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The big man syndrome

Mon, 09/12/2016 - 04:00

“In your movement, you like the big man.” This was another Christian leader’s comment regarding the movement I am part of. Though the comment was probably made in jest, it disturbed me.

The extent to which it is accurate is open to debate, but as they say, there is no smoke without fire. I don’t believe this guy had an axe to grind. He was merely describing what he saw.

So we have a issue. You could call it the “big man syndrome.”

Here’s what it is. Direction and decision-making are referred back to somebody who sits on top of the pile. Everyone defers to that person. The larger a church is, the more likely it is to fall into this situation, if only for the reason that megachurches are often built on the personal ministry of pastors who become so powerful they cannot be challenged. Until disaster intervenes, as it sadly too often does.

The same thing happens with movements, though the title of the one at the top may range from bishop to president to apostle, depending on your theology.

With a good leader, the damage, though real, may be limited. But when an insecure person reaches the top, the shrapnel from wrongful control due to self-protection and self-promotion cascades down the chain. People, churches and movements are hurt, sometimes critically.

This is a particular problem with newer movements and churches, which tend to be built on the foundation of relationship. Relationship is a good thing, but trust can be abused when there are no safeguards. Older movements may be encrusted with tradition and institutionalism. That often isn’t great, but it does provides protection from the big man syndrome because there are all sorts of counterbalances (synods, presbyteries and the like). Even the Pope, as I’ve been reading lately, has limited power to change the Catholic church.

What is wrong with the big man syndrome is the damage it does to the Biblical view of relationship, and in particular to the consistent teaching of Jesus and the apostles on servant leadership.

Jesus compared himself to a servant waiting at table, not the one being deferred to. Paul described a genuine apostle as one at the end of the parade, not the parade marshal. Peter told leaders to serve as humble examples, not to seek position or power.

When I look at the life of Paul, it strikes me that his ministry always involved extending the boundaries of the kingdom. He never sat at the top of a movement or ecclesiastical pile. He was too busy moving on to the next place to establish a hierarchy involving the previous places. He exercised authority out of his position in God, not out of his position in a church movement.

My friend Jason Reid spent many years in the Royal Navy specializing in submarines, attaining the same rank as James Bond (but without the extras). I asked him how leadership in that context works. Here are three things I learned from him. Submarine command in the Royal Navy “is predicated on an implicit trust between the Ship’s Company and their Commanding Officer.” He is a servant (despite some of the huge egos involved), not a tyrant. The job of the commanding officer is first to keep everyone safe, and in the process to get the team to its destination. He is not there to build an empire for himself, but to put the interests of the mission before his own (“mission command”). His ability to share leadership with the three department heads on the vessel is critical to this mission. He is a delegator, not a micro-manager.

A great leader is always in the business of empowering and enabling others, always in the process of raising up and giving away. Success is successors.

Authority is a good and necessary thing. The cure to its abuse is not anarchy, but correct use.

Perhaps we could learn something from the Royal Navy? We also want to keep people safe, and get them to their destination.

And remember this. There is only one big man in the church.

His name is Jesus.

Source: New feed

Pressure is my friend

Mon, 09/05/2016 - 04:00

It must have been one of those kinds of summers. Here is my second post on pressure in one month.

Every so often I have one of those awful days when one crisis seems to land on top of another, and I reach that point where I think that if one more thing happens, I am going to crack up, explode, implode or just simply drop dead, which would resolve all my problems quite nicely.

It’s at those very moments that a phrase spoken many years ago by my spiritual mentor, Duane Harder, always surfaces in my mind. I hate those words he spoke, mostly because I knew they were true. So here it goes: “Pressure is my friend.”

No, no, I protest, you made a mistake there, Duane. Pressure is not my friend at all. It is destructive, it is soul-destroying, it makes my life miserable.

But here’s the thing. Pressure does produce all sort of undesirable feelings and emotions, and it can absolutely ruin your day, week or month, no doubt about it. I’ve been there.

But the question to be asked is this: Is God really sovereign? Is he truly sitting on the throne of heaven? Is his absolute sovereignty just an item of theological truth we believe in our mind, or is it a lived reality in our experience?

If God is sovereign, then he has allowed that pressure to come upon us. That is not to say he is the author of some of the bad or wrong things that caused the pressure. It is just to say that he sovereignly and purposefully allowed the crisis to come upon us.

We complain about pressure because it doesn’t feel good. But what we should be doing is asking what God’s purpose is in the pressure.

And here’s an answer which is as good as any: pressure is meant to propel us into the presence of God.

When do we grow in God? Not when times are good, but when things are hard. The impact of our still very imperfect nature ensures that we usually don’t seek God seriously until we have to.

When the pressure mounts, can I encourage you to do one simple thing? Go somewhere where you have some privacy, throw yourself on God’s mercy, submit to God’s ways and cry out to him for help.

I have a good friend called Mike Monson who owns a couple of meat-packing factories, one in Michigan and the other in Indiana. If you tour the premises, you will see how the beef or pork is ground up and squeezed into packages fit for sale. That’s what pressure does. In this case, it produces some of the tastiest pork patties you will find anywhere in the United States.

I have days when I feel like the poor cow or pig entering Mike’s killing floor. But the truth is that pressure has the effect of killing my pride, my independence and my rebellion. It may not make me fit to eat, but it does make me fit to live more effectively as a son of God.

I love men and women of faith. But faith is not the ability to shield ourselves from pain and pressure. Faith is the ability to stand in the midst of anything hell can throw against us. The power of faith is not in our confession, but in the God whose promise and Word we confess.

When the pressure becomes unbearable, all you can do is hold on to the sovereignty and the love of God. But that is all you need to do, for in fact his love is holding on to you.

And what the enemy intended for evil will be turned to good in his amazing hands.

If you’re in Michigan, try one of Mike’s pork patties, and be grateful to God that the result of his pressure process leaves you in much better condition than Mike’s poor pigs.

But here’s one last tip: don’t ask Mike for the recipe. He won’t give it to you.

And you don’t need it, because what works for Mike or his pigs may not work for you. God’s recipe for producing character in each person is different. Just embrace what he is doing in you.

Pressure is your friend. Let it do its work.

Source: New feed

Winning the waiting game

Mon, 08/29/2016 - 17:25

The other evening, a few of us were sitting around our dining room table trading airport horror stories. They all revolved around one thing: waiting.

I hate waiting.

If there is a Bible verse that rubs me the wrong way, it’s this one: “Wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).

This year it seems to me that I have been waiting for something most of the time. I vented my complaints to God with no tangible results.

At some point, it occurred to me that maybe God had a good reason for what he was doing. The problem might not be with God, but with me. In that case, it might work better for me to thank God for whatever it was he was doing while I was waiting, even if I didn’t know what it was and wasn’t happy about it.

There are actually good reasons God wants us to learn to wait. Here are three of them:

1. We rush into way too many wrong decisions because we are too impatient to spend the time making a careful evaluation. Why do you think supermarkets place all the wrong kind of items right at the check-out? When you have no time to analyze, you jump without thinking to fill a need you don’t really have. Waiting changes what we are asking for. It allows the Lord to adjust our will to fit with his will. And when that happens, it releases the purpose of God for our lives.

2. God’s plan for our lives involves many other people and circumstances. I don’t know why people can’t figure this out. We think the entire world revolves around us. But just as other things in life involve all sorts of factors outside our control, so also does God’s plan. You want a husband or wife. But what if the one God has in mind is in another country and way too young right now? That’s not hypothetical — it was Elaine and I. It’s just as well I waited! If life is a big jigsaw puzzle, God has the capacity to bring all the pieces together in such a way that it enables what he wants for our lives. But it takes time to do that, even for God. His role is to make it happen. Our role is to wait. Waiting changes our circumstances.

