change

A Wild Branch

Photo credit: lightstock.com Now, I speak to you who are not Jewish. As long as I am an apostle sent to people who are not Jewish, I bring honor to my ministry. Perhaps I can make my people jealous and save some of them. 

If Israel’s rejection means that the world has been brought back to God, what does Israel’s acceptance mean? It means that Israel has come back to life.

If the first handful of dough is holy, the whole batch of dough is holy. If the root is holy, the branches are holy. But some of the olive branches have been broken off, and you, a wild olive branch, have been grafted in their place. You get your nourishment from the roots of the olive tree.

So don’t brag about being better than the other branches. If you brag, remember that you don’t support the root, the root supports you. “Well,” you say, “Branches were cut off so that I could be grafted onto the tree.” That’s right! They were broken off because they didn’t believe, but you remain on the tree because you do believe. Don’t feel arrogant, but be afraid.

If God didn’t spare the natural branches, he won’t spare you, either. Look at how kind and how severe God can be. He is severe to those who fell, but kind to you if you continue to hold on to his kindness. Otherwise, you, too, will be cut off ⌊from the tree⌋.

If Jewish people do not continue in their unbelief, they will be grafted onto the tree again, because God is able to do that. In spite of the fact that you have been cut from a wild olive tree, you have been grafted onto a cultivated one. So wouldn’t it be easier for these natural branches to be grafted onto the olive tree they belong to? (‭Romans‬ ‭11:‭13-24‬ (GW)


Grafting a branch from one tree onto the bark or trunk of another takes skill. In order for the graft to take and produce, a compatibility must exist between the two. Nowadays, the rootstock of a wild olive tree is used to graft in a younger, more productive cutting.

Paul's illustration of the wild branch being grafted into the older root is used to show how God chose to change things in His kingdom. Because Israel was unfaithful and rejected their Messiah when He came, the kingdom of God was opened up to include the Gentiles (other nations).

Not only were Gentiles included, but they became the primary people of God's kingdom. Just as Israel was to be a light to the nations, now the church (Jews and Gentiles alike) is to carry the light of God's redemption message to the world.

Paul reminds us of two things—the church's heritage is embedded in Israel and things can be reversed again—Israel can be re-grafted into the olive tree. Why did God graft in the Gentiles? Because of Israel's unbelief and unfaithfulness.

This illustration helps us see God's purpose for those He chooses. He is the one who grafts, and He is the one who brings compatibility and unity (Eph 2:11-14). It's also a reminder of each believer's responsibility—to believe, to trust, and to be faithful to God and His purposes. ©Word-Strong_2016

Faith Doesn't Require Details

Photo credit: unsplash.com_LBudimaier When it comes to life change, the usual difficulty for people is knowing what to do to bring significant change. A close second is taking the first step towards that change. Then the challenge is to continue in it.

But not all significant change is planned or intended. Think about points of change in your life. Were they intentional or planned?

Life change can often come after difficult or tragic events. Continue reading

Here's a guest post I did on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog, just click on the link to read it— Faith Doesn't Require Details

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

Transitions in Life and Ministry

Photo credit: DeathtotheStockPhoto The past several months brought the reality of transition back into focus for me. Ten years ago, I began a long, even difficult time of transition—in life and ministry.

Living on the other side of the world, life seemed more simple. It was often busy overseeing two full-time ministries, with leadership involvement in our local home church.

It was a full life with plenty of challenges, yet it was simple. My purpose in life was clear.

A major change in life

Life on this side of the earth (FL) was full of busyness, but my purpose was not so clear. Some things were quite clear. We moved back to the US to care for my parents.

But I went from a person of importance in ministry to near anonymity. For the first time in a long time, I wasn't doing what I was gifted and called to do by God, or so it seemed. I also wasn't in charge of any ministry except at a distance.

After about a year or so, I found a place to serve in a local church body. Finally, I was able to employ some of my ministry gifts, which was good. But our first year back was very difficult. At least three different full-time ministry opportunities evaporated.

Learning a new thing

After a few more years, I began to write and eventually self-published a book. This was something I wanted to do for many years, but it also was a great challenge. I found out that writing is a lot different from speaking.

I learned a new craft and it was a sharp learning curve for me. I also went out to search for a regular job to pay the bills, which also was a challenge. I found out there wasn't a big market for a former church planter and missionary like myself.

Learning a new way

Presently, it seems I'm in a new time of transition. I'm learning a new way of putting to work the gifts and calling of God. It's a new phase of walking by faith.

Right now, I'm enjoying it. I like the challenge and have a renewed sense of vision. I work at keeping expectations realistic, which includes managing my time and energy in a different way.

The nature of transitions

This seems to be the nature of transitions. They are a time full of challenges and change. Things are different, unfamiliar, and sometimes bewildering.

Handling transition well is both simple and complex. A big part of doing it well depends on our attitude and outlook. Do we see transition as an opportunity or obstacle?

A balancing act

Over the past several months, I've been helping others navigate transitions. My role requires an objective view of things, while drawing on past experience. It's kind of a balancing act. I can't just fall back on how I've done things before, but I still draw from my experience.

I'm learning that a good mentor or coach needs to learn how to adapt what they know from experience and apply it in different ways, different situations, and with different people.

We're all different. We have different gifts and skills and experience. And yet, many things are similar. Management is management in various fields of work or ministry. People are people, work is work, and God is ever faithful.

Navigating transitions in life and ministry requires a genuine walk of faith, if we want to do it well.


What are some of the life or ministry transitions you've gone through?

How have you navigated them so far?

What would you do differently or wished you'd known going into a transition?

 

True Circumcision

Photo credit: lightstock.com

If you follow the law, then your circumcision has meaning. But if you break the law, then it is as if you were never circumcised. Those who are not Jews are not circumcised. But if they do what the law says, it is as if they were circumcised.

You have the written law and circumcision, but you break the law. So those who are not circumcised in their bodies, but still obey the law, will show that you are guilty.

You are not a true Jew if you are only a Jew in your physical body. True circumcision is not only on the outside of the body. A true Jew is one who is a Jew inside.

True circumcision is done in the heart. It is done by the Spirit, not by the written law. And anyone who is circumcised in the heart by the Spirit gets praise from God, not from people. (‭Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭25-29‬ ERV)


Circumcision began with Abraham the patriarch. It was instituted by God with Abraham as a sign of the personal covenant between them. Later, circumcision was embedded in the Law of Moses, and became an important element of identity for Jewish males.

