3 Reforms Needed in the Church

2944813f856f876da02e15e0a5f5083bIn these tumultuous days in which we live, it seems the importance of having good character is becoming a thing of the past. Character is defined as, “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing; qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity.” Integrity adds another nuance to character: “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.” Perhaps the reason character seems to be lacking is because there are fewer people who are whole. It’s pretty obvious that our culture is broken in many ways; families and relationships are broken because people are broken. Brokenness is the result of sin in our lives.

Those of us who are Jesus followers should be the most whole people on the planet. After all, the unblemished, unbroken One lives within us. But even within the Church, many are broken as well. Something is missing. After over 2,000 years of Church history, we aren’t really much different from the rest of the world. There’s too many things to list in this short article that are still rampant in the Church. Sexual immorality, addictions, deception, abuse, divorce, rebellion, depression are just the tip of the iceberg. Why is this? What are we doing wrong? Undoubtedly, books could be written on this topic, but a few things seem obvious.

  1. Wounded leaders produce wounded followers. This is a big one. You reproduce what’s inside you. Too many leaders have unhealed issues and are ministering out of their woundedness. Education and training are not enough to lead God’s people well. Leaders must be committed to wholeness, first in themselves. Then they can minister more effectively to their congregations, leading them into wholeness.
  2. Church structure is unbiblical. Another big one. When one or two people are the main leaders everyone suffers. The leaders burn out; the leaders and people become codependent. Immaturity is fostered in the body. People are not taught, equipped or challenged to grow up apart from a balanced leadership team of five-fold ministers. Leaders should be raised up continually so the body expands, matures, and unifies, to further spread the kingdom, not the Church. This means going out into the culture to reform it according to kingdom principles. Many churches focus on their own needs, their own issues and ministering continually to one another. This is not what Jesus taught or modeled with His disciples.
  3. Incomplete theology. I would venture to say that the majority of teaching in the Church is based on head knowledge, not experiential knowledge. Those who have been taught “about God” rather than led into experiencing Him personally, are easily dissuaded when faced with objections, opposition, or persecution. By contrast, those who have had genuine God encounters will generally stand firm and immovable in their faith when shakings occur. Rather than learning the art and discipline of meditating in the Word, wrestling in prayer, and waiting on God, most believers are spoon fed each week, relying on their pastors to “hear from God.” Instead of persevering in prayer, many give up and decide it must not have been “God’s will,” or that God has abandoned or is angry with them. In our instantaneous gratification society, we often take matters into our own hands rather than waiting for God to move.

There are undoubtedly many other reasons for our current condition. But these three keys, I believe, are vital to reforming the Church so that we can do what Jesus commanded us – to make disciples of all nations. (Matt. 28:19-20) It is time for a new wineskin, a new perspective. The old ways have not and are not working. It is time for the body to become whole; to reflect the true nature and character of Christ. It is time to be the salt and light, transformational elements in our culture. This is what it truly means when we pray, “…on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Our Destiny, God’s Purpose

heaven-on-earthGod is intentional. All that He does and all He has created has great purpose, beyond our ability to understand unless He reveals it to us. He leaves nothing to chance. Nothing is incidental, accidental, or coincidental when it comes to His ways. It is so important that we know His intentions beyond the earthly, temporal realm in which we live and relate to. His ways are manifold, or multi-faceted. He spoke to Isaiah, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

Take humanity, for example. God created us for many reasons. He wanted a family. He desired relationship with us. He made us to have dominion over the earth and all the creatures. He wanted us to fill the earth with His glory, the glory we were clothed in before sin came in. We were to rule and reign as His sons and daughters over the planet. We know that the authority He had given us, we gave over to the enemy when we listened to and believed his lies. The devil mistakenly thought he had thwarted God’s purposes. Yet He still had a plan. He would come in the form of a man and win back what we had given up. He restored us to our rightful place as His governing representatives over all the world, the world He would one day return to, to set up His eternal kingdom. This was the reason for His charge to “make disciples of all nations…, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matt. 28:20)

His first purpose for creating us was for family and relationship. Out of that identity, His second purpose was that we would rule alongside Him. Sons and daughters ruling beside their Father, and a bride ruling with her Bridegroom. In unbroken unity, we would be working for the family business, so to speak. In order to facilitate the family business, He created the ekklesia. We usually translate this word as “church” but the two words are not synonymous. (The word church was not a Greek or Roman word, it actually came from a German word.) According to the culture of Jesus’ day, the ekklesia was a gathering, or assembly who sat at the city gates for the purpose of legislating and deciding judicial matters. It was a governing body. The ekklesia was the body of people that were given authority to rule and reign. Jesus declared that to Peter when He said, And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My ekklesia and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:18-19) 

The ekklesia was given the keys of the kingdom, the authority to decide and declare what would or would not be allowed on the earth, according to what was or was not allowed in heaven. We are to prepare the earth and the people for the King’s return to set up His kingdom here, as it is in heaven. That was the main thrust of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. That is one purpose the ekklesia was created for, but there is more. Paul told us, His intent was that now, through the ekklesia, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph. 3:10-11) We who make up His family and governing body are to show forth His glory to all other rulers, both angels and demons, and leaders of men. 

