GMO-Free Community (part 1)

Photo credit: unsplash.com_JChillingsworth In the last few years you have probably noticed the buzz around "organic community." Yet, are we all on the same page with the definition of that phrase?

What do I mean by "organic community"?

Here are a few of my thoughts on what it means.

Organic Gardening

When we read through the scriptures we find many examples of how physical gardening reveals spiritual truth.

The Psalms compare a man to a tree planted by water. Jesus often used gardening when He spoke in parables. It is very natural for us to see spiritual truth in physical things or circumstances.

To have an organic garden you must start with organic seed. The seed needs to be free of all human tampering.

To spare you from information overload, some seed is genetically modified by scientists. We often see packages of food with labels stating that it is GMO-free.

GMO or GMO-free?

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) do have an advantage. They are protected from attack from outside threats like bugs, weather, and even help food last longer.

Yet, GMO seed produces food that may be dangerous to our health. Many times we a utopian type of community. We must understand that organic seed is bigger than us.

Organic seed has a beginning with a Creator. It has an origin we can't take credit for, but it's planted in a garden we are called to nurture. To keep an organic garden growing and living, effort and intentionality must be put forth.

If the garden isn't tended, the garden dies. Everything organic has risk and reward. To have organic community we must realize the bigger than us source, and be very intentional in our nurturing.

Organic community

Organic community is a body of diverse, yet committed people.

Diversity within a group of people requires intentionality. Humans tend to come together based on similarities. That's normal. That's why we having sayings like, "Birds of a feather flock together."

The danger of being in a community based on similarities of interests, hobbies, nationalities, or race, is it tends to turn into more of a social club than community.

To experience the fullness of community we must risk and expect a level of discomfort due to difference. From that, we will reap the fruits of fullness, ability to love on a deeper level, and have a bigger picture of life.

Do you want organic community?

I am glad to see and hear the buzz about organic community. May all this buzz and desire turn into intentionality to tend the organic garden of community.

Forget about formulas and methods. Focus on the Seed which is Christ Himself.

What do you see Jesus doing?

What is he blessing?

What is he building?

What is he loving?

Now go out and plug into that.

This is a guest post by Sergei Kutrovski whom I've worked with the past few years teaching and training others in discipleship and Inductive Bible Study. You can see more of his posts at —

A Worthy Life

Photo credit: unsplash.com_ABurden How does a person live a worthy life? Ask a dozen people and you'll get a dozen different answers.

Nowadays, in what could be called the i-Culture, a major focus is on self-improvement, self-advancement, or simply, self-gratification.

But does all that focus on self lead to a worthy life?

The wrong focus

The focus on self in our present culture is at complete odds with the call of Jesus to follow Him (Luke 9:23). This needs to be kept in mind reading this exhortation from the apostle Paul.

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27 NKJV)

Obviously, a focus on self is a far cry from what the apostle Paul had in mind. But what does Paul mean by, “let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ”? A natural inclination is to focus on behavior, which is the general meaning of the word conduct.

Sadly, the Christian life is too often morphed into an effort of behavior modification, sometimes referred to as a works-based righteousness.

[bctt tweet="The Christian life is too often morphed into an effort of behavior modification" username="tkbeyond"]

This moralistic approach to Christianity becomes a substitute for living in a manner “worthy of the gospel,” and is not what Jesus expects of His followers.

Out of focus

Our behavior doesn't need to be modified, it needs to be radically changed but from the inside out. How? We need to have a Kingdom of God view of life rather than a moralistic human view.

Jesus calls us to deny our self, not modify ourselves. We're called to die to self, not dress it up.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls us to deny our self, not modify ourselves" username="tkbeyond"]

Jesus calls us to exchange our old life for a new life in relationship with Him. He calls us to be alive on the inside, but dead to the worldly self on the outside. But this relationship with Jesus is not an individualized pursuit.

The right focus

Paul's focus in this text is on the community of believers called the church, which is confirmed in Philippians 2:1-5. This requires commitment to a community of believers, as well as a personal commitment to Jesus.

This type of commitment was never to be optional. It was expected.

[bctt tweet="Commitment to a community of believers was never to be optional, it was expected" username="tkbeyond"]

We need each other in the Body of Christ if we want to live a life worthy of the gospel. Fellowship with other like-minded believers will help us live a consistent godly life.

When we worship and serve together, we're focused on Jesus, not ourselves.

Some questions to consider and final thoughts

Are you trying to be a good Christian person, or living by faith and following Jesus as He intends all believers to do?

How do you view spiritual maturity? Is it based on moral goodness, or spiritual soundness in agreement with God's Word?

If you want to live a life worthy of the Lord, choose to be connected with other like-minded, spiritually mature believers. Not just for a week, but on a continuous basis. This will require self-denial and dying to self, but it will be more than worth the investment.

This is an edited version of a guest post on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog here— A Worthy Life

Next week I'll return to the study in Psalms—but a change is coming so stay tuned!

If this is a help and blessing to you, please share it with others via social media or email. Thanks for reading!

Justice Is Driven Back

unsplash-starrynight_man_light_JSewell If you love the truth and value honesty, lies and injustice should prompt anger to rise up in your heart.

But if you value deception when it's expedient to your cause, whatever it might be, your heart will swell up with pride.

When truth is mocked and integrity of character is set aside, judgment is not far behind. But what, if anything, can you do about it?

Nothing new

Deception is nothing new. It's as old as...well, humanity. The first humans on earth started the ball rolling, but had some help disseminating deception.

In the Garden of Eden, he came as a clever serpent (Gen 3:1), he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11), and Jesus called him the father of lies (John 8:44).

Deception, injustice, and evil will continue to be with us until the Lord returns and settles things His way. But how are we who trust in the Lord to deal with blatant deception and injustice?

[bctt tweet="How should we deal with blatant deception and injustice?" username="tkbeyond"]

It's a challenge to live our daily lives, raise a family, and live a life of integrity when deception and injustice seem to prevail. How do we respond when leaders prove to be untrustworthy?

After the justifiable anger rises up and before it boils over, we need to consider how to respond in both wise and practical ways.

The dilemma

Moral and ethical darkness are not new in the world. Corruption, injustice, and oppression by governments is common throughout history.

This doesn't mean we just tolerate it or dismiss it. The gravitational pull created by the black hole of corrupt and oppressive leaders suck life and hope out of people's lives. Both the innocent and the righteous are impacted.

When Israel was plunged into moral and spiritual darkness by their own unfaithfulness, God rebuked them—

Justice is driven back; godliness stands far off. Indeed, honesty stumbles in the city square and morality is not even able to enter.

Honesty has disappeared; the one who tries to avoid evil is robbed.

The Lord watches and is displeased, for there is no justice. (Isaiah 59:14-15)

The inevitable question comes, "Why doesn't God do something about it? Doesn't He care?!"

God does care! He has intervened over the centuries and personally intervened when He came as the Word of God in human form (John 1:1, 14).

[bctt tweet="God cared & intervened to help His people many times, even in person through His Son" username="tkbeyond"]

A resolution

What are we to do? Is there something we can do? There is.