3. Waiting, more than almost anything else, draws us into the presence of God. As we become more and desperate for what we are seeking, we turn to the Lord for help. If all waiting does is deepen our walk with the Lord, it’s worth it. Waiting changes us.

So out of all this, one thing becomes clear: waiting is one of the most important activities we can undertake. Waiting is an action which will change things for the better more than almost anything else you can do.

Waiting does not make you powerless. It is probably one of the most important ways you can bring about change. Why? Because you give up trying to make things happen quickly and let God make things happen properly.

I opened with one verse on waiting, and I’ll close with another:

“Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

This verse proves one thing: waiting works.

Try it. Wait a while and you’ll see what I mean!

Source: New feed

The bottom line

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 04:00

I remember the day, many years ago now, when I watched my neighbour backing out of his driveway to go to work, and wishing it were me. He had a great job as a stock broker, few if any financial worries, and for the most part worked with numbers, not people. I am not going to illustrate the differences between him and me, but you can fill in the blanks.

Have you ever day-dreamed about a life where there was no stress, no anxiety and no pressure? Have you ever looked around you and felt you were the only person in the room facing all those things? Have you ever wished you had the peaceful, happy and prosperous life of all those people around you?

Admit it. You have. I don’t think you’re any better than me.

There are several problems with this. First, you will never get a life that is so completely filled with endless positives. Nobody lives like that, not even the most enthusiastic prosperity preacher. Second, remember all those other people you are envying? Guess what? They all have problems too. Half of them are probably looking at you, wishing they had what they think you have.

I like to make a distinction between happiness and joy. I get this from C.S. Lewis as well as the Bible. Happiness is the delusion that we can find total serenity based on outwardly positive circumstances. Apart from the fact that nobody lives in such circumstances, it makes us hostage to every wind and gust of adversity that might threaten all the nice but flimsy supports we are relying on. Remember the house built on sand?

So are we, as Christians, to live in continuous gloom and despair? Not at all. Joy is the gift we receive as we realize we can find an inner peace and contentment in our relationship with Christ that is not dependent on outward circumstances but on the God who rules the universe.

Think of the most beautiful stained-glass window you can imagine. There’s an amazing rose window in Durham Cathedral that will take your breath away. Stained glass only comes to life when the light shines through it. God has created a magnificent stained-glass window. The window is his dominion over the created world around us — people and circumstances as well as geography. The Holy Spirit is the light. When he enters your life and fills you, you see the window you never saw before.

It doesn’t mean everything suddenly becomes easy, but it gives us a very precious and vastly under-rated gift: perspective. Not just any perspective, but God’s perspective. It’s the gift of seeing as he sees.

Paul was writing to his friends about the reality of evil and the hardship of spiritual attack. Then he says this: “But the Lord is faithful” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). The small word “but” overrides everything that has gone before. And there’s something else. Normally the Greek verb “is” would be left out and the meaning understood without it, but it isn’t. That means the sentence should read: “The Lord IS faithful,” as if Paul is screaming the word “is.”

Seeing the stained-glass window puts everything in a different light. You start to see how what you wanted would not have helped you, and how what you didn’t want did help you. You remember that God works all things together for good. You start to become grateful. You begin to ditch the self-pity. And bit by bit, you stop looking out your window wishing you were your neighbour.

My neighbour’s literal bottom line was undoubtedly better than mine.

But after a while, I began to see the stained-glass again. And I reminded myself of the real bottom line:

“But the Lord IS faithful.”

Source: New feed

Facing the flood

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 04:00

Do you ever feel overwhelmed?

We had that feeling last week. Our eldest son Michael was married to his fiancee Samantha on Saturday afternoon in our back yard. As the week progressed, our house filled up with people. Children and grandchildren appeared from every direction. Fridges and freezer were stuffed with wedding food. A marquee was erected. A stack of chairs materialized. Odd jobs put off for months were finished off in rapid order. And to top it all, the weather network decreed a sudden end to our three-month drought, predicting heavy rain, high winds and thunderstorms just in time for the outdoor ceremony.

And in the meantime, all the other challenges and circumstances of life and work continued. People did not stop have crises or needing help.

We were stretched, but in this case only by what I call the volume of circumstances.

What happens when it’s not just the volume, but the nature of the circumstances that becomes overwhelming? What happens when you’re not just physically exhausted, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually worn out?

I have found there are two possible options. One is to try to control everything myself. That means doing everything I can to change the circumstances around me. My end goal is self-protection. I want all the nasty things to go away and leave me in peace.

There’s only one problem with this. God’s end goal is not to protect me from everything that stresses me out. His goal is to draw me into a deeper dependency on himself. It won’t take you long to figure out how those two goals could easily be at cross-purposes.

So the smart thing to do is to take the second option. That is to throw myself on the mercy of God and ask him to keep me in the midst of whatever it is he is doing in me. In the end, it will work out far better for me to let God’s purposes take their course.

This is why Psalm 55:22 has always meant so much to me: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

To cast your burden on the Lord means this: give the control over to him. Stop trying to interfere, manipulate and self-protect. It never works, and will only wear you out.

Your act of faith in casting your burden forms the bridge to his promise: “He will never permit the righteous to be moved.” To go over that bridge can seem like the scariest thing you’ve ever done. It’s that moment when fear and darkness will do their best to paralyze you and keep you back.

It is at that instant that an unshakeable belief in the sovereignty of God is so critical. That conviction involves two things: an assurance that God is all-loving and the knowledge that he is all-powerful.

Faith is neither intellectual certainty nor emotional serenity. Faith is a gift, a conviction that we are to step out in obedience, born at the place where God’s Spirit encounters our spirit. It stares down all that opposes the will of God. In utter human weakness it reaches out for divine strength, and in that strength it conquers. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4).

If you have that faith, it will come up under your feet like a solid rock. It will enable you to run boldly across that bridge. You can be sure of one thing: Jesus is standing on the other side to welcome you.

And what about our wedding? For twelve hours it had rained and rained, and at 1 pm, the appointed hour, it was still raining. But God’s timing is perfect. The bride was 25 minutes late. At the very moment she stepped out of the car in our driveway, the rain stopped. And it stayed dry all day. To the south of us, storms, winds, torrential rains and even a tornado raged all afternoon and evening across large parts of the province. But in our back yard, we had a great wedding, meteorological serenity, and a wonderful start to what we trust will be a great marriage.

Thanks be to God.

Source: New feed

Life in the pressure cooker

Mon, 08/08/2016 - 04:00

We had a big pressure-cooker in the house I shared with 11 other guys as an undergraduate. It was always threatening to blow up if you didn’t treat it well, and take a load of potatoes along with it.

I spent a day recently trying to help three different people whose life is in the pressure cooker. All three situations were very serious and bringing almost unbearable stress and pain.

Life in the pressure cooker is not easy. We manage to fall into it different ways. Sometimes it’s our own stupidity. Sometimes it’s a complicated mixture. Sometimes it’s just stuff that happens totally out of our control.

The only thing we can manage is our response. And even that can be very hard when our resources have been so depleted. But there are two keys to surviving.

One is the lifeline of our relationship with God. I never fail to be amazed at how God hears my desperate and despairing cries at those low moments. One thing about God — he is always there. That is one of his names — Yahweh shammah, which means “the Lord is there.”

