Category Archives: Persevere

The Beauty of the Church

I’m always amazed at the church–most of the time in wonderful ways. This weekend is a case in point…

Susan and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Vietnamese Baptist Church of Orlando. It was a delightful cross-cultural experience for us. I preached with an interpreter, was introduced to some new customs and ways of worship, engaged with church members of all ages, and found myself worshiping with all my heart with these amazing people. The moment we drove onto the property, we were warmly greeted and honored. We immediately felt the Spirit of God in this place oozing out of all of the people. Though we had never met these folks before, we felt like family…and they treated us like long-lost siblings. The pastor and his leaders honored us more than we deserve.

Not many people have heard of the Vietnamese Baptist Church of Orlando. They haven’t garnered any headline news, don’t have large masses of people attending, and lack the attractive facilities that we Americans often demand. But God is at work in and through this congregation. With a heart for their homeland, they have links “back home” that are impacting their nation. Even with few resources, they are partnering in an effort to train pastors in Vietnam (in some creative ways, I might add) and are supporting a halfway house in Hanoi for women coming out of prison. I was impressed with their commitment to Christ and how they’re living it out in practical and relevant ways.

This is the church! We often get the idea that the church needs to be a certain way — the American way — to be blessed by God. I was

The Youth Group

reminded again this weekend that the Church of Christ is alive and well, even in places and congregations we often overlook.

 

Pastor Be' and Me

Faithfulness

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.” 1 Timothy 1:12-13
These words were written by the seasoned Apostle Paul to the young leader Timothy. Paul continues on to write a brief testimony of his life in Christ. First, however, he makes it clear in this verse that he is deeply grateful for the grace of God extended to him, one who is completely unworthy.
Take note of three important items:
  • Paul was “considered faithful” by the Lord. What could Paul be talking about here? Paul, formerly Saul, the aggressive persecutor of the church, came face-to-face with Jesus on the Damascus Road. His life was transformed. This great Jewish leader, however, went into “hiding” for fourteen years (Galatians 2:1) while he allowed God to work in his heart and mind. This man of great influence submitted to a long season for preparation and waiting. With humility, Saul remained faithful to the Lord, recognizing he had no rights to claim, no position to grasp, no influence to exert. He was simply faithful. Every day. Day after day after day. And then God called his name. He was “considered faithful”.
  • The Lord “strengthened” him, putting him “into service”. Faithfulness was the hinge point of God releasing his strong power, enabling him to be used greatly by God in Kingdom work.
  • Paul’s past would have no bearing on his usability in the future. The fact that he directly opposed God aggressively did not disqualify him from being an effective leader in a positive way. In actuality, this is what may have qualified him more than any other thing — his unworthiness to serve.
God is watching for faithful people. Whether in the spotlight or in the shadows of influence, God is watching the way you live out your faith. The hinge-point of God’s power unleashed in you—the key to being used greatly by the Lord–is whether or not you are faithful today. And tomorrow. And the day after and after and after…

Resilience

“The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.” Proverbs 24:16

Resilience is the power or ability to return to the original form or position after being bent, compressed, or stretched. It’s the idea of elasticity.

Resilience is also the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like. It’s the idea of buoyancy.

Elasticity and buoyancy.

The above Proverb is stating an important truth about godly people: The take a licking and keep on ticking. They may get beaten and bruised, but they never stop. God infuses His children with a supernatural resiliency — they have elasticity and buoyancy that those without God do not have.

The apostle Paul demonstrated this powerfully in Acts 14. When a Jewish-incited riot in Lystra left Paul for dead after a mob stoning, his stunned companions stood around the lifeless figure. The great apostle had breathed his last, they thought. Despair was overtaking their souls. They lingered in shock and unbelief at what had just happened. The unthinkable had become reality. The great missionary was gone.