We exercise this God-given authority mainly through prayer, agreeing with God’s plans and purposes to come forth on earth as it already is in heaven. When we pray in agreement with His will, we are assured our prayers are heard and answered. (1 John 5:14-15) We demonstrate His unparalleled, manifold wisdom by transforming our culture through our involvement and godly influence. Transformed people will transform families, cities, and nations. This is our destiny, our purpose and calling. May the Lord help us to be about our Father’s business.

 

 

Are You a Pioneer or a Settler?

Cumberland Gap 10-09 059There are basically two types of people in the Church, and in the world. Both are needed and vital to whatever sphere they operate in. The first group are pioneers; the second are settlers. Pioneers tend to be visionaries, always looking ahead, wanting to explore what is unseen and unknown. They are willing to step out, take risks, and challenge the status quo. Easily bored when not moving forward, they become restless and discontent without regular challenges. They actually thrive on challenge, the harder, the better and more exhilarating. That which seems impossible to most, thrills them and pushes them ever onward, seeking to take new territory no matter what the cost.

Pioneers are forerunners. They blaze new trails, conquer obstacles that stand in the way, and make a path for those who come behind them. They are unafraid of the unknown, totally confident in the One who is leading the way. Possessed by a passion for what could be, they are undaunted by the enemy’s attempts to stop them. Without pioneers, the Church, or whatever field they work in, would never grow or become a significant influence in the world around them. It is because of a group of bold, courageous pioneers that our nation came to be. Inventions are created, cures are discovered, and breakthroughs occur when pioneers are at the helm. They are catalysts for change, which often causes upheavals in business as usual. They will not sit back and observe as society crumbles around them. They must be at the forefront, leading the way to bring something new and fresh to that which as become stagnant and stale. Often they are misunderstood, believed to be rebellious or strong-willed because of their seeming lack of concern for tradition and the opposition from small-minded, fearful people. Others may see them as unpredictable, flighty, or even fickle.

Settlers, on the other hand, have a need to remain in one place. They see the potential around them and want to get involved to make a difference. They build and establish and are steadfast and hardworking. They will not quit until the job is done. Rather than pursuing adventure, they long to put down roots and bloom where they are planted. They are committed to the task at hand and remain faithful to see it through to the end. Because of their desire to settle down in one place, they become adept at building long-term relationships and are usually trustworthy. Keenly aware of their surroundings and the needs of those they see regularly, they continually look for ways to improve the local culture. Thus, they are great at gathering resources and manpower to make the necessary changes to benefit their local community. The dedication they possess enables them to create places where everyone thrives, dreams are realized, and generations are blessed. Like pioneers, they too, are often misunderstood. Others may see them as unwilling to change, boring, or passive. They may be labelled as fearful of taking risks, set in their ways, or immovable.

Both of these personality types are necessary and invaluable to whatever area they are involved in, be it the Church, the business arena, the government, etc. Differing perspectives are critical to the success of any endeavor. Whichever type we may be, we need to see the other as complimentary to our task, not oppositional. No one person or group has all the insight, understanding, or knowledge to complete our individual, much less corporate assignments. God designed us to need one another, learn from each other, and value what He has placed in others, that we would succeed in being and doing that which He has called us to do. May we learn to do our own part and give freedom and grace to others to do theirs that we all may benefit.

What is Written in Your Book in Heaven?

b78b6da3cdb52d22e3971392d2d031adDid you know there are books in heaven? Or, that you have a book in heaven, specifically written for and about you? As a writer, this greatly intrigues me! When the Lord began to show these truths to me, I began asking Him to show me what is written in mine. There are several places in Scripture where these books are mentioned. Daniel 7:10 says, “A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”  This was shown to Daniel in a dream.

David spoke of personal books as well, “…Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16) Even Jesus has a book. “Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come–in the volume of the book it is written of Me to do Your will, O God.'” (Heb. 10:5-7)

These books contain the plans and purposes of God for each one of us. Before we were born on the earth, even from before creation, we were each a thought in God’s mind. Immediately after David wrote verse 16 of Psalm 139, he wrote, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Ps. 139:17)  God “saw” us and wrote down His thoughts about us, what we would do in our life on earth and beyond. Paul said, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10) The word workmanship literally means a poem. A poem is a message, and our lives are also a message to the world.