But the purpose of circumcision was always connected to relationship with God. It was to indicate God's seal of acceptance for those who were set apart as His people. They were to be an example to all other people in the world that one, true, living God existed.

But as with many things, the original purpose and intent of circumcision became a religious ritual rather than a sign of relationship with God. Circumcision was always intended to be more than a physical sign, as seen in Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; and Jeremiah 4:4.

God is always far more concerned with internal change in our hearts than outward compliance or religious obedience. The internal change is done by God's Spirit, as we surrender our heart to Him. Then, we truly become His people. ©Word-Strong_2015

Foodies, Fools, and Drunks—Beware!

Photo credit: lightstock.com

It's an understatement to say things have changed over the last century. Air travel not only became a reality, but thousands fly internationally everyday, something only millionaires thought of even 50 years ago.

Communication has gone from wired to wireless. McDonald's only sold burgers and fries in the beginning, but now offer salads and lattes. Cats and dogs can eat gourmet food now, while millions scrounge for the next meal, living at subsistence level poverty.

It seems like things have changed a lot, even over the last decade, but maybe not as much as it might seem. One thing that hasn't changed is human nature.

Scripture

When you sit down to eat with a ruler, pay close attention to what is in front of you, and put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite. Do not crave his delicacies, because this is food that deceives you. Do not wear yourself out getting rich. Be smart enough to stop. Will you catch only a fleeting glimpse of wealth before it is gone? It makes wings for itself like an eagle flying into the sky. [vss 1-5]

Do not eat the food of one who is stingy, and do not crave his delicacies. As he calculates the cost to himself, this is what he does: He tells you, “Eat and drink,” but he doesn’t really mean it. You will vomit the little bit you have eaten and spoil your pleasant conversation. Do not talk directly to a fool, because he will despise the wisdom of your words. Do not move an ancient boundary marker or enter fields that belong to orphans, because the one who is responsible for them is strong. He will plead their case against you. [vss 6-11]

Live a more disciplined life, and listen carefully to words of knowledge. Do not hesitate to discipline a child. If you spank him, he will not die. Spank him yourself, and you will save his soul from hell. My son, if you have a wise heart, my heart will rejoice as well. My heart rejoices when you speak what is right. [vss 12-16]

Do not envy sinners in your heart. Instead, continue to fear the LordThere is indeed a future, and your hope will never be cut off. My son, listen, be wise, and keep your mind going in the right direction. Do not associate with those who drink too much wine, with those who eat too much meat, because both a drunk and a glutton will become poor. Drowsiness will dress a person in rags. [vss 17-21]

(Proverbs 23:1-21  GW) [Context– Proverbs 23]

Key phrase— Do not envy sinners in your heart

[bctt tweet="Do not envy sinners in your heart"]

Digging Deeper...

What are the first five things we are warned not to do?

What is the reason for each warning? How is it expressed through picture language?

What are we exhorted to do in contrast to the other things we're warned about?

Why do you think we want what we don't or can't have, and envy those who do have these things?

Reflection...

Customs, culture, social norms, and fashions change over the years, but not human nature. Greed and envy are still active and strong. Those with power and influence still wield it regardless of its cost to others.

How can a person navigate life facing challenges where we feel powerless? The Serenity Prayer has some helpful wisdom— "God grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change...." Perhaps the most powerful wisdom is contained in verses 17-18—

Do not envy sinners in your heart. Instead, continue to fear the LordThere is indeed a future, and your hope will never be cut off. (Proverbs 23:17-18 GW)

This is not wisdom found in philosophy classes, nor corporate boardrooms. It is wisdom that endures and gives hope, and it helps anyone navigate any challenge in life.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What do you find yourself longing for or wishing you had?

How much time do you spend each day thinking about what you will eat, drink, or wear?

Do you make a point to pursue godly wisdom, even at the cost of popularity?

Do you have healthy, encouraging relationships that help keep you from envying others?

The Importance of Passing the Baton Well

Photo credit: www.coign.org Passing the baton in a relay race is the most critical part of the race. It happens three times, and each pass impacts the race. When it's done in a smooth, swift manner, precious seconds are gained. When the transition is rough, it slows the pace of both runners and valuable time is lost. If the baton is dropped, the whole relay team loses.

They say that practice makes perfect, and this is paramount for a relay race. Sadly, there have been some horrendous baton mistakes in recent Olympic races. Can you imagine working for years to get to the Olympics, only to watch your hopes of a medal vanish in seconds? It happens.

The passing of a baton is a good illustration for a transition of leadership. When it's done well, the benefits are immense. When it's done poorly, the losses are incalculable.

The transfer process

Reading through 2 Chronicles, in the midst of genealogies and royal histories, the Lord opened up some thoughts for me about transition of leadership.

[bctt tweet="When transition of leadership is done well, the benefits are immense"]

The transition of power from King Solomon to his son Rehoboam is a clear example of how not to do leadership transition. Let's be honest, for anyone who has gone through a transition of leadership in any field, it can be tricky and difficult for everyone concerned.

When it comes to spiritual leadership, especially pastoral leadership, transition is difficult, and costly when not done well. The fallout of a failed or troubled transition affects the people in the church and community, as well as, the immediate leadership involved—pastors, elders, the board, and ministry leaders.

[bctt tweet="The fallout of a failed transition of leadership affects many, many people"]

A lack of wisdom

Photo Credit: tableatny, Flickr

This is the first in a three-part series on transition of leadership. This post will look at the immediate context of a young leader stepping into the very large shoes of a bigger-than-life leader, namely, King Solomon. The text is 2 Chronicles 10:1-19.

[bctt tweet="When leadership transition is done poorly, the losses are incalculable"]

After King Solomon's death, his son Rehoboam finds the people of Israel coming with a request. They express how difficult it was for them living under the strong-handed leadership of his father, and the cost it required. They request a lighter burden to bear in exchange for loyalty and continued service.

Rehoboam seeks the counsel of his father's advisors who suggest he grant the people's request and the people will be faithful and loyal as his servants.

But Rehoboam is not satisfied with their counsel, so he seeks out his own advisors—those who've grown up with him, his peers in experience and age. Their counsel is to be even more harsh than his father had been. So, when the people return for the king's response, they are met with a harsh rebuke.

