Category Archives: Truth-Seekers

The Mark of the Believer

“…In your faith supply…brotherly kindness…” 2 Peter 1:5,7

brothery kindnessThe Greek word used in this passage is “philadelphia”. This compound word comes from “phileo”, meaning affection or fondness and “adelphos”, meaning brother, kinsman, or relative. Considering the male-dominated society to which this letter was addressed long ago, it is no surprise that non-inclusive language was used. Despite the words used, the intention of this word has always been the idea of loving fellow believers, male and female. These fellow believers are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are spiritual siblings! We’re supposed to treat one another in this way…and maybe even better than some of us actually do treat our blood brothers and sisters.

My only sister was hospitalized a couple years ago with a dangerous and potentially lethal infection in her internal organs. It was so bad that the doctors actually told her that she may die from this – she needed to get her affairs in order. My sister is younger than me…way too young to die, it seemed. When I heard about her situation, my concerns were directed toward her…and so were my energies. I took a day to drive a couple hundred miles to see her in the hospital, hold her hand, cry with her a little, encourage her, help her bear the pain and fear, and spend some time praying and ministering to her spirit. This is what brothers do with sick sisters. We go out of our way, change our plans, and make comparatively insignificant sacrifices to care for our siblings. She was family and needed to be treated as such. By the way…it seems God intervened. The day after I was there, she turned a corner in her condition and was home in week!

The characteristic that needs to be added to our faith is a fondness or affection for fellow believers. This may seem like a no-brainer until we step back a little and take inventory. I’m occasionally stunned at the inappropriate ways fellow believers treat one another. We can unintentionally begin to view our spiritual siblings as enemies rather than comrades. Instead, the behavior of believers, one to another, is to be radically different than what we find in the non-believing world. The letter to the Ephesians describes a clear contrast between what was and what should be.

“And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32)

Affection, by its very nature, is a motivating reality that comes from within. When we think of philadelphia, we are referring to BOTH outer actions AND inner feelings. When you are fond of someone or something, you are excessively tender, even overindulgent — you strongly like and cherish with unreasoning feelings.

So people, let’s be sure we love one another, because Jesus said, “By this will all people know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.”

Freedom or Bondage?

forgivePeter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone. He thought he was being really generous by suggesting “seven times.” He must have been shocked to hear Jesus’ response that we should forgive “seventy times seven.”

Jesus then shares the parable of the unforgiving servant — the one  forgiven a massive amount who would not forgive someone else a tiny amount. The point?

  • If we don’t grasp how much we’ve been forgiven, we have trouble forgiving others.
  • When we don’t forgive others, we fail to grasp how much we’ve been forgiven.
  • Unforgiveness in our hearts results in a pending response by God concerning our need for forgiveness.
  • Unforgiveness on our part result in a bondage we choose to live with.

When we deeply, emotionally, and absolutely grasp the depth and degree to which we have been forgiven, it’s not so difficult to forgive others.

If you’re having trouble forgiving others of their trespasses, you haven’t truly embraced how profoundly you have been forgiven. AND you won’t live in freedom until you do forgive.

Why “Multiplying Transformational Churches?”

A house church in Assam, India.
A house church in Assam, India.

On a recent trip to India, a team of us had the privilege of encouraging, equipping, and challenging leaders of tribes spread across the northeast portion of this nation. One of our goals was to get them interested–even engaged in–our church multiplication strategy in that part of the world. They listened with interest, but with reservations–until one of their own testified.

One of their pastors had been involved for two years with our close partner in church planting, TTI. He shared how he had tried to plant churches for years with very little success. Since aligning with TTI, he has helped start seven churches (in two years) and has personally baptized over 80 new believers. These were impressive results–far superior than anything any of the others had been a part of. Suddenly, interest was at a fever pitch.

Why is Converge International Ministries determined to “multiply transformational churches?” Why are we eager to be a catalyst for what we pray will become church planting movements?

An Indian from the state of Madhya Pradesh helps us understand better:

“I came to Jesus in the late 1980s. Not long afterwards, I experienced a large evanglsitic crusade in a city. Impressed, I returned to my village and organized similar crusades there and in the surrounding villages for years. Thousands came, and everyone liked it. The crusades were so successful that even the lame could walk again–and walk away never to return; the blind could see–and they never looked back.” (from India: 3,000 House Churches Planted in Madhya Predesh Since 1994, Victor Choudhrie, p.38)

This evangelist goes on to describe how he became committed to church planting because it was in the context of community that true disciples were developed.