The challenge for us is to discover what is written in our book, and to walk it out in the earth by God’s grace. Timothy tells us that grace has also been there, waiting for us, from before creation, “…who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Tim. 1:9) We have the ability to fulfill God’s plans and purposes through His all sufficient, empowering grace.

The Apostle John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) We know that we are created in God’s image and are now one with Him through His indwelling Spirit. Therefore, we, too, must become God’s Word – written in our book – made into flesh, so that the world can see Him in and through us. We can, by His grace, walk in the fullness of His plans and purposes, which He destined us to walk in before creation. Discovering what is written in our book, agreeing with it, and by His grace, fulfilling it, will be the most satisfying and rewarding adventure of our lives.

4 Steps to Having Peace in Troubled Times

london-riotThese times we are living in are unprecedented in our lifetimes in terms of the amount of chaos, turmoil, upheaval, and shaking that is taking place in nearly every segment of society. With nearly constant threats of violence, terrorism, hatred, protests, riots, and the like, it is difficult, to say the least, to find a place of peace. Natural disasters seem to be increasing as well; nowhere seems safe anymore. Yet Jesus clearly warned us that times like this would occur, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This, and other warnings He gave, were not meant to put us in fear, but to prepare us so that we would not be blind-sided and panic. 

According to this passage, there are four steps to finding and keeping our peace in the midst of turmoil:

  1. Realize God knows everything. He knew this would happen, so He’s not surprised at all. He is not fretting or wringing His hands or worried. He has a plan and it is good, because He is. Though He doesn’t control everything, He is still on the throne and will always be. (See my article, Is God Really in Control? for my views on that topic).
  2. Understand that it is only in Him we will find peace. He is our peace. He is our place of rest, safety, and protection. He is with us, in us, and for us, therefore who can really be against us? We find peace in His nature, that in spite of trials and troubles, He is good and always has our best interest at heart. He works all of the circumstances of life together for our ultimate good. He may not keep us from trouble, but He walks through it with us, and will never abandon us.
  3. Know that the world and its ways will bring trouble. The spirit of this age is violently opposed to God and His ways. Jesus told us that the world hated Him, and would also hate us. (John 15:18) James said that friendship with the world meant hatred towards God. (James 4:4) To expect otherwise is to deceive ourselves.
  4. Jesus tells us to “take heart,” meaning, to be of good cheer; be of good courage; to be bold in the face of troubles! How can we be bold in the face of persecution, hatred, and violence? By knowing He has overcome this world. He was subjected to the worst possible violence, persecution and hatred. He was even betrayed by those closest to Him. He endured the greatest injustice of human history, yet He overcame it because of His love for us. Because He conquered every foe and came out victorious, so will we!

The more we meditate upon God’s nature as seen in His Word, the more we will know Him as He really is. Many in the Church still view Him as angry, vengeful, nit-picking, and perfectionistic. Too often He is believed to be judgmental, displeased, and disgusted with us in our weaknesses and failures. These ungodly views do not facilitate peace in our relationship with Him. We must get healed and free from these ways of seeing Him if we ever hope to have peace in our lives. The more we know Him, the greater our peace in the midst of any storm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Key to Freedom from the Comparison Trap

img_0910Have you ever struggled with comparing yourself to other people? Do you see others’ lives and feel that somehow yours is inferior? Ever compared your children to someone else’s children? Or your appearance to another’s? How about your house or car? Do you often doubt your worth when looking at others? If we are honest, we would all answer these questions with an emphatic, “Yes!” It seems to be a part of our human nature to compare ourselves with other people. It can be our appearance (weight, height, looks, perceived flaws, etc.); or our social status (wealth or lack of it, career, education, friendships, material things, etc.). Or maybe it is our family (spouses, children, pets, etc.). It could even be our spirituality (our experiences, knowledge, ministry, etc.). The list could go on and on.

If you’re like me and have battled this common malady, how has that been working for you? For many years I was miserable no matter what I accomplished, what compliments or affirmation I received, or any satisfaction I may have felt occasionally; nothing was ever good enough. I always managed to find someone that seemed better than me. Many others struggle with this as well. Why do we do this? What is it that drives us to constantly compare ourselves to our fellow humans? In a nutshell, it is insecurity. It is a lack of knowing our true identity as unique, gifted, beloved, accepted, and significant sons and daughters of God. How can we possibly compare ourselves to another when our Creator has made us to be totally unique? That is like comparing an apple to an orange. They are totally different except that they are both fruits. Likewise, we are all humans, and may be similar in many ways, but we are also totally different in terms of our identity.

