Thursday, December 6, 2018

What to do Until God Shows UP

Is impatience really a deadly sin?

Waiting is not easy for me. Choosing the right line at Walmart the bank, or the DMV is - for me - an unsolved mystery, which is rarely solved correctly. Now, the local McDonalds has opened a second drive-thru line. Traffic delays are the worst. I Saw a bumper sticker the other day that read,

"The Road To Happiness Is Almost Always Under Construction."

We live in a culture of push buttons, fast foods, and instant gratification. When something interrupts that smooth, rapid flow we get testy. We just hate to wait.

We are currently in the season of Advent. “Adventus” is the Latin translation of the Greek word “Parousia,” which commonly refers to the Second Coming of Christ.

For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from three different perspectives:  

·       In the flesh in Bethlehem;
·       In our hearts daily, and
·       In glory at the end of time.”

This season offers us the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming. Advent is a season of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of the Christ. We are awaiting the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus, as well as His promised return at the end of the age.

Some four hundred years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Jerimiah prophesied.

Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NIV) "'The days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. 15 "'In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.'

The Jews waited over four hundred years and after over 2000 years, Christians are still waiting. The early church thought He would return in a few days. The Jews have been waiting for 3000 years.
It is in these times of waiting that our relationship with God faces its greatest challenge. Our faith in His promises begins to suffer.

If anyone knew about waiting for God it was Abraham. He obeyed God and waited for decades and never saw all of God’s promises fulfilled. The Apostle Paul was called by God to be the apostle to the Gentiles, but waited for over ten years before the Lord’s promise would be fulfilled.

The things that God does in us are not so much planned and organized as they are born. Birthing is a process. There is the conception stage, a gestation period, then the birth. There seems to be a correlation between the length of the gestation period and the size of the baby. The gestation period for a field mouse is seven days and the baby is about the size of your pinky fingernail. The gestation period for the elephant is twenty-two months. 

Every Hero of the Bible was forced to wait. Moses spent forty years in Pharaoh’s palace learning about leadership, and another forty years learning desert survival. Only then was he able to free God’s people from slavery in Egypt.

What do we do while waiting?

How do we wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled? How do we wait for His imminent return? We often think that waiting is a passive activity, kicking back with our feet up, watching a ball game on the TV, and waiting.

Early Adventists predicted dates, got all their finances in order, and then went to sit on a mountaintop to wait.

  • Abraham didn’t wait in Haran. He began the journey. While waiting he was moving down the road. While waiting for God to tell him where to stop, Abraham kept going.
  • Paul spent the ten years in Tarsus, but was not cooling it by the pool. He was preparing himself. He spent days at a time in prayer and scripture study. When Jesus was ready for him, he was ready for the task. 

Waiting for God is not standing still, it is:

  1. Preparation. Prepare yourselves.

    Get the things that you will need on the journey.

  2. Taking action - Start moving

    Once prepared, we start the journey. Like ships sailing through the ocean, we can be turned by a tiny rudder in the rear. That little rudder is like that still small voice of God. But if we are not moving, the rudder can turn wherever it wants and we do not change course. We have to be moving.

  3. Avoiding the “Self Help Syndrome.”

    Although Abraham was a man of faith, he had his moment of failure. He took matters into his own hands. After waiting many years for God to answer His promise to be a father of many nations, he acted at Sarais urging to help God fulfill His promise. Abraham then had a son by one of his maidservants. A common practice in that culture. It was not God's plan and it has continued to cause problems till today. 

    It is tempting for us to run ahead of God. God does not need our help in fulfilling His promises. Creating Ishmaels takes us on painful detours and cannot be erased.

  4. Expecting God to guide you.

    Colombian Indians, deep in the Amazon jungle, go to church at night carrying small tin cans with a candle inside. They provide very little light. I want a huge spotlight. When I think about all of the poisonous snakes, the wild animals, and creepy crawly things, I want a huge spotlight.

    When I talk like that, its as if I am saying, "I am perfectly capable of handling every situation as long as I know what’s going on."

    God gives us the next right step, we want to know what's at the end of the road. God's direction often comes almost like a seed which is unfolded gradually.

  5. Anticipating “Divine Chaos.” There will be difficulties

  6. Depending upon God. 

    We have to be hungry, humble,  and teachable. The mark of spiritual maturity is a childlike spirit. We often do not look at the Apostle Paul as needy and childlike, yet he wrote;

    1 Cor. 2:3-4  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. [4] My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power,

In this Advent season let us all learn to wait in the same way that Abraham, Moses, and Paul waited for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

As we wait we must:

·       Prepare ourselves
·       Take the step we know to take
·       Stop trying to make it happen
·       Expect guidance from God
·       Expect Chaos

·       Depend upon the Lord

Friday, November 30, 2018

My Christmas Card to You

You may have heard this story, but it is worth repeating at this time of year. I came across it as I was looking through some old stuff.

What do you want to be?

Once upon a mountaintop, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up. 

The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: "I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I'll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!" 

The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. "I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I'll be the strongest ship in the world!"

