of the World

Church planters in training, all from one congregation.
Church planters in training, all from just one congregation.

The church is growing faster in Nepal than in any other country in the world right now. Don’t get me wrong, there is so much that still needs to be done. With approximately 2% Christian in the country, most have still never heard of Jesus. However, true multiplication is happening with astounding effectiveness among believers there. Three primary reasons account for this phenomenon:

  1. God has chosen to bless this nation and work in rare ways in these days.
  2. Believers are reading the Word and doing what it says. In contrast to a predominantly knowledge-based discipleship in the US, the churches in Nepal function under an obedience-based discipleship model. By the way, so did Jesus.
  3. Good and godly leaders are setting the pace. Apostolic-type leaders are committed, intentional and focused to get done what Jesus told us to get done–make disciples.

It’s a tremendous privilege for Converge to be deeply engaged in the movement among these amazing people. Within our network, 856 house churches have been started in the past 18 months. I’m confident the numbers will only get bigger and harvest greater. To God be the glory!

Bullseye!

Imagine never hearing the name of Jesus. In your whole life!

0707152319This was what Susan and I, and our team of “scouts” found in a remote region of Indonesia recently. Our group of six traveled two hours down the coast from a fair-sized city and then seven kilometers (five miles) from the beach into the mountains. Our target was a village which was the doorway to an unengaged people group. (Unengaged means that they have not heard the gospel in a credible way and no-one is intentionally trying to reach them.) What we found amazed us.

This small village of around 200 people was filled with warmconversations welcoming inhabitants. Inquisitive people kept coming out their homes to see something they had never seen before: foreigners. Even the oldest man in the village (maybe around 80 years old) said that a foreigner had never visited before. And they treated us like royalty. Two of our team were very fluent in Bahasa (Indonesian), so we learned so much about their lives, village, and demeanor. From the youngest child to the oldest woman, people loved on us and honored us. Completely Muslim in belief, they fed us fresh coconuts even though they couldn’t partake because of Ramadan.

0707152347b~2But here’s what grips me: They have never heard of Jesus. And they seem so open. And no-one is there to tell them.

This people group, like 10 others in that region, have absolutely no access to the gospel. They’re lost and they have no idea! And no-one is attempting to bring the gospel to these eleven unengaged people groups.

Until now.

Converge is taking on this region of Indonesia with the commitment to help these lost people groups know Jesus for the first time in history. This is the BULLSEYE of God’s passion for the lost. Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, as a testimony to all the nations (ethnic groups) and then the end will come,” Matthew 24:14. God has such a determination that all hear and respond that He is delaying His return until all the people groups know of Jesus.

  • Pray for this important mission.
  • Join us in this huge task. We ARE better together.
  • Write to me @ ivanv@converge.org
  • Check out our link at http://www.convergeworldwide.org/

 

 

Three BIG Fallacies About Church

Lagos 034There are numerous fallacies in the church at large that kill it, make believers ineffective, and disillusion them. I’ll give you three big ones today:

FALLACY #1: The church is for believers. This is like saying the fire department is for the firemen! In fact, if the firemen were there only to enjoy the fellowship in the fire hall, to learn how to fight fires and only do it when they felt like it, to build close relationships with eachother at the expense of doing their job, we would all be in trouble. Besides, the firemen would get very little fulfillment from their position. Christians are to be on a mission. That’s why Jesus said to His disciples, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Of course it’s nice to have good fellowship, make deep and significant friendships, and be caring and supportive of one another. We are supposed to be about these things. But to make these items the priority is like telling firemen to fight fires when it fits their schedule. NO! The church is NOT for believers, but the means by which God wants to save a lost world. Our ultimate objective, which must shape everything we do and everything we are, is to make disciples of all ethnic groups.