He sees that there’s no one to help. He’s astounded that there’s no one to intercede. [italics mine]
So with his own power he wins a victory. His righteousness supports him. (Isaiah 59:16)

The prophet declares that God is astonished no one is interceding on behalf of Israel in their moral and spiritual darkness.

The dictionary describes an intercessor as someone who steps in on behalf of another to plead for them. Who was God expecting to intercede? The spiritual leaders of Israel.

Prayer is not a last resort, but our first and best action.

[bctt tweet=" Prayer is not a last resort, but our first and best action" username="tkbeyond"]

Intercessory prayer may seem passive, even weak, but it's far from that. Jesus is often shown praying before significant events throughout the gospel narratives. Intercession was vital and key to the church's survival and growth in the book of Acts.

Standing in the gap

God's concern for an intercessor is echoed by the prophet Ezekiel—

So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. (Ezek 22:30 NKJV)

Where are the intercessors now? Nations all over the world are in turmoil and need intercessors—people who will "stand in the gap" and plead for their nation and people.

[bctt tweet="Where are the intercessors who will stand in the gap for their nation?" username="tkbeyond"]

Intercession requires commitment and consistent faithfulness when others give up in the face of adversity, and when it seems nothing is changing for the good.

Standing firm

When God saw no one who interceded for the nation, He stepped up to do so—

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17)

The figurative phrases in this text are similar to what the apostle Paul said to believers facing the oppressive Roman Empire—

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph 6:13)

The larger context of this verse describes this armor of God in detail, with the list concluding with prayer, intercessory prayer (Eph 6:10-18).

This is what we can do, and how we are to respond when deception, evil, and darkness seem to prevail. Even if you're not a recognized leader, you can lead as an intercessor.

[bctt tweet="If you want to stand firm in hard times, prayer is vital, including intercessory prayer" username="tkbeyond"]

Doers, not just hearers

Jesus said those who hear His words and put them into practice will stand firm, like a house built on a rock (Matt 7:24-27).

No human leader can solve the world's woes. Clamoring for justice won't bring resolve. Putting hope in such things is like building a house on the sand. When storms come—and they will—these hopes will crumble.

When the world tumbles with turmoil and what once seemed secure is shaken, we need a solid foundation to stand firm in the midst of it all.

Knowing the truth isn't enough. Each believer needs to be a doer, not just a hearer of truth (John 13:17; James 1:22).

[bctt tweet="Knowing the truth isn't enough—we need to be doers, not just hearers of truth" username="tkbeyond"]

We need to engage in a wise and practical way. God's choice and direction is intercession, not mere protest, and certainly not empty rhetoric.

We need to live out the truth day-to-day, even when others around us abandon it.

We need to appeal to the One who alone is able and who will bring true justice and righteousness.

How will you respond when truth is mocked and integrity is shunned?

If this post is of value and encouragement to you—please share it with others... thanks!

Redemptive Reconciliation

Photo credit: unsplash.com_willvanw If you love something, set it free, if it comes back, it is yours, if it doesn't, it never was. This sentiment, or some variation of it, was popular in the seventies—the Me Generation.

Inevitably, someone put a cynical spin on it—if it doesn't come back, hunt it down and kill it. The issue centers around people and possessiveness.

Slavery is a form of possession. It comes in different forms and levels, from bondage to indebted servitude. Slavery is slavery, in whatever form it is. It reduces a person to an object. It is inhumane.

Slavery has existed for thousands of years, and is found in the Bible. Some people question why the Bible doesn't condemn slavery, but seems to accept it.

The small personal epistle of Philemon refutes that idea, as does the book of Exodus.

Useful and valuable

Many, if not most, of the activists for the abolition of slavery were people of faith, who believed in God as a creator of all humanity. It is still the case. This epistle gives some insight to this.

For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. Philemon 15-16 (NKJV)

Paul appeals to a man of status in Philemon, who was a believer. A church met in his home that was the fruit of Paul's ministry in the ancient city of Ephesus.

[bctt tweet="Many, if not most, of the activists for the abolition of slavery were people of faith" username="tkbeyond"]

Paul makes the case that Onesimus, whose name means useful, is now much more valuable than a slave. Now Onesimus is a man and a brother in the faith because of the work of God's grace in his life.

A change of status

Although Onesimus had stolen from his master (Philemon) and run away, now he was a changed person. He was forgiven and redeemed by God, and Paul had found him to be useful as a fellow-servant in God's kingdom.

In other words, Onesimus gained a new usefulness by becoming a fellow believer.

Since Paul was the spiritual mentor of Philemon, he appeals to his brother in the faith to forgive and receive Onesimus, whom Paul raises to the status of his own “child” (verse 10).

[bctt tweet="The epistle of Philemon is a guide to appeal for reconciliation in a godly manner" username="tkbeyond"]

Transforming freedom

It's interesting how Paul focuses on the person who is redeemed by God from slavery to sin and death, not the right or wrong of slavery.

His reasoning with Philemon is based on the equality all three men have in God's kingdom.

This is a valuable epistle. It serves as a guide to appeal for reconciliation in a godly manner.

It underscores the nature of genuine Christian faith—the power of the cross is more valuable and important than any cause, no matter how noble it is.

[bctt tweet="The power of the cross is more valuable and important than any cause" username="tkbeyond"]

What brings real transforming freedom for anyone caught in slavery? Only God's redeeming grace.

Some questions and an encouragement

Are there people you tend to see as inferior to you?

Is there anyone you hold resentment or unforgiveness towards?

As you reflect on how God's grace has set you free—

Who is someone in your life that you can extend some type of kindness?

  • Be intentional and gracious towards those you encounter this week, especially if they have wronged you.

This was a guest post originally posted on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog. Here's that link– Redemptive Reconciliation

Independent or Dependent?

Photo credit: unsplash.com_KMorris Is there a difference between patriotism and nationalism? There is. They are similar terms, yet different. Most of us probably don't know the difference, but there is one, and it's important to note.

This distinction is especially important for those of us who claim to be Christians—followers of Jesus Christ.

How about you? As America gathers once again to celebrate the 4th of July—are you a patriot or a nationalist? Read on if you're not sure or don't think there's a difference.

Patriot or nationalist?

The 4th of July celebration is a remembrance of our founding fathers making a Declaration of Independence from England. This precipitated a formal intent for the colonies to separate themselves from the tyrannical rule of King George III.

You may have heard the somewhat trite Christian saying that, while many in America celebrate independence "we will celebrate our dependence on Jesus." This is where the distinction between patriotism and nationalism matters.

What do these terms mean? [taken from Merriam-Webster's Dictionary]

  • patriotism—love for or devotion to one's country
  • nationalism—loyalty and devotion to a nation; a national consciousness exalting one nation above all others, and promotion of its culture and interests, as opposed to other nations

As a missionary to other nations, I have a love for my country, but not in disrespect towards other nations. I respect the love others have of their native country.

I appreciate my nation's history, which I've read quite a bit about, and see God's sovereign, gracious hand in the birth of our nation. But my USA citizenship is secondary to my being a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

A lesson from history

Nebuchadnezzar was someone who knew about nationalism, and yet had a life-altering encounter with the One, True, Living God. Here are a two places where this is made clear— Daniel 2:44-45 & Daniel 4:34-37.