The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. "I don't want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they'll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world."

Years passed. The rain came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall. One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain. 

The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, "This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me." With swoops of his shining axe, the first tree fell. 

"Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest, I shall hold wonderful treasure!" The first tree said.

The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, "This tree is strong. It is perfect for me." With swoops of his shining axe, the second tree fell. 

"Now I shall sail mighty waters!" thought the second tree. "I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!"

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the woodcutter never even looked up. 

"Any kind of tree will do for me." He muttered. With a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell. 

The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought her to a carpenter's shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feedbox for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, with treasure. She was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.

The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead, the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail to an ocean or even a river; instead, she was taken to a little lake.

The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. "What happened?" The once tall tree wondered. "All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God..."

Many many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams.

But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feedbox.

"I wish I could make a cradle for him." her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and the sturdy wood. "This manger is beautiful," she said.

And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world. 

One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through with the wind and the rain. The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, "Peace." The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. 

And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the king of heaven and earth.

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man's hands to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God's love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong.

And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God.

That was better than being the tallest tree in the world. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Where is God When You Need Him?

Two weeks ago, our furnace went out while we were under a severe winter weather warning. After a couple of days suffering while a technician tried a number of fixes, they pronounced the furnace dead. The cost of the new furnace busted our budget.

This discouraging incident was very tough financially, but there are so many others around us who suffer so much worse things such as being homeless in freezing weather and the loss of a loved one. In difficult times we can often become discouraged and wonder why God seems so far away.

“Where is God when we need Him?

St. John of the Cross, went through a time of feeling totally separated from God, coining the phrase "Dark Night of the Soul." If you are seriously trying to follow God, you will go through your own "Dark Night of the Soul" at some time. What can you do in difficult times?

Adverse circumstances discouraged God’s chosen people.

Seventy years after the Jewish nation was taken into Babylonian captivity, a remnant returned to their homeland. These were not bad people, they were a holy remnant. Hundreds of thousands had been taken to Babylon, but only fifty thousand returned to Israel. These were the ones most committed to the Lord and to the restoration of Israel. 

Their work was hard to rebuild and restore after 70 years of neglect.  They didn’t have a lot of money or manpower. They suffered crop failures, hostile enemies resisted their work, and they remembered easier times in Babylon. Each of these circumstances made them feel that God was far away.

Eighteen years after they returned they had made little progress due to any number of difficulties and setbacks. They were completely discouraged and wondered, "Where is this God we are serving? 

"Why was He so far away? Where is God?”

We have to remember that God has not moved! He may be waiting for you to do something.

Return to Me

The Lord responded to their questions through the prophet Zechariah.

"Therefore say to them, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Return to Me," says the Lord of hosts, "and I will return to you," says the Lord of hosts." [Zechariah 1:3 (NKJV]

God assures them that He is not distant. If they would return to Him, He would return to them. In all of Scripture, this is the one prerequisite to receiving God's blessings and is stated in various ways; "Seek the Lord while He may be found," "Call upon Him," "Turn to Me with all of your heart," "Return to Me and I will return to you."

Turning back to the Lord is repentance. Personal repentance is always a prerequisite for fellowship with the Living Lord. Once they returned to Him, they would receive the spiritual blessings promised to Israel in Zechariah’s the eight visions that follow these words of God.

This is one of the strongest and most intense spiritual calls to repentance to be found in the Old Testament. God would not bestow comfort on unrepentant hearts. God's covenants with Abraham and David rendered certain the fulfillment of His purposes for Israel. But these covenants did not nullify the need for each generation of Israelites to be obedient to God in order to experience His promised blessings.

In today's church, there are some who would say, “We are New Testament Christians, that is Old Testament law and is no longer applicable.” But Zechariah’s words remind us of the words in the New Testament book of James;

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. [James 4:8 (NKJV)]

4 Steps to Back to God

James 4:7-8 (NKJV) Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 

1.     SUBMIT  to God

There are too many that believe submission is letting people walk all over them. Submission is not being a “Doormat.” Submission is being an “Elevator."

 Jesus submitted to the Father out of His Strength. [Phil 2:5-8] In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus submitted to die for the church.

We submit to the Lord by elevating Him above ourselves - Putting His agenda above our own, His will above our will, and His desires above our desires.

2.   Draw Near  to God

For many of us, it is extremely scary to come near to God, the creator of the universe, the all-knowing, all-powerful, and always present. We come near with trepidation, fearing He will strike us dead. Jesus provided us a way into the holy of holies, through His cross. We do not need to fear His wrath. Our fear is of losing contact with the one who loves us more than any human can love us and wants to help us.

Prayer, fasting, scripture reading, meditation, and other spiritual disciplines are all ways in which we come near to God.

3.    Wash your hands

We rebel because we want control over our situations.  There may be areas of sin that we do not want to give up. Or there may be areas of our strength where we do not think we need God. Sinfulness keeps us from fully repenting. How do we deal with our sin? Confession and repentance from sin! After healing many Jesus told them, "Go and sin no more."

