All posts by Ivan

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.

 

The Degree that God Intends

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” Acts 1:8.

Jesus smiling #6Jesus smiling #6Thailand leadersAmong evangelical believers, the Holy Spirit has received little press. We tend to be strong on sin, justice, the Word, and the Great Commission, but our daily dependence upon the Spirit’s power has  been woefully overlooked.

The passage above reminds us that the Spirit’s presence and power in our lives is indispensable.

  • We cannot be who God intends for us without the Holy Spirit unleashed in our lives.
  • We cannot accomplish what God intends for us without Holy Spirit power surging through us.

It is, in actuality, impossible.

And what is the focal point of the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives? As first eight states clearly, to be His witnesses.

  • Would it be an overstatement to say that if we fail to be his witness, we lack the Spirit’s empowerment?
  • If this is the ultimate issue for which the Spirit was given (and it is in this passage), could we assume that failing to engage in this central mission as a disciple of Jesus reveals a distracted powerless believer?

It is so natural for me to choose disengagement from my neighbors and acquaintances in the spiritual realm of things. I have manufactured lots of good reasons for this (and I’m guessing you may have, too). But I’m quite certain that truth is this: My lack of witnessing about Jesus is an accurate reflection that the Holy Spirit is not upon me to the degree that God intends.

 

 

Dynamite!

One day when I was a little boy growing up on the farm in southwestern Minnesota, my father took me along on a dynamite expedition . You know how excited little boys get about firecrackers? Now multiply that excitement umpteen times and you get a feel for what this day was like for me. My father had a massive rock in the middle of a sprouting corn field that needed to be removed. There was only one way to do it. Dynamite!

dynomiteI remember standing near the boulder as my father dug an arm-width tunnel below it and then gently inserted the stick of explosive. He told me to go sit in a grassy ditch some distance away as he made the final exciting preparations for the big show. Soon, my father was running for cover right next to me–he evidently lit the fuse. There we lay with shallow breathing, eyes fixed on the spot where all chaos would soon burst forth. And we waited…and waited…and waited. Something was amiss. Finally, my dad decided he better check it out. He stood up and KABOOM! Rocks, dirt, and smoke flew everywhere. It was magnificent! The power was almost terrifying…and exhilarating for sure.

Acts 1:8 states, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you….” Of course, the Greek word for “power” there is boy-fireworks-hands-Favim_com-320401dunamis from which we get our word dynamite. Appropriately, this Greek word does not intend to portray a small surge of power like sparklers, but a radical obvious release of power that transforms whatever it’s unleashed upon–like dynamite. This is the kind of power that God intends his followers to experience daily. It will affect us in undeniable ways. His presence and power cannot be overlooked.

The Holy Spirit, as mentioned in this passage, is meant to move (empower) us to be His witnesses–which we will delve into a little deeper very soon. The Spirit is not given to necessarily make our lives better or easier, or to make us smarter or more clever. He is given to make us effective in the calling God has placed before us. And He does this in undeniable ways.

Are you experiencing God’s dunamis? Do you want to?

 

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…

Perspective

Our paradigm of understanding is a box. We usually see things from our perspective with little or no thought about how others may understand the same thing.

Kolkata slum womanTake world events, for instance. So many well intentioned believers, seeing the evil and chaos everywhere, are sure that Christ must be returning soon. This “conviction” is often driven by a desire to avoid suffering rather than having been derived out of the pages of Scripture.

Jesus made it clear that “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations (ethne’), and then the end will come,” Matthew 24:14. J. Oswald Smith declared, “We talk of the Second Coming; half of the world has never heard of the first.” Yes,  there are still over six thousand unreached people groups (ethne’) in the world. The task has not been accomplished.

Don’t get me wrong. Jesus could come any day, but from the view of Scripture, it looks like we have some serious work still to do.

In the days ahead, I would like you to join me in a search to understand our part, beginning with a very familiar, but vaguely understood statement of Jesus: “It’s not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” Acts 1:7-8.

I’m convinced that every person and every church is to play an irreplaceable role in God’s big plan. Let’s go for it!

No Idle Observers Allowed

One of the frightening errors of American Christianity has been the rise of the vocationally driven church. When attendees and members are more observers than ministers, we’ve lost the very essence of Christ’s church. As a body is in need of every body part, so the church is in need of every member’s participation. It is vital to actually being The Body.

IMG_5820 (800x583)Now step back to see God’s larger picture–not the local church, but the church universal. It’s a little like a massive congregation made up of individual members–the local churches scattered all around the world. In the same way that God designs individuals to be involved in the local church, God intends for every congregation to be fully engaged in the mission of God. No idle observers allowed.