He went from the most powerful man on earth to a mindless beast, back to the most powerful emperor who acknowledged the prophet Daniel's God as the One, True, Living God.

He came to realize that the greatness of his powerful empire—Babylon, which gobbled up so many other nations—would be one of a long line of empires overcome by God's sovereign kingdom.

My first allegiance

I celebrate my country's birth and independence this 4th of July weekend with thankfulness for what's made America great. Having traveled many places in the world, I appreciate my native country's many blessings and freedoms, including the 1st Amendment's guarantee of freedoms.

At the same time, I affirm my first allegiance to God—my dependence on Him above all else.

Here are four Scriptures that express my independence from the tyranny of the culture and spiritual darkness of this world—regardless of geographic region or government—and my dependence on God, through my Lord and Savior Jesus—

  • Joshua 24:14-15
  • Proverbs 1:7 & 9:10
  • Proverbs 3:5-6
  • Luke 9:23-26

May you know the blessings of dependence on the One, True, and Living God through His Son Jesus Christ, and if you are an American citizen, may you enjoy the rich blessing of the nation whose heritage we celebrate on the 4th of July.

Here are a couple of links related to America's celebration of the 4th of July

Do Something Bold This Fourth of July

Facts about the USA flag

US Bill of Rights

These are some excellent books I've read related to the 4th of July


John Adams

Rise to Rebellion

The Glorious Cause


Freedom from Antidiscrimination

Photo credit: unsplash.com_RLopes Anti-discrimination is a big concern nowadays. In a nation that touts “freedom for all” and guarantees equal rights, there should be no discrimination. But there is.

Discrimination has existed as long as humans have lived. It isn’t limited to one nation or people group; in fact, you could say it’s an equal opportunity factor.

In America, we’re most concerned about discrimination in the areas of gender-types, race, religion, and social-economic status. Sadly, the protected rights of one group can infringe on another.

Hearts and minds

Laws can be passed and policies created, but they won’t change people’s hearts and minds. It’s in a person’s thinking and emotions that prejudice and bias reside.

Unless a person is changed internally, any changes on the outside are temporary and often fickle.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”—Galatians 3:28 (NKJV)

The kingdom of God is so different from the world around us. God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws.

When a person encounters God’s grace and is changed spiritually in his heart and mind, he begins to see people differently than before. At least, that’s God’s intent and purpose for His children.

[bctt tweet="God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws" username="tkbeyond"]

God doesn't discriminate

This verse isn’t saying nationalities, status, or gender no longer exist in a physical sense, but within God’s kingdom, in relationship with Jesus Christ, we are all one.

God doesn’t discriminate. After all, He’s doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

We see this through the life of Jesus displayed in the four gospels. Of course, this openness to people of all backgrounds angered those who created barriers against many people.

In the end, Jewish leaders manipulated people to turn against Jesus. They were definitely discriminatory.

[bctt tweet="God doesn’t discriminate—He doesn't want anyone to perish" username="tkbeyond"]

God's worldview

When God’s grace is worked into our hearts and minds, we can look past whatever causes prejudice and bias. The love of Jesus and His call that we follow Him (Luke 9:23) ought to strip us of such things.

So, why does discrimination of any kind exist within the Church? Why do we as believers react in prejudicial ways toward others?

Simple. The prevailing culture of the world too often exerts more influence on us than the radically different culture of God’s kingdom.

[bctt tweet="God’s kingdom is radically different from the world's culture" username="tkbeyond"]

What can be done about it?

Each of us must choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture. His worldview is summed up in John 3:16—God’s love prompted His death for all of humanity.

It’s not like wearing blinders or rose-colored glasses, but having a gracious heart and a renewed mind.

[bctt tweet="Choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture" username="tkbeyond"]

Some questions and an encouragement—

How do you see prejudice and bias in your own heart and thoughts?

Why do you think any prejudice or bias exists in your life?

Look at who you tend to view in a negative way, how can you pray for them?

Likewise, who do you feel has a negative attitude towards you, and how can you pray for them?

Find ways of building relationships with people who are different from you, and ask the Lord to guide you in doing so.

This was originally posted on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog, here's the link– Freedom from Antidiscrimination

Projects and Posts

Photo credit: unsplash_JSheldon Projects. I like working on projects. However, I've learned it's easier to start projects than finish them. That's probably true for most of us.

One of the reasons I like projects is my tendency to lose interest in doing just one things for a long time. I like new things, different things, and I like challenges.

Recently, I've been working on a new project. It's connected to a couple of other projects that are revisions of previous projects I've completed. I hope to make it available next week.

What's make these popular?

For this week's post, I've collected a few of the more popular posts on my blog. I'd like to get some feedback on what makes them interesting or engaging.

Is it the topic? Is it the title? What is it a link on social media? What is it recommended by someone?

Whatever the reason, I'd like to know. So, here's the list of the top 5 posts, let me hear your feed back and thoughts.

Top 5 posts

  1. The Art and Value of Encouragement
  2. 5 Basic Foundational Truths of the Christian Faith
  3. Acronym-ically Speaking
  4. About the Beginning of the Story
  5. Who Needs Fellowship?

Again, as you check these posts out, let me know what interests or engages you most about them.

  • Is it the topic?
  • Is it the title?
  • What stands out to you?
  • What is most valuable or helpful for you?

Thanks! And please feel to comment on or share any of these posts!

Thankfulness and Contentment

Photo credit: unsplash.com_SUnrau Thanksgiving Day, as an American holiday, is set aside for remembrance. A time to reflect on God's goodness and be thankful. This was its original purpose as a holiday as designated by Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Aside from the commercialism of our day, it can still be just that. People can wring their hands and lament the degradation of the holiday as a time of gluttony, drunkenness, and consumerism, or simply be thankful and content.

Our nation still affords us the opportunity of free choice and many other freedoms.

Many years ago, I worked as a janitor at a large church during the Jesus Movement days. One of the young pastors was having a rough day. He sarcastically asked me what my purpose in life was and why I was happy. Though I knew it was sarcastic, I answered him with the following Bible quote—

...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Phil 4:11-12 NIV)

We were big on quoting Bible verses in those days, but this was what I read in my morning devotions that day. We laughed about it, yet it rang true.

Since that time, I recall the simplicity of my faith then. It's what I choose to remember.

When I am thankful, I'm content, and because I'm content, I'm thankful.

[bctt tweet="When I am thankful, I'm content, and because I'm content, I'm thankful"]

I realize Thanksgiving Day is not a happy time for everyone. It can be a lonely and sad time, while others ignore it altogether.

But the truth of the Scripture above reminds us that our circumstances shouldn't dictate our disposition. I choose to be thankful and content.

What Can We Learn from Dead Churches?

Photo credit: KHillacre Throughout the history of the Christian church, there have been cycles of life and death. Cycles of revival and decline are evident by their impact upon the culture around them—both good and bad.

What about individual churches? You can find similar cycles of revival and decline. Some churches seem to thrive, while others struggle to survive.

Is death and decline an inevitable destination for every church? Not if we're willing to learn from history.

