Prayer and Evangelism – Keys to Expanding the Kingdom

11935448-old-keys-on-a-wooden-table-close-up-stock-photoI wrote this article several weeks ago for Take the City, an outreach ministry I have had the privilege of being a part of from its inception. It was birthed, in part,  from the house of prayer, and continues to grow through its commitment to prayer and evangelism.

Reinhard Bonnke, the well known German-born evangelist once said, “…evangelism without prayer is like an explosive without a detonator, and prayer without evangelism is like a detonator without an explosive. We need both.” Indeed, this goes along with what Jesus taught His disciples.

The ninth chapter of Matthew was likely a typical day in the life of Jesus. He healed a paralyzed man, confronted some religious leaders, raised a young girl from the dead, healed a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and two blind men, and delivered a demonized man who was mute. Matthew said in verse 35, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” Then in verses 36-38, he records, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.’”

Jesus could only help so many people, being that He was just one person during His earthly life. The works He did revealed to His disciples the Father’s heart. They, too, saw the needy crowds and probably felt overwhelmed by it all. At just the precise moment, He let them in on a secret that would make it possible for more to be ministered to. I can almost imagine what they were thinking – “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” Seriously, though, it is clear from this story that prayer and evangelism must go together. He then sent them out, making them the answer to that prayer. (see Matt. 10)

When we spend time in prayer, especially extended times of prayer, we will feel what the Father feels for those who do not know Him, and His longing to have them as His own. We will encounter those who are lost, weary, wounded, broken, and outcast, and we will feel His compassion towards them. You cannot spend time in extended prayer and not feel compelled to reach out to these ones. Jesus felt it in the above passage, and if He lives in us, we will too. Prayer, therefore, fuels missions. It is the catalyst that will cause us to leave our prayer closets in search of the lost sheep.

As we reach out to these needy ones, it will quickly become apparent that apart from His help and power, we can do nothing. We can easily become overwhelmed when faced with multitudes of seemingly insurmountable problems. It can take a toll on us, physically, emotionally, and spiritually if we do not have consistent times of prayer to be refilled. If Jesus took time away from the crowds to be with His Father, how much more should we? Dealing with people in desperate situations like drug abuse, prostitution, poverty, sickness, and demonic bondage is heartbreaking. Times like these will drive us to our knees in prayer.

Attempting to evangelize the lost without the compassion of Jesus is simply a religious exercise. For too long, the Church has emphasized evangelism, but lacked teaching on the necessity of intimacy with God. The second Great Commandment – “Love your neighbor as yourself,” has been placed before the first one, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Putting them in the proper order joins prayer and evangelism. Prayer produces intimacy, which produces love for God and compassion. Love for God engenders love for people and empowers us to go out, be His witnesses, and make more disciples. The more we pray, the more we will want to reach out, and the more we reach out, the more we will pray for God’s power and provision in sending more laborers. We cannot afford to separate the two if we truly want to expand His kingdom.

The Single, Most Important Thing in Our Lives

107023_sun_burst1The nature of God is a topic I keep coming back to again and again. Over my years of knowing Him, He is constantly revealing more of Himself to me, and to all who are searching for a greater understanding of Him. It is His express will and great desire for us to know Him. It is the very reason He created us, to enter into an intimate relationship with Him. To prove it, He put His Holy Spirit within us in order to reveal Himself to us.

Paul, inspired by His Spirit, knew this and penned this prayer which is one of my favorites, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.” This is one prayer that will ALWAYS be answered if prayed in sincerity of heart.

The Spirit reveals Jesus and the Father to us in several ways.

  1. Through His Word – Jesus is the Word made flesh, the exact representation of the Father. We can look at how Jesus lived and responded to those around Him and see the heart of the Father. In fact, if we are taught, or observe some who claim to know Him but treat others harshly, with anger, impatience, manipulation, condemnation, condescension, etc., we can know that they do not truly know Him.
  2. Through His body – Each believer is given a unique facet of God’s glory to reflect to the world, not one of us is the same. When we look for Jesus in His people, we will see a greater measure of who He is.
  3. Experiences – God often encounters us in His manifest presence, where we tangibly feel Him, in our bodies, in our emotions, and in our spirits. David cried out, “My soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Ps. 63:1) Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:17-19, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  To know His love which surpasses knowledge can be translated as, “to know, by experience, this love that surpasses mere head knowledge.”  We may have tons of head knowledge, even from the Scriptures, but it will never take the place of experiential knowledge – we need them both.

Knowing Him requires spending personal, quality time with Him, just as we would do with a friend. You can’t know someone you never spend time with, talking with, and sharing life together with. Therefore, no one can do this for you. No one can develop intimacy in your relationship with Jesus but you. No one can lay hands on you and impart their history with God to you. You must develop your own.