It doesn’t matter where “there” is. That’s where you’ll find him.

No matter how deep your darkness, God always has a light to turn on. But you have to ask.

The second key is friends and family you can count on. We all need friends who will also be “there” when trouble strikes. Cultivate friendships in the good times. Be there for others. Cast your bread on the waters and it will return. I can guarantee it.

And remember if you need to ask God for help, you also need to ask your friends. It never ceases to amaze me how we fail to reach out for the support we need. Sometimes we feel too ashamed, sometimes we’re too proud. Get over it. Let your friends help you. Tell them how bad things are. Their job is to help you: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

And so the question arises: “Where is God in all this?”

The answer is obvious. God is in the pressure cooker. Even though it may not be accurate to say he created it (after all, he is not the author of sin, sickness or any other earthly disaster or misfortune), he still is watching over it and using it.

The pressure cooker has a more Biblical name: the refiner’s fire. It’s where James tells us to count it all joy. It’s where Peter tells us our faith is being refined to bring forth gold.

Of course you can’t see any of that when you’re in the middle of it. That’s where it’s up to God and friends to carry you through. But when you look back, the gold is there.

And if there’s someone you know in extreme need, go just sit with them. A friend of mine was executive assistant to Margaret Thatcher. One day the great lady found a staff member in tears. Her husband had recently died. Mrs. Thatcher stopped her activities at once and focussed all her attention on this lady. She went and made a cup of tea, and then sat with her until she felt better. That was the best use the Prime Minister of Great Britain had for her time that day.

The God of all creation is there to sit with you until you’re through your crisis. Just ask him.

Your faith is proven real in the pressure cooker. You have faith even when you think you don’t. When all you can do is cry out to God in utter desperation, that’s all the faith you need. And out of that faith he will bring his gold.

When things look hopeless, just remember they’re not.

And that old pressure cooker never did blow up. It kept turning raw potatoes into something as reasonably edible as 12 young men who were more interested in either studying or partying could produce!

Source: New feed

How can I forgive?

Sun, 07/31/2016 - 04:00

The life and death battle I was going through was very real. We had been badly hurt by people we trusted. After God delivered us from that danger, I found myself in an even harder battle I had not expected. My bitterness was destroying me. And one day the Lord spoke to me that if I did not resolve this, I would do more damage to myself than what had been done by others to me and my family.

The first time I heard my mentor and spiritual father, Duane Harder, make the following statement, I could not have disagreed more: “A woman who has been raped will damage herself more through unforgiveness than through anything the rapist did to her.” How could he say that? All I heard was what seemed like a minimizing of the rape. But what I really missed was the fact that I was minimizing the reality and power of forgiveness.

I should have got it. After all, Jesus said a person who refuses to forgive will be handed over to the tormentors (Matthew 18:34).  Let’s be clear: Jesus was not addressing the person who committed the act, but the victim.

The reason for this is simple: you were forgiven an infinite debt. Therefore, you must forgive others who owe you a finite debt. Your debt is infinite because it was paid by One who was sinless, whereas you, already a sinner, have been sinned against by other sinners.

If we can’t truly forgive, we are letting ourselves in for a lot of trouble. So why is it so hard for us to forgive?

I believe the answer is in our failure to understand what forgiveness is. We live in the deluded belief that forgiveness somehow involves the idea that we have to forget or deny what was done to us. And that we find it understandably impossible to do.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Forgiveness cannot in fact take place without the blunt acknowledgement of the wrong that was done. After all, God, our perfect Creator, is more violated when wrong is done to us than we are. It is God’s standards and God’s law which are being violated.

The Bible paints a very clear picture that God hates sin. When a woman is raped, God hates that even more than the woman does.

So forgiveness begins by putting on the table the wrong that was done to us. Being open about it before trusted friends and mentors also makes us accountable for how we may have had a share in the wrong that was done. The fault is very rarely one hundred per cent on one side.

As we put the wrong on the table, we also declare alongside those with us how much greater God was wronged than we were, and how much more even than us he hates the sin that was committed.

But here is the key. The God who was offended is the only one who has the right to judge. And so in the declaring of the wrong, we hand the person over to God for him to deal with as he chooses.

This, I am convinced, is the key to forgiveness: I renounce my attempt to be the judge, and hand that right over to God, to whom it alone belongs.

If I take the place of judgment, I hand myself over to Satan, the greatest legalist of all, who knows I have no right to it.

And handing the person over to God does not mean I have the right to petition God to do anything other than act in the same mercy he showed toward me. Prayers for God to visit judgment on my enemy are not heard by God, but they are heard by the devil. That is why Jesus commands us to bless those who harm us, not curse them.

Over the years, my wife and I have had more than enough things to forgive. We have been through some truly awful situations. The hardest thing to accept is the fact it has most often been professing Christians who have been the perpetrators. In the end, we came to realize some of these folk were not really Christians at all. The hurt at the time, no matter who the perpetrators were, was very real.

But our story is this. When we forgave, we were free! The burden of hate and hurt lifted. We were no longer controlled and dominated by those who had hurt us and what they did to us. When you refuse to forgive, you allow the wrong that was done to be replayed and re-enacted in your mind every single day of your life. What will that do to you?

Let me give you some advice. Time does not heal. It only allows the wounds to fester.

There is only one way to freedom. Hand those people over to God. Let him be the judge. And move on.

And know this: his Spirit will set you free.

Source: New feed

The day I almost gave up

Mon, 07/25/2016 - 04:00

I remember so well the day I almost gave up.

We had experienced a major division within the church which looked completely unresolvable. The division was both doctrinal and personal. Twenty years of my life were about to go up in smoke and I could be out of work with no place to go.

It was garbage day. As I walked down the driveway carrying the garbage out, I realized two things. First, the only thing I had strength to do was to put one foot ahead of another and get the garbage to the end of the driveway. Second, that was in fact all that God required me to do that day.

And in that instant, I learned the first secret of never giving up. Don’t stop moving forward. It’s as simple as that. Why is this so critical? Because it’s the simplest way of acting as if you still believe God has a plan for your life. You may not know how he’s going to deliver you, and all your emotions may be shot to pieces, but deep in your spirit you still believe he is God and he will come through for you. Even if you can only move one small step ahead, just do it. The steps will add up, and eventually the darkness will begin to lift.

The strange thing is that it was something I loved — the church — that brought me to that place of of despair. I am convinced that both the problems and the answers for our lives often revolve around church. Let me try to explain.

The Bible presents the body of Christ as the place of healing. It is the place where we are loved and cared for, and also the place we are discipled and corrected. So far so good.

When people become Christians, they bring all their own baggage along with them. That includes you and me. It isn’t acceptable for us simply to complain about the problems people have. Church is the place where those problems begin to be fixed. In the process, a mess usually occurs. How could it not? This is where love and patience is required, just like in any family.

But when those problems are not handled with maturity and integrity, it isn’t long before the enemy shows up. That’s when the mess can turn into pain and hurt.

There is no such thing as a spiritual vacuum. If church stops becoming a healthy place where people receive healing, it quickly becomes a toxic place where people get hurt.

The devil does not play merely to win, he plays to destroy. The best strategy he has of winning is to destroy the place God designed for healing. In effect, he bombs the hospital.

If the first secret of not giving up is to keep moving forward, the second secret is not to give up on God’s plan for his church. That’s hard, because it involves believing for others, not just for yourself, and for others who may at this minute be hurting you. At that awful time, I cried out to the Lord to save the hospital and the people in it — including me and my family. And he did. He acted very quickly and very powerfully. It was a supernatural intervention. To this day I give thanks for it.