Thom S Rainer's book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, doesn't sound like a fun read. I wouldn't call it fun, but it is enlightening, and in the end, encouraging.

I could easily see various churches I've known or been involved with that identified with Rainer's post-life church assessment. These are actual churches Dr Rainer worked with and knew.

He begins with a story of a church as if it had been a patient, in denial of her real condition. She no longer had vision and followed a familiar path to death. It's a sobering look at fourteen different churches who died. The author provides insights as to why, and later gives twelve responses to the question, "Is There Hope...?"

What is learned from the autopsy

Amazon-Autopsy_ChurchAll the insights Rainer writes about are helpful, but a few struck home in a sad way. He speaks of the Slow Erosion (Chap 2) that takes place, and of the inward and rigid focus a church develops.

In the The Past Is the Hero (Chap 3), a fixation develops on the "good old days." I've seen this too often in churches who experienced high points during the Jesus Movement, but this applies to other churches also. Rainer says this was the "most pervasive and common thread" in all of the autopsies, which created a backwards-looking vision.

This nostalgic, inward focus eventually leads to a church with ...No Clear Purpose (Chap 10). I've seen this way too often, churches that "do church," but have no clear direction or purpose except to exist.

Out of place and out of sorts

Rainer's small, succinct chapters yield insights into churches who didn't change, though the community around them did (Chap 4). Other churches rarely prayed together (Chap 9), and others became ...Obsessed Over the Facilities (Chap 11).

A chapter that struck a sad, familiar chord is where, The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission (Chap 6). As a missionary and pastor, this one grieves me the most. The focus of the church becomes so inward that the command to "Go!" is set aside and forgotten.

I see this in both a lack of local evangelistic outreach and disinterest in world missions. This is pervasive throughout America today, along with a diminished focus on discipleship and equipping God's people.

Another great insight looked at the life stages and decrease in pastoral tenure (Chap 8). Rainer lays out five general stages of relationship between a pastor and the church. From my own experience, I found these to be accurate and remember going through or seeing each stage.

Is there hope?

An autopsy isn't fun, unless you're a forensic doctor I guess. So the book doesn't end on a down note but with hope.

Rainer lays out twelve responses to give hope. These are laid out in three categories of churches— those with sick symptoms, very sick, and dying.

You might think the last category isn't going to have much hope, but you'd be wrong. It's all a matter of focus and perspective, which is lost in a sick or dying church.

Final thoughts

I was sent this book by my friend, Pastor Bill Holdridge, who established Poimen Ministries, and graciously allows me to be part of this ministry to pastors and churches. He's seen all of this more than I have. If you're a pastor and concerned about the health of your church, I encourage you to contact Bill or any of us with Poimen Ministries.

So I recommend Dr Rainer's book for any pastor, no matter what your current role may be in church. It is well worth the read.

Here's a blog post of Dr Rainer's that echoes much of the same issues in his book– 8 Reasons Many Churches Are Living in the 1980's

Another resource I recommend is the blog of Pastor Karl Vaters, especially for pastors of small churches– New Small Church. Karl has a clear focus and purpose that is healthy and outward, and is a great encouragement to many.

If any of this post encourages you, or you see its value for someone else, please feel free to share it! Thanks for reading!


A Culture Conflict

Photo credit: Unsplash.com_TLefebvre A culture shifts and changes with time. It often changes when there is some conflict with established cultural norms. This was seen in the 1960's.

But many cultural changes are less obvious, they are more like subtle shifts than an abrupt turns in direction. Perhaps the 1990's are the most recent example of that.

Not all changes in culture are the result of external forces or conflicting trends. Cultures can also change when one person's values change and their internal change influences others. 

A basic call to all

The basic call of discipleship is quite opposite from what our culture expects. The same was true for the disciples then. It is true for any people, anywhere, and at any time. All people are born with an innate selfish nature.

In Christian terms, it is the sin nature or the flesh. Whatever term is used, it’s true. A simple observation of toddlers and two-year olds will confirm it. What word is expressed early on? “No!”—the first expression of the selfish, self-centered nature of every human being.

Jesus tells those who want to follow Him three things that are needed—

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)

Another way to express this is to deny our selfish nature, die to our selfishness, and surrender our self-will to Jesus.

But this is easier said than done. Why? Because it goes against all we know and experience in life within this world. Is it even possible?

Surrender is not defeat

Jesus goes on to clarify it—

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:25, 26 NLT)

Here Jesus gives an explanation of His original call of, “Come follow Me.” He’s says, “If you want to continue trusting and following Me, you need to exchange your self-centered way of life for a life centered on Me, then you will be transformed.”

The key is surrendering the self-will to Jesus. This is the difficult part. An honest question would be, “How can this be done?” The answer is more about what not to do. Denial of self—the selfish nature and self-centeredness—is an internal action, not external.

[bctt tweet="Self-denial is an internal action, not an external one"]

Internal not external

Most efforts at self-denial are focused on external changes in behavior, the self-effort of trying to lead a pleasing life for God.

The season leading up to the observance of Good Friday and Easter is called Lent. Many observe this season by denying themselves some pleasure or usual part of life, offering it to the Lord as a form of fasting.

This form of self-denial is not bad, and may bring about some good realizations and insights. A person may find they are too dependent on something in life, or can do without certain things.

Unfortunately, focusing on outward efforts of being good, as a means of denying the selfish nature, leads to a performance-based Christianity—something akin to Buddhism.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines Buddhism this way: “a religion of eastern and central Asia growing out of the teaching of Gautama Buddha that suffering is inherent in life and that one can be liberated from it by mental and moral self-purification.”

When good isn't good enough

Many people live good lives, at least outwardly. One of the best-known examples in the past century is Mahatma Gandhi, who grew up in a Hindu family, but later followed his own mixture of Buddhism and Christianity. He was known for his non-violent example and influence for world peace.

Self-denial goes deeper than what is done outwardly—it must go to the core of who we are. How? By surrendering the self-will to the Lord daily, even moment by moment.

[bctt tweet="Self-denial goes deep to the core of who we are, that's why it's hard"]

Jesus shows us how

Jesus shows the way in the Garden of Gethsemane. Though He knows the Father sent Him to die on the cross, He asks the Father if it can be avoided. A spiritual battle ensues and Jesus asks His closest disciples to come pray with Him.

Three times He lays His request before the Father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Each time Jesus returns from prayer, He finds the disciples asleep.

At one point Jesus admonishes them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). Another version says, ”Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!" (NLT).

Why it's not so easy

This speaks to the heart of the matter. What we may intend and want to do is difficult because of our natural weakness—the weakness of self. Our natural disposition is to put self first above all else and everyone else.

Our physical body and its desires are powerful, but they make us weak spiritually.

[bctt tweet="Our physical body and its desires are powerful, but they make us weak spiritually"]

This is why Jesus calls each believer to follow Him with a personal call—to surrender our free will to Him, and put Him first in our lives.

It is a call to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. It involves no striving, only abandonment and surrender to Jesus and His will.

Impossible, and yet doable

This is difficult. No, impossible without God’s help and His power at work in us internally.