1 John 1:9 (NKJV)  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

James 4:4  Every list of sin in the New Testament begins with sexual sin.

4.    Purify Your Hearts

We touch two separate kingdoms - the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world. You do not become purified by ceasing to sin. We have a problem obeying the "Ten Commandments" let alone following Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount." We purify our hearts by being So filled with God that there is no room for anything else. Worldliness is being so full of the world there is no room for God. Check your calendar, where do you spend your time? Check your checkbook. where do you spend your money? Check your heart and mind, where are your thoughts?

Return to Him

Sometimes we might wish that God would force us to return to Him, instead of wooing us to return out of our own choice. Nevertheless, God wants our freely given love, so He prompts us to choose Him and return to Him.

Are people today any more heavenly inclined than those of Zechariah's day? No, we - like the people in Zechariah’s day - must be responsive to the lessons of history if we do not wish to be destroyed:  

God is genuinely and deeply concerned about the state of His people. God solemnly promised to restore Jerusalem and the cities of Judah. This was an especially comforting promise considering the lowly condition of the cities of the "Promised Land" in Zechariah’s day. About four years from the time of this prophecy the temple was rebuilt. The Jewish people took the prophecy seriously.

As we prepare for the birth of that child in Bethlehem, let us prepare ourselves by returning to the Lord! 

Do not get caught up in the worldly activities surrounding Christmas, but become caught up of the anticipation of God coming.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


St Paul was probably the most successful church planter of all time.  Converted on the Damascus road about 33 AD, his ministry lasted for approximately 30 years.  Theologian, F. F. Bruce[1] attributes this phenomenon principally to, "the energy with which Paul, a Jew by birth and upbringing, spread the Gospel of Christ in the Gentile world....".

Roland Allen writes;
"In a little more than ten years St. Paul established the Church in four provinces of the Empire, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia.  Before AD 47 there were no churches in these provinces; in ad 57 Paul could speak as if his work there was done, and could plan extensive tours into the far west without anxiety lest the churches which he had founded might perish in his absence for want of his guidance and support.”[2]
Certainly, Paul's methods of quickly planting and building lasting churches were effective in his context, but are they of use today in our context?  Certainly, today there is a need for evangelism and strengthening of the church.  As Evangelicals lament the growing secularization of society and the diminishing influence of Christianity, we should look to the ministry of Paul for his vision of the church of Jesus Christ and attempt to apply his methods to the church today.

The book of Acts provides an excellent history and insight into Paul's church planting and evangelistic techniques.  It was at Antioch in Pisidia that Paul's plan for evangelization and church planting took form.  This plan was continued, with some variation and a few exceptions, throughout his journeys.  As a traveling Rabbi, Paul would be asked to speak in the synagogue.  Many heard the message of Jesus and believed.  Others would become irate and a split in the synagogue occurred.  The Apostles would then flee to the next town leaving behind a group of believers, often with one of the missionary band stayed to nurture the new church[3].

1.   The Team Approach

Paul used a team approach to church planting.  Rather than being an individual itinerant preacher, Paul would bring others along to assist.  Commissioned by the church at Antioch, Paul began his first missionary journey with Barnabus and John Mark.  On his second missionary journey he was accompanied from time to time by Silas, Timothy, Luke, and Aquila and Priscilla. 

From the first visit to Antioch - Pisidia, Paul was the senior spokesperson of the missionary band but he relied heavily on those with him.  When Paul was alone at Athens he was not successful in starting a church and he did not begin a church in Corinth until Silas and Timothy had joined him there.

2.   Finding People

The first step in planting a church is to find people.  It was Paul's custom to first try to reach people at the synagogue.  The synagogues consisted of both Jews and God fearing Gentiles.  As he was asked to speak he would share the Good News of the kingdom of God.  At other times, such as at Phillippi, where there was no synagogue and at Corinth where he was not allowed to teach in the synagogue, Paul would look elsewhere. It is this "elsewhere" that is most important to understanding Paul's success.  The father of the church growth movement, Donald MacGavran[4]  points out that at Pentecost three thousand people were saved from all over the empire and each of these people had family back home.  It is his opinion that Paul was able to network by getting names of family members throughout the area of his travels. 

Paul was a great writer and a leader of people, but these characteristics were not responsible for his success in finding people open to the Gospel.

"...neither his dedication nor his communion with God in Christ was the sole secret of his amazing success.  That lay in the combination of his deep understanding of, and fellowship with, the living Christ, with his intuitive and unerring cooperation with God in the extension of these vast stirrings of the people whom God purposed to disciple.[5]
Paul became a part of what God was already doing in peoples lives.  He was able to see what God was doing and participate in it for the conversion of thousands.

3.   Paul's Message

When in a synagogue, Paul would speak about Jesus Christ beginning with the actions of God in Jewish history, the message of the prophets who foretold the Messiah, declaring Jesus the Christ who was crucified and arose from the dead and who is the forgiveness of sin.  Everyone who believes is justified from everything that could not justify them under the law of Moses.   He was not ashamed of the Gospel because it was the power of God for salvation (Rom1:16).  He preached not human wisdom but the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1Cor 1:17-18), ... not wise and persuasive words but with the demonstration of the Spirit's power (1Cor. 2:4-5).