I have watched with great dismay the shrapnel hitting people when churches or movements divide or break up. Why should we be surprised at the hurt that causes? What difference is it from the way children are affected for life when their parents break up? Family break-up is often caused by selfishness. How sad it is when the same selfishness invades the family of God. You can give up and walk away. But remember this. If you walk away and church implodes, who will be there to help you when you hit your own personal wall?

It takes a decision of the will to keep moving forward when things are very bleak in your own life. But if you do make that decision, God will come in behind it and help you. And it takes energy to step into the breach when the enemy is ripping your church apart. But if you do, God will come to your aid.

Bob Mumford once said these words to a room full of leaders: “There isn’t one of us here who hasn’t thought of giving up. The difference is some of us have not.”

The very point the battle is hardest, the point where you are tempted to give up, may be the moment the battle is about to turn.

Never give up. You won’t regret it.

Source: New feed

When you’ve been hurt by leaders

Mon, 07/18/2016 - 04:00

I only had a year as a new Christian before I got recruited into leadership. It was against my will. There was no one else to lead the Christian fellowship on campus through which I had first truly understood the gospel, and the alternative was to disband it. How could I say no? By the grace of God, it prospered. I think I can honestly say that I have entered in fear and trembling into almost every leadership position I have held since then. When I told my Dad I felt called into full-time ministry, he quoted Jesus’ words, “Be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.” Though (just as well) I didn’t really understand what he was saying at the time, it turned out to be probably the best leadership advice I ever had.

So I am a reluctant leader. Can I suggest you should never trust someone who isn’t? Think about that for a minute and you’ll get it.

In defence of leaders, let me first say this. Leaders who try to walk in the way of the cross (and most do) pay a price few people ever know. In our case, they never knew how our two year old daughter was thrown by the son of a church member down a flight of steps onto a concrete floor. They never knew how children of a church leader stole Elaine’s engagement ring, and the parents (who knew) never apologized when it came to light. They never knew how we were verbally threatened with homelessness by a well to do businessman and leader in the church who promised us financing, arranged the purchase of our first house and profited from it, then withdrew the financing after we had signed the papers when his wife’s demands concerning the church were not met, telling us we and our baby daughter would be left on the streets.

God rescued us from all these situations, and they are now all thankfully in the very distant past. Looking back, I don’t know how we survived those days. The answer must lie in the faithfulness of God.

I realize there were also times I acted like Solomon’s son Rehoboam, who took the unwise advice of his young friends to be heavy-handed rather than open-hearted. Sometimes I did this in self-defence, sometimes in insecurity, sometimes in simple lack of understanding. Where I felt I caused hurt through my own actions, I have tried to ask forgiveness. Leaders who leave in their wake a long string of aggrieved ex-followers are a poor example of what Christ called them to be.

When you’ve been hurt by leaders or a leadership, the first thing to do is ask yourself this question: did you contribute to the problem by putting the leader on a pedestal or expecting of them something they could not or should not give? Were you looking to them for the care, praise, recognition or position that can only come from God? To that extent, you need to take responsibility for your own poor judgement. It’s a trap I have fallen into myself.

All that being said, here are some practical steps we can take to avoid falling under dysfunctional or harmful leadership.  Sadly, some of the following scenarios may be all too familiar to you. If that is the case, don’t blame yourself for the failure of the relationship. Be glad you got out of it.

1. Avoid leaders who have more of a position in church than they do in God. A true leader does not need a human position of any sort to exercise genuine spiritual influence. For them, position is incidental, not primary. They can live with or without it. People who need or campaign for position, or people who consciously use position or titles, even Biblical titles, in order to place themselves over others are not to be trusted.

2. Follow leaders who truly have a servant heart. You can only exercise as much authority as you are submitted to. Never follow a leader who demands submission while not walking in it. A leader truly submitted to God is the best servant of those he leads. Leadership is not a stepping stone to personal or ecclesiastical success. It is a footstool on which to sit to wash the feet of those we lead.

3. Never follow an insecure leader. They are always trying to be something they are not. Never follow a leader who talks incessantly about who they are, but whom you have never heard articulate equally clearly what they are not. Insecurity is one of the greatest curses of leadership. An insecure person uses human means to gain a position only God can rightfully give. An insecure leader is surrounded by weak people who will not stand up for their own convictions if it means confronting the leader. Politics surrounds insecure leaders. They damage the church and bring harm to God’s people.

If you have been hurt, disappointed and broken by a bad experience with leaders, here is a piece of advice straight from my heart and from the very real battles I have gone through when I felt hurt and betrayed by leadership over me: Your bitterness will cause you more harm than any leader ever did. You need to forgive. People often fail to forgive because they do not understand the nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not paving over the wrong or pretending it never happened. Forgiveness acknowledges the wrong. It acknowledges that God is more angry about the wrong than you are, because it is a violation of his law. But forgiveness assigns to God alone the right to judge.

Hand over your bitterness to God. A person reaps what they have sown. My experience over forty years has taught me that leaders who consistently handle people wrongly are eventually dealt with by God himself.

David was terribly mistreated by Saul, but he would not take the role of judgment upon himself. There are too many Sauls in places of leadership in the body of Christ. Can I implore you to follow David’s example, and let the Lord himself deal with them? Otherwise you are only fighting fire with more fire. You may justify your actions to yourself, but they do not impress the God who allowed his own Son to be nailed to the cross for your sin.

And here’s my last word. Even if you have been let down, you can use the experience to push yourself into deeper dependence on the one Leader who will never fail you.

Keep your eyes on him. He’s still in charge of his church.

Source: New feed

When the pain is from church

Mon, 07/11/2016 - 04:00

Why does pain come so often from within the church?

I have been in Christian leadership for over forty years. I love the church.

While it has been the scene of my greatest joy, it has also been the place of my deepest pain. Why is that the case?

This question has always bothered me. The Bible presents the church as the bride of Christ, the body of Christ and the temple of God. Why can there be such brokenness and sin within it?

I guess, if I’m honest, for the same reason there is brokenness and sin within me. Since studying Romans 7 as part of my doctoral studies, I have always felt that its portrayal of the individual torn between the flesh and the spirit was a genuine picture of the Christian life. So why would I expect the church to be perfect if I’m far from it myself?

Yet still that answer does not satisfy me. I have to dig deeper.

Those we love and trust have far greater capacity to hurt us than those we know only casually. And here is the problem. Church is the place where we are called to be open to each other, love each other, trust each other.

Betrayal, as Jesus knew only too well, is the worst hurt we can suffer. Yet it can only exist where there is a love and trust to be violated.

Bob Mumford used to talk about his experience driving down a road seeing a crushed Coke can lying at the roadside. He felt God reminding him that’s how Christians so often treat leaders and each other — they drink everything the person has to offer, and then crumple the relationship and throw it away.

I used to get to the point when we saw new people arriving at church I wondered how long it would be before, having taken whatever we had to offer, they went on their way, usually with a complaint rather than a thank you. And I began to harden my heart.

A lot of people find an easy solution. Just walk out. There are millions of Christians in our culture who have left church and, short of a revival, will never return.

I understand why they’re doing it, but I feel sorry for them. They are taking the easy way, not the way of the cross.

So then what are we to do? Are we to expect church simply to be the place where we open ourselves only to be hurt? Where we serve only to be betrayed?