David Garrison, author of Church Planting Movements, describes the need of the church well when he states that:

  • (A) salvation is preferable to lostness
  • (B) growth in Christlikeness is preferable to simple salvation
  • (C) so churches which foster and nurture growth in Christlikeness are preferable to individual or even mass evangelism.

Just a few more reasons that we’re committed to “multiplying transformational churches” through Converge Worldwide.

Stones or a Rock?

Tony Evans has some transformative insights from the Word in relation to the church. For instance, when Simon (pebble) is given a new name, Peter (stone), Jesus then states that he will build His church upon “this rock.” Through careful exegesis, Evans is convinced that, because the Greek work petra (rock) means many stones cemented/pressed together, this is about the disciples functioning in unity in order to build His church. It stresses unity and obliterates independence and isolation.

How easy it is, especially in a fellowship of churches to function like stones all independent of one another. Yet, in Converge Worldwide, we are many “stones” meant to form one formidable unmovable rock. Even though many, we are meant to be one. And if the truth of this passage captures us, we will look for ways to cease our independence and forge forward in oneness. We will never have the full blessing of God until we live and minister in true unity in His Spirit.

What does it mean to have oneness? Unity is characterized most by all of us being one in passion and purpose. It means that we are ALL in agreement about what we want God to do with us — what we’re really here for. Our ministries should never be just about you or your church. It cannot be about your likes, dislikes, preferences, or philosophical orientation. Our ministries MUST be about God’s two great commands: (1) Love God by loving people (2) make disciples of all nations. Nothing else. Are you about that?

This affects our global efforts big-time.  What would happen if our Converge missionaries were given preference by our Converge churches rather than simply being another equal choice among 200 other mission organizations? Yes–we need to earn your trust and partnership, but we shouldn’t be an equal among other options. This is about coming together to be one in Spirit and one in mission.

How I long for oneness. God does even more. Jesus prayed, “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me,” John 17:21. Do you see how intricately unity is tied to success in reaching the world with the truth? Oneness is essential in order “that the world may believe” that Jesus is the Christ!

Fear and Faith

Authentic biblical faith is what enables us to overcome fear. Fear paralyzes us from significantly following after God. Fear is the number one thing that keeps us from being and becoming everything that God has in mind for you–the fear of failure, fear that God’s way won’t be as good as yours, fear that something tragic will happen, fear that God won’t come through like He says He will, fear that God won’t provide, fear of pain, fear of what others think.

We have a nation filled with Christians who are living an acceptable lifestyle, according to the standards of many churches today. We measure our Christianity according to the expectations of our Christian culture and fellow believer-friends. Many of us measure up quite well. But how does God see you? Are you living a lifestyle of risk-taking faith? Are you crazy for God? Would others say you are?

7 Things to Ask Forgiveness For

I’m sending you to a like-minded leader today. You’ve GOT TO READ Perry Noble’s Forgive Us, Lord! Consider a few very worthy and tangible things to ask forgiveness for in relation to ministry and life.

  1. Praying small prayers
  2. Letting Disney out dream us
  3. Allowing Apple to out innovate us
  4. Allowing a rising stock market to celebrate more than we do
  5. Allowing credit card companies to out market us
  6. Allowing MTV to reach a generation we seem to forget
  7. For allowing missionaries to use culture on foreign fields to reach the community in which they are in…but when that same approach is done in America we call it compromise!

This is GOOD STUFF! Perry is right on. Are we?

The Priority of Missions

A common trend in evangelical Christianity today is the movement toward holistic ministry. This orientation has a few noticeable characteristics:

  • The commitment to the lost and the poor are of equal standing–and may even favor the poor over the lost.
  • This theological view includes what we can do for others as “gospel” also, clouding the clarity of the gospel as being what Jesus has done for us.
  • It sees holistic social work as valid in and of itself apart from the responsibility of disciple making.

Yes–it is important that we are the face, hands, and presence of Jesus around the world. We must often meet the urgent needs in order to address the greatest need. We cannot ignore the human condition. But what a temptation we face in going with the flow of a trendy mission focus that reduces us to doing good things at the expense of the right thing. Only the church can offer the ultimate solution to mankind’s greatest problem of separation from God.