The people responded with rebellion! When the king refused to listen to them, they abandoned him, or as others have said, they voted with their feet.

The right person

Why did this happen? Many answers could apply, but here are a couple of observations.

Rehoboam was no King Solomon. He didn't have the stature, wisdom, nor leadership gifts of his father Solomon. Four decades of full-time ministry taught my wife and I that one person cannot be replaced with just anyone. There is no magical transfer of leadership gifts and capacity.

In fact, we found that two or three people were needed to take the place of another who served in a major role for a significant time. Primary leadership (as a director, pastor, etc.) is certainly not just a hole to be filled. It requires more than just a warm body. It requires the right person. Wisdom and discernment are needed, as well as clear guidance from God.

[bctt tweet="There is no magical transfer of leadership gifts and capacity"]

The right time and the right way

Rehoboam refused to really listen to the people and consider the implications of what they were saying. A common problem for many young leaders is to try to bring change too quickly. Another problem is trying to lead with the same style of leadership as someone else. Neither is wise.

[bctt tweet="Trying to lead with someone else's style of leadership is unwise"]

photo credit: http://www.hrtechblog.com

When I prepared to turn over the church I planted in the late seventies, to join another ministry overseas, I had a simple prayer request. I asked the Lord for a man who had senior pastoral experience to come take the church. I saw enough failed and troubled church transitions to know the consequences of inexperience.

I wanted to have a clean hand-off of the baton of leadership. Thankfully, the Lord answered my prayer, and the church saw no downturn in giving or attendance, and the church experienced strong growth within months of the final transition.

How can it be done well?

In the next installment, I'll ask some specific questions related to transition of leadership. General principles can be gained through examples in the Bible, but specifics for each transition need more consideration, and plenty of prayer.

In the meantime, to get started in that direction—

What is God showing you through this text (2 Chronicles 10:1-19) about leadership in general?

What experience do you have witnessing or participating in a transition of leadership (at any level)?

A Community Is Not a Clique

Photo credit: mashable.com Many people have difficulty connecting at church, especially larger ones. A myriad of reasons contribute to this, and blame can't just be laid at the feet of the church itself.

It's easy to get into church-bashing and stories of abuse, but it can also be the person's inability or unwillingness to connect.

I've been in many different churches in different nations. I've been an outsider and part of the church body infrastructure. Too many times, I've seen a cliquishness within good, solid churches. It happens, and it usually isn't intentional. But it happens.

Trouble connecting?

Community is a popular theme today. But what is meant by community? It depends on the context. A community can be defined as a group of people who have something in common, or are related by something common.

You or I may be in community with others and benefit from it. Yet others, not included in our community for whatever reason, may view us as a clique. Without going too far down that trail, let's understand a simple truth—a clique is not a community—and I'm speaking of a biblical community.

It doesn't matter that we don't think we are a clique. When others feel or seem excluded from our community, we are a de facto clique. And yet, we feel a common bond, which makes us a community.

A look at biblical community

Many are seeking genuine community within and outside of churches. It's a legitimate desire, in fact, I'd say we all ought to be seeking community. It's what the church was intended to be, and what we see in the Book of Acts.

In the late sixties and early seventies, community began to spring up in a natural, biblical way. My wife and I lived near one such communal (community) house connected to our church. It was a small version of what we see in Acts. Today, not many of those types of church communities exist in the US, though there are still some legitimate ones.

Even the community we see in the first few chapters of Acts ran into some dissension (Acts 6:1-7). It was resolved, but it shows it's difficult to maintain that type of community. What was the secret of the early church? I don't see a particular secret, but I see a few things that make up biblical community.

5 Basic elements of biblical community

The first biblical model of community is found in the Old Testament under the leadership of Moses. But the community in Acts was based on what Jesus modeled for us. Of course, one obvious thing is that a church community is the Body of Christ, so Jesus is the Head of it.

Here are five general things based on the early church model in Acts. You might see more or less, but here's what I see.

Biblical community is relational

The early church had one thing in common. That one thing was their relationship with Jesus as their Lord, though they referred to Him as Messiah. Jesus was their primary bond. This is the heart of observing communion, or as some call it, the Eucharist.

The one obvious thing of any community, biblical or otherwise, is that it's relational. This is the nature of being a community. A biblical community not only has a shared relationship with Jesus, they have close ties to one another because of shared experience. This is seen with the early church.

The disciples were devoted to the teachings of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.... All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other. (Acts 2:42, 44 GW)

It is inclusive, not exclusive

When we have close relationships—people with whom we're comfortable and familiar—it's easy to become exclusive. It's not intentional, hopefully, but it happens rather naturally.

The early church, following the example of Jesus, was inclusive, not exclusive. People followed Him who were not part of the religious community of that day. This created opposition, as it does today.

When I was involved with my community working with a drug intervention program, someone in my church said to me, "What if those kinds of people start coming to church?" I told the church that I hoped they would, and they'd be welcomed. It didn't sit well with some and they left our church.

It is dynamic, not static

A real community changes, even when we want it to stay the same. If it doesn't change, its life gets choked out. It's been said that the last few words of a dying church are, "But we've never done it that way!"

I planted a church towards the end of the seventies and remember our growing pains. One that shocked me was the attitude towards the church's growth. "Pastor, I miss the days when we were a small, close-knit group."

Although I understood what they meant, I could see the problem it caused. As new people came to church, they weren't easily included, especially when they were different in some way.

It is open and non-discriminating

We tend to discriminate for a lot of reasons—race, status, doctrine, appearance, behaviors, even politics. Sometimes, we don't even realize how we discriminate.

Every day the Lord saved people, and they were added to the group. (Acts 2:47b GW)

Will the church be open or discriminate against the LGBT community, people of other religions, the de-churched, and unchurched? We discriminate against non-believers by our attitudes of self-righteousness towards them, though we say we want to win them to the Lord.

Remember, Jesus broke a lot of social norms and met a lot of opposition because of it.

There's a shared sense of responsibility

Do you remember the call of the Three Musketeers? "One for all, and all for one!" This expresses the idea of a shared sense of responsibility. It goes beyond having a common bond. It's a commitment to one another.

The whole group of believers lived in harmony. No one called any of his possessions his own. Instead, they shared everything. (Acts 4:32 GW)

This may be one of the more challenging elements of true biblical community today. We live in a culture that asks, "What's in it for me?" But, a biblical community asks, "What do I have that benefits others?"