Here’s the wisdom forty years of hanging in has taught me:

1. If you want to follow Jesus, you’ll have to take the risk of hurt and betrayal the same way he did.

2. Find your strength in the Lord, just like he did also. Stick the straw of your spiritual and emotional need into God, not other people. Don’t expect from people what only God can give. They will disappoint you, but he won’t.

3. There is no ideal church, and no ideal network of churches. If you’re a leader and still saying that, stop it. You’re lying. If you’re a member and still seeking it, you’re looking for perfection while not living perfection yourself. You’re living a lie too.

4. Hanging in is always worth it in the end. If you hang in, you will gradually accumulate a network of friends who will not fail you. We have friendships going back 30, 35 and 40 years which are still yielding dividends to this very day. We did not give up. They did not give up. Now we have each other. God honours those who commit. Those who drop out often wind up lonely, bitter and away from God. They have shot themselves in the foot. You may have to change a local church, but don’t leave church. If you’re the one who’s been to every church in town and still isn’t satisfied, the problem is not with all of them, it’s with you.

As Christians, we live at the convergence of the real and the ideal. We have an ideal, a standard, we are aiming at. That is why Paul says, “Aim for perfection” (2 Corinthians 13:11, NIV). We will never reach the standard in this life. We live in the real, not the ideal. Yet the ideal pulls us toward itself, thus transforming the reality in which we live. We may call that frustration, but the Bible calls it sanctification.

The church we all long for is not described in the Gospels, the book of Acts or any of the apostolic letters. It does not exist in recorded history. It makes its appearance for the first time in the second last chapter of the Bible. Only those who have proven faithful in this life will be part of it.

Hang in there. It’s worth it in the end.

Photo credit: David Bennett

Source: New feed

Encountering the glory (part 2)

Mon, 07/04/2016 - 04:00

If someone walked into my church on a Sunday morning and told me he or she was there to “manifest the glory of God,” I admit I might be inclined pretty quickly to provide a list of other churches in the community they could attend.

However, the fact is that Paul does make this very clear statement: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Paul is alluding to the experience of Moses, who had to veil his face when coming from the Lord’s presence because he did not want people gazing on the light. But now the situation is different. Our faces are unashamedly unveiled. There is no need to hide the evidence of God’s presence. On the contrary, we are to advertise it! But how we do this is not through an outward light show. Instead, the glory of God shines through lives that look like Jesus.

Why am I so certain about this? Precisely because of Paul’s statement. He says plainly that the glory of God is manifest in our transformation as men and women into the likeness of Christ. It is not beyond God’s ability to perform supernatural signs, but the glory is not in the signs. That is why it I have such a hard time when people report findings of glory clouds, gold dust, angel feathers (?) and the like, and then see in these supernatural signs the true manifestation of the glory of God. When we begin to look like Jesus in our lives, that is when the glory comes.

Three things are important about this transformation.

First, unlike with Moses, it is for all of us. It is the plan and purpose of God for every Christian to encounter the presence of the Lord, and to be changed by it.

Second, it is passive. We do not and cannot transform ourselves. We are being transformed by him. Our part is to yield, to give him permission, to submit, to let him have his way. Only he can bring the change.

Third, it is progressive. This is expressed by the way the Greek phrases it, which means: “we are in the process of being continually transformed.” Manifesting God’s glory in our lives is not a dramatic event. It is not a road to Damascus moment. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, but was still, many years later, in his own words, “being transformed.” Transformation is a process that lasts our whole lives.

At Pentecost, the temple of God fell out of heaven to earth. The same Holy Spirit who came at Pentecost is at work in your life and mine today. His job is to make us look like Jesus. He transforms our moral and spiritual appearance so that it becomes like his. And as that happens, the glory begins to appear.

Paul wrote a short commentary on the same subject elsewhere. It begins with the words: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,” and it ends with these: “the greatest of these is love.”

Signs may come and go, but as Elijah found out, the glory of God did not reach its highest form in them (see my post, “The thin silence of God,” published May 23/16).

To bear God’s image and to show his glory is our highest destiny and our greatest call.

Source: New feed

Encountering the glory

Mon, 06/27/2016 - 04:00

The goal of our lives as Christians is nothing less than to manifest the glory of God. How we do this is explained by a detour into the meaning of the word “glory.”

The Greek word the Bible uses for glory was originally a word meaning appearance. This word figuratively came to refer to our reputation — how others look at us. We have a physical appearance, but we also have a deeper character appearance or reputation. Behind our outward appearance is the inner core or essence of who we are as a person. Our essence makes an impact. The impact, multiplied over and over by our words and actions, creates our reputation — what people think of us. This is our moral or character “appearance.” It could be a good appearance or a bad appearance, depending on our life and character.

When the Bible uses this word in relation to God, it takes on a different meaning.  This outward “appearance” or “reputation” of God, his utter perfection, is totally different from ours. It raises the idea of “appearance” to a whole new level. And so in English we began to translate the word as applied to God by a different word — glory.

As we become like Christ, we ourselves begin to carry a measure of his glory. How? By the fact that we begin to look like him. Our appearance begins to become like his appearance. Some people in the Christian world make a terrible mistake by identifying glory with someone who comes with a dramatic prophecy or apparent word or supernatural manifestation from God, or perhaps someone with a dynamic personality, or someone claiming to be blessed with material prosperity.

This we foolishly call glory, and we follow such people — and become the blind leading the blind.  But true glory is manifested in people whose essence is so filled with the Holy Spirit that the Spirit is able to produce the love, goodness, faithfulness, joy, peace, long suffering and gentleness of Jesus Christ in our character and our actions. Our appearance becomes more like his appearance.  This is the glory of God in us, for it is ultimately created by God himself through his Spirit.

If we are going to be glory-seekers, this is the glory we should seek.

Next week, a little more on the same subject…

Source: New feed

Surrender releases the supernatural

Mon, 06/20/2016 - 04:00

Joseph found peace in the midst of difficult circumstances. This peace allowed him a perspective on the sovereignty of God. Years later, this perspective allowed him to sum up to his brothers his whole harsh pilgrimage in these words: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

Joseph’s battle was not won the day Pharaoh released him from prison. It was won in the depths of the dungeon when he surrendered to the sovereignty of God. He took that tremendous leap of faith to believe that ultimately God was in charge of his life, working things together to accomplish a higher purpose.

When Joseph surrendered himself to the sovereignty of God, God released his supernatural power. Ultimately, in God’s timing, it was that supernatural power, manifested in Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s own dreams, that released him from prison and brought him in a single day from prisoner in a jail to leader of the nation.

As we read to the end of the story, we find out how God raised Joseph out of prison, placed him at the right hand of Pharaoh, and eventually restored his relationship with his family, all the while fulfilling the two original dreams God had given him those many years before. The road to that fulfillment was not at all what the teenaged boy had imagined it to be, yet by the end of it, he could say that it was all fashioned by God for good. Suffering was an integral part of the process. You could almost say it was the process. Joseph was refined and purified by the suffering he endured.

Sometimes we suppose we can have charisma without character. Joseph’s story shows that if necessary, God will suppress the charisma until he develops the character that can carry the charisma to his glory rather than to the glory of man.  Have we truly given God permission to do what he wants with our lives? Have we reached a place of peace and surrender to God’s sovereign plan and purpose for us? If so, we will start to see the power of God flow through us, but in our weakness, not in our strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). He will take us and use us as instruments of his purpose, even if that purpose takes us up a hill like Calvary where, as Joseph did many years before, another man surrendered himself into the hands of his Father, knowing that whatever man or the enemy meant for evil, God intended for good.