4.   Developing Leaders

The development of leaders is still a mystery for many churches today.  The modern approach is to find a person who is successful in his work and put him in charge of a church committee.  Paul's team approach led to the rapid development of leaders and was an imperative considering the Jew's attempts to kill Paul.  Paul was able to delegate tasks and responsibility as his associates grew.  Paul believed the church to be a group of people with spiritual gifts and graces, given by God. This allowed him to cooperate with God in leadership selection.  Paul merely confirmed what God was already doing in the people before he moved on to the next town.  In some churches, Paul's stay was brief as leadership developed quickly.  This happened in Phillippi where he left Luke after only a brief apprenticeship.  At Berea, Paul left Silas and Timothy for a while until the church could sustain itself.  In Corinth, he stayed for a long time before heading for Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila.  Then he left them in Ephesus to help lead that church.  From the Corinthian correspondence, he might have been better served by leaving Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth.


The pattern used by Paul for planting new churches in the first century is an effective means today for communicating the Gospel.  We must be careful however to maintain the vision and purpose to which God has called us.  If we seek church growth and church planting as a goal in itself, we run the risk of losing His perspective.  Our purpose is not to create or build a church, but to evangelize people, to bring them to a reconciliation with God and then equip them to do likewise. 

If we merely try to attract people to our church and assume that somehow, sometime Christianity will rub off and they will turn their hearts over to God, we are not following Paul's pattern.  Paul first led people to Christ, then brought them together into the body.  This is why he was able to move on to a new territory trusting the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the leaders of the new church even though they did not have years of theological training.  Those churches then continued the ministry of reconciling people to God. 

Paul's concern was not to build large churches but to convert large numbers of people to a faith in Jesus Christ.  He was very proficient at this because of his faith in God and the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of converts.

[1] Bruce, F.F. Paul The Apostle of the Heart Set Free, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,  Grand Rapids, 1977, page 17
[2] Allen, Roland, Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours,  Eerdman's Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1962, page 3
[3] Barklay, William, The Mind Of St. Paul, Harper, San Francisco, 1958, pages 231-233
[4] MacGavran, Donald Anderson, The Bridges of God, Friendship Press, New York, revised 1981, page 18
[5] ibid page 26-27

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Rules to live by

I am not a big fisherman but have been known to drown a few worms. One time a friend and I had exceptional luck and caught a number of white perch.

Me, "We should remember that spot, so we can return and catch more."

He, "I took care of it, I put an "X" on the side of the boat."

That is foolishness, the boat moves and cannot provide a reference point. However stupid this little joke is, it illustrates the point of this post. We live in an era when there is no stable reference point. Everyone decides for themselves what is right and wrong. This is dangerous for a number of reasons.

  1. Imagine driving a car in a nation with no speed limits. Great, you say? Okay, but there are also no stop signs, traffic lights or lane restrictions. You can drive in any lane you feel is right for you. Demolition Derby, here we come.
  2. Remember back in the third grade during recess - do they still have recess? The playground at Hollywood Elementary was overseen by Mrs. Cravitz. She kept all the kids in order using the eyes in the back of her head and the threat of detention.  When Mrs. Cravitz was out sick, the playground was a disaster. Everyone played by their own rules until the meanest and biggest kid in the yard took charge. He sets the rules and abuses everyone else. Lack of a reference point leads to violence, sexual abuse, and anarchy as those with power use it to their advantage.
  3. When we have no fixed point of reference we drift from truth to confusion. We develop points of tension. Newborn babies need to be held, they need the comfort of feeling secure. Our Shitz Zu, Rachel, will head for the security of her small cage whenever a storm approaches. There is nothing that makes us feel more secure than having boundaries. We may fight against them but we truly need them. Our son kept begging and pleading for his mother to let him go somewhere with a friend. Her answer was no! Later he came to her and thanked her for not letting him go. "No" is a boundary that provides an element of security.
  4. When "truth" is lost politics fills the gap. When people lose their grip on moral absolutes, then the rules are made by whoever can get the most votes, gain the most political power, or shout the loudest.

We once lived away from town, out in the country. Storms would come up and we would lose electricity. If you have ever been in a totally dark room you can understand the problem. The first thing that happens is we lose our bearings, we become confused and are not sure where we are. We begin to feel our way around until suddenly! we find the chair or another piece of furniture. Now I know where I am. That chair becomes my fixed point of reference. I know where I am. It's home base.  From that chair, I remember the door, the couch, and their relationship - unless my wife has moved the chair without telling me. I’m OK. I have a fixed point of reference. If you were placed in a large, empty room, with no furnishings, and no light, you would move slowly and cautiously around the room until you came to a wall, something solid that you could hold on to. then - if you were there a long time - you would probably sit on the floor and lean against the wall. The wall provided a point of reference.