Available statistics reveal that from 2001 to 2005, giving toward relief and development increased by 73.4%, while for evangelism and discipleship is was only 2.7%, (Christopher R. Little, Discovering the Mission of God, p.492).young woman Numbers speak. I also have personally seen this well-intended trend all across the nation, expressed through some of our most respected churches. In our pursuit of being relevant and “current”, we may have strayed from the one thing Jesus has told us to do in His absence — to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

 

 

 

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.

Public Speaking: Two Fallacies…

Now that I’m listening more on Sundays rather than preaching all the time, I’m seeing some very regular patterns that bother me. In fact, there are two fallacies I see speakers commit over and over.

  • FALLACY #1 — People want to hear what I have to say.
  • FALLACY #2 — Longer is better.

Consider fallacy #1.

If a speaker assumes people want to hear what they have to say, there is no drive to be captivating, relevant, or creative. This assumption leads a presenter to simply present material without much attention given to capturing and holding the listener’s attention throughout the presentation.

God gave me a gift–and it wasn’t public speaking. The gift God gave me was the gripping assumption that people don’t really want to hear what I have to say. Right or wrong, this has shaped my public speaking for 35 years. I am always amazed that people will give me their attention for 25 or 30 minutes (at least most people). What my “people-don’t-want-to-listen” assumption does for me, however, is that it drives me to continually capture the interest of the audience, constantly connect my teaching to real life, and make sure everyone has a little enjoyment in the process (because a little pleasure with teaching has been proven by psychologists to be the one ingredient that will make it stick).

When a preacher/teacher assumes people want to hear what I have to say, the message becomes more about me than them–or the important topic at hand. The person at the podium becomes the reason people are sitting there. “They want to hear me!” Wrong. Fallacy #1 can makes us boring–really boring and terribly ineffective.

Consider fallacy #2.

Longer may be better on very rare occasions–like if you have so much profound content that it absolutely cannot be presented in the current attention span we are allotted. Trust me, this is rarely the case. Almost never. Instead, 95% of the time, a longer presentation means that the message is less potent and not fully prepared. [And don’t assume you’re in the 5% that can preach long.] We are rarely as good as we think we are.

In my years as a pastor, as I prepared week after week to teach the Word, I always forced myself to take a 45 minute message and widdle it down to less than 30 minutes. It was a rare Sunday that I went over that time limit. The discipline of forcing myself to be brief did several things to my sermons:

    • It forced me to be sure I stay after the big idea
    • It was necessary for me to cut out “the fat”
    • It kept the message clearly moving somewhere all the time
    • It eliminated my natural tendency to “camp out” on my favorite element for too long
    • It shortened my stories and illustrations down to be really effective instead of letting me be a wordy storyteller
    • It kept my audience engaged
    • It made me prepare really well (an unprepared message is a long message)

Fallacy #2 — longer is better — is just not true. We can falsely assume that we get deeper. This is rarely the case. Instead, we are usually less effective. Regularly engaging in this false assumption will hamper people’s enthusiasm for the teaching time and may even drive people away.

So if you’re a pastor, preacher, teacher, or public speaker, take note and act accordingly. Rarely will your audience tell you the truth about these things…and usually, we preachers don’t like to hear it anyway.

God’s Intention

Does God expect or intend every believer to have a heart for the world? How about every church?

I just finished a brief study to answer this question. It’s a fair one, by the way. If the answer is “no”, then we can go about our business without much personal concern for the “remotest parts of the earth.” As a Christian or a church, it’s reasonable to query whether or not God expects me (us) to ALL be engaged with global concerns. We know that God “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son”, but how does that affect us as individuals? How does that affect my church?

I’m unable to give you the nitty gritty details of the full Bible study, so here are a few highlights:

  • God is committed that every people group hear the gospel and respond to it (Matthew 24:14)
  • Jesus’ final imperative statement accentuates our responsibility to “disciple the ethne'” (the nations). This, by the way, was not only for those standing there when Jesus spoke these words. He knew these few would never reach the remotest parts in their lifetimes. He was thinking of us… (Matthew 28:19)
  • John’s future vision reveals that ALL nations will worship the LORD. Want to get in on what He’s doing? (Revelation 15:4)
  • God set apart the great apostle Paul to be the catalyst to reaching the Gentiles — all non-Jews. (Romans 11:3; Galatians 2:8) This is a God-priority.

So let me conclude with three brief, but important challenges:

  1. Love who God loves.
  2. Pursue what God pursues.
  3. Receive God’s FULL favor through FULL obedience.

Yes–I’m convinced that intends every believer and every church to be engaged in reaching the world for Jesus.

Now what?