This is the victory of Joseph’s faith, a faith forged in the heat of terrible tribulation, through the death of all his dreams, and in the midst of a battle against soul-destroying bitterness. By the grace of God Joseph won that battle, and was raised from prison and seated at the right hand of the throne of Pharaoh. How much more today can we do the same, we who have before us Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2); we who have working so mightily within us the same power by which this Jesus was raised from the dead and seated in the heavens, where now he has taken up his authority to rule.

Joseph’s story is for us. God is still bringing good out of it every time someone reads it and understands its message. Take hold of it for yourself. Allow God to take you up out of your prison and into the revelation of his will, and show you the certainty of his purpose for your life.

Source: New feed

The greatest battle you’ll ever fight

Mon, 06/13/2016 - 04:00

There’s lots of battles you will face in life. Let me tell you what I think is the greatest.

To do it, I’ll turn to one of my greatest Biblical heroes. Joseph faced a cavalcade of terrible circumstances. He was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, unjustly imprisoned for a long period of time, and then forgotten by Pharaoh’s butler who should have appealed for his freedom. Yet his greatest battle was not the fight for freedom, it was the fight for a right response to the injustice done to him.

Joseph had lost a lot. He had no freedom, no money, no wife, no family, no job. When we are denied what we want out of life – job, money, relationship, health and so on – we often become bitter, either at those who have stood in our way, cheated us or treated us wrongly, or at God himself.

From a human perspective, Joseph had reason to be angry with God. It was God who had got him into this mess by giving him these dreams. It was God who got his hopes up. Where was God when his brothers sold him into slavery? Even after that, he continued to honour God by refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife – and where did that get him? He had that incredible prophetic word over the butler and it led to nothing. Even if Joseph got over those hurdles by acknowledging that the God who had twice saved his life should not be blamed for his circumstances, there were still his brothers, Potiphar’s wife and the butler. He had every reason in the world to hate them.

The greatest battle you’ll ever face is the battle against bitterness. The presence of bitterness means the absence of forgiveness. Why is forgiveness such an issue? Because it stands at the heart of the Gospel. The cross is all about forgiveness.  Salvation is all about forgiveness. The Christian life is all about forgiveness. Forgiveness is the cornerstone of everything we have in Christ. If we refuse to walk in the mercy that Jesus has showered on us, we will find ourselves back in prison. That’s what the story of the two debtors in Matthew 18 is all about.

The bitterness of unforgiveness is a deadly virus which captures our thoughts and infects our attitudes. It so warps our bow of intercession that we even find ourselves praying that negative things will happen to others. It magnifies the faults of others and minimizes our own weaknesses. Worst of all, it separates us from the God who is the source of all forgiveness. It makes us toxic to the body of Christ, which is why Scripture warns us to let no “root of bitterness” spring up in our midst. Bitter people pollute the church. Whatever anyone has done to you, the harm you do to yourself through the bitterness of unforgiveness will damage you more than what they did, no matter how awful it was.

But Joseph did not fall into this trap. How do we know? Bitter people have no interest in serving others, or in the fact that there is a bigger reality out there than the world of their own suffering. But Joseph, even in his dungeon, so impressed the prison warden with his serving spirit that he put him in charge of the prison. Bitter people could not care less about the needs of others, but when his two fellow prisoners had a need, Joseph was immediately sensitive to it: “Why are your faces so sad?” he said to them. Bitter people do not have a healthy relationship with the God they blame for their troubles, but Joseph immediately reached out to God to find an answer for his friends. In the midst of hardship most of us cannot imagine, Joseph fought and won a battle which saved him from spiritual, and probably physical death, and made him a source of life to others. His attitude enabled God to turn suffering into blessing.

Some people wind up in a spiritual prison of their own making. Joseph turned his literal prison into a place of freedom. Joseph’s biggest battle was not won the day he was brought from jail to the highest office in the land. His battle was won in the depths of that dungeon when he chose the way of forgiveness and found peace.

You too, by God’s grace, can win that battle. It’s a battle worth fighting — your life depends on it.

Source: New feed

How much power do you want?

Mon, 06/06/2016 - 04:00

Elaine and I have just spent a weekend in Niagara Falls with our friends at Niagara Community Church. Niagara Falls is an awesome sight, but it is more than that. Back 100 years ago, an engineer named Sir Adam Beck had the bright idea of installing underwater turbines to harness the incredible energy generated by the falls. When construction was finished, Niagara supplied most of the power in southern Ontario. To this day, electricity is called “hydro” in this part of Canada.

That’s a lot of power. But there is a greater power yet. According to Paul, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is now at work in us (Ephesians 1:19-20). The power generated by Niagara lit a million households, but it could not raise anyone from the dead.

That power was not only for a single event two thousand years ago, albeit an event all of history hung on. That power is available to us today. In fact, it is working within us.

The sad truth is that, although the Bible itself tells us that, we still don’t believe it. Well, maybe we do as a point of theological truth, but not as an experiential reality.

Dr Francis Schaeffer taught many years ago that there is no dividing line between the natural and the supernatural realms, as if God lived in one compartment and we live in another, and never the two shall meet. God is all in all. He controls everything. As Christians, we are meant to live within the same realm as Jesus did. The same power at work in him is today at work in us.

How much power do you want?

My friend John Babu from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, national security advisor to the Prime Minister of India, was converted through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, in which he first heard Jesus speaking to him, and then experienced a miracle of healing. His doctors had given him 4 months to live, after 40 years of abusing his body with alcohol. That day the power of God invaded his body. He was instantly healed and stopped drinking. The power of God invaded his mind and will also. He never beat his wife or children again.

In his life and ministry, John saw 6 people raised from the dead. I wrote about one of these miracles last December (see the two posts titled India Calls).

How much power do you want?

Why should God give me such power? Can I be trusted with it? The short answer is he will give you the power you need to do his will. John needed that power to confront the demonic opposition he faced.  It may well be different for us. Yet beware of this trap: do not let your western rationalism persuade you contrary to the Word of God that his supernatural power is not available to you today, or that it has somehow ceased operating, as if God had retired to the south of France or to Florida to play shuffleboard instead of ruling the universe.

The church in the West is weak, and for many reasons. We don’t pray enough, our lives are too busy with other things, we have way too much stuff. All this gets in God’s way.

But the church in the West is weakened far more by this one thing: we have no power. In the face of an enemy who has no hesitation using supernatural power against us, we are power-less for one reason only. We refuse to take God at his Word.

We say we believe the Bible, but we don’t mean it. Jesus had a word for that.

I know I’m simplifying complex issues – that’s what happens when you only have a few hundred words at your disposal.

But please don’t tell me God did miracles then but not now, as if even the conversion of one lost soul could be achieved without the exercise of supernatural power.

How much power do you want?

Let me gently push you into an encounter where you allow God to adjust your heart and increase your faith.

The world needs that power today.

It can only be exercised through you.

Source: New feed

The Kingdom advances – at a price

Mon, 05/30/2016 - 04:00

It was a great privilege to travel recently with the international chairman of our movement, David Devenish. He taught a powerful message based on the parable of the wheat and the tares. God has sown us as children of the kingdom into this world in order that the kingdom would advance. And advance it will, until that day when the gospel is proclaimed to every nation, and the Lord will return. Yet while God has been busy sowing, so also has the enemy. He has sown weeds into God’s field. The weed he sowed, darnel, looks deceptively like wheat in its early stages. By the time it can be recognized for what it is, it’s too late. It has a deep root system that means if you try to pick it out, it will take a lot of the young wheat shoots with it. And so it is with this world in which we live. For God to destroy the wicked would involve too much collateral damage. Instead, he allows the agents of evil to remain and to spread, along with the seed of the kingdom. He will deal with the evil later.