FALLACY #2: The best church for me is the church where I get my preferences met. This is like finding a doctor that tells you only what you want to hear. Personal preferences should be WAY down on the Christians list of priorities for their church. WAY DOWN…like non-existent. Here’s what you really need to look for in a church — whether or not this community of believers is doing everything they can to appeal to the lost people around them. The BEST church is the church that is reaching into the secular world in their neighborhood. This requires seismic shifts for most churches in their orientation, presentation, and application of Scripture. Church should have very little to do with what you personally want, but everything to do with becoming “fishers of people.” After all, Jesus still has us here on planet Earth to come, follow and fish.

FALLACY #3: A biblical church is where I learn as much as I can about the Word. This is like a shoe factory that gives seminars galore on making shoes, but never produces any. Don’t misunderstand me, learning the Word is REALLY important, but Christians have a habit of doing this at the expense of living it. I mean, ACTUALLY living it every day. We make learning such a high priority that we overlook living it. Churches sometimes keep their congregants so busy in Bible studies, small groups, serving in programs, and attending services that there is not time or energy left to actually live it out in the context of our world. Jesus had a balance in His approach that must be duplicated. Early on, long before the disciples were fully equipped, He sent them out two by two to engage in some pretty radical things — casting out demons, healing, and sowing seeds of the gospel among hostile recipients. He knew that the only way they would stay hungry to learn, and the only way they would fulfill their God-sized task, was to get them out there doing what they were meant to do. Churches often put such a priority on learning that we drastically fail at doing exactly what Jesus told us to do with it. Even Sunday preaching should not primarily be about learning, but challenging people to live out the gospel in Jesus-style ways.  PS–the best learning, even in the Word, is found through the joy of discovery in Bible study. When you read it, wrestle with it, and the Spirit teaches it, you will never ever forget it. It gets in you. There is no better way to learn.

Cultural Christianity and Biblical Christianity are worlds apart. Unfortunately, many churches think they’re living a Biblical Christianity, when in fact, it’s only cultural…they’re doing what they have learned to do from others before them. They overlook what the Bible REALLY teaches about following Jesus. In Jesus’ day, the people who led this “cultural movement” were the Pharisees. As Jesus said, they taught the traditions of men while disobeying the commands of God.

Good Things or Right Things?

wild flower bouquetOne of our children was exceptionally skilled at doing good things while overlooking the right things. We would leave for an evening, giving him the clear directive to have his room cleaned when we returned home. Sure enough, when we arrived at our front door later that night, there he would be with a beautiful wild flower bouquet for his mother with a grin a mile wide–and with a dirty room. It’s takes some skill to navigate disciplining a child in that scenario. He was doing something really good, but at the expense of what he was clearly told to do.

Christians throughout history have had the same problem when it comes to Jesus’ directives. We see an epidemic of that in our North American churches–churches doing lots of good things rather than the right things. Yes, there are those champion standout churches that are right on target, but the vast majority, even of evangelical congregations, fall short.

Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses…,” Acts 1:8.

Jesus directive for his disciples is that we are moved and empowered to tell what we have seen, heard and experienced about Jesus. This is to be the ultimate objective in our lives and congregations. Along with all of the other important pieces like fellowship, learning, compassion and care, nothing takes precedence over what Jesus told us to accomplish while He is away. It is of ultimate importance–Jesus gave His life for this purpose.

I’m thrilled at the Acts-type motif we are seeing in our church plants with the Timothy Initiative among least reached peoples. Churches pic1are started with all new converts and within months, new church planters are identified, mentored, trained and deployed to start the process all over again. Converge has helped start over 2000 of these churches in the past year–each one averaging 16 converts to Christ in the first 12 months. By the way, many of these churches are started where the name of Jesus has never been heard before. For more, go to this link on GLOBAL CHURCH MULTIPLICATION.

I’m thrilled at the skilled and strategic work our missionaries are engaged in from Europe to Asia, Africa and Latin America as they develop transformational leaders in order to multiply transformational churches. We are creating cultures of obedience-based discipleship where being Christian truly means being a witness first.

As I witness what it costs so many around the world to follow Jesus, and how eager they are to spread the word, I’m moved to do the right things, not just the good things.

 

Ivan Veldhuizen