Almost imperceptibly–a movement on the ground. A finger? A twitch? A shallow breath? An arm moves! A leg seeks traction! The circle of friends move quickly, shocked at this unexpected turn of events–again. They lift the bloodied apostle to his feet as he seems to breath in life again. What a day! This great teacher, so critical to the movement of the early church, has escaped death somehow. The crowd begins to cheer! Paul’s followers stand in awe.

Is this resilience?

Not really. Resilience is most demonstrated in what happens next. Paul turns and faces Lystra. With unmatched determination, unrelenting resolve, and divine courage, he walks back into the very city that had just tried to kill him.

That’s resilience.

This is what God gives His children. It’s a divine gift, a supernatural power, a new thread of DNA for the redeemed.

Child of God, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Yes, we are simply human, “but we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body,” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10.

Practicing Courage

The degree of your commitment to The Cause will determine the degree that you will practice courage.

Courage is nearly a non-factor in North-American Christianity. We don’t really need it to find ourselves acceptable in the churches most of us attend. It’s fairly easy to “go with the flow” of acceptable church-life, but this isn’t God’s plan for anybody. Intead, it’s critical that we obey Jesus to “go make disciples.”

Many Christians may be asking the question, “Why is courage so important?” It’s a testament to how little we challenge the status quo in our version of sophisticated Christianity.

So let me encourage you to do a couple things related to this:

  • Put yourself in places and positions that force you to exercise your courage. You’ll find out how badly you need it to truly follow Jesus.
  • Pray for opportunities that require courage. The early disciples prayed constantly to obey what Jesus told them to do–and it required courage virtually every day they lived. (See Acts 4 as a reminder.)

The degree of your commitment to The Cause will determine the degree that you will practice courage.

And Holy Spirit-given courage always greatly honors God.

Victims and Victors

Victims are meant by God to be victors! The Bible actually calls these kinds of people “overcomers.” I John 5:4 states, “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”

We are reminded in Scripture of four primary truths about being a victor rather than a victim:

  1. An overcomer is rooted in God’s purposes — when His purposes are central in our life and we are driven by this, we overcome whatever assaults us.
  2. An overcomer is granted this by God — He’s waiting to give you this victory over the circumstances of life.
  3. An overcomer is empowered for this ONLY by the Holy Spirit, who does not make us timid, fearful, or cowardly, but gives us power, love, and self-control in all things.
  4. An overcomer is secure in this through Christ’s love who makes us “MORE than conquerors through Christ who loves us!” After paying for us with His life, He will not turn His back on us in our struggles.

Life is brutal. We live in a broken world that can eat us up, chew us up, and spit us out broken and beaten. But God has a much better plan for those who claim Christ.

  • He wants us to live above the circumstances rather than under the circumstances.
  • He calls us to see His hand in all things of life so that every trial has a greater purpose than mere survival.
  • He requires us to live holy lives so that our struggles are not of our own doing.
  • He empowers us to persevere, not primarily for our benefit, but for His glory (which ALWAYS benefits us most anyway).

Be a VICTOR today!  For more on this, check out Victim on Vimeo…

Unsophisticated Ministry

The hand-off of leadership between Moses and Joshua is a fascinating study. Moses quietly and humbly lays aside any rights to the Promised Land, even though he gave so much, led through intense hardship, wrestled with obstinate people, and suffered because of the sin of others. This great leader forfeited his right to “enter” because of a disobedient temper tantrum near the rock in the wilderness. Honestly — from my puny perspective, it seems a little unfair. Still, Moses never claims any rights, but rather, lays his hands of blessing on the much younger Joshua who would step into his leadership shoes.

“Now Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him, doing just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” Deuteronomy 34:9

Notice one little three-letter word in this verse: “for”. Joshua was full of the spirit of wisdom “for” Moses laid his hands on him. This is a cause and affect phrase. Joshua’s godly wisdom was made possible through the blessing of the current leader. There was a transfer of God’s blessing with the laying on of hands.

We tend to poo-poo this kind of activity in our sophisticated version of following God. “How silly that something so insignificant could really mean something so important.” Still, it is one of God’s consistent methods of placing His blessing on chosen leaders.