It was the application of the text that was so riveting. Dave has been involved in dangerous areas of the world, developing church planting teams for the last twenty years. Some of the places he is involved with cannot be named publicly. The good news is the kingdom is advancing! Hundreds of churches have, like the good wheat, been planted in areas we would not have dreamed possible. Many of these churches are sizeable. Thousands have come to Christ. But in the midst of this, pastors have been martyred. Leaders have been caught in the crossfire of war and violence and killed. Many have become refugees, fleeing areas of intense conflict. In the midst of it all, courageous Christians have kept the faith.

Christians seem to have a habit of alternating between triumphalism and defeatism. Sometimes we preach a sugar-coated gospel based on optimism far more than faith. Everything will come out just fine. We’re a bit like the Jews of Jesus’ day who expected the Messiah to drive the Romans out, not wind up hanging on a Roman cross. We, like they, have no grid to deal with disappointment or suffering. On the other hand, some preachers are gloomier than Winnie the Pooh’s Eeyore. The world is going to hell in a handbasket. The only hope is for a weak church to be “raptured” out of the world before it gets any worse.

What the Bible teaches, as reflected in my friend’s preaching, is something less simplistic but more accurate. God is at work, the church is expanding across the globe as never before, yet there is a price to be paid.

After hearing Dave bring this message at a leadership day in Newmarket (near Toronto), I asked him to consider preaching it again at the next church we were heading to, Firm Foundation in Centreville, Michigan. I thought it would resonate there, and for this reason. The senior pastor, my close friend and colleague Don Smith, felt at the beginning of January that he had received a promise from God of great blessings in 2016. Two weeks later, Don lost his grandson Camden. Camden’s dad Brian pastors the church planted out last year in Kalamazoo. The two churches could not have received a worse blow. Yet in the midst of such sorrow, the kingdom advances. God is moving in those churches, and I have not the shadow of a doubt this will be the best year they have ever experienced.  What I did not know in all this was that Dave himself had preached this message for the first time a year ago two days after conducting the funeral of his own two newborn grandsons.  

So what do you and I take personally out of this? Here’s the most important thing. We are called to follow Jesus and to walk in the way of the cross. The rest is up to God. Whatever the cost may be, humanly speaking, will be more than recompensed in this life and the next. Jesus said it: you may lose home and family, but you will receive more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.

It isn’t the simplest or easiest answer, but it is the best answer, and it’s the truth.

Expect God to do great things in your life this year. Leave the rest to him.

Source: New feed

The thin silence of God

Mon, 05/23/2016 - 04:00

How is it that we can have an amazing encounter with God, then apparently fall off the edge of a spiritual cliff? If it’s any encouragement, the same thing happened to one of my greatest heroes of faith, Elijah. Here’s why his story will inspire you anyway.

The story, contained in 1 Kings 18, of how Elijah vanquished the prophets of Baal is one of the great epics of the Bible. One man against 450! Even Bruce Willis couldn’t beat that.

At the day’s end, when the fire fell on Elijah’s offering and the prophets were slaughtered, it appeared that Elijah’s long battle against the wicked king Ahab had come to a triumphant conclusion. Even the three year drought, at the prophet’s word, had suddenly come to an end. But the story was not over. The very next day, Jezebel sent messengers to Elijah vowing to take his life in return for what he had done.

And Elijah fled.

Yes, fled! Hard to believe isn’t it? How can this invincible hero, who single-handedly destroyed the assembled powers of wickedness the previous day, have been in one moment so utterly vanquished?

God took him on a pilgrimage to find out why. Having arrived at Beersheba, God sent him on a 40 day journey to Horeb (another name for Mount Sinai). There, hidden in probably the same cleft of rock Moses found himself in many centuries before (Exodus 33), he witnessed three spectacular signs – a wind, an earthquake and a fire. Yet God was not in any of them. Then came what is usually translated as a still, small voice or a low whisper (1 Kings 19:12). The phrase in Hebrew is literally “a thin silence.”

God showed up, but not in the way Elijah had expected. And that was the point.

Elijah was expecting the triumph of God to arrive through manifestations of power, and when those manifestations did not stop Jezebel, his ultimate enemy, he gave up. Elijah’s identity worked in strength, but not in weakness.

Jesus understood this, even though his disciples did not. Surely his mission would overcome every obstacle through the performance of the most extraordinary miracles ever seen since since the days of Moses and Elijah. Every foe would bow in the face of such demonstrations of power!  That’s why the disciples were asking for the seats of power at his right hand and his left when the new revolutionary government was established in Jerusalem. Yet Jesus knew victory would not come through the power of his miracles. No, victory would come and the redemptive purposes of God would be released only through a naked man hanging in utter humiliation and apparently total defeat on a Roman cross.

Or, as another of my heroes put it: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

God can come in ways we expect and pray for — provision, promotion, things going right, churches growing. But what happens when he doesn’t? What happens when we faithfully serve him and yet things are still hard, things don’t happen as we hoped, things even go wrong? Do we run or give up when it doesn’t work out the way we hoped?

For me, Elijah remains a source of massive encouragement. His works of faith lead to him being pictured in Revelation 11, along with Moses, as representatives of everything the church should be as the people of God.  And strangely enough, he’s encouraging to me even in his failures. When I fail, I’m in good company!

And failure, when placed in God’s hands, is never really failure. Elijah was commanded to anoint Hazael king over Syria, Jehu king over Israel and Elisha as prophet in his place. He lived to pronounce the doom of both Ahab and Jezebel, a task Jehu duly completed. Meanwhile, Elisha raised up a whole school of prophets to carry on Elijah’s work. And Elijah was transported to heaven in a whirlwind.

So here we have both triumph and failure and triumph, all in one package.

The secret to walking through it well is in finding God not in the whirlwind, but in the whisper. That’s where his presence is.

No matter what your circumstances, you will never fail to find him there.

Source: New feed

How to know God’s will – and why so many don’t

Mon, 05/16/2016 - 04:00

Why is it that so many Christians are always struggling to know God’s will on some important matter? I think it’s because they are approaching the subject from the wrong perspective.

Paul prays that believers would be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9). And he prays similar prayers elsewhere. So to know God’s will is an important thing.

The problem is we interpret knowing God’s will as receiving a laundry list of instructions from God as to what we are to do about various problems we face. We don’t understand that to know God’s will is first and foremost simply to know God.

The world looks at knowledge as the accumulation of pieces of information. That is in truth the lowest form of knowledge. You can know a lot of information and be a very foolish person. Knowing information may have no effect on our lives at all, but knowing Christ changes everything. Knowledge in the Bible applied to God is a term of the closest intimacy, as in a man “knowing” a woman. We can know information about a person, but do we know the person? We can know information about Christ, even correct information, but this does not mean that we know Christ.

We should not think of the will of God as a kind of cosmic library of God’s opinions on things, and the knowledge of God’s will as the accumulation of information on those topics and how that can benefit us.

Sometimes we think of the Bible as a collection of information to be downloaded and applied. That is the wrong way to approach the Bible. You have to come to the Bible through Christ. Why? Because the will of God confronts us most completely, powerfully and accurately in the one person who walked completely and totally in it. If you want to know the will of God, look at Christ. He embodies God’s will. He came as God’s will in the flesh. The knowledge of God’s will is the knowledge of Jesus Christ. If you don’t know Christ, you cannot understand the Bible, no matter how much you study it, because the Bible is about Christ.

