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.”

Advertisements

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.

God’s Process in Reformation

images“See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  (Jeremiah 1:10)

A word the Lord has been speaking to me over the past few months is reformation. I kept hearing this in my spirit before I read that October 31st, this year, will be the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. To reform, in it’s most basic sense, means to form again. This brings to mind God’s words to His chosen people, Israel, as given through Jeremiah, the prophet. “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you My message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand, Israel.” (Jer. 18:2-6)

Our God is in the reformation business. The point of His reforms is to restore that which is fallen to its original state. However, He goes above and beyond even that, promising that the latter state will be more glorious than the former. (See Job 42:12; Hag. 2:9; Is. 65:17; Ezek. 36:11, etc.) The new heavens and earth will be far more glorious than the Garden of Eden. The last Adam, Christ, was far above the first one. The New Testament far exceeded the Old, in terms of the revelation of God. He restores, reforms, and remakes, not because the first was a mistake or incorrect, but because the first one had fulfilled its purpose. The first served His plan in its season, but the new season required something higher and greater.

God’s commission to His servant Jeremiah was to bring reformation to nations and kingdoms. His instructions give us much needed insight into the process required for such a God-sized task. The first step required four forms of destruction: to uproot, as in pulling something up by the roots; to pluck out, and expel; to root out. To tear down, as in to be pulled or broken down, cast down, and to be broken. To destroy, meaning, to die, to perish, do away with, and to blot out. And to overthrow, which means, to throw down, to break through, to break down, to be destroyed. After this process was complete, it was time to rebuild. This was a two-step process: first, to build, meaning, to rebuild, establish, cause to continue, with the idea of permanence. And finally, to plant, such as in a garden; to fix, to establish and fasten. It is interesting and worth noting that the destruction took twice as long, and was twice as hard, as the rebuilding.

I believe this is what God is doing in our nation, and in the American Church. Events are rapidly taking place that many believe to be destructive, not realizing, perhaps, that this is just the beginning of the process of reformation. We still have a long way to go before the rebuilding can begin. In the meantime, we must keep our eyes fixed on the One who loves to make things better than they were to begin with. We must trust that He sees and knows all; nothing is hidden from Him. He always knows what is best. He knows exactly what He is doing. We must pray for our leaders, and continue to pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done in our nation, in the Church, and throughout this world, as it is in heaven. This is all a part of His plan, as He has said, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

earthquakeWe are living in exciting, but turbulent times. God is opening up new doors of opportunity for His people to embrace His call to be the salt and light of the world. Our nation is going through a major shaking. This is causing a ripple effect in the nations of the earth, many of which are going through their own upheavals. And, without a doubt, the Church, especially in our country, is also going through a shaking. There is more to come, for sure. Just as in the natural, a building’s foundations are often exposed and laid bare in an earthquake, so, in the spiritual, the Church’s underpinnings are quickly coming to light.

God’s purpose in allowing these convulsions is manifold. His primary interest is always the human heart. The heart is the foundation of our relationship with Him. He always knows the heart of every person, but we very often do not realize the condition of our own hearts. We easily deceive ourselves by claiming to believe certain things yet our actions prove otherwise. Sometimes, we are in need of a rude awakening, so God offends our minds to reveal what we truly believe in our hearts.

Scripture tells us no one but God is capable of knowing the heart (Acts 15:8), but Jesus also said that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). We can gauge where our own hearts are if we will listen to the words we speak. The same goes for what we post on social media. It has been glaringly obvious that so many people, believers included, have a lot of anger, hatred, prejudice, rebellion, pride, and deception in their hearts. God is not ok with that, and if we truly see Him as our Lord and Savior, neither should we be. He is committed to showing us what He sees, not to shame us, but to set us free.

In addition, many of us have turned our focus from God as Savior, to trusting in a man, a political party, or certain ideology to solve our problems. No human being, knowledge, or system can fix what is wrong in our nation or the Church. If we don’t already know that, we are in the process of learning it now. Not only have we misplaced our allegiance, but we are allowing it to divide us from one another. We have taken on the offenses of our culture,   when we should be displaying the love and mercy of Jesus to those who don’t know Him. Many have displayed great passion when defending their particular political beliefs; do they exhibit the same or greater passion for their Lord?

I am reminded of this passage, “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”  God is shaking everything that can be shaken so that our foundations can be restored, both in our nation, and in His Church. The end result will be His glory, His kingdom, on earth, as it is in heaven, and a bride worthy of His Son.

 

 

 

The Church Jesus is Building

familychristI once heard Pastor Bill Johnson from Bethel Church in Redding, CA say, “There are more demons in the Church than there are outside the Church.” I remember pondering that statement and coming to the same conclusion, based on my own experiences of ministering to hundreds of believers who were under the influence of demons in over 25 years of ministry. In addition to the spirits that are operating in the world, seen in various manifestations of ungodliness and fleshly indulgence, there are also spirits of religion. Jesus dealt with these demons in the Jewish religious leaders of His day.