Sharing is what we're supposed to learn in kindergarten, but not out of obligation, nor emotion. It needs to be out of a commitment of love for Jesus and His people.

To connect or not to connect?

It's not up to a pastor or a church, it's up to each believer within the church. Each of us is responsible for creating community and not a clique that appears to be community.

Each of us is responsible to be relational, inclusive, open to change, open-hearted, and committed to others. These are my thoughts on the subject, but what about you?

How have you experienced healthy community within the church?

How have you contributed to a healthy and biblical church community?

 

 

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.

Learning to Share

bigsaleWhen we were young, really young, as toddlers and in preschool, we were told to share with others. For some of us, those who didn't learn to share so easily, we were told this a lot. Did we learn? My bet is we're still working on it. I know I am. Why is it so hard to learn how to share? In America, the land of consumerism, it's not like we don't' have enough stuff. Think about how many people have televisions, cell phones, cars, computers, and so on. I've visited plenty of nations where poverty is at a critical level. Even the poor in America are better off than most of the poor in the rest of the world.** We've got a lot of stuff and we could share some of it without any great loss.

So why is it so hard to share with others? Oh...maybe you think it's not so hard. Ok, think of a prized possession, it doesn't have to be of great value, just important to you, even something of sentimental value that can't be replaced. Imagine giving it away. How about lending it to someone and never getting it back? Be honest, gut-level honest. It's not as easy as we'd like it to be or think it should be, is it?

Not so long ago, my wife gave away a pair of my flip-flops to a young man who had no shoes. Mind you, these cost me all of $2.50. They weren't of great value to me, but they were to him. At first I was upset that she didn't ask me first. After all, they were mine not hers! Then it hit me. I could easily live without them. Still…I did really like their color and design...just kidding. I could buy another pair and I had another pair at the house. He had no shoes at all.

I've given away plenty of things and money over the years, and really not lost anything at all. In fact, many times I was blessed in the process of giving. I've loaned things expecting them back, and been disappointed more than once. The truth is, it is not natural for us to share. Why? Because we are intrinsically selfish. It (selfishness) is built into us. We didn't learn it. Sharing is something we need to learn, because it is not natural to us. Ask any preschool or kindergarten teacher.

This is what stands out about the early church we read about in the book of Acts. Sharing with others seemed natural to them. Keep in mind this was at a certain point in time. Later as the church grew (in Acts 6:1-7), they also had to deal with the problem of how to share.

What was the key to their sharing and having "all things in common" (Acts 2:44)? Was it because they did the four things mentioned in Acts 2:42? Was it right theology and sound doctrine? Uniform beliefs and practice? The power of the Holy Spirit? Was it all of the above or any of the above?

Why does the quest exist to find the perfect formula or model? I have my own opinion, but now's not the time. It's as if we humans (believers and non believers) think we can find a golden key to unlock some elusive and golden human potential that will bring world peace and harmony. It ain't gonna happen. Not that way, anyway.

44 And all who believed (who adhered to and trusted in and relied on Jesus Christ) were united and [together] they had everything in common; (Acts 2:44 AMP) 32 Now the company of believers was of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything which he possessed was [exclusively] his own, but everything they had was in common and for the use of all. (Acts 4:32 AMP)

The simple truth is that the early church were all believers in one person—Jesus the Messiah. This is what united them and made them of one heart and soul.

I was reminded once again, during a time of corporate worship, that focusing on Jesus—the Messiah, Savior, Son of God, Lord of all—is the key to unity among people (God's people). It brings a oneness of mind and heart because we aren't thinking about ourselves, or our stuff.

What about you…do you find it easy or difficult to share with others (be honest, not philosophic)? *Do* you share with others on a continuing or frequent basis?

If it's difficult, maybe it's a time for a change of heart and mind. A change only God can bring about by His gracious love.

_________________________

** In America, many government and private sector programs exist to assist the poor. In most of the rest of the world (MOTROW), government and NGO assistance for the poor is either very limited or nonexistent.

Killing of the Innocents

Last week I saw a clip from a movie about the life of Jesus, one of the many shown each Christmas and Easter season. It is a disturbing part of the life of Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18) where King Herod orders the murder of all boys two years and younger. It is a prophetic echo from the prophet Jeremiah when he foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem hundreds of years prior to Herod (Jer 31:15). Herod orders the killing of these innocent children out of his own self-absorbed anger and jealousy. It was pure evil.

Reflecting on the recent evil killing of innocent children in Newtown, CT, I'm reminded how often such killing takes place unnoticed by the general population of the world. But it doesn't go unnoticed. Not by those parents, children, and communities who witness these atrocious and evil acts. Neither does it go unnoticed by God.

The Fix
I addressed this a bit in another post (Broken), but I have some further thoughts on the aftermath of the killings. A lot of debate developed over how to fix whatever problem caused it all. How to prevent such tragedies. I heard three general themes or issues through all the rhetoric—gun control, violence in the media, and mental and moral health management.

Gun control will be debated over and over, and some good points can be made. Two thoughts come to mind. Gun ownership is a right according to the Bill of Rights, and once a right is eroded in some way (like the current assault on religious freedom, ie: Christianity), it is a slippery slope for more erosion. Okay, I get that. 

But the 2nd thought is this—guns are instruments of destruction, pure and simple. That's their purpose, whether it's a target, an animal, or a human being. Yes, they can be a deterrent and means of protection (self-defense). Yes, others with evil intent must be restrained, whether individuals or people groups (nations). But, the ultimate question is how much is enough, and will it really be enough?

We do live in a violent culture. I see this obsessive fascination in the many forms of media that inundate our culture—movies, TV series, digital games, cartoons, etcetera and so on. It isn't normal and it isn't healthy, just ask the many men and women of the military returning from active war environments, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.

This also can become another so-called freedom issue. But is it really? Do we really need all this violent input involving zombies, vampires, and people who take the law into their own hands. We (our culture) glorify violence, plain and simple. And if we think it doesn't have a lasting and impactful influence on our psyche, then we are in serious denial at best, or simple self-inflicted delusion.

Deeper down
The third general theme of discussion formed around people with mental health issues and the general moral compass of our culture. This gets much closer to the core issue. But alas, morality cannot be legislated. Well, it can be put into law, but it won't just happen because of a law, no matter how well enforced.