The comparison trap is a futile, fruitless, and destructive pit that we too easily fall into. It results in basically one of two things: we look at others and think we are somehow better, resulting in pride, or, we consider that they are better, leading to self-deprecation and false humility which is also pride. In other words, either way, measuring ourselves against others leads to self-absorption, which is pride and idolatry. Paul wrote, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Cor. 10:12) The only One we are required to compare ourselves to is Jesus. When we focus on Him, we are all equally in need of His mercy, love, and grace.

The key to getting free from the comparison trap is to meditate on who God says we are as stated in His Word, allowing His truth to renew our minds, our ways of seeing and thinking about ourselves and others. As we spend time in His presence and His Word, we will begin to see ourselves as He sees us. Then we can learn to love ourselves as He loves us. This is the first step to loving our neighbors as ourselves. Comparison provokes envy, jealousy, and dissatisfaction. Security in our identity enables us to love as He does while expecting nothing in return.

The majority of the world and even the Church is caught in this deadly comparison trap. When we seek God and receive freedom, He will then use us to set many others free – free to be the special, unique, son or daughter He has created and called them to be. Not only does that bring Him untold pleasure, but it will also bring Him the glory and honor He alone deserves.

The Full Armor, Not an Exercise, But A Way of Life

db6990f53da4480d112fd1333a3dbe3aAs a believer for forty years, I’ve heard many interpretations and teachings on the full armor of God. It is a subject that many are familiar with. The main passage of Scripture that speaks of it is found in Ephesians 6:10-17. Most have turned it into a mental exercise where one visualizes “putting on” each piece of armor every day. The reason being, this is supposed to keep one safe from enemy attacks, almost like a magic charm or something. Frankly, this is a labor of futility. Not only does it not work, but it also misleads people into believing that going through the motions of this operation can protect them, rather than how they choose to live each day. I do not believe this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote this passage, as inspired by the Spirit of God.

When taken at face value, the meaning seems really simple to me. Each piece of the armor is symbolic of one aspect of Jesus’ nature or ministry. There are two different words translated “put on” used, the first is in Ephesians 6:11, the second, in 6:13. The first one means, to sink into clothing, to clothe one’s self, to envelop in, to hide in, to clothe with a garment. The second one means, to take up, to take in (to one’s self), to raise. The word used in 6:11 is the same word used in Romans 13:12, …“put on the armor of light,” and in Ephesians 4:24, “…put on the new self.” In fact, the whole verse of Ephesians 4:22-24, to me, is a precursor to the passage in chapter 6, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

When interpreted in context, as all interpretations should be, the armor of God is, in essence, the nature of Christ. The first piece, the belt of truth, speaks of Jesus who said He was, “the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) This means that we should walk in truth in every area of our lives. Since satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), truth will always defeat him. The second piece, the breastplate of righteousness, speaks of Christ’s righteousness which is credited to us at salvation (Phil. 3:9), He, Himself, is our righteousness. The third piece, the shoes of peace, speak of being a peacemaker (Matt. 5:9, James 3:18), and also walking in the peace of God. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6), the gospel is to restore peace between God and man (Luke 2:14, Col. 1:20). The fourth piece, the shield of faith, speaks of our faith in Christ which helps us overcome (1 Peter 1:5, 1 John 5:4). The fifth piece, the helmet of salvation, speaks of the protection of our soul (mind, will, emotions) that comes from the hope and meditation of our salvation (1 Thess. 5:8). The sixth, and last piece, the sword of the Spirit, speaks of the Word of God, which we use to refute the lies of the enemy (Heb. 4:12, Rev. 2:12, 2:16, 19:15). Jesus used the Word to defeat the enemy in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-10). It is our offensive weapon.

Finally, it is striking that Paul uses the word “stand” four times in verses 11, 13, and 14. This word literally means, be kept intact, to escape in safety; to uphold or sustain the authority or force of anything; to stop, stand still, to stand immovable, stand firm; to be of a steadfast mind; of quality, one who does not hesitate, does not waiver.” This describes what our position should be when faced with the enemy. We do not fight, but rather stand, clothed with the nature of Jesus, in His authority which is above all authorities. We remain immovable and unshakeable for greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world. 

When we clothe ourselves in Christ, taking on and standing in our new self made in His likeness, we have the greatest protection possible against the attacks of the enemy. This requires us to die to our flesh, surrender our ways, deny ourselves, and walk in obedience to the Lord, by His grace. It doesn’t mean we will never be assaulted by the enemy. It means we will continue to stand, and we will overcome him because Jesus did and He now lives in us. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Eph. 6:13)