Category Archives: Just Life

Priority

Priorities slip. The things that we should always highly value have a way of getting lost in the fray.

ivansusancruise2013I recently looked at my wife’s calendar and was humbly reminded of how easily this happens. There in her calendar, on every Tuesday night, was a notation, “Date with Ivan.” Oh wow! This was a commitment I had made some time ago because my relationship with Susan needed time and commitment. Somewhere in the busy schedules and demanding responsibilities, I lost sight of that priority. It’s time for a recommitment.

When Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority, but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses…”, He was giving us a clear priority.

  • Holy Spirit power trumps end times information.
  • Doing is more important than knowing.
  • Our curiosity must be held in check by Jesus command.
  • God does His part and we need to do ours.

In essence, Jesus was telling His disciples that nothing matters more than being His witnesses. Our active involvement in His plan of redemption for all mankind is to be an ultimate priority in our daily lives. Our love for Jesus is not best expressed by determining the time of His return, but by engaging in the command He has delivered.

Hold on–you may not be an eschatological wiz. You’re not enamored by end times puzzles. But, you may have let something else creep in and crop out God’s directive. It’s all the same. If we’re not doing what He desires, it doesn’t really matter why. The fact is, we’re missing in action. That’s what matters.

So here’s a important priority to embrace. Take Jesus’ words to heart. Are you involved in spreading the word about what Jesus has done for you? The priority is simply this–be His witness. Tell what you have seen heard and experienced. Again and again and again…

The Power of One

One person can make a tremendous impact on the world. This can be really good, or it can be exceptionally bad.

Nigeria School Girls abductionI was reminded yesterday of how one evil person can affect millions of lives. The Boko Haram of Africa (their name literally means, “western education is a sin”) is one of the most brutal, twisted, evil terrorist groups on earth right now. Their most visible actions of late have been in Nigeria where they have killed hundreds in group bombings the last few weeks (1500 so far this year) and have kidnapped 276 young school girls that they intend to sell as sex slaves. “They should be home and getting married not learning in a school,” their leader, Abubakar Muhammad Shekau declared. “I enjoy killing anyone that God commands me to kill the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams.”

All of Nigeria and surrounding nations are deeply affected by this madman and his followers. The US military is now stepping in to lend assistance in dealing with the situation. And ministers of the gospel from all over the world are in danger because of this fanatical group. Most of my day yesterday was taken up dealing with the fallout on our global partners in this region of the world.

It’s a frightening demonstration of the power of one.

It also demonstrates how much one could positively influence the world. Our best example, of course, is Jesus. One man, global impact, eternal consequences for all of history. We are potentiated to do “even greater things.” We have been given the mind of Christ, the power of the Spirit, and the wisdom from above. Of course, we don’t decide that we’re going to be a global force of one, but simply live in faithfulness today. Our diligence in the small things increasingly lead us into opportunities in bigger things. But there is tremendous potential in each one of us for significant influence, whether locally, regionally, nationally, or globally. The point is to be faithful today, tomorrow, and the next day. And just keep doing that.

A few who left their marks on the world are the apostle Paul, Martin Luther, William Carey, and Billy Graham. Don’t be discouraged by this list. We’re not called to be any one of them, but we are called to have the greatest influence possible in our corner of the world.

It reminds us of the power of one. It can be for evil and destruction. It can also be for good and God’s glory. Let’s be powerful today.

 

Word Based, Spirit Empowered

As servants of Christ, we need to do the right things in the right ways–and then see results that go way beyond our ability to produce.

Our Converge International Ministry value #1 states: We are Word-based and Spirit-empowered.

The Word of God tells us what to do and how to do it. This is our baseline in all that we do. We need to be in the Word, listening for God to speak, searching for truth, hungry for spiritual nourishment. Our natural default is to sample the Word — maybe just enough to help us still feel biblical or acceptable — but to bypass the Truth as our true source of guidance and confidence. I find myself constantly needing to refocus my life so that I’m a man of the Word. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If I’m going to truly live by this value of being Word-based, it means that I must be pursuing truth constantly right from the pages of Scripture. Anything less is a sham.

When we are people of the Word, the Spirit loves to take our offerings of service and multiply its fruit. The Spirit has been given as our “Helper.” Too often, in our western version of Christianity, we theologically espouse the Spirit’s supernatural power, but fail to depend on His intervention. To see a great post on this, a friend of mine, T.J. Addington, recently wrote a good one! I’m convinced that a minority of believers actually know how to walk by the Spirit and be radically used by Him. But this is what we all must be doing every day! As the apostle Paul declared, “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done,” 1 Corinthians 3:13, ESV.

Whether we are a missionary, pastor, volunteer in the church, or Christian in the marketplace, we must be Word-based and Spirit-empowered in order to fulfill God’s designed plan for our lives.