God has provided us with reference points. Secular society tries to live apart from God. It is determined to work out all its problems without any reference whatsoever to God. We are pressured to conform. Even in the Christian community, we fight against absolutes. A.W. Tozer wrote: A whole new generation of Christians has come up believing that it is possible to accept Christ without forsaking the world.

Lately. I have come to love Psalm 119. Throughout this Psalm, King David extols the virtue of following the Lord's law, commandments, statutes, and precepts. David speaks clearly of his love for these valuable and "life-giving" rules of God. They provide David - and us - security, direction, and knowing the love of the Lord. Laws, statutes, commandments, and precepts often have a negative connotation, but I have learned about the freedom and joy that they provide to us.

So What are the rules

  1. Realize God loves us and wants what is best for us.
    John 3:16  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

  2. Recognize that we are sinners and must repent
    Turn and go the other direction. Real repentance comes when we can trust God.
  3. Die to self - daily
    The real issue is “Who is in control.” We must remove ourselves from the center of the universe. The function of the Holy Spirit is to install Jesus, more and more on the throne of our heart.

     Hebrews 2:14 -15    Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--  and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

    We do not fear physical death, we fear death to our sense of control.  We have to learn to trust God. When we trust God we do not have to be in control.
  4. Spend lots of time in Prayer
    Love God with all your heart, mind soul, and strength. Spend time with Him. Commune with Him. Pray the prayer of abandonment,
    “Lord, I want to be all that you have created me to be, Whatever it takes, I give you permission to change me to become more like your Son Jesus.”

 1 John 2:15-17     Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Heal Like Jesus

It was a dark night on a deserted stretch of US Highway 6 that passes through acres and acres of Illinois cornfields. Around a hard turn, we suddenly came upon a serious wreck. A single car had rolled over and was lying on its side halfway into the dry corn stalks awaiting harvest. I was ten, but the scene and the accompanying scream remains stuck in my mind to this day. A woman was crying loudly, "Help my baby!"

My father slowed our old International panel truck as we went past, but he did not stop - another car had already pulled over. Now accelerating my father shouted over the roar of the truck engine, “Let's get to a phone and call for help.”

Why does this incident stand out so clear after all these years? What was the right thing to do? Should we have stopped to help? The ten-year-old wanted to stop but was scared. Wasn't it important to call for an ambulance? What was the right thing to do? Those questions have continued to plague me for my entire life. My father was always a compassionate and caring man, willing to help anyone. Maybe he was trying to protect me from the trauma of the scene.

We are faced with this kind of choice daily. We come in contact with a homeless person, someone acting erratically, a friend in depression, someone crippled or dying and we do not know how to react. We often may turn away and avoid even eye contact, look with pity, or cross over to the other side of the street. Seldom do we walk over and interact with them on a personal level.

Our reactions often come from fear, not knowing what to do or what to say. Deep down we want to help, but don't believe we can. Being helpful is what makes us human. So, rather than face up to our impotence, we turn our back, cross over to the other side and try to forget what we just saw. It does not work. I have never been able to forget that overturned car in the cornfield and hear that shrill scream for help.

We know what Jesus would do. The Bible narratives describe Jesus touching lepers, laying hands on dead people, and eating with sinners and tax collectors.

Our personal reactions are reflected in how we do church. Today much of the church reacts like the religious people in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan. A man was robbed, beaten and left to die in the ditch. A priest and a Levite passed by ignoring the man. But a Samaritan - equivalent today maybe to a secular humanist - took care of the man and saw to his needs.

I need to point out that the church has been very good at providing aid in major disasters - as we have just witnessed in Hurricane Florence, providing resources, and rebuilding. We personally went through Katrina, and long after FEMA, the Red Cross, and the State government left, churches continued to rebuild homes and businesses.

The church works well in providing community support, but my issue with much of the church is in their unwillingness to reach down and touch individuals lying in the ditch or in the cornfield. There are some that will pray for an instant healing or deliverance but chooses not commit the time that might be required for healing. It is cleaner and easier to pass the person off to a secular professional for help - even when the roots of the issues are spiritual. It may be because of their fear of not knowing what to do, or fear of doing the wrong thing. Our litigious society has added to the problem - even trained medical personnel have become fearful of making a mistake. So, rather than make a mistake, they do nothing.

The early church did not have this problem. They just did what they had seen Jesus do - they healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Sometimes they were successful sometimes not, but the kept trying.

With the coming of the "Age of Enlightenment," the church began to over-analyze and began to suffer from paralysis of analysis. Rather than do what Jesus did, it was safer to cross over to the other side of the road, call for the ambulance, or close their eyes to the needy. What the church needs now more than ever is to reclaim the ministry of healing, "SOZO."


We are not restricting healing to only physical healing. The Greek word often translated as "healing" is SOZO, which may also be translated as “save,”  "heal," "recover," "whole," "wholly" and "wholesome."  SOZO is the word used when referring to an eschatological salvation. It basically means: "Saved out from under the devil's power and restored into the wholeness of God's order and well-being by the power of God's Spirit.” A literal interpretation is “becoming whole.”