How about the prevention of violence by the mentally ill? First of all, who determines which people are at risk for violence? How does one go about doing this? It's a rather impossible task to accomplish. Too many variables and factors are involved, and the bigger issue would be those in contact with whoever could be considered potentially dangerous. Dr M Scott Peck looked into this issue in his book, "People of the Lie."

Determining who is bent towards violent, evil action is not easily discerned. Ultimately, it's a people problem. All of us have a certain capacity for doing terrible things. It's called selfish human nature. When self-indulgence and self-exaltation (and other self absorbed characteristics) go unchecked anyone can be self-destructive, and this can spin off into violence towards others.

A cursory view of un-rewritten history (think– non-politically-corrected) brings the reality of human evil into sharp focus. It is easy to blame tyrants such as Hitler, but what about the many people who played a part in his spectacle of evil? The problem of evil is an internal one. Whether we choose it or not, it coexists in our world with good—moral, ethical and spiritual goodness. 

External restrictions and controls will never fix this problem. It might slow it down a bit, for a while, but it won't solve the problem. It requires a change in human nature. An internal change. One impossible for humans to bring about on their own.

Can we fully understand the power and nature of evil? Perhaps not. Even so, it's real. When innocents are killed it is incomprehensible, regardless if it takes place at an elementary school, an island retreat (Norway), or the region surrounding Bethlehem.

The truly innocent One
The story of King Herod's senseless, brutal massacre stems from jealous insecurity, after hearing of a newborn king of the Jews (Jesus). But this innocent child escaped his terror. Later, willingly, Jesus submitted Himself to the murderous plot of Jewish leaders and the complicity of a Roman ruler. Even at 33 years old, Jesus was still innocent—sinless.

His innocence (sinlessness) was sacrificed for man's lack of innocence (sinful nature). This is the only solution for evil—an internal change, a change of inner nature. Only by trusting in Him and His work of redemption upon the cross can we hope to escape the power of evil. Will it remove the presence of evil in the world? Not until people's hearts are changed and they receive a new nature.

I look forward to the day when God will end evil's reign for good (Rev 21:1-4). Until then, I must continue resisting evil in my own life, and spread the message of the only solution I know. I choose to look beyond the killing of innocents to the only One I know to be truly innocent. He is the judge, not me. He is the One who will resolve all things in His time (Eccl 3:1-8, 11).

How will you process senseless violence? What will you, and can you, do about it? It is your choice, each of us, and it is a daily choice to be made.

POP!

Pop! The sound of a cork escaping the confines of a champagne bottle. The brilliant explosion of fireworks across a deep black sky. A splash of brilliant color on a stark white page. Even the sound of Rice Krisipies in a bowl when fresh milk is poured over them. (Are you old enough to remember the old jingle, "Snap! Crackle! and Pop!"?)

All of these catch our attention for different reasons. They're different than the norm. Well, maybe not the Rice Krispies. I've read and heard that writers, bloggers, journalists, speakers, pitch men (err, pitch-persons) are supposed to start their verbiage with some attention-getting hook—some type of "pop!"

Pop or popped?

So, why are pop music or pop culture, and other such things, designated with a pop prefix? Especially when they don't stand out as anything special? Most pop-this-or-that seem pretty bland, middle-of-the-road, dull, or even blah.

In the 80's, mixes of several songs with different beats and rhythms were popular. Sometimes the songs were indistinguishably mooshed together. I hated those. It ruined the identity and distinctness of the songs for the sake of who knows what.

Popular or mediocre?

And that's exactly what happens with most things pop—they lose identity and distinctness by appealing to a wider slice of what's popular. When that happens a dilution of value takes place. They lose their pop! for the sake of popularity. It reduces things down to a state of mediocrity.

This contrast of "pops" illustrates a contrast of choices in this life. You can go with the flow and walk with the crowd, or choose a different way.

When I was wandering and lost in life, one Scripture passage stood out to me—Matthew 7:13-14. It speaks of two different gates leading to two different roads, which lead to two different destinations.

I realized that I needed to make a choice if I wanted to escape the mundane life of this planet. A life different now and forever.

A different way

When I hear too much Christian pop music, it bores me. And nowadays, too many Christian talks or messages (that used to be called sermons) do the same thing.

They bore me because there's not much depth or substance to them. But they sound good and appeal to a broad section of people (I guess). In other words, they are popular, but lack pop!

What path are you traveling in life? A path that is popular or one less crowded?

Does it lead to fullness of life here and beyond?

If not, maybe it's time to make a different choice.

Thankful?

What are you thankful for? Are you thankful? I know, Thanksgiving is past, but I thought I'd ask after all the hoopla of the weekend. Sadly, a holiday set aside for national gratitude and reflection has been usurped. It's typically referred to as T-Day or Turkey-Day and has become an excuse for excessive eating and spending, with a lot of football watching and beer drinking. 


It's easy to become cynical and pessimistic about the state of the world around us, which inevitably breeds the same in our heart and mind. It leaks out through our words and permeates our thinking. The only solution and resolve is choosing to be thankful—grateful for what is good in our life. This was the intent of the first national observance by President George Washington, and the later proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. [For more historical insight, check out Wikipedia's Thanksgiving link.]

Perhaps it's my 60's-era perception of it, but it seems like the whole weekend has become way too focused on materialistic pursuits. Black Friday used to start at 5:00 am, but now it's midnight. Sadly, I must admit that I'm not immune to it, but it still bothers me to be so pre-occupied and seduced by it all.

Sad or glad? It's a choice. I'll choose to be glad through gratefulness. One of my favorite verses in the Bible on thankfulness is found in Colossians 3:15-17. It intrigues me that in each admonition of all three verses (in most versions) is the exhortation to be thankful. The other practical element of these verses speaks to how we are made.

In the margin of my Bible(s) I wrote three words— heart, mind and body. The encouragement of verse 15 is to let the Lord's peace rule (like a football ref) in our heart— and be thankful. The next verse admonishes us to let God's Word dwell—live in and permeate—our thoughts in a full and deep way. And don't forget—with thankfulness! And finally, whatever you do (word or deed-wise) do it so that God is honored in your life example. Again, do it with thankfulness.

This isn't a self-help formula or DIY plan. It says "let...." That is, allow this attitude to govern and prevail in your heart, mind and actions. It's a choice. Have a Happy Thanksgiving every day!

What input do you choose for what rules your heart, mind and actions? The kingdom of the world around you, or God's kingdom? Cynicism or thankfulness?