Here are a few more instances…

  • Genesis 48:14 But Jacob crossed his arms as he reached out to lay his hands on the boys’ heads. He put his right hand on the head of Ephraim, though he was the younger boy, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, though he was the firstborn.
  • Mark 7:32 A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him.
  • Acts 6:6 These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.

I know — it seems simple, insignificant, maybe not even worth mentioning in a blog. But it is a great reminder that God uses the simple things to confound the wise. He calls us to faithful obedience, especially when it doesn’t fit into our version of sophisticated Christianity.

There is a lot of significance in that little word “for”.

Everybody!

“Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”

This statement, made by John Piper, expresses a deep biblical truth so well. All through Scripture, we see passages that proclaim God’s desire for all people to worship Him. Revelation 7 gives us a climactic picture of a day when “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” You can almost feel God’s heart leap for joy as this event takes place.

This truth is described in the Old Testament so many times in so many ways:

  • To Abraham, God promised, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you,” Genesis 12:3.
  • “The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world. Everyone will praise him! His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring, with plants springing up everywhere,” Isaiah 61:11.
  • “Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You,” Psalm 67:3.

Let’s consider Psalm 67 for a moment. The Hebrew word for “people” literally means “tribe” or “people group.” With that in mind, this statement takes on some interesting nuances. The Psalmist is expressing God’s passion that every people group in the world will praise Him. In fact, Matthew 24:14 expresses something quite similar: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” The word for “nations” here is “ethne”, meaning ethnic group. These passages burrow into the details of God’s heart for a lost world, that not only does He long for everyone to know and praise Him, but that people from every people group are represented before the throne–just like the above Revelation 7 passages unveils in the final days.

We still have work to do. The Joshua Project projects that over 2.5 billion people in the world are still categorized “unreached.” Over 7,000 people groups have still not heard the gospel message. These are big numbers, revealing the size of the great task ahead. Let’s remember, however, that technology of today is enhancing the processes of language development, gospel delivery, and global awareness. It’s takes renewed focus, fresh strategies, and relentless perseverance to see God’s passion become a worldwide reality, however.

Psalm 67 challenges us to take our blessings and bless the world for the glory of God. In the verses that preceed the refrain of all the peoples praising God, we are poignantly reminded to be the vehicles of His grace.

“God be gracious to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us— Selah. That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations,” Psalm 67:1-2.

In essence, Scripture is helping us understand that all the blessings God lavishes on us is not just to indulge ourselves. We are SO blessed so that “Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among ALL the nations!”

You and I are called to be vital participants in God’s great plan. Take the blessings God has poured on you — wealth, health, knowledge, joy, wisdom, time, religious freedom — and let this propel you to help reach those who still do not know Jesus. Let’s God’s heart for lost people grip you and move you to action in ways that touch our world for God’s glory.

Self-Righteous People

My daily Bible reading has landed me in the book of Job the last few days. Here’s what stood out to me this time around — human wisdom, critical argumentation, and self-righteousness are futile.

Have you ever known someone who likes to show how much they know? In fact, this type of person can take anything — anything — and find something to be critical of. They put together their pious platitudes, polish up their theological perspectives, and poop on people. (Sorry, but that’s how I feel.) One of these “Pharisees” in your life is a tremenous challenge. Job had four of them breathing down his neck! Regardless of what Job said, they found something to argue about — some word or statement they could criticize. And they did it over and over throughout this ancient manuscript. This is a TRIAL.

I was reminded today of:

  • How easy it is to criticize others.
  • How we can look so spiritual while being so unspiritual.
  • How we can puff ourselves up with knowledge while failing to build others up with love.
  • How often we can make any situation about us rather than the person who really needs us.
  • How our human nature can fool us into thinking we’re pretty special.
  • How dishonoring and destructive argumentation is.
  • How humble we need to be–always.