One of the reasons our health care has become so costly is that the church no longer takes the time to minister to the whole person. They have abdicated that part of Jesus' ministry and turned it over to a secular government.

What should we do?

People still need to see trained professionals and follow their directions, but the church has a responsibility to be more active in ministry, beyond getting people to heaven when they die.

There is an apocryphal story concerning St. Francis on a visit to the Pope. He was shown through the storerooms at the Vatican containing great wealth. His guide remarked, "No longer can we say, 'silver and gold have we none.'" (referring to Acts 3:6) Francis responded, "It is too bad you cannot still say, 'In the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk.'"

  1. It is time that all churches provide training and resources to establish prayer ministries for healing the whole person, mind, body, soul, spirit, and relationships.

    The Good News that Jesus brought was the Kingdom of God is near. John The Baptist wanted to know if Jesus was the One they were waiting for, he sent his followers to ask Jesus. Jesus told them, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." [Luke 7:22 (NIV)]
  2. Look around! There are people in your church and your neighborhood that need healing now. Set up intentional programs to help them. There is no one that will be a better evangelist and minister of healing than someone that has had a life-transforming event in their life. That is the way your ministry will grow.
  3. God will send you people who need ministry, as you develop the capability to minister to their needs.
I am interested to hear what you have to say about this post. Please provide comments below.

Bill Johnson

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

What to do when you see a leader falling?

It is difficult to hear! This week we heard of another pastor that fell due to burnout, depression, or hopelessness. Each one falls differently - some into immorality, some just disappear, and some decide to end their lives. Leading a church is difficult and risky.

Several years ago, Rita and I became overwhelmed with the number of Christian leaders that were falling. It was not just a bunch of TV evangelists with big-time ministries, it was happening around the corner in that small church down the street and It was happening in our ministry groups and even to friends.

We are not psychologists nor psychiatrists but have had experience in the subject with which we are dealing today. At the time, we had a platform - though relatively small. So we decided to use it to try to make a difference. We began to research the issues - reading, talking to counselors and interviewing some of the people involved. Armed with this data, we put together a workshop for pastors and church leaders and presented it at several conferences in Southern California and Washington State with strong participation.

Today I want to offer some of the things that were included in the workshop to equip clergy and laity to identify the signs of trouble in their leaders and what to do and what not to do to help prevent these kinds of things from occurring. It is important to point out that because of the nature of humanity we will not be able to completely eliminate the problem, but maybe we can save a few.

Burn out has become an all-embracing term that involves a number of factors. Here we want to discuss three different kinds of damage; burn out, wounding, and depression. 

Burnout - Depression - Wounding

Burn out happens only to givers. Its nature is the depletion of the giver's physical and emotional resources. Burnouts are those who have too little consciousness of their personal needs to do what is necessary to replenish themselves from the intensity of giving. Frequently a time of rest will cure burn out; the same can not be said for depression and wounding. 

Depression is often the result of one's performance orientation. For the performance oriented person, the hope of love and the ability to accept one's self always centers around the meeting of expectations. 

Wounding is an emotional condition caused by the hurtful acts of others. Anyone can experience wounding, but it is especially severe for those who are givers by nature or by profession. 

Stage One: 

Conventional wisdom focuses on preventing burn out. This may not always be the best approach. Sometimes burn out becomes a tool for the Lord to help the servant realize the need for God's strength in ministry. In Stage one we are still running under our own strength. Adrenal burnout occurs when the adrenal gland has over-produced for such a long time that it no longer functions properly. We then become stress-addicted. We actually need and create stressful situations so that the fear, the pressure and the resulting adrenaline production overcomes our fatigue.

Stage two

At stage two, stress addiction then begins to fail as a motivator. Stage Two victims then find it difficult to remember life without exhaustion. "Can't remember when I wasn't tired." Digestive disturbances are common, causing; ulcers, colitis, food allergies, diarrhea. The digestive system reacts to the stress by producing more acid and other chemicals than the system is designed to handle. Colds, aches, pains, sore throats, and headaches increase in frequency and intensity. We begin to feel as we are ministering with an empty bucket that isn't being refilled. Desperation sets in and we go to the well but there is nothing there.

We become functionally blind to the effectiveness of our ministry. We become more and more angry with those who take up our time. We begin to withdraw and even those who offer love may be treated as if they were demanding more time. 

He begins to get angry with God, in his eyes God has not been a protector. God hasn't kept His promises to him and never will. He feels that God is there for others through him but seldom for him. God has let him down. His prayer life suffers.

In stage two he can still hope, but periods of despair are common. He finds himself subject to sudden impulses to weep over silly things.

How should you minister to a "stage two:"

Mark 6:31 "Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest.

If approached at the right time and the right circumstances he can still spill his hurt and receive ministry. He doesn't usually want a solution or unasked for advice.  He just needs a safe place to dump. It may help to kidnap him and take him out for a fun time. 