I know what I choose, especially when I find myself drifting into the prison of pessimism. I choose the prism of praise. It's healthier and much more fun.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:15-17 NIV84)

Who's to Blame?

Over the past couple weeks, even months, the news media has broadcast stories where questions abound. The questions boil down to— Who's to blame for...? You can fill in the blank— the election, the Benghazi tragedy, the Hamas-Israeli conflict, and so on. After the tragedy of September 11th, a commission was set up to determine which government agency was at fault.

The blame game seems at an epidemic level in our nation, but it's not limited to us. And it's not a recent problem, nor is it cultural. It's a human problem and not going away anytime soon.

Sorting out blame, aka responsibility, is found at all levels of life and in every corner. It happens between people of all walks of life. Husbands and wives engaged in domestic discussions (aka arguments) spend a lot of time determining blame. Even within our own mind, our conscience, the blame game rages.

But why?
What drives this search to assign blame? It's quite natural to us, we inherited this trait. This isn't just shifting blame backwards, it's reality. Was is it our parents, grandparents, extended family? Well, yes and no. We do learn patterns of behavior, and develop attitudes and prejudices from our family backgrounds. But we're all just passing on what's been passed onto us.

I like to go to the beginning of the book to see how the story starts. Any good story lays ground work for the plot at the beginning, then drops breadcrumbs to follow to the end of the story, the resolve.

So, where did all this blaming start? In the garden of God, paradise. Yep, even in paradise, problems exist. But it didn't start out that way. God set man and woman, the first ones, in a place of earthly perfection, but with one caveat. They could eat from any tree in the garden except for one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:8-9, 15-17). Of course, because of human free will, the inevitable took place—the man and woman ate of the tree. When they ate the blame game began (Gen 3:1-13).

Before jumping to conclusions to assign blame keep in mind that God warned the man first (Gen 2:16, 17). God asked the man about their problem (feeling naked), not the woman who ate from the tree first (Gen 3:9-11).

Here's the point—
The blame game comes naturally to us. We're programmed for it. But why do we continue it even when it resolves nothing? Good question! First of all, it's one of the ways we deal with guilt by putting it off onto others. As if we're not responsible, just innocent bystanders, victims.

It's also a way to justify ourselves as better than others. If I can pin blame on someone else to appear innocent, then I can convince myself and maybe a few others I'm better than all that. It's called self-justification. A lot of this goes on in our heads by comparing ourselves to others.

But the one element of blame we often miss is the ultimate focus of blaming others. It points back to God. Here's the simple view of it—

The man answered, “That woman, the one you gave me, gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12 GW)

Do you see it? "God, it's your fault. You created the woman and she gave it to me."

When things go wrong in our life, or in the world (in our estimation)— we lay the responsibility at God's feet. Here's the classic example— "If God is a God of love, why is there so much evil in the world?" The basic problem with this is the limited perspective we (humanity) have of life, this world, God, ad infinitum. 

Honesty—
When you find yourself playing the blame game, ask yourself some honest questions.
Why is it so important to me to assign blame?
What's my part in all of this? What is my responsibility?
How am I finding fault with God?

How different life is when we stop blaming and forgive, even as God forgives us. God alone is faithful and blameless. He alone resolved blame, guilt, selfishness, and wrong long ago.

God had Christ, who was sinless, take our sin so that we might receive God’s approval through him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 GW)

Stop It! But How?

I'm a product of the Jesus Movement of the early 70's. This movement was characterized by the common saying, "It's not about religion, but relationship." It is a relationship based on trust, trust in Jesus. Trust, an implicit, all-encompassing trust, is another way of expressing the idea of faith (see Hebrews 11:6).

A couple weeks ago I looked at the dilemma many Christian believers have with trying to be good Christians.

It requires a lot of self-effort to do so, but is counter productive to walking by faith, that is, trusting in God. And so, there is a struggle with how a believer can grow in faith and spiritual maturity without a good measure of self-effort.

Self-effort is often mistaken for self-discipline. They're different, at least in a spiritual sense. The first puts great emphasis on external actions and behaviors, while the other focuses on internal strength.

Where does this internal strength come from? It is only with this internal strength that a believer can overcome the struggle the apostle Paul spoke of—

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15)

Many personal struggles in life can be both disturbing and difficult. This is abundantly clear from working with abandoned and abused children and young women. It is what every pastor contends with in caring for people within the church. Many painful and unjust wounds are complex and resist simple solutions.

But not all personal struggles are complex. Most are simple and are tied to our universal, and inherent selfish nature as humans. They can be more readily resolved, but as Shakespeare said—"Aye, there's the rub!"

Overcoming struggle with sin, selfishness, laziness, greed, lust, and so on, requires a willingness. A willingness to not be pulled into the same paths of deliberate or mindless behavior, and the internal attitudes and mindset that propel them.

Human will is powerful. I am, however, not a believer in the "you can do anything you put your mind to" pop psychology. In the end, it is a set up for failure. I believe God is more sovereign than my own free will. And yet, I know God honors the free will He created in me.

On the other hand, God is sovereign enough to bring even the most powerful to their knees, as the great emperor Nebuchadnezzar found out (for a great story see Daniel 4).

Now, back to the question of how to "stop it." How can a person move forward towards spiritual growth and maturity, yet without relying on self-effort? Let me go back to the scripture mentioned a couple blogs ago [Stop It!]—Hebrews 12:1-3 GW.

At first glance it would seem the focus needs to be on what we might call self-effort—

We must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. (Heb 12:1 GW)

And that is what we as humans tend to do, especially within a culture that prides itself on self-determination and built an industry around doing it yourself (DIY). That's how we are wired.

But further reading and observation reveal the key—

We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up. (Heb 12:2-3 GW)

To overcome daily personal struggles, the focus needs to be on Jesus. This is where faith comes in. Again, the basic element of faith is trust. Trust requires the surrender and submission of our will to God. "Aye, there's the rub," that is our dilemma.

However, Jesus has shown us the way in the garden of Gethsemane when He asked the Father if He could avoid going to the Cross (Matthew 26:36-46). Jesus also struggled with His self-will, but after three requests He submitted Himself—His self-will—to the Father.

Even with the most complex struggles and personal issues, this is what's needed. It is the only true solution to "stopping it"—to be set free from the things that entangle us and seem to hold on to us.