In this context, the word religious is defined as, man’s way to get to God, gaining acceptance from God through one’s own works, acts of charity, observance of disciplines such as fasting, prayer, giving, serving the poor, etc. I have always found it revealing that Jesus had such compassion and grace for the sinners He encountered, the prostitutes, tax-collectors, adulterers, and demonized, but had nothing but criticism and stern rebukes for the religious leaders and teachers of the Law. These are just some of the words He called them as found in the gospels: hypocrites, child of hell, full of greed and self-indulgence, full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean, children of the devil, blind guides. These are pretty harsh words! They were prideful and self-righteous, controlling and hypocritical.

Jesus knew that these people were under the influence of demons. So, while He hated their sin, He still loved and died for them even as He did for all of us. His words, I believe, were not directed at the people themselves, but at the spirits operating through them. Yet, unlike the sinners who were demonized and recognized their need for salvation, the religious leaders were blinded by their pride and arrogance and refused to come to Him. Even worse, as leaders, they grossly misrepresented the heart of God to His people. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land for doing the very same thing. This was what stirred Jesus’ righteous anger and zeal when He cleansed the temple of the money changers. It also had a big part to play in His condemnation of their behavior.

Unfortunately, the religious spirit remains alive and fully functioning in many, if not most, of our churches today. The behavior of the leaders of Jesus’ day are still seen in both leaders and members of our congregations. The devil can’t create anything new, so he uses the same old tricks, and we still fall for them. The good news is that Jesus will not allow this to go on forever. He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against her. He will raise up a bride that is worthy to be His wife, holy and pure, without spot or wrinkle, and fully lovesick for her Bridegroom. The true Church will operate in a spirit of meekness, humility, love and compassion. The true Church is not groups of people that meet in a building once or twice a week. It is the worldwide body of Christ, those who are called by His name, who hear and heed His voice, walk in His ways, and follow Him wherever He leads. This is the Church He is building and the bride He will one day return for.

 

 

God’s Design for His Church

494590826

Over twenty years ago God gave me a burden for the state of the Church. It began at a three-day fasting and prayer conference I attended in Los Angeles back in 1995. I knew nothing about fasting and not much more about prayer, but my life was marked forever at that conference. At the end, a call was made for two million believers to fast and pray for forty days, for revival to come to His people. I heard the call, as one of those two million, but after I returned home, I let friends and family talk me out of it. Yet God did not give up. I attended the next year and again the call came, but this time I heeded His word.

I didn’t grow up in church, my parents were unsaved until my teenage years after my sister and I began attending and were saved. But I have been in churches long enough at this point in my life to see many things that have troubled my spirit. While attending Bible college around the same time I went to the conference, I noticed that what I learned about the early church was nothing like the churches I had been in or ever even heard of. I had many questions that no one I knew seemed to have answers for. So I prayed and studied and read many books about the church for years.

About thirteen years ago I began reading about a very small number of churches that had a very different structure than the traditional churches with which I was familar. Based on Ephesians 4:11-13, these churches had a group of leaders rather than one or two, and each leader played a very specific and unique role. Scripture outlines the structure very clearly, So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” 

As I read and studied more on this structure, it began to make more sense why the Church, especially in the West, has been so dysfunctional. Of course, some of our dysfunction comes because there are so many wounded and bound believers among God’s people, but even that is evidence that we are doing something wrong. It is understandable for new believers to come into the body like that, but to continue in that condition for years is inexcusable.

One striking difference seen is that the role of these leaders is to equip God’s people for works of service (ministry). Most traditional churches have a pastor or assistant pastor that do the majority of, if not all of the ministry. This could easily explain why so many pastors are burning out, walking away from ministry, falling into scandalous sin, and even taking their own lives. The ministry the believers are to be equipped for is not just “church” ministry like working in the nursery, greeting, ushering, etc. I’m not saying those things aren’t unnecessary. I’m saying Jesus didn’t die and fill us with His Spirit so we could usher or greet people on Sundays.

God’s designed structure is meant to equip His people to minister to each other so that we might be built up, both individually and corporately. The word used there for “built” literally means, “edifying; edification; the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness.”  In other words, God has gifted certain individuals within His Church to equip the body to minister to the body – until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  

The fact that He designed 5 unique roles to do that confirms that no one leader or minister can do the job alone, for no one person has all the gifts needed. It takes five – and five is the number of grace. Jesus embodied all of these gifts in Himself and His ministry, and now He has given five different roles to specific members of His body to bring His bride into maturity and unity. They are critical to the success of His Church and His plan to have a bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish. I will describe each role and its purpose more in my next article.