When we surrender to Jesus it becomes an amazing testimony to the power of God. It captures the attention of people, and brings lasting change to the world.

Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts. Only Jesus does this. But He chooses to do it through true self-denial—choosing to trust in Jesus implicitly, and dying to a life fixated on this world.

[bctt tweet="Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts"]

What is your greatest internal challenge to surrendering to Jesus?

This post is an excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here's the link to the previous excerpt before this one— Who Jesus Is

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

The Wrong Kind of Encouragement

Photo credit:

Because people did those [evil] things, God left them and let them do the shameful things they wanted to do. Women stopped having natural sex with men and started having sex with other women. In the same way, men stopped having natural sex with women and began wanting each other all the time. Men did shameful things with other men, and in their bodies they received the punishment for those wrongs.

People did not think it was important to have a true knowledge of God. So God left them and allowed them to have their own worthless thinking. And so they do what they should not do.

They are filled with every kind of sin, evil, greed, and hatred. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, lying, and thinking the worst things about each other. They gossip and say evil things about each other. They hate God. They are rude, proud, and brag about themselves. They invent ways of doing evil. They don’t obey their parents, they are foolish, they don’t keep their promises, and they show no kindness or mercy to others.

They know God’s law says that anyone who lives like that should die. But they not only continue to do these things themselves, but they also encourage others who do them. (‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭26-32‬ ERV)

The Bible is politically incorrect. It contains the truth, but it doesn't square with popular culture. This poses a dilemma. It poses a dilemma for those who want to believe in God and the truth of His written Word (the Scriptures), but want to embrace the wind of popular cultural values.

A lot of posturing takes place today, when it comes to what the Bible says and what many people want it to mean. The problem with God's truth is that it is inconvenient and politically incorrect. It doesn't change with the shifting tide of popular opinion, culture, or social norms. It doesn't change because it contains the truth revealed by God who is unchanging in His nature. This has been true for millennia, not just the past few decades.

Reading the history within the Bible reveals the unchanging nature of God, and the ever-changing behavior of man. Human nature is also pretty consistent. Consistently bad. Even the Bible's heroes are shown to have some major character flaws, wrong behavior, and questionable judgement. And yet, God consistently provides a way for them to be rescued and restored. How? He rescues us because of His mercy and restores us by His loving kindness.

This portion of the Book of Romans was written nearly 2000 years ago, yet it describes the current behavior and attitude of humanity. Things like—jealousy, murder, lying, gossip, rudeness, pride, bragging about themselves, disobedience to parents, not keeping promises, showing no kindness or mercy—are descriptive of our current world. Sadly, these things are encouraged through public and social media, both out of ignorance and intent.

And yet, God continues to extend His mercy and grace towards anyone who would trust in Him, and His truth prevails. He and the truth will outlast all human culture, all governments, and all challenges in rebellion towards Him. It's up to each person to choose the truth or what seems right for the moment. ©Word-Strong_2015

The Art of Yielding

Yield-signs If you drive a vehicle of some kind, you've seen the signposts with the upside-down triangle. Sometimes yellow, sometimes red and white, and sometimes they have specific wording or symbols.

It's a yield sign. It tells drivers to yield, to slow down and allow other drivers to proceed before entering the other road. Many drivers don't seem to understand this. Instead of giving way to other drivers, they seem oblivious to the oncoming traffic, or even think they have the right of way. I've seen honking, frustrated drivers who have to give way to them.

Which driver are you? Are you the one who has to give way to the ones who ignore the yield sign, or the one who ignores it? Or, have you been both at times?

Why is it hard to yield to others?

Why do we have a hard time yielding to others on the road? Is it ignorance of driving laws, or a symptom of our cultural tendencies, a sense of entitlement? What I see on the roads of America, I see in our culture. It also permeates the church culture of America.

I can't speak of this based on research or with polls to back it up, only simple observation. We Americans don't seem to be good at yielding to others. I'm not speaking of driving habits, but daily life. This isn't a condition of one generational age or another, or one denomination or another. It's a human condition.

Perhaps it's easier to see on our roadways, but I've seen it first hand in many ways and in many places. I've also seen it in myself, and I'll bet, if you're honest, you've seen it in yourself, as well.

[bctt tweet="Why do we have a hard time yielding to others"]

What's the problem?

So, what's the reason for this? And don't give me the glib, "because we're sinners." There's a deeper issue here. This goes to the core of who we are when we claim to be Christians—Christ-followers. And Jesus knows this is our problem, all of us. He addressed it many times with the disciples.

What was the final teaching expressed by action that Jesus did before He went to the cross? What was the subject the disciples argued about with each other that prompted some of Jesus' most poignant teaching?

When the disciples argued about who was the greatest among them, Jesus exhorted them about servanthood (Mark 9:33-37). What did He do to them on the final night He was with them? He washed their feet, then exhorted them to do the same (John 13:1-17).

His admonition for all of us who want to be His followers gets to the crux of it all.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me." (Matt 16:24 NLT)

How can we change?

How do we turn from our selfish ways? I trust you've found this is not so easy. Yes, Jesus gives us the supreme example, but any attempt to be like Jesus in our own strength, by our own will and determination, is bound to fail. Paul the apostle spoke to this in Romans—

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. (Romans 7:18, 19 NLT)

[bctt tweet="How do we turn from our selfish ways? Why is it so hard?"]

The apostle Paul helps us with this dilemma in his epistle to the Philippians. He connects our difficulty with yielding to others (because of selfishness and self-centeredness) to the example of Jesus.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. (Phil 2:3-6 NLT)


Reading the larger context of Paul's admonition in Philippians 2:1-9, it's clear that we are to think of others in a similar way as Jesus did. He let go of His rights as God (the Son) and became human. He humbled Himself, emptied Himself, and died for our benefit.

General William Booth wanted to send a telegram of encouragement to his leaders, but could only afford one word. What word did he choose? Others. This was the focus he wanted his Salvation Army leaders to have.

[bctt tweet="The key to yielding is considering others and their interests above our own"]

This is the key to the art of yielding. When we consider others and put their interests above our own, we express the nature of Jesus. As Jesus said in another dialog with His disciples—

"But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45 NLT)

Yielding to others

So, whether you're driving, or at a supermarket, waiting in line somewhere, or in a discussion with others—think about them. Consider them. Put yourself in their place. Give way to them, even when you think you're right or have the right of way.

[bctt tweet="Think about others, consider them and put yourself in their place"]

If we all did this just once a day, it would change our lives, and probably begin changing the lives of others around us. It may not be a lot, but it's a start. It's a start in the right direction—away from just thinking of ourselves.

Here are some questions to consider and act on—

When was the last time you yielded—gave way—to someone else in some way?

When was the last time you didn't insist on being right in an argument?

When did you last do something to bless someone else without any expectations?

What, or Who, Are You Following?

©© The advent of social media brought a new twist on the subject of following. Some make a science out of it. Others obsess about gaining more and more followers. But when it comes to the Christian faith, it should mean one simple thing.

Recently, I read an article by a well-known pastor in a Christian online magazine for leaders. What he says is certainly not heresy, but I do take exception with a couple of things he says. Actually, one thing in particular.