It's easy to over think all of this. But it is relatively simple. It is also a daily struggle every believer will live with until we see Jesus face to face (in heaven). The struggle with self-will is the struggle of life, even a life of faith. Will we give in, or resist? Will we remain a victim, or be an overcomer?

What are you struggling with on a daily basis? Is it something recent or something that has plagued you for years? Whatever it is, entrust it to Jesus. Lay it at His feet, so to speak, as a dog might drop a ball at his master's feet. This is what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11:28-30 GW—

“Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves because my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Stop it!

©123RF

Bob Newhart has a hilarious comedy skit as a psychiatrist. His therapy is a simple, two-word solution for problems—"Stop it!" If you've never seen it, click on the link ("Stop it!") for a good laugh, but keep reading!

If only solving life's problems were that simple! Well, in some ways it is. But, alas, many difficulties in life continue to trouble us. Why? Why don't we just stop doing some things, or start doing other things? The Apostle Paul addresses this in his letter to the Roman church (Rom 7:15-19). What got me thinking on this line was my reading in the book of Hebrews. It's a comprehensive look at how Jesus Christ fulfilled and superseded all that is written in the Old Testament Scriptures. After remembering the many heroes of faith in Israel's history, a strong exhortation is given in the next chapter.

Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.  (Hebrews 12:1-3 GW)

Over the years I've found that many Christian believers try to live as good Christians. My advice to them is—Stop it! Many might say, "But aren't we to lead lives pleasing to the Lord?" Of course we are, but we go about it the wrong way.

Being a Christian is not about trying to do better, it's about being. The popular saying of the Jesus Movement of the early 70's was, "It's not about religion, it's relationship." My children are my children, regardless of their behavior—they just are. They were born into our family, and although there was some labor on my wife's part, they did nothing to become our children and do nothing to maintain their place in the family as our children.

Over the past 20+ years, Susan and I have worked with abandoned and abused children and young women. Without exception, the most important thing for each of them was being connected to their family. In many cases, they needed a substitute family through adoption. It is amazing how strong a bond this is—the bond between child and parent.

In the case of the abused girls or young women, Susan and I, along with the extended family at Rainbow Village, became a surrogate family. This was and is important. We are known as "Mama and Papa" because of the relationship we have with them. This has been an important element in their recovery from abuse.

It works the same way with believers within the Body of Christ, the church community. It is an extended family. It is to be a place of healing and restoration. A place of nurture and growth. A place of belonging.

OK, so what about moving forward in this relationship with the Lord Jesus? Is it possible to just stop it when it comes to our struggle with sin and personal issues? This text in Hebrews (above) indicates this—at first glance.

Go back and look at those three verses (Heb 12:1-3) and observe it more carefully. There are a couple important keys to running the race and growing in faith. Next week I'll go over this. In the meantime, if you're trying real hard to be a Christian—stop it! Just be one. Just be a child of God who trusts in Him.

Faithfulness and the Future

This past month I had the privilege of teaching several young people in two courses at a Bible college. The study and work the students do is quite demanding. I helped one group learn how to study parables, and we studied the Book of Daniel in the other course. Daniel was a man whom God showed the future, and I was reminded that students like these are the future of the church.

I also enjoyed visiting with many alumni during the school's annual Founder's Day conference, and several others in a second meeting before I left. They naturally look to me for guidance as their former teacher, but it's they who encourage me when I see their faithfulness and vision for ministry.

One man especially encouraged me as he shared all God was showing him to do, and what he was doing. Pastor Elmer has quite a story. While he was working as a carpenter in the early days of building at Rainbow Village, he went back to night school to complete his high school degree while improving his English. He wanted to enroll in the Bible college I established in 1995, which required a high school degree and some English proficiency. I was also blessed to officiate his marriage held on Rainbow's compound.

Even while working as a carpenter, I saw his vision and commitment for ministry. He held devotions with the work crew each Friday morning. He went on to Bible college and worked a year in an internship program following graduation. Plenty of challenges came his way, but he endured and completed his assignment under a national pastor.


After taking it over, he established a new church plant in the mountains above the school and Rainbow, later, he came on staff at the Bible college. He was instrumental in helping me establish a curriculum taught in the local dialect (language), a long-held vision of mine. A few years later he wanted to strike out on his own to establish a church-planting school. 

The curriculum would be similar, but simpler and more condensed. His goal was simple—equip leaders to plant churches. At first he was hesitant to tell me his vision, since other church leaders had laughed at him. I rejoiced when he shared it with me. It was another phase of vision God had shown me many years before.

More and more, I've realized that vision from God is not something given for us to bring to pass, but to be shared with others. We may or may not be part of its fulfillment. Perhaps our involvement is simply to share it with others without direct involvement.

For many years, even a couple decades, I've believed the Philippines to be a reservoir of missionaries. I even compiled a list of reasons* I believe this. In the past year or two, my brother, Pastor Elmer, has begun moving forward with his own vision for sending out missionaries.

He has a contact in Hong Kong who helps provide employment, sponsorship and plane fare. Elmer's part is getting candidates prepared to go. This includes equipping them to do ministry. He's able to draw on his own experience and training as a church planter and pastor, and as a certified trainer for Biblical storying (Simply the Story).

But getting candidates prepared involves acquiring the necessary legal documents, including a passport and visa. This is a cost most Filipinos cannot  afford. Where does the money come from? Initially, he used profit from harvesting a field of rice (another interesting story!) from funds he loaned to poor rice farmers. But he has a sustainable plan to develop a missionary sending agency, another great story in itself.

I believe this is the future of world missions. Men and women such as Pastor Elmer exist throughout the rest of the world (MOTROW). They have vision, ingenuity and dedication. An important question to ask in light of this is—What is the role of the American church and of western missionaries?

Pastor Elmer and I have a partnership similar to what Paul and Barnabas had in Acts 11. My role is not like Paul's, but Barnabas'. When Barnabas saw the revival taking place in Antioch (Acts 11:10-26), he went to Tarsus for Paul (then called Saul). Elmer doesn't need me to direct him, but to work alongside him. He's not looking to me for financial help (although I do help support him in a small way). He's asking me to partner with him in what God has given him vision to do.

In the past several decades, western missionaries and churches have unwittingly hindered national-led churches by creating a dependency on foreign support and methods. The dependency develops, among other reasons, because of strings-attached to giving support—the expectations of how ministry will be done.

