Category Archives: Truth-Seekers

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?

 

 

God’s Pace…

So we tend to “fudge” on this concept of the sabbath rest. We figure that real commitment presents itself in earnest unrelenting activity toward a godly goal. The sabbath is undoubtedly an Old Testament concept. As a result, we have a habit of denying its value for our lives in this current era. “Does it still really matter?” we may ask.

In reading my Bible this morning, I came across these intriguing verses from Leviticus 25:20, “But you might ask, ‘What will we eat during the seventh year, since we are not allowed to plant or harvest crops that year?’ 21 Be assured that I will send my blessing for you in the sixth year, so the land will produce a crop large enough for three years.”

Of course, the context here is the admonition to plant crops for six years, but the seventh is a year of rest for the land. It was absolutely required and, when observed, guaranteed God’s blessing in large enough measure to more than make up the difference. How cool is that?!

Let’s move to some New Testament teaching on this. Jesus said that “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” In other words, this “day off” is not for God’s benefit, not just another rule to obey, but is actually provided for OUR BENEFIT! We get to take a day of rest out of every seven! Guilt free! In fact, the more we observe it, the more obedient and “spiritual” we are! I love this gift from God.

Now–don’t you think that if God makes up the difference for that sabbath in the dirt that He will certainly make up the difference in our lives and work? Absolutely! Obeying the sabbath rest is actually a matter of faith. Will God come through to make up the difference for the day I rest? Without a doubt.

Here’s what I’ve personally observed in my life. When I take a day of rest every week, I get more done at a much higher level of excellence. When I miss my day of rest, I become stressed, ineffective, and produce things of much lower quality.God has a great plan! Why not trust Him in it?

Religious or Righteous

As I was reading my Bible this morning, I came across an interesting little verse in Luke 6:7: “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees watched closely to see whether Jesus would heal the man on the Sabbath.”

What I find unique about this statement is that:

  • The teachers of law and the Pharisees knew Jesus could heal
  • They were intent on finding error even in the good things Jesus did

Fortunately for us, the New Testament gives us a magnified look at what hypocritical religion looks like. The leaders of religious life in Israel were simply religious. They were not righteous.

  • Religious people are intent on the details of life but often miss the big and important things. Of these people, Jesus stated, “You tithe mint, dill and cummin, but overlook the weighter things like justice, mercy and faithfulness.”
  • Religious people are determined to make themselves look good or feel spiritual, even if it means pulling someone else down.
  • Religious people are bound to legalism — a system that measures spirituality by deeds done, laws obeyed, and a right standing with God being earned.

Righteous people know that who they are, what they become, and however they influence their world is all through the grace and power of God alone. They live with a contagious enthusiasm for life, a passion to be the presence of God in their world, and a gratitude that compels them to do what’s right.

  • Righteous people live for God’s pleasure and affirmation.
  • Righteous people demonstrate unrestrained compassion for people…even on the sabbath.
  • Righteous people overlook the judgmental assaults of religious people.

The religious can only become righteous through the miraculous intervention of God. Self must be crucified, the old way of legalism is recognized as filthy (Paul described it as “waste and garbage”), and in humility, they must fall before God seeking His gracious intervention. Only then can the religious become righteous.

Lifestyle of Weakness

 

I’ve recently struggled with judging. When I exert judgement on others, I’m taking a position of strength and casting my “superiority” on others. We can often use the phrase “truth-telling” or “honesty” or “transparency” to justify our strong stance or expression of strong feelings. But think about it — what good comes out of judging? There are Christians littering our wake who are tattered and torn by the “honesty” we freely cast on others. Over and over and over. Don’t misunderstand me — there is a right and wrong (and not always what we’ve concluded) and there are rare times when pronouncing judgement is necessary. But we often do that to people sincerely seeking after God who fail to conform to our expectations of what that might look like.

Maybe I’m rambling, so let me simply state it this way — my new conviction today:

  • Transparency is a beautiful thing when we reveal our weakness to others. It dispenses God’s amazing grace on those who need it most.
  • Transparency is a destructive thing when reveal our “strength” to others. It imprisons people in the bondage of legalism.

I’m always amazed at the ways in which God uses “the weak things of the world to shame the the things that are strong.” God takes our weakness and makes it our greatest strength. We’ve been using the terminology “ministry of weakness” in our missions leadership team recently. All around the world, we see how God is using weak people to do His greatest work.

This principle is true every day in my life, too. God wants to use my weakness, vulnerability, humility, and failures for His glory. He wants to use this weakness to be the strength of my life — so much so that it becomes a lifestyle — a lifestyle of weakness.