There was a time when someone took diligent notes of every sermon I preached so they could find any word or phrase possible to criticize. It was unnerving, discouraging, humiliating, frustrating, and destructive. I had just one person for a season of time. Job has four critics, thinking they’re godly, dispensing human logic in a time of extreme suffering erroneously charging him with sin in order to fix him.

The intensity of Job’s trial only accentuates the godly character of this rare man. “There was no-one else like him in all the earth.”

 

Plugging In

“If everyone gave and served and prayed exactly like you, would the church be healthy and empowered? Or would it be weak and listless?” Francis Chan from Forgotten God.

I did a re-read of Francis Chan’s “Forgotten God” last night. It’s good. It’s sobering. It’s filled with great reminders about what it means to be a true Christian.

Galatians 5:16 states, “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out  the desire of the flesh.”

Do you sometimes forget what it takes to overcome sin–even more, the sin nature within you? I forget at times. And when I forget, I find myself TRYING HARDER to be who God designed for me to be in Christ when, in actuality, I simply need to TRAIN BETTER. This is so simple, but it’s absolutely essential. We will NEVER win over sin and our sin nature if we are not training well. Training is that disciplined life of strengthening our inner person by allowing the Holy Spirit to do His miraculous work deep in our souls.

Don’t try harder. Train better.

 

What are some of those disciplines?

  • authentic worship (where you GIVE God yourself and recognize His proper standing in your life)
  • sincere prayer
  • engaging study of the Word
  • meaningful (below the surface) fellowship/friendship with other believers who will support you in a radical Kingdom lifestyle
  • regularly living out your spiritual gifts(s) — things like service, leadership, mercy, equipping, giving, etc.
  • witnessing (this is something Jesus said all of us should be doing in some way)
  • practicing generosity as a lifestyle (the more generous we are, the more we are like God)

The above list is a starter list. Figure out how you position yourself to receive the Holy Spirit’s filling in your life. But without question, TRAIN BETTER.

For the first church, there were four ongoing disciplines that enabled them to be totally empowered and radically impactful. (from Acts 2:42)

  • WORSHIP
  • FELLOWSHIP
  • SEEKING TRUTH
  • PRAYER

As a result, “the Lord was adding to their number day-by-day those who were being saved.” Very very cool.

When I consider the Holy Spirit’s vital role to enable me to not carry out the desires of the flesh, I realize that I am a little like a modern day battery — I’m not instantly and fully charged, nor am I instantly fully depleted. When I recognize “the signs” of low power in my life, I need to get recharged ASAP. It’s also in those experiences that I’m reminded to get back into the daily disciplines of hooking into the Power Source.

 

Unexpected

I love the way God works in crazy and unexpected ways. He is the inventor of the underdog, the power behind the superhero, the One who makes “silly” dreams come true.

Isaiah 54, of course, comes right after Isaiah 53. The “shout for joy, O barren one” of chapter 54 comes right after the “He bore the sin of many” in chapter 53. The idea is simply this: Once Christ has accomplished His work in behalf of all sinners, there is reason to get excited because God will work in new and mind-blowing ways. Take a quick look at what this looks like in this passage:

Verse 54:1, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith Jehovah.”

This verse is written in a Hebrew nuance giving us the sense that those who have experienced numbing disappointment in life–those that are considered inferior–are the ones who God will bless in unexpected ways in the New Kingdom economy.

Verse 2, “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not: lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.”

Using the imagery of the Old Testament home, God is telling His people to take concrete actions of faith to prepare for what He’s going to do–in this case, they better make their houses bigger because they’ll need it.

Verse 3, “For thou shalt spread abroad on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall possess the nations, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.”

God intends for His “blessed ones” to infiltrate the earth. Scripture is emphasizing the fact that God blesses us to bless others — He rescues us so that we become rescuers!

  • If you feel inferior for any reason, this is a passage of great hope and promise for you.
  • If you believe God wants to do something significant in your life, take concrete action so that God’s blessings can be received and utilized when they come.
  • If you have been blessed, don’t you dare get the idea it’s just for you to enjoy. You must go and infiltrate the earth so that others can have what you have.