Will we, the American church and western missionary, make way for a new wave of missionaries and world missions outreach? It will move forward with or without us. After all, it's God's work, not ours.

*If you'd like a copy of my list of reasons for Filipinos being World Class Missionaries, send me an email—livingwordstudy@gmail.com

What the World Needs Now

A popular song in the mid-sixties went, "What the world needs now—is love, sweet love..." sung by Jackie DeShannon [http://tw.gs/Way9d for more info see– http://tw.gs/Way9g]. It's still one of my favorite songs from the sixties and the YouTube video (first link) captures the innocent hope of the sixties for a universal love. Another one of my favorites songs was by the Youngbloods called, "Get Together" [http://tw.gs/Wayba], which became somewhat of an anthem for the peace movement of the sixties. The sixties were a tumultuous time of expectant hope and altruistic (at first) belief in the goodness of humanity, with a divergent mix of protests and campus unrest, a war overseas, economic change, and a moral and spiritual vacuum.

The sixties came and went, and a certain naive hope seemed to die with the close of the decade and the beginning of the "Me Generation", the seventies. We seem to be in a time of another divergent clash of expectations, but without innocence. In fact, there's a whole lot of mud-slinging and name-calling, but it's not just the fury of another divisive election. It seems what the world needs now is humility. At least some civility.

When you look into the heart of God, who is love (1 John 4:7-8, 16), the nature of His love is humility. Out of His great love He gave His Son—for the whole world (John 3:16). And looking to the Son we see humility. The apostle Paul points this out as he exhorts the church in Philippi to be unified (Philippians 2:1-4) through humility towards one another. Then he points them to Jesus for an example (Phil 2:5-8 GWT)—

Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality.Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross.

Jesus, the personification of God's love, said this about Himself in Matthew 11:29 (GWT)

Place my yoke t over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves

We in the American church, including all evangelicals whatever their distinctives, are too often caught up in being "right" (and I don't mean politically). The focus of teaching and practice (how we are to live) is more on upholding moral standards and protecting our rights and freedoms. Having good moral standards is honorable, and it is the great privilege of living in America to enjoy certain rights and freedoms (see US Constitution for more details– http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html). But with privilege and freedom comes responsibility. And morality is based not on human goodness, but the nature of God.

I fear we (the church) are moving faster and faster in the direction of becoming modern-day Pharisees— self-righteous and hypocritical, and lacking in mercy, grace and humility. The Jewish leaders who longed for their messiah to come deliver Israel missed Him when He did come. They condemned Him and found a way of putting Him to death. They were to caught up in themselves and maintaining their sense of rightness.

How can this be reversed? Can it be? If it can't be we are hopeless. Ah, but a solution exists. Change comes one life at a time, one heart at a time. Then, and only then, will lasting significant change take place in our churches, our nation, and the world.

Jesus said, "Come learn of Me..." and He also called all believers, all true followers, to deny themselves (selfish ambitions, pride, self-centeredness, etc.), die to themselves (take up their cross), and then follow Him (Matt 16:24)—simple, relational, intentional, and personal discipleship. This has always been the Lord's "solution" to world peace.

It requires no degree or certificate or special training. It's a matter of sharing the life we have in Jesus with others. Really, it's that simple. But, it's an investment. It requires discipline and commitment. And it requires humility. Are you ready for a change?

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

What Should We Do?

When John the Baptist began preaching and challenging the status quo of his day, he caused quite a stir. Nowadays it's called revival. He was a non-conformist, an independent preacher. But he was not self-ordained, he had a prophetic call upon his life—even before his conception (Luke 1:13-17). His role in life and ministry was preparing people for the coming Messiah. When he preached—and it was strong preaching—people listened and responded (Luke 3:3-9). After hearing the strong words of John's message the people's response was simple—"What should we do?" (Luke 3:10 GW).



There was a different response on the part of the religious leaders of the day—indifference or rejection. But most people saw John for who he was—a prophet sent from God. The response to John's message—his preaching—was a stirring of the heart deeper than emotion. It's called conviction. People knew things were not right and their life needed change.


The great value of preaching is spiritual truth stirring a person's heart towards God. But there's a difference between preaching empowered by God's Spirit and good preaching. The first, like John the Baptizer and Jesus, stirs a genuine conviction of guilt and response of the heart towards God. Preaching that is good can be used by God, but also by the one preaching.


Preaching is persuasive. It stirs the heart to engage the mind. This is why it can be hijacked by the preacher pursuing his own end. When driven by God's Spirit there's a pure motive. But when driven by ambition, or some other human trait, it can be manipulative. Looking at the present state of the church, both in the US and worldwide, I wonder about the motive or ambition of many who are preachers. It is not my place to judge anyone's heart, but I am responsible to examine the fruit of any preacher's ministry (Matt 7:15-20), as my own preaching should be examined. 


Christianity, in developed nations, has enjoyed unparalleled popularity in the past few decades. Even in many closed countries there has been great growth in the spread of the Gospel. And yet, I wonder about the state of the church, especially in the US. If we have so much great preaching, which I believe is true, why are we not seeing a wholesale change in our nation—spiritually and culturally?


I'm sure there are many who would contest my question, pointing to the growth of many churches and the reported thousands who have committed their lives to Christ. So, how could I ask such a question? In my experience over the past forty-plus years of being a believer in ministry service, I'm seeing less and less instance of the question—What should we do?—the fruit of genuine conviction.


True revival changes culture, even within a decadent culture such as the Roman Empire. The birth of the church, in Acts 2, saw its first large ingathering of people who asked the same question—"Brothers, what should we do?" (Acts 2:37). Why are we not seeing more people asking this question? I believe if this were the case we'd see dramatic change within our own culture, like what is seen in other cultures throughout the world undergoing genuine revival.


When I hear teaching and preaching on the great ingathering of Acts 2:41, the focus is usually on how many people were added to the church and Peter's answer to the question. I wonder how different things might be if there was more emphasis on what happened for the people. In Acts 2:37, it says, "and they were cut to the heart"—that's true conviction by the Holy Spirit.


If that's not the response of people after preaching, why is this so? Does the message need to change, or the motivation of the preacher?


I long for genuine, Holy Spirit conviction to be seen. I long for it in my own heart. I've experienced this at various times in my life—even while doing the preaching—and that's even more convicting, but welcome. How about you—do you see this question in the hearts of people...in your own heart?