Physical and Spiritual Progressions

I’ve noticed that my spiritual progression often reflects my age progression. Here’s what I mean — as I grow older as an adult…

  • I tend to be more lethargic. As a young man, when evenings came, I was energized to do something fun or adventuresome. Today, I tend to be very happy to find a comfortable chair and chill.
  • I am more easily pleased. As a child, I would often look for the next adventure on a hillside, in a grove, or in an old barn hay-loft. Today, my first inclination is to say, “nah.”
  • I have become more rational. As a college student, I was the prankmeister any chance I got, simply because it was a chance to make a memory and have some fun. Today…it just doesn’t make sense to do those things any more.
  • I tend to be more sophisticated. Years ago, I didn’t care what others thought of what I did. Today, I lean towards protecting my “reputation” and making sure I don’t look too foolish in what I do.

As these realities pursue me physically and psychologically, they also influence on my spiritual condition.

  • I tend to be more lethargic by not being quite as hungry and thirsty for righteousness as I was when I was younger.
  • I am more easily pleased as I rest on where I’m at rather than where God wants to bring me.
  • I have become more rational as bold risk-taking adventures are more easily dismissed than they were in my more formative years.
  • I tend to be more sophisticated in my faith rather than living out a raw cutting edge lifestyle of pursuing Jesus no matter what I look like or what others think.

ivansusancruise2013But Jesus said, “Unless you become like children, you can not enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all.”

Childlike faith, enthusiasm, sense of adventure, and wholesome recklessness are still highly valued characteristics that God longs to see in us.

I want to  stay hungry and thirsty for God in ways that drive me to true righteousness rather than settling for an acceptable respectability.

I want be energized for God-honoring adventures, to live out risk-taking faith, exuberant to see God-things happen because I stepped out of my predictable routine.

No matter how old I become, I want my spiritual progress to be unhindered by the plights of lethargy, comfort, rationalization, and sophistication.

 

 

In the Shadows of Failure

Numbers 15 begins innocently enough: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ’Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you….’” Recognizing the context here is the key to understanding the impact of this statement. The first generation of Israelites has just been commanded by God to go into the wilderness for 40 years until the whole generation dies off. Because a number of them refused to accept God’s instruction, they now decided to do the “right” thing and enter Canaan anyway — they were all slaughtered inside the Promised Land and chased 60 miles to Hormah until every defecting Israelite was dead. The very next words that God speaks through Moses are these: “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you….’”

How were the people to understand these words? Here are a few suggestions:

  • God still intended to give the people of Israel this Promised Land. Nothing changed this way. It would, however, now be the second generation.
  • God was giving them purpose and direction even though they had just failed horribly.
  • God was giving them an opportunity to still live in obedience to Him. It would look differently now, but God’s call to holiness was still there.

Have you ever wondered how the second generation of Israelites had the faith to do what their fathers and mothers were unwilling to do? How could they, after living in a wilderness limbo for 40 years, have the spiritual strength to trust God to enter Canaan? After seeing their fathers and mothers live lives of futility and waste away, how could they become God-followers of rare proportion?

It all begins here. In the shadows of failure, God gave them all a new beginning.

  • For generation number one, their calling has changed. They are now responsible to prepare the next generation for God’s best plan for their lives.
  • For generation number two, their calling has begun. They now need to start living for God as if they are already in the Promised Land. They are not to wait 40 years to begin practicing God’s way of living. It begins now. It is the very thing that will prepare them to trust God in wilderness for 40 years AND as they take bold God-dependent risks upon entering Canaan years in the future.

Are you in the shadows of failure? Reeling from mistakes that are reeking havoc in your life? Do things seem hopeless and bleak? God ALWAYS has a plan for your future and your holiness. Find it and live it.

Risks Without God Being In It…

“But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed out of the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.” Numbers 14:44-45 ESV

It was all so stupid. The obstinate Israelites had exercised their unbelief by choosing to not enter Canaan. When the people heard of God’s judgement (Numbers 14:26-35) — that they would all die in the wilderness over a 40-year period — they decided they would then enter Canaan no matter what.

  • “Obedience” that looks good is not necessarily obedience.
  • Sorrow for sin does not necessarily make us right with God.
  • Our actions will not make us right with God — only our submission and worship will.

As we can see by the above verses, their hearts were still far from God. They went forward with their plan of making things right, but they left God behind. He had already told this nation to go into the wilderness, but now they were heading into Canaan– without God!

We see that the Amalekites and Canaanites “defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.” Hormah is inside of Canaan some 60 miles south of where they crossed the Jordan River. It’s amazing, really. The wayward Israelites are so desperate to get what they want (or not get what they deserve) that they take THE risk they convinced everyone not to take only days before. And risk they did. This was a bold, daring, audacious and stupid risk. God was not with them in it. They were chased down and destroyed within the Promised Land. In this, they greatly dishonored God–again.

The Promised Land only holds blessing when we take God with us.

Only brokenness, submission, and authentic worship lived by costly obedience will ever enable us to honor God with our lives.