How we view the nature of God is the single, most important thing in our lives. How we see Him and what we believe about Him determines and affects how we relate to Him, to others, and to ourselves.

If we see and/or believe Him to be angry, judgmental, harsh, and exacting, we will be afraid to come close to Him, be unable to fully trust Him, feel we can never measure up or satisfy Him. None of these attitudes will help develop intimacy in our relationship with Him, in fact, it will do the exact opposite, driving a wedge between us and Him.

Likewise, this unbiblical view will cause us to treat others the way we feel He is treating us. We will be harsh, angry, impatient, and judgmental toward others, alienating ourselves from the body we are meant to be a part of. In addition, we will misrepresent Him to others, destroying or greatly damaging our witness for Him.

We can only know our true identity through knowing our Father. The more we know Him, the greater our security in who He has called us to be will become. We will no longer doubt His love for us, nor fear His discipline. We will no longer question His faithfulness or feel He has abandoned us. Instead, we will revel and bloom in knowing and experiencing His great love and passion for us. We will be able to enter into His rest, no longer striving for His acceptance or approval.

Seeking out the nature of God is the greatest adventure of our lives. It will be our endless pursuit throughout eternity, for He is inexhaustible and without limit. In fact, a billion years from now, we will be no closer to reaching the end of Him than we were when we first began. Selah…(pause and calmly think about that)!

 

Characteristics of Great Leaders

12107733Being a leader isn’t easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest challenges we face as flawed and frail human beings. Perhaps that is one reason we have lacked good leaders in the recent past. It is all but guaranteed when leaders fail, most everyone knows about it. But true leaders carry an integrity and character about them that they do not fear failing. They are confident in their abilities, for the most part, and willing to take responsibility for their mistakes. They walk in truth and have nothing to hide. They do not seek to blame shift nor discredit those they lead, even when they may have a right to. Great leaders seek to build up those they lead. Through their honesty and integrity, they inspire others to want to be great.

It has been said that great leaders do not create followers, they create leaders. As a leader, you will lead by example, whether that example is good or bad. The Apostle Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Those that influence you will also influence those you lead. This is the law of reproduction – you will reproduce who you are, not who you say you are. Good leaders don’t fear or become jealous if those they lead excel them, in fact, they encourage them to do so! They want their ceiling to be the floor for those around them. Leaders want to see their people succeed in their calling and destiny. They get excited to see others grow and develop in their gifts and skills, and give them real opportunities to do so.

It is important that leaders create a culture of freedom, where those they lead are free to be themselves, warts and all. They should not try to force conformity to a certain style, behavior, or message. Instead, they seek to draw out the diversity that will encourage authenticity, and the unique giftings each person possesses. They are unafraid to be vulnerable in front of their people. By sharing their own struggles, they give permission for others to do the same. This facilitates a place of safety, love, and nurturing that draws others in and brings healing and freedom.

If you are a leader, it’s important to remember it’s not about you. Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, said He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. He is always our model for all of life. Leaders should be the best servants. They do not ask their people to do what they are unwilling to do themselves. They are the first to do, the first to give, the first to lay down their lives for the ones coming behind them.

Jesus never sought the limelight. He lived a life of humility, the likes of which have never been seen before or since. He never sought a platform. Yet others were drawn to Him and sensed the unprecedented authority He walked in. His authority was rooted in His intimacy with the Father. The same is true for all leaders. We have no authority except that which has been given to us by God. The deeper our intimacy with the Father, the greater our authority will be because He can trust us to use it wisely.

All leaders make mistakes; they are human after all. But there are some characteristics and signs you want to pay attention to that may determine if a leader is worthy of following. Here are just a few to consider:

• Insecure and jealous of those more gifted than them.

• Seek to be served and act as if they are better than those around them.

• Controlling, want to be in charge of everything, and do not give others opportunites to    grow, develop, and use their giftings and skills.

• Refuse to do things they ask their people to do, especially menial tasks.

• Boastful of how God uses them, prideful, or always talking about themselves.

• Never share their own personal struggles or they attempt to maintain a certain  appearance.

• Blame others for their own failures or mistakes and refuse to take responsibility or make  restitution when needed.

• Insist on doing their own thing and do not make an effort to work with others in the  community.

• Refuse to listen and take heed to others’ complaints, suggestions, ideas, and concerns.

These are just a few examples; hopefully, you get the point. It is important to choose our leaders wisely, but even more important to pray for them regularly. Those who lead carry a greater weight of responsibility and accountability before God. They are deserving and in need of our prayers and support.