The article

I want to make it clear—this is not a knock against this pastor—otherwise I'd make it more personal and name him. I'm sure he's a fine pastor, and I know he's a sought after speaker.

In fairness to him, I get the point of what he says about how the church is perceived by people in general, especially the unchurched. But even in this, I believe he and many of us are missing the primary issue. Here's the paragraph I take issue with—

“The arrival of Jesus signaled the end of the temple model,” he continued. “The Church really should be … nothing more than a community of people who follow the teaching of a man sent from God to explain God and to clear the path to God. You don’t have to agree but you shouldn’t dislike it unless there’s more to it.”

Well, there is more to it.

The problem

My concern is the sentence, "nothing more than a community of people who follow the teaching of a man sent from God...."

When I became a believer, something I've shared about in my book and in earlier posts, I chose to follow Jesus, not just His teaching. Yes, of course, I study what He taught and am committed to walk in that truth, but I follow Him.

[bctt tweet="I study what Jesus taught and am committed to walk in that truth, but I follow Him"]

Over the centuries, schisms and splits have come because of differences on doctrine and practice, and theological viewpoints. And so, thousands of church denominations and variations of denominations were born. But the identity of the church is not about doctrine or theology, it's about Jesus.

Heidlbg-schlosseDon't get me wrong, doctrine and practice matter, and good theology is to be valued. This is where we and the rest of the world get sidetracked. It's not about religion, but relationship, and that relationship is with Jesus.

I'm reminded of my conversation with our guide at the castle in Heidelberg. He told me that we (American) evangelicals seem to focus on Jesus more than they (European Protestants) do. He's right, but not as right as we'd like to believe.

What matters

Our natural bent as humans drives us to justify ourselves. It started in the garden when Eve, then Adam, made their fateful choice (Gen 3:4-6). Since then, we all try to cover our nakedness with fig leaves of some kind to cover our guilt, shame, inadequacy, or whatever (Gen 3:7).

This effort at self-justification takes on all sorts of forms, and is popularized by the expression, "We're saved by grace, not by works" (Eph 2:8). We can say that, and believe it, but do we live it?

Over the years, I've seen and heard many people conclude one person or another is not "saved" because of what they believe. I've also heard plenty of people claim spiritual rightness based on what they believe.

But the Christian faith is grounded upon relationship with God through Jesus His son. Here are a few of the many places this is made clear—

  • Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23— Jesus calls "whoever" to follow Him
  • John 14:6-11— Jesus makes it clear that He is the only Way to the Father
  • 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:17— the apostle Paul makes it clear who he is following to his followers (disciples)
  • Hebrews 8:7-13 (especially verses 10 and 11)— the basis of Christianity—the New Covenant—is relationally-based, not performance-based

[bctt tweet="The Christian faith is grounded upon relationship with God through Jesus His son"]

Does the church need rebranding or revival?

Back to the article's content, the pastor contends the church has become "unnecessarily resistible" and needs rebranding. Is this really our responsibility?

Does the church need rebranding or revival? It seems to me we need revival.

Whenever there's been revival, the church didn't shape itself, it exalted Jesus. The revival was the work of God, not the followers who experienced it. My only experience with revival was during the Jesus Movement.

I suppose you could say the church got rebranded in those days, but it wasn't because a pastor, group of pastors, or churches decided it was needed. The outpouring of God's Spirit into those who became believers brought change because they were changed.

[bctt tweet="Does the church need rebranding or revival? I think we need revival, what about you?"]

Revival is God's work, not ours

We were following Jesus, not a set of teachings or new approaches to doing church. As our lives were transformed, we wanted to go to church, and we came "just as we were." We wanted to hear God's Word taught, and wanted to worship with abandon, and we wanted to tell others about Jesus.

I've been reading a book that challenges the church today about the need for revival. The book is called, "Reborn to Be Wild" by Ed Underwood. In the book he challenges readers to a radical commitment to Jesus.

Revival is God's work, not ours. He brings it about as He changes us from the inside out. The church doesn't need a change of appearance or approach, we need a change of heart. We need to follow Jesus with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength (Mark 12:30).

[bctt tweet="The church doesn't need a change of appearance or approach, but a change of heart"]

The Curse of Comparisons and Greener Grass

Photo credit: A classic, typical question at pastor conferences is, "So, how big is your church?" It's one of the things I didn't enjoy about those conferences.

The usual speakers pastored larger congregations, or experienced exponential growth, or some cutting edge feature of ministry. These were the "big guys" of the faith, the successful pastors. They and their churches had big names.

Most of the pastors had churches that ran from 25-200. Often, there was a disconnect of experiences, expectations, and focus of ministry.

Another question of comparison

Another question I remembered as a young pastor came at community gatherings. "So, where did you go to school?"

I didn't get to finish Bible college, though I enjoyed my time while it lasted. I stopped to get a job to support my young family of three. Then, I was drafted into ministry service, so school got put off even further.

The ironic thing, our church became the popular church in town. It still is, nearly 25 years after I turned it over to another pastor to go to the mission field. We had a name in our community.

The other side of comparison

I use to feel bad for fellow pastors of smaller churches in my town. I liked them. I cared about them and saw them as partners in God's kingdom.

But I hated the questions of comparisons and legitimacy. I still do. It's so unnecessary.

I remember the day our church grew to a point where I didn't know everyone's child, occupation, and where they lived. It bothered me.

How could I shepherd the church if I didn't know all the "sheep" by name? My model Shepherd did (John 10:3-4, 14, 27). When the church was smaller, I knew everyone by name, and they knew me.

[bctt tweet="I hate questions of comparisons and legitimacy, they're so unnecessary."]

A culture of comparisons

We live in a culture of comparisons. We compare everything—houses, jobs, incomes, bodies, accomplishments, possessions, appearance, religions, ethnicities, and the list goes on.

Why do we care so much about all these comparisons? It's futile and demoralizing.

The curse of comparisons. It almost makes me physically sick at times. I hate it.

[bctt tweet="We live in a culture of comparisons. Why do we care so much about all these demoralizing comparisons?"]

Alternative to comparisons—contentment

In my early days of ministry service I was a jack-of-all-trades.

I led praise and worship for children and adults. My wife and I oversaw the nursery and pre-school child care. I was a youth ministry leader, and I drew a salary as a janitor.

It was good preparation for pastoral work.

One day, one of the pastoral staff had a frustrating day. He asked me, in his typical sarcastic humor, "What's your purpose for being here?"

My devotional that morning was in Philippians 4:11-12. I was learning to be content in what God had for me to do.

We both laughed about it. He had asked in a joking manner, and I answered with naive sincerity. It resonated for both of us. I wanted to be a pastor like him, and he wanted the contentment I had.

Greener grass or contentment?

The grass is always greener somewhere else. Lot chose the better portion of land, but it was an unwise choice (Gen 13:11-13).

It's always our choice—comparison or contentment.

Q– Where do you struggle with comparisons?

Q– What brings you contentment?

[bctt tweet="Where do you struggle with comparisons? What brings you contentment?"]