A Two-Week Snapshot…

I just finished two intense weeks of ministry networking, planning, and learning. Let me give you a few highlights…

  • Spent two days in Palm Springs, CA reviewing annual ministry plans by all of our missionaries. Overall, I’m thrilled at the initiatives I saw and the impact they will make.
  • Experienced a little “team-building” by golfing the nicest course I’ve ever been on. Great memories and loads of fun!
  • Spent the weekend at Whittier Area Community Church. Preached three times on Sunday and then spent “fun time” with two great Estonial leaders, Helari Puu and Toivo Pilii, at the home of Bill and Arlie Ankerberg. Sweet fellowship…
  • Engaged in a networking forum with 30 Converge mission leaders pretty much all last week. There were many take-aways. The most encouraging for me?–the drastic change in attitude of the group from last January to this one. There was a total sense of unity, comradery, and positivity.
  • Spent time with top-notch leaders shaping a pathway for all Converge churches to more effectively and collaboratively engage in Haiti ministry. This could make a BIG difference in outcomes there and also provide a template for future initiatives in other places around the world. Thanks, team!
  • Spent a good part of Saturday at the US Center for World Missions meeting with their Executive Director, Christopher Lucey and our own diaspora expert, John Baxter. We are working on some really exciting diaspora initiatives both in the US and around the world. As we follow through on these initial plans, tens of thousands of global south Christians could be catalyzed for evangelism to reach millions of people in the 10-40 Window with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • I had a Super Bowl party with my wife in our hotel…and that was really fun!

Upon quick reflection of the past two weeks of ministry, I am humbled to be in this place, honored to serve Jesus, and grateful for the opportunities to impact the world as I walk in faithfulness to Christ.

God Gets His Work Done

I’m always amazed at how God gets His work done. I’ve heard it said, “God doesn’t need me. He just chooses to involve me.” I don’t completely agree with this statement…or even its sentiment. I’m convinced that God does need me. He works through people. That’s His chosen method. That’s why Jesus said to His disciples, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will send workers into the harvest.” It is the only way the harvest would be brought in. He needs me and He needs you!

He needs us to be broken and usable, too. As 1 Corinthians 1 states, “God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God,” verses 27-29. He also said, through the Apostle Paul, “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me,” 1 Corinthians 12:9.

When we’re dependent upon Him, He unleashes the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. Just yesterday, I met with three other men from across the U.S. to work on a very complex ministry action document–one that has great potential for disaster, but also for significant Kingdom impact. We began the day acknowledging our weakness (and we meant it because we all felt inferior for the task) and seeking God’s intervention. All I can say is that God did it! What was produced from one very hard day of work is amazing. All of us in the group were keenly aware that God had stepped into our meeting–that these ideas, concepts, and strategies were from Him. The results are beautiful. Only time will reveal the long-term impact of God’s intervention upon our huddle.

I’m always amazed at how God gets His work done. Through people–ordinary, weak, dependent people. He somehow breaks into the finite dimensions in which we live–the limited thoughts we can produce–and unleashes His power to accomplish surprising and wonderful things.

 

 

Lost and Happy

There are many very happy people in the world who do not know Jesus Christ. That’s where the following verse comes in…

“I came not to send peace, but a sword,” Matthew 10:34.

Of this, Oswald Chambers writes:

“Thousands of people are happy without God in this world. If I was happy and moral before Jesus came, why did He come? Because that kind of happiness and peace is on a wrong level; Jesus Christ came to send a sword through every peace that is not based on a personal relationship to Himself.”

And here’s the challenge we face in a society where abundance can mask need — people must realize that they were made for something more than themselves. They were made for God! Life is not all about happiness and contentment (peace), but instead a purpose and high calling (a sword).

When we get that, we’re not only happy…we’re passionate!

Post Election Blues?

The election is over. Whew! It was a long stretch.

Now we can move on and get our focus back on a few other things — some things that are more important than a presidential race. I know, I know — it’s important, we have a Christian responsibility to be vote and be involved in the political process. I believe that so much that our family stood in line for nearly 4 hours just to vote yesterday. Somehow, though, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we Christians were as passionate for the Kingdom of God as we are for our politicians.

We’ve all heard a lot of overstatements by fellow believers…and may have even stated a few of our own:

  • “This is the end of things if this election goes bad.”
  • “God will have to apologize to Sodom and Gommorah if he is elected.”
  • “This will be God’s judgement on America if he is our president.”

So–in this post-election morning when we awake to our President’s re-election victory–let’s be reminded of a few very important truths:

  1. God has been deeply involved in this election. Isaiah 40:21-22 states, “Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand? Are you deaf to the words of God— the words he gave before the world began? Are you so ignorant? God sits above the circle of the earth. The people below seem like grasshoppers to him!”
  2. God knows what He needs to accomplish and how to get it done. Romans 11:33-34 reminds us, “How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice?”
  3. Consistently and sincerely pray for our President and other leaders. God calls us ”therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty,” 1 Timothy 2:1-2.
  4. Our true hope and ultimate focus must be Jesus. Remember John 16:33? “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

All is well. God is on the throne. We have work to do. Peace, brothers and sisters…