 

 

Thoughts On A Life of Fruitfulness

Charlene S Hughes

“I am the real vine and My Father is the gardener. Every branch which is part of Me but fails to bear fruit, He cuts off; and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes, so that it may bear more fruit. Right now, because of the word which I have spoken to you, you are pruned.” – John 15:1-3

Jesus is the vine we have been joined to by the Father. Our Father is the gardener who takes care of all the plants in the garden. The vine is planted in the soil, and gets its nutrients from the soil. Life flows into it from the soil, through every part, and into the fruit. There is no life apart from the vine. Though there are nutrients in the soil, the soil cannot produce fruit on its own; only the vine can produce fruit. Jesus said He is the real

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One Thing God and the Devil Have in Common

walking-to-light-in-dessert-smallThe title of this article sounds a little strange, I admit. Chances are you’ve probably never thought about, much less considered, whether God and the devil have anything in common. The thought never entered my mind until I heard Graham Cooke say it one time. This is what he said – “God and the devil have one thing in common, they are both trying to kill you.” Sounds a bit shocking at first, but when I started to think about it more, I realized there is definitely truth in that statement. However, their motives for doing so are entirely different.

We all know the devil is out to “steal, kill and destroy” any and everyone because that is who he is, according to Jesus. (John 10:10) He is a thief, a liar and a murderer, and always will be. He hates God and all who are made in His image. He seeks ways to wreak as much havoc in our lives as possible. He is not by any means equal to God, for he is a created being, a fallen angel who rebelled against Him and was cast out of heaven. His power is limited. He uses temptation, accusation, and deception to accomplish his twisted purposes for humanity. We actually empower him when we believe, and make agreement, with his lies. He taunts us with fleshly indulgence, beats us down with accusations when we give in to those temptations, and then deceives us into believing we are worthless, inadequate, and despised by God because of our many failures. He especially hates the cross because it refutes every one of his lies.

God, on the other hand, loves us infinitely, intimately, and unconditionally. He is a good Father who wants to bless and give good gifts to His beloved children. He always, always has our best interest at heart. But like a good Father, He must discipline His children. He does so in order to help us become more like Him. He wants to kill our “self life” – the part of us that seeks to call the shots, to make our own decisions and rule our own lives, independent from Him.

Contrary to what many believe, He is not a killjoy, trying to take all the fun out of life. He is not looking over our shoulder, waiting to catch us doing something wrong. He is not angry or vengeful. His chastisement is always because of His great love for us. He does not punish, in the sense that we typically think of punishment. The Apostle John understood this when he said, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love (God’s love) drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect (complete) in love.” (words in parentheses added)

Because of His unfathomable love and desire for intimacy with us, God aims to destroy any and everything that stands in the way of that. He is a jealous lover – it is one of His names – Jealous. (Exodus 34:14) He created us, saved us, and wants all of our affection and devotion. He wants first place in our lives, and He deserves that. I realize more and more how often I fail to recognize when other things creep into my life, crowding Him out, little by little. It is too easy at times to forget that the pleasure of knowing, loving, and being loved by Him is far superior to the inferior pleasures of this world.

The struggle to die to ourselves, to crucify our flesh, is very real and extremely painful. But God, in His extravagant goodness, even made provision for that. His name is the Comforter. The Holy Spirit comforts us and helps us to remember He is always with us, and will never, ever leave us. He is committed to finishing the good work He has begun in us, and because of that, we can trust Him, even when it hurts.

 

Guarding Your Heart Against the Danger of Offense

heart_0These days, in our politically correct society, everyone is offended at something or someone, it seems. You hear it on TV; read it on social media; see it in the workplace; even in the Church. Offense has become an epidemic. According to the dictionary, offense means, “something that offends or displeases; the feeling of resentful displeasure caused; the act of attacking; attack or assault.” Everyone has an opinion, and the slightest disagreement often leads to offense. This violation can escalate to anger, hate, even violence. At times it appears that some people are looking for something to be offended about.

The biblical definition of offense means, “to cause one to stumble or fall away; to see in another what I disapprove of and what hinders me from acknowledging his authority; to cause one to judge unfavorably or unjustly of another; to make indignant.” In Matthew 13 as Jesus taught in the synagogue, many became offended with Him. They couldn’t understand His wisdom and authority because they only knew Him as Mary’s and Joseph’s son. In chapter 11, He told HIs disciples to tell John the Baptist, who was in prison at the time, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” This was after He recounted the things He was doing – healing the sick, raising the dead, and preaching to the poor.

In the parable of the seed and the sower, Jesus said there would be some who would hear the Word and receive it with joy, but, “…since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” Having no root can cause one to be easily offended. Perhaps one of the most sobering verses on the subject is Matthew 24:10. Jesus is teaching His disciples on the signs of the end times and says, “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other… but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” In other words, when believers are not rooted in the Word and trouble or persecution comes, many will become offended with God and those who speak truth, and fall away from the faith. I believe this prophecy is beginning to come to pass.