The World Has Changed

©kentoh | 123rf stock photos Saying the world has changed may seem an understatement, an obvious one. But Paul Borthwick is a world-renown teacher and consultant on world missions, and this statement is the recurring theme of his book. He isn't referring to technology, nor culture per se. It's a declaration about global missions. And he ought to know, he has much experience to back it up .

While reading through his most recent book, Western Christians in Global Mission, I was both challenged and refreshed by his writing, research, and dialogue to western Christians involved in global mission, such as myself. As a cross-cultural missionary, I had a vested interest in reading this book and I was not disappointed.

I've already recommended it to others, and wrote a review on Amazon. But I wanted to make a recommendation here on my blog. The subtitle alone challenges the reader with a question too often unconsidered— What's the Role of the North American Church (in Global Mission)?Western_Mission_cover

Having been a church planter in the US and trainer of church planters and leaders in SE Asia, this is a vital question to be answered. Mr Borthwick does this well in several ways.

He begins with broad views of the church in North America and the Majority World, and how they fit into the state of the world. He sees Nine Great changes in the world that are Great Challenges for the church worldwide (pages 33-60).

  • The Great Transition— the worldwide church is primarily non-white, non-Western, and non-wealthy
  • The Great Migration— there are vast movements of people from nation to nation
  • 2 Great Divides— an Economic Divide and a Theological Divide
  • 2 Great Walls— the first being a wall between the gospel "haves" and the gospel "have-nots," the second is the effect of environmental impacts on the poor.
  • The Great Commission— the church has not done a good job making disciples, either in North America or the Majority World (making converts is not the same as making disciples).
  • The Great Compassion— seeing beyond the need of salvation to see people in their need of many things for daily life (yet without causing a dependency).
  • The Great Salvation— a personal worldview that serves as a reminder and motivation for going out into the world with the gospel.
  • The Great Celebration— having vision for the celebration in heaven of every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping Jesus.

The author goes on to give "An Appraisal of the North American Church." It is one I found to be both confirming and challenging. Then "An Appraisal of the Majority World Church." This was both refreshing and disconcerting, and it confirmed my thoughts that the great need in the Majority World (I call it MOTROW) is the need for sound equipping of leaders.

A good portion of the book is dedicated to seeing how to move forward to meet these changes and challenges. There are plenty of open-ended questions and penetrating insights given by Majority World leaders to foster discussion and consideration. The author adds stories of his own that give vivid insight into the learning curve presented in this book.

His extensive experience in many countries and continents with various leaders and people groups qualifies him to not only make statements, but pose important questions. He gets into specifics and provides practical queries and guidance.

I found myself agreeing over and over again with the points made and the challenges posed. Not only does Paul Borthwick make his case well and graciously, it lines up with my own observations from experience on the mission field for the past 20+ years, including 15 years as a resident in the Philippines.

I don't just recommend this book, I believe it is a must read for anyone in North America who wants to keep in step with God's plan for His Great Commission, especially western-culture missionaries.

A continuing theme throughout the book is, "The world has changed." So has the church worldwide, and the world mission movement.

America has a role, but it's not out in front taking charge, directing, and funding everything. It's in a partnership alongside Majority World missionary leaders.

I hope you'll take time to read and thoughtfully consider all that's presented in this book. The world has changed and it's waiting for us to catch up with it.

About the Beginning of the Story

Image credit: arturaliev / 123RF Stock Photo I've started a new writing project. It's a bit ambitious, but here's the gist of it. My goal is to take God's Story (in the Bible) and show how my own life story and the life story of others is woven together. Here's the beginning point...

God's story starts out with a simple statement, "In the beginning, God…." God exists and all life as we know it began when He spoke it into existence.

Many people have a hard time swallowing this as true, and see the Bible as a book of fables and folk tales. The reason it's hard to see it differently is because we have lost connection with God, and lost touch with our own human history.

The power of story

More progressive cultures have difficulty believing in God than cultures in less developed regions of the world. While it's easy to dismiss the Bible and God as just a story, stories engage people and are popular today.

What may seem as a trend or fad in western culture (an interest in story) has never been lost in other cultures throughout time. In most cultures, stories take center stage. People gather to hear stories, stop what they're doing to listen to stories, and look for opportunities to tell their own story.

The power of story invaded my own life unexpectedly. As a cross-cultural missionary I do a lot of talking. In a more formal setting it's called preaching and teaching. In preaching, stories are incorporated into the messages as a way of illustrating or explaining whatever truth the message is intended to convey.

Most of the time we preachers see stories as something to add to the message. It's not the focal point, but a means to an end. A way to help make a truth more clear by connecting it to something familiar and known. Jesus used stories in a more central way.

A simple story

One Sunday morning in the Philippines, as I went on and on with my message and followed a carefully written outline, I told a story for illustration. As I began to tell it, I engaged everyone's attention. I borrowed it from a book of parabolic stories made popular in Philippine culture by a doctor and journalist. The story revolves around a carabao (water buffalo). It's a simple story that transcends culture.

IMG_0659A farmer and his son traveled back from a day of farming with their carabao. The carabao is a powerful and mostly docile animal used for pulling heavy things and to plow fields. It's common in South East Asia and beloved in Filipino culture.

The farmer had his son ride on the carabao while he walked beside it. As they went by some people, they overheard them say, "Look at that lazy son! His father has worked hard all day and he insists on riding the carabao. How disrespectful!

So, the son got down from the carabao and the father mounted the carabao. They continued home with the father riding and the son walking, until they came to another group of people along the way. Once again, they overheard their conversation, "Look at that father who rides the carabao while his young son is forced to walk beside him. How cruel this father is to his son!"

The farmer and his son dismounted the carabao and began walking together, leading the carabao behind them. As they approached another group of people, this is what they heard, "Look at this foolish farmer and his son. Here they have a strong carabao to ride on after a long day's work, but they're too stupid to take advantage of what God has given them!"

This time the father joined the son on the carabao. They both rode the carabao and continued to their home. Again, people said something critical, "Look at them, the carabao has worked hard all day and this lazy farmer and son are making the carabao work even harder!"

The point of the story

The point of the story, of course, is that no matter what you do someone is likely to criticize it. It's just human nature.

This illustrates out how well story engages us. It draws us in and engages our emotions and our thoughts. And sometimes, the point of the story can be the story itself.

Have you experienced something like this where no matter what you do someone is critical about it?

Does any of this ring true with the story of your own life, or certain events in your life?

Give me some feedback on what you like (or not like) about what I wrote. You can make a comment below. Thanks for reading!

God Speaks

Times_Times-Changing_collage I came of age during the tumultuous sixties. The Vietnam War began in the middle of that decade. Prior to this, America was immersed in a promising rise in economic power. The growth of the middle class was the engine that powered the American economy after decades of depression and wartime economies.

Along the way, America seemed to lose its soul. Social protests marked the latter end of the sixties and became a cultural undercurrent against racial injustice, materialism, and a war far from home.

This undercurrent created a spiritual vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. It was quickly filled with a myriad of philosophies, religious movements, and lifestyles.

A culture shift

The range was staggering—eastern religions and philosophies, a resurgence in witchcraft, experimentation with illicit drugs, communes, and along came the Jesus Movement that challenged the traditions and status quo of Christianity.