Intercede in prayer, but mostly at a distance. Don't discuss his condition with others. If the Lord gives you a specific scripture or prophecy for him, give it to him in writing.  It will feed his hope.  Don't confront him face to face with it but leave it in a place that he can find it, read it and respond in private.

Stage Three

People in Stage Three are so deeply wounded that they can only be carried, not exhorted.  They need to be loved not instructed. The body of Christ is seldom able to get beyond the demand for a simplistic quick fix. We have been trained to seek and expect instantaneous miracles. "If he has enough faith;" "Give it up to the Lord,"  "Deliverance."

There are no such miracles for a third stage and he knows it and is frightened by our simplistic solutions to his desperate problem.

He feels physically sick all the time. Every meal leads to later pain. He/she suffers from paranoia and is afraid in almost every situation. Resistance to addictive behavior is impaired.  

They become open to all forms of abuse as they lose their perspective of people and begin to see them as objects rather than human beings. 

Ministry To Stage Three:

Don't be a Job's comforter. 

It may do more harm than good to tell him God loves him. He is convinced that the evidence points to the fact that God does not love him. 

Tell him that you love him. He may not believe it but it is more tangible than the love of a God he can neither see nor any longer feel. It will then be your responsibility to prove that you mean what you say by not failing him. 

Respect his fences and withdrawal. 

Don't tell him to praise God for all things. His best approach to God is an honest cry of rage. 

When you can't praise God, be honest, call Him names, He'll probably fall off the throne laughing. The best way to pray for him is from a distance.

Listen and be available.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

You Can Put Square Pegs in Square Holes

Grace was insistent, "Since you now have an 'Empty Nest' you have to fill it."

Our son Kevin had recently left to attend school in another state, and our daughter, Rhonda, was married and starting a family of her own. My wife and I looked forward to a quiet house with just the two of us, while Grace, a friend from church wanted us to take in a refugee from Ethiopia. Grace had a passionate compassion for refugees and their families. Since the end of the Viet Nam war, she had sponsored and settled many tens of refugees. Unfortunately, our passions for serving God took us in other directions. we were teachers, encouragers, and leaders.

We sincerely believe that the Lord has placed within each of us a desire to serve Him in specific ways. He has also provided the spiritual gifts for us to be successful in what we are called.

To paraphrase the apostle Paul in Romans Chapter 12: Although there are many members in the body, they do not all have the same function. Each has been given differing gifts appropriate to the call that God has on them. It is important to realize that it is the Lord that builds the church and He has placed within each body all of the gifts and callings that are required for that particular body to perform its God-given mission. Even the smallest of churches has the gifts it needs to do God's will at a particular time.

Paul continues to list seven gifts that are common in most bodies - prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, and a shower of mercy.

Grace was a shower of mercy.

For many years as a pastor and church planter, one important task was to develop a functional team that would follow the Lord's direction and fulfill His call. An effective method we used was to recruit and employ members to function in their particular area of call and gifting. Teachers teaching, leaders leading, servants serving, encouragers encouraging, those with the gift of prophecy, speaking forth, givers, giving, and showers of mercy touching lives.

Begging for volunteers, and putting warm bodies in a position, just because they are available does not work. Assigning someone a leadership position, because of their secular success is not always helpful.

Early on we made those same mistakes. It wasn't until we found a method to identify a person's motivational gifting that we began to find success in our recruiting and deploying. It not only worked at the church, but we were better able to understand our family dynamics. We required our immediate family to discover their individual gifts.

One of the first things we did in a new church was to teach a series on motivational gifts from Romans 12, then allow everyone to take a gift assessment test that Rita and I had developed. People then were allowed to opt out of a task if it did not fit their gift mix but would be asked to fill positions in their specialties. Not surprisingly we had stronger ministries and fewer people burning out.

Not long ago we published a short book that includes lessons on gifts, descriptions of the characteristics of each gift and a gift assessment test. If this is something that you might be interested in, it is available free on our website Aslan Ministries The book is available in most electronic formats.

What has been your experience of using spiritual gifts to organize your church?

Monday, July 30, 2018

God of a Second Chance

You may have attempted some great thing for God and failed dismally. I know I have, and it did not feel good at all. The great Apostle St. Peter had his moments of failure. Did you ever wonder how Peter felt when he failed to walk on water? The following is my guess of what he would have written in his diary - if he kept one.

There Is Always A "Next Time"

By Simon Bar Jonah

I was becoming really sick.  The constant pitch and roll of the small boat was taking its toll. Many of the others were worse off.  Twelve of us had started out, over half were cramped up from rowing and all had blisters. Even longtime fishermen like me had become seasick. I had never seen a storm like this in these waters.  A few of my friends had collapsed on the deck too exhausted to move out of the nauseating puddles of vomit - heave offerings to the god of the sea. Sitting back on the fantail my nausea eased as I stared back at the horizon. I could still make out the glint of faraway campfires on the beach that we had left eight hours ago. At this rate, we would never make it. I began to pray. “Lord, I don’t mind saying it, I am scared! Please help us.”