At it’s core, offense is rooted in pride. This becomes apparent when one takes offense if his views are disagreed with. To think that everything you believe is one hundred percent correct is pride. To attack someone for disagreeing with you is arrogant. The people in the synagogue who took offense at Jesus did so because they believed He was just a common man – the son and brother of ordinary people they knew. His words and anointing defied those beliefs. John the Baptist knew well what Scripture taught about the coming Messiah. It was prophesied He would set captives free. Not only was he in prison, but he was Jesus’ first cousin. Surely Jesus would set him free, he likely thought. Jesus, knowing this, forewarned him about taking offense when He didn’t.

Believers today, especially in our Western, comfort driven culture, are woefully illiterate when it comes to the Bible. Just last year, a study done by LifeWay Research and the United  Kingdom Bible Society found that:

  • Only 45% of regular church attenders read their Bible more than once a week.
  • Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible at all.
  • More than half of Evangelicals believe that the Holy Spirit is a force and not a personal being.
  • In the United Kingdom, almost 1 in 3 couldn’t identify the Nativity as part of the Bible
  • 27% of British parents think Superman is or might be a biblical story.

Not only is this appalling, but it clearly shows the unprepared state of most believers for the times we are living in, especially in light of Matthew 24:10. And this is in a society that has the greatest access to teachings, conferences, seminars, churches, etc.! There are no doubt many reasons for this, but more importantly, what can we do to guard ourselves from the trap of offense?

It is to our benefit to first of all, take responsibility for our own spiritual growth. While teachings, sermons, conferences and such can be helpful, we must make time for God’s Word, reading, studying, and meditating upon it. Our intimacy with Him depends upon it! We cannot know someone we never spend time with or listen to. Time spent in His Word will transform the way we think, free us from pride, and help us learn humility, if we apply it to our lives. Doing this consistently will help us become rooted and grounded in the truth of His Word and His nature, and guard our hearts against offense.

The Marks of True Spiritual Authority

I’m late getting this post done this week because of things I had going on this pastlion weekend, so, better late than never, as they say. I don’t normally feel inspired to write, but today I was soaking up some glorious sunshine in my back yard and had a thought hit me that I felt I should write about.

As with all of my posts, I write, not from the perspective of an expert, but from one journeying toward maturity. I have found that sharing the things I am learning not only often helps others, but it helps me process and take to heart what I am gleaning along the way. In fact, one key to discipleship, I believe, is to have some who speak into our lives, and others whose lives we pour into. It should be a circle, a cycle, of receiving and giving, receiving and giving, that continues until we reach the end of our lives. But this is not the subject of today’s post.

What came to me was a topic the Lord began to teach me about several years ago. In my spirit, I heard Him say, “I am going to teach you about true spiritual authority because what you have been taught until now has come from a spirit of control.” My initial reaction, as it usually is when He speaks to me, was one of bewilderment, like, “Huh?” “What do You mean?” But He had my attention, so I began to listen and journal what He showed me.

Many seek and/or claim positions of authority, but true spiritual authority is only given by God, the Ultimate Authority of heaven and earth. (Matt. 28:18) Those who confer authority upon themselves are often wounded and in need of healing. Their so called authority is a cover for their fear, pride and insecurity, and a vehicle by which they seek to control others. In order to gain authority, they will seek to usurp it from those having true God given authority. (See the story of Absalom and David in 1 Sam. 13-15) Spiritual hosts, both heavenly and demonic, recognize true spiritual authority. (Acts 19:13-16; Acts 16:16-18; Dan. 9:21-27)

Those God gives authority to will be humble, as seen in the examples of Joseph, Daniel, and Moses, among others. Rather than seeking to control, they will strive to spur those around them unto maturity and fruit bearing. (John 15; 1 Thess. 2:4-12) True authority is given for the purpose of pulling down that which is not of God, and building up that which is. (Jer. 1:10) This purpose is accomplished through intimacy with God and intercession, coming into agreement with His will, not ours. (Matt. 26:39, 42; 6:9-10) Those whom God gives authority to will face extraordinary tests and trials, as seen in the lives of Joseph, David, Daniel, Paul, and Jesus, to name a few. These afflictions serve to burn away selfish ambition, pride, insecurity, fear of man, arrogance and anything else that would hinder the purpose for which He conferred it.

Jesus is always our model for life and ministry. As Sovereign of all creation, He is the source of all true authority for He will rule and reign forever and ever. We should be wary of those claiming positions of authority that are not noticeably growing in Christlikeness, who are arrogant and boastful, prideful and controlling. Those who gather followers unto themselves, as Absalom, are also to be avoided. We can trust leaders who have the heart of our Good Shepherd for He will never, ever lead us astray. We must pray for those whom God has granted authority to, for the body of Christ will never become the bride without them.