This cultural shift wasn’t restricted to the US, but found its way throughout the world.

The Beatles mystical involvement with Transcendental Meditation and drugs led them to India for an audience with an Indian yogi. Their songs reflected this personal and famous cultural shift, while visiting the infamous Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.[i]

Prior to this, songwriters like Bob Dylan and other folk singers challenged America’s status quo on issues of social conscience, and Time magazine announced the spiritual vacuum with their cover declaring—God is dead. Inside this issue noted theologians touted the loss of America’s spiritual soul.

These were some of the prophets of that decade.

A breath of fresh air

In the midst of all the protests came a breath of fresh air spiritually. Waves of young people dropped out of the middle-class march and pursued all that reared its head at the time—including meditation, drug use, and free love.

Out of this move away from middle-class America, many turned to God and joined the Jesus Generation that launched what became the Jesus Movement.[ii] Although more well known and popular on the west coast, it took place across the nation, and spilled over to the next decade and into other nations.

The Olympics of 1972 (in Munich) were tragically marred by a terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team. But God’s counter was to send a ministry called YWAM (Youth With A Mission), which sent well over a thousand young people into the midst of millions from all over the world, and shared the love and hope of Jesus.[iii]

The Second Coming

A primary influence of this movement was an interest in the return of Jesus Christ—the Second Coming—when God returns to bring those who love Him to heaven, and also brings a final, apocalyptic judgment upon the earth.

It paralleled fears about over-population, famine and environmental ruin. Once again, God brought an answer to the world’s self-destructive spiral into despair—hope in His Son’s return to save the world from itself.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb 1:1-3)

Are you ready for the Lord's return to earth?

If so, how are you using your time and living that shows your readiness?

If not, what hinders you from opening your heart to God?

This is an excerpt from my book. Thanks for reading!

[i] The Haight-Ashbury district became a famous staging ground for the hippie movement, especially known for love-ins and hallucinogenic drug use

[ii] The Jesus Generation was a name given to the (primarily) young people in the Jesus Movement

[iii] For background on YWAM see this link– History of YWAM

The Search

©CCCM – the Tent

During the sixties, I was part of the counterculture movement seeking spiritual truth. In the early seventies, I became part of the Jesus Movement.

This movement was neither organized, nor guided by any church or religious organization. It was the work of God in people searching for spiritual truth and encountering Jesus in a personal relationship.

“It’s not about religion, but relationship,” was a common expression in those days. Young people popularized the Jesus Movement, including those known as hippies who joined the developing counterculture of the 1960s.

A spiritual vacuum

A spiritual vacuum existed in those days. For the most part, traditional churches did not reach the young people of that generation. Several elements in our current decade remind me of that era.

Today, traditional and established churches are not reaching the young people of this generation, including those raised in Christian homes. Many surveys show a strong trend toward young people leaving churches in droves.[i]

In my own search for truth as a youth, I sampled wisdom from various religions and philosophies that surrounded me in abundance and diversity.

Raised in a nominally Christian home, even confirmed in the faith of the Episcopal Church at the age of twelve, I found my Christian moorings too weak to keep me from drifting into varied experiences, philosophies, and religious encounters. These encounters brought plenty of confusion and uncertainty.

During the late 1960's, I had developed a ritual of reading the Bible every morning. Even so, I still used drugs and alcohol, practiced transcendental meditation, and played and wrote music, along with other experiences typical of that time.

Through it all, I was coming to believe Jesus was an important element of true spirituality. During this period, a friend invited me to a certain church in Southern California, which later became a mega church within the Jesus Movement.[ii]

Thrown out

I attended an evening service where a very young but quite charismatic evangelist was teaching the Bible. At the end of the study he gave an invitation to “accept Christ.”[iii]I wasn’t ready to do this.

After the service, I began asking many questions my friends were unable to answer. So they brought me to a man considered a Bible answer-man of sorts—I continued asking my questions. He answered me by quoting verses of Scripture from the King James Version (KJV), but without explanation.

I had studied Shakespeare and Chaucer in high school, so it wasn’t the archaic language that troubled me—it was my lack of spiritual understanding.

Each time he quoted a Scripture in response to my many questions, I could hear a round of “amen’s” and some cheering, as he refuted my challenging questions.

Intent on my quest for spiritual truth, and exasperated with his pat answers, I finally asked him—“If I could destroy all the books in the world, how would you then tell me how you truly know God?”

He promptly called me the devil and threw me out of the church.

The wrong way

It was another two years of spiritual wandering before I came into a personal relationship with Jesus, my Lord. I continued reading the Bible and praying, but didn’t give up the other activities and experiences that were counterproductive to my spiritual growth.

My frustration deepened and became desperation.

One morning, leaving the small trailer I lived in with my girlfriend, I went on a search for God. I expected some sign in the sky or a burning bush experience, as Moses had before he led Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-6).

I saw no sign, no burning bush, and didn’t hear any voices.

Discouraged, I returned to the trailer and began reading my Bible. I came to some verses that challenged me—

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

In my heart I took up the challenge of going on the narrow and hard way. I had considered many different philosophies and religions in search of a harmonious belief everyone could hold.

This text showed me I was on the wrong path that led to destruction. I saw the last part of the verse as a challenge to pursue, so I committed my life to God.

A changed life

My life changed little by little as God showed me a new way of living.

I began to give up old habits of my previous lifestyle and developed new ones. On the day of my wedding I experienced a rush of new life and freedom.

I had closed the door on my old life as a new door opened up.

My wife and I attended the same church I’d been thrown out of, but I had a much different attitude and view of God.

I began serving the Lord[iv] in various ways, and became part of the church staff. My wife and I became full-time volunteers who oversaw the childcare ministry at the time our first son was born.

A better way

Years later, I’ve often wondered if the time between my earnest questioning and eventual commitment of my life to Jesus could have been shorter—perhaps two years shorter!

What I needed that night and what millions—even billions—still need is a simple, clear, and complete explanation of the gospel.

For many people, Jesus is only a historical figure whose life is shrouded in mystery.

Every Christian believer should be able to share the truth of the gospel with or without a Bible in hand, and without using Christian terminology and jargon.

Is this possible? Absolutely!

[i] The Barna Group has done a lot of research, especially in the area of young people. Here are a couple reports that reveal this trend of church dropout among youth/young adults— Barna article. There was also a significant study done by sociologist Christian Smith, which he published in his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers (published in 2005), coining the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Here is a link to an article about MTD

[ii] The Jesus Movement was a Christian counter-culture movement starting in the late sixties, and growing to prominence in the early seventies. Young people, often termed Jesus freaks, and Christian rock music, characterized this non-organized movement. [|]

[iii] “Accepting Christ,” describes a person making a decision to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is also called “making a decision for Christ.” An invitation (opportunity) is given to make this decision during an “altar call”—an invitation to come forward or signal an intention to “accept Christ” with a raised hand, then being led in a simple (often rote) prayer.

[iv] “Serving the Lord” became a popular phrase describing volunteerism in the church, but can also include paid staff positions. The idea being it’s more than a job, it’s an opportunity to “serve the Lord.”

This is another excerpt from my book— The Mystery of the Gospel