Of course, the local churches are placed where they are to be salt and light in their immediate contexts. But God intends this to only be the starting point. God’s full intention is for His church to be gripped by His passion of seeing people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” Revelation 7:9. That’s why Jesus told his disciples–who made up the first local church of Jerusalem–to be his witnesses, “in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the remotest parts of the earth.”  He was telling His church to be fully in pursuit of God’s intention for all people.

Are you involved in your local church? Is your church engaged effectively in the mission of God? It is God’s essential design for His church and His people.

Need a little help in knowing next steps? Write me at missions@convergeww.org.

 

Everybody!

“When disciples step into the light of God’s mission, the burden of the Great Commission returns to its rightful place: every disciple and every church.”  H. Al Gilbert

Disciples follow. Jesus kept it quite simple. Discipleship is not complicated, but it’s very challenging. Jesus told us to follow Him. He also told us where he intended to lead us: “Go and make disciples of all nations,” Matthew 28:19. It’s quite clear that Jesus intends for His disciples is to keep the world in clear focus of their life mission. Yes–our primary hands on work may be right where you live. Sure–not everyone is called to be sent as a missionary. Absolutely–we must let God’s heart for the world grip us, move us, shape us, and mobilize us to be vital participants in the great cause of seeing every nation, tribe, language and people become worshipers of Jesus.

The Lausanne Congress on World evangelization states it this way, “World evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.” Every person and every church is needed to accomplish what God is passionately determined to see fulfilled–that “This gospel shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end shall come,” Matthew 24:14.

Are you engaged? Is your church mobilized? Do you need ideas, help, encouragement, a little assistance in taking some next steps? Let us know at missions@convergeww.org.

 

 

repost from April 2010 — FOCUS

Susan has been all about one thing this week — putting on a gardening seminar this morning. She and her friend Pam have been talking, meeting and preparing to hit a “home run” at the Chocolate Oasis workshop at our church this morning. In fact, last night she apologized for being absent this week — meaning she wasn’t giving me much of herself since the workshop was getting it all. I assured her, “It’s OK, Babe. You need to do your best.” By the way, that’s all she knows how to do — her best. I like that about her.

While observing her this week, I was reminded of the power of focus. I saw it all week with Susan. And trust me — her passionate focus will pay off in an amazing seminar. I told her that I wish I could be in her workshop! Her attention to detail, the energy expended in covering all of the details, the thoughtfulness invested in making sure it is pleasing, artsy, and enjoyable will pay wonderful dividends to her attendees. Focus lends itself to excellence.

Jesus told us to have one primary focus — Love God. If you want to love God excellently, focus is essential. All other things, even workshops, somehow need to fit within that one driving passion of our lives. When zero in our focus on the ONE who loves us with an infinite love, we find something extraordinary happen in our lives — excitement, energy, and passion grow in our souls. This never happens when God is a mere slice of the pie, an afterthought, or an entity we fit in the cracks and crevices of our lives.

Another thing happens with focus: We see more than we ever thought was there! I’m guessing that Susan learned more about gardening this week than she ever anticipated. That’s because gardening was her primary focus for days! And when God becomes the ultimate focus for us, we begin to realize the absolute beauty of His character and qualities. It will blow our minds.

So make loving God your number one focus in life, just as scripture commands. Amazing things will happen in the pit of your soul.

Know what’s cool? My little wife did this workshop today in order to love God. This is her offering to Him! She believes that when people get their fingers dirty in God’s amazing creation, they’ll get to know the creator even better.

Good call, my Love!

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.

 

Safety Nets and Swinging Partners

Trapeze ArtistsI’m always amazed when I see trapeze artists swinging from ropes, flying through the air with perfect timing to grab the arms or legs of the other artist in motion. So much is about team work, timing, and artistry. They take my breath away by what they accomplish together. But, they also have a safety net in case something goes terribly wrong.

Our 8th Converge International Ministries value is that “we deploy within local support networks.” We are committed to seeing our missionaries succeed. A crucial part of this includes not sending or leaving missionaries isolated on the field. We will help them identify support networks at the local level to provide valuable care for their personal and ministry lives.

We want to be sure that there are safety nets in place in case things go wrong. A worthy support system is essential in order to care for our team members and to hold high the honor of Christ.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” Galatians 6:2.

Even beyond the safety net issue, there is a tremendous opportunity to produce beautiful artistry in cross cultural settings as we collaborate together to get God’s work done. This can be done best with intimate partners that know the nuances of who we are.

We deploy global partners within local support networks because we love our team members and we’re committed to honoring Jesus.