The trip started well enough. It was late afternoon when we sailed into the setting sun.  We all kicked back as the sails filled as a steady off-shore breeze pushed us smoothly out to sea. We had escaped the crowds of people who kept dogging us and could now relax. I calculated in my mind that it would take us something around three hours to reach the opposite shore. Our team had split up and we would regroup later that night on the other side. The peace lasted for no more than thirty minutes, then the wind changed. It began to increase and come at us from the north on our starboard bow. We donned our jackets as the north wind cooled the evening and sprayed mist in our faces.  An hour later the wind intensified to gale force coming directly against us.  We lowered and secured the sails moments before they would have been torn, and pandemonium reigned as we broke out the oars and began to row furiously just to maintain our position. Several of the men had been hurt during the brief but intense battle with the sails. We rowed in teams of four men at a time. One hour on, two hours off. I had completed two shifts now and my body ached all over. And most discouraging of all, I could still see the flicker of campfires back on the beach we had left hours ago. We were not getting anywhere.

Now at three AM, I finished my second turn and was taking a rest back on the fantail. Looking back into the starless night, I could make out tiny glimmering lights from campfires back on shore. “We hadn’t made much progress.” I thought to myself. “How long could this last?”  Long ago we gave up on meeting our schedule, now we are only trying to keep from being blown back on shore and crashing on the rocks. “Is there any hope at all? Why did he give us this impossible task?”

Gazing back into the darkness, I catch a bit of movement off in the distance. “What is it? What is out here with us in this storm? Is it another boat? Is someone coming after us? “   
Now it’s gaining on us. Whatever it is, it isn’t having the same trouble we are having moving ahead. Old timers used to talk about sea monsters that lived hundreds of feet below the surface of the lake. They said they only came up at night when raging storms disturbed their rest. They would be so angry that they would crush anything in sight. Fear takes over as I forget all about being sick. Maybe it won’t see us in this storm. My fears are now eased as I note its course is not directed at us but on a parallel. It will pass us about a hundred yards off our starboard beam.

Now almost abreast of us, I begin to get a better view. It is eerily ghostly through the rain. It has a man-like shape rising above the waves. “Is it real? Can it be a demon? Maybe it’s an angel? It doesn’t appear to be a sea creature.  It looks like a man. Could it possibly be Him? It must be Him. But what is He doing out here? It is Him. But He is passing us by.”

“Is that You, Lord?” I shouted through the raging waves. He was right there walking on top of the waves and not sinking! Boy, would I love to be able to do that? He had told us that if we believe, we could even make the mountains jump into the sea. If it is His will and I believe, then I know I can walk out there to Him

“If that is you, Lord, call me to come!”

“Come, Peter!”

The boat, my seasickness, and the retching of the others are forgotten. All I can think of is Jesus out there, walking as if nothing extraordinary was happening. He is just taking a casual stroll in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, while the gale rages and the waves crash around Him. I know that if He called me, then He will make a way for me to do it. And He did call me; I am going to do it. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. No doubt about it. I can walk on the water as long as it is He that called. 

I’m not afraid,. I don’t look back. Jumping over the transom, I boldly step out on the water. What a rush! I don’t feel the wind blowing around my head nor the waves raging at my feet. All I can see is Jesus now only sixty yards ahead. It’s like I am flying. My feet touch the water but I don’t sink. I get further away from the safety of the boat. I have this sudden desire to turn around and yell to the others back in the boat, "Look at me."

I think about the boat and realize that even though it is pitching and rolling, there is safety in its solid deck. Out here on the water, I am in the deep unknown. A man could yell for help out here and no one would ever hear.

“How long can I keep this up? I am too far out to swim back in this storm. If I stumble I’m dead. What if that isn’t really the Lord?”

I look around and can’t see Jesus. I’m all alone out in the middle of the sea and I am beginning to sink. “Help, I am sinking. Jesus, save me!”

The next thing I know, I am waking up with the solid comfort of the ship’s deck supporting my back. As I Cautiously open my eyes, all the others are laughing at me. 

“What were you trying to do?” they jeered, “walk on water?”

I feel like a fool. What made me think I could accomplish anything so significant?  I’m just a tired fisherman and now they all think I have gone over the edge. “How will I ever live this down? I will become the laughing stock of Capernaum.”

But, as I think about it, I know it was the most exciting and exhilarating experience of my life. It was worth it. Let them laugh. I really did walk on water. I am only sorry that I was not able to complete what I had begun. I was scared, I took my eyes off the Lord. I did not fail - I merely gave up too soon.  

Still lying on the deck, I am embarrassed - not for trying something impossible - but for not trusting Jesus. If I had it to do over again, I would not fail.  My gaze went right past my laughing comrades into the smiling face of the one who had saved me. Jesus was not laughing. His smile told me that He was proud of my attempt. He mouthed the words that only I could hear.

“There will be a 'next time.' there is always a 'next time.'"

We all need to attempt something so big that it is impossible unless Jesus makes it happen.