Knowing Christ unlocks the door to the amazing treasure house of the Bible and to knowing the will of God. Why? Because knowing Christ means receiving his Spirit. The more deeply we know him, the more powerfully his Spirit invades our lives. The Spirit unlocks the Word of God to us and applies it to our lives. He shows us how to live as Jesus did. He turns information into revelation. His will comes to us as we dwell in his presence. We know by his Spirit within us what we are to do if we are to follow Jesus with all our heart, and we avoid the consequences of the many mistaken and often self-centred actions we take as a result of being out of relationship with him.

So often, our attempts at seeking guidance are rooted in a crisis or problem in our life that has come about because we have been out of relationship with the Lord. Suddenly we find out we are drawing a blank when it comes to knowing what he wants us to do, because the heart has fallen out of our relationship with him.

I want to know Christ more than anything else, even more than what I am to do with my life. I want to know him no matter what it costs me to know him. In knowing him, I will for the first time truly know myself. And I will truly begin to know what he wants me to do today, tomorrow and the rest of my life.

This knowledge is pure gold. Be like the merchant who bought the pearl. Sell everything else and get it. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

Source: New feed

A mile wide and an inch deep

Mon, 05/09/2016 - 04:00

Why is it that churches in our culture are often correctly described as a mile wide and an inch deep? Here’s the reason…

We have failed to understand the significance of the fact there were two entirely different groups of people in Jesus’ ministry. There were the large crowds of people. And there was the small group of disciples.

Jesus loved the crowds. He healed them, and he sent them home well fed! But most of his time was spent on the disciples. Why? Because he wanted to transform the crowds into disciples. And the only way to do it was to invest in the small group whom he was discipling to reach the large numbers.

Jesus did not make the same demands of the crowds that he made of the disciples. The disciples were commanded to leave everything behind — job, security, family and reputation — just to follow Jesus wherever he went. The crowds were local folk who just turned up wherever he was, got healed and fed, and then went back to their ordinary lives — for the most part largely unchanged.

Jesus didn’t study the demographics, create a trendy church brand, open a hipster coffee shop in the foyer, and sit back waiting to pull in the numbers. He invested the bulk of his life discipling a small group of men (and even allowing a group of women into his inner circle).

Why is it that in church today we so often have exactly the opposite strategy? We love to create big churches where many are entertained, but few are equipped. People come and go, untrained, untaught and undiscipled. Instead, we should be working with small groups of disciples, teaching and training them to create spiritual families who will go out, plant churches and create more disciples. Crowds will disperse in a moment. Families last for a lifetime.

We will have crowds — if we can move in miracles and gifts of healing in the way Jesus did. Failing that, we may still attract crowds with a world-class preacher, a state of the art building, millions of dollars of sound equipment and professionally-crafted programs for every age group. But even if we do, and I am not saying this is in itself wrong, the crowds will never form the foundation of our church, any more than they formed the foundation of his church.

Jesus reached out to the crowds in compassion, but he chose to build his church on the much smaller foundation of those willing to give up everything to follow him.  In the dark days after his crucifixion, the crowds had gone, but the family, with only one exception, remained. And it was on the foundation of that family, after Pentecost, that he built his church.

Jesus knew the only way in the long run to reach the crowds was by establishing a base of committed disciples who would multiply his own ministry in the world once he was gone. Otherwise all they would be left with was the memory of a massive signs and wonders movement based on the ministry of a man no now longer among them. Successful Christian leaders are always training others for the day they will no longer be there. That’s why men like Calvin, Luther, Wesley and Booth left movements behind them. They did not invest in the size of their own pulpits, but in the men and women following them.

The crowds came and went and did their own thing. They were there for Jesus to meet their needs, and then they went home.  And a lot of churches are like that today.

Is our church just another crowd, or is it a band of disciples committed by covenant to follow Jesus no matter where he leads? You can create a buzz with a crowd. But to extend the kingdom, you need disciples.

We live in a society full of broken relationships and looking desperately for family. The church should be the answer to that cry. It is a tragedy when people come looking for community, but find only another crowd.

Let me leave this thought with you.

If we don’t preach discipleship, it’s because we don’t want to pay the cost. But let me suggest this. The price is worth paying! Why? For this reason alone: discipleship is the only way to draw close to Jesus. The crowds were on the fringe of the meetings. The disciples were at the heart. Do you want to be close to him? Do you want to be the one close enough to touch the hem of his garment? Do you want to be close enough for him to touch you?

There’s a simple answer. Become a disciple.

You’ll never regret it.

Source: New feed

Jumping off a cliff again

Mon, 05/02/2016 - 04:00

One night many years ago, I had decided to get down on one knee and ask Elaine to marry me. I was convinced it was God’s will, and I knew she would accept. Yet at the last moment, I had a sudden and very real sensation I was about to jump off a cliff. I did jump, and I have never regretted it. Apart from my decision to follow Christ, it was the best call I have ever made in my life.

But the problem with God is that he seems inclined to find more cliffs for us to jump off. Just when we’ve finished congratulating ourselves on our last apparently great step of faith, we find ourselves, like it or not, back at the edge again.

And so it is with Elaine and I. Most sensible people my age are thinking how to stay in their secure jobs as long as they can to pad their retirement fund. But for me, it’s the cliff again. I found myself last week announcing to our church that next year, we will lay down our leadership (and my job) to pursue a wider call of God. We can’t do what God is calling us to do and look after a local church at the same time. Our financial plan is spelled faith, as it always has been.

This is why we are doing such a crazy thing. The things we feel called to do — raising up young leaders, mentoring couples, preaching and teaching, writing books — all boil down to one thing: leaving a legacy.

One of the biggest problems with Christian leadership is the tendency of leaders to build their ministry around themselves. When they retire, die, or (God forbid) suffer a moral failure, everything disappears overnight. Yet Jesus taught us to build around others, not around ourselves. He devoted himself to developing a small group of disciples, rather than accumulating a large number of church members. Disciples carry the heart and values of those who have gone before them, and take it to the next generation.

Our highest and most strategic task as leaders is not to build large churches around our own gift, but to invest in those young men and women who will transmit the values we believe in to the next generation. In the world, people are taught to make their boss look good. Christian leaders should be taught to make their followers look good. Or as a friend of mine put it, success is successors. The greatest joy of a parent is to see their kids excel.

It’s a very sad thing when leaders lose their edge as they grow older. Age should bring wisdom, but it can also bring an unwanted kind of conservatism — the unwillingness to risk or take up a challenge. As much as young leaders need to seek out the wisdom of experience, older leaders need to recharge their batteries by spending time around people half their age or less. The benefits of wisdom and experience are meant to give us a platform to find higher cliffs to jump off, not slide into a world of safety nets.

Jesus risked everything right up until the last minute. The cross did not look like a very good career move. It turned out to be the best call he ever made.

He left behind no megachurch, no media empire, no stack of best-selling motivational books. What he did leave behind was something far more valuable — disciples who would carry on his work. At the cross, he looked like a failure. But when the Holy Spirit fell just a few weeks later, the seeds he sowed in that small group of disciples sprang quickly up, and his kingdom has been advancing ever since.

At 63 years of age, let me give you a piece of advice. Give everything you’ve ever learned in God away to those half your age. Then find a cliff and start jumping again.

Source: New feed

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