“Pray like this…”

2016-06-13 21.28.56 - CopyMy Father
Unseen, but always seeing me

Your name… let it be deeply revered by all

Your kingdom… let it come, Your ruling Presence

Your will… let it be fully expressed
on earth in my circumstances
as it is in heaven where Your will is unopposed

Today

Here are my needs, I leave them all with You
the One who cares for me

Oh…
cancel the mountain of wrongs inflicted by me
and with fear and trembling
I ask You to pour out Your mercy shown to me…
Your grace freely flowing through me…
drenching every person who owes me

As You walk before me into every moment, I am at rest in You
leaning in and listening
as You shelter me in Your shadow
during the enemy’s vicious attempts to destroy me

You are the glorious King… and I am so privileged
to be Your child!

Amen.

(one expression of His outline for prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 ~ DP)

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The Coasting Christian

Drifting-boat“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.” ~ Hebrews 2:1

You and I need to beware of “coasting” as a Christian… like a ship without an anchor, a Christian can “drift away” from a life lived by faith. Why?

  1. Coasting is effortless. Coasting happens to you (“drift” = passive voice) – not because of anything you have done, but because of your inactivity.
  2. Coasting is inevitable. The inactivity that makes coasting effortless also makes it inevitable. It will happen if you consistently do nothing to exercise faith and engage Jesus in your daily life and decisions. Secular and irreligious forces in the world are constantly demanding your attention and response. If you are not yielding to the influence of the Holy Spirit, you will tend to do life according to the popular consensus and worldview of your culture.
  3. Coasting is a threat to every believer. The author includes himself in the warning “lest WE drift away.” No one is immune to coasting.
  4. Coasting is rarely done alone. The writer addresses the recipients collectively (2PPL), suggesting they were prone to coasting as a group. Not only will a casual Christian negatively influence other Christians, other casual Christians will also negatively influence him. Together, they will lull themselves into thinking all is well in their relationship with God.
  5. Coasting is always away from Jesus. We don’t “drift” into greater intimacy and obedience with God – we drift away from Him.

What can we do to combat this natural tendency? Growing as a mature follower of Jesus requires intentionality: a continuous steering and a conscious submission of the heart towards the indwelling Master! Will you pause and turn to Him right now and do that? At age 22, Robert Robinson was battling coasting in his own life when he penned these words in 1757…

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
~ Robert Robinson (1735 – 1790)

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Relationships Matter

audience-828584_960_720A pastor challenged me recently on whether it was true that new churches tended to engage more unchurched people than did older, established churches. In a study published two months ago, in fact, nearly half of the people attending new churches were non-attenders in the past.

What was the most common pathway into the church? Relationships.

Of course if the gospel and the transformation He brings are not central to what is happening, then nothing else the church does matters. But if the church forgets why they exist, the gospel rarely gets shared. In new churches and Bible study groups, most of the members understand that reaching out and welcoming new people is part of their “job description.”

Research is no substitute for the truth of God’s Word, but it is important for church leaders to discern their circumstances (Prov. 25:2). Here’s the most recent research that supports the value of starting new groups and churches (or helping established churches rethink why they exist)…

New Churches Draw Those Who Previously Didn’t Attend

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The Toxin of Unforgiveness

grumpyWhat would you do if you knew your children were attending a school located over a toxic waste site? For parents of a group of middle school students in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, this question is causing great anxiety and debate. In fact, the school board voted to move the students to other schools within the next two weeks.

Listed as one of the worst sites in the state, the contaminated groundwater under the school migrated there from a manufacturer’s lot across the street. Although no one knows how long ago the groundwater was polluted — perhaps as far back as the 1800s — the current owner of the property usually bears responsibility for managing the cleanup.

Toxic waste released generations ago continues to disrupt lives today. Unforgiveness is a spiritual form of toxic waste that works in a similar manner. Not only does it damage the person who will not forgive, but it will often “migrate” into the lives of others. The results can be catastrophic over multiple generations.

While working this week on a message from Matthew 6:12 (“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”), I listed several devastating impacts of holding on to unforgiveness. There are many more than what I’m sharing below. I’m not using the list in the message, but I thought it was worth capturing and sharing. If you are struggling in this area, please don’t stop until you have completely cancelled the “debts” of the person who hurt you.

Six toxic results when you refuse to forgive someone…

  1. You are ruining your prayer life. If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. Psalm 66:18
  2. You are wounding the Spirit of God. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30
  3. You are exposing yourself to the devil’s influence. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. 2 Corinthians 2:10-11
  4. You are damaging your future reward in heaven. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:14-15
  5. You are influencing others to adopt your attitude. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15
  6. You are inviting God’s correction into your life. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.” Hebrews 12:5-6
  7. You are crippling your usefulness to God. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:20-21

His forgiveness of those who come to Him is full and complete. Our forgiveness of those who hurt us can be nothing less…

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

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Kingdom Praying

429125_82897980Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Matthew 6:10

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus included prayer as a priority topic for His disciples. Emphasizing that our most intimate interactions with God should be done secretly (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18), Jesus pauses to give shape and form to our personal prayer time. In the space of a few verses historically known as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus outlines a series of petitions so we would know what we should be asking for. In the second petition, Jesus taught us to pray for the kingdom to come. Why? Because Kingdom Praying

  1. Focuses on a King. Jesus began His ministry preaching this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The kingdom was the central message of Jesus and the early disciples, mentioned over 85 times in the gospels. The kingdom is not a place where God rules. The kingdom is not the church or a collection of churches. Properly understood, the kingdom refers to the active rule or reign of God—His Majesty in action. A kingdom requires a King! As I pray, I am speaking with a King who rules. I must repent and completely turn away from all other rulers and whole-hearted allegiances in my life—He is my King!
  2.  Longs for the King to Rule. I am asking for something to change on earth so that my circumstances reflect more of heaven, where God’s rule is absolute. In heaven, there is no sin or sickness. There is no corruption. Everything is right and as it should be. When I ask for His will to be done on earth, I am asking for God to enter into my circumstances and exert His power. A kingdom that needs to “come” means it is not automatically here. This world and my circumstances do not reflect the rule of God—I need Him to come!
  3.  Enters into an Ancient War. In verse 13, Jesus teaches us to ask the Father to deliver us from the evil one. A kingdom that is not already “here” implies that there is an opposing kingdom at work. This was the worldview of Jesus. Jesus calls the devil the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11). When a person becomes a Christian through faith in Christ, God rescues that person from the enemy’s rule, and places him or her into the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13). Asking for God’s rule on earth, we enter into an ancient conflict for souls.
  4.  Understands the Assignment. Jesus teaches us to ask for His kingdom to come and for His will to be done on earth. This means it is not being done now. Here lies an awesome truth: in a world that desperately needs God to come and act, the King has chosen to link His activity to the obedient intercessor. If I do not pray, will the kingdom come? God wants to act, but if I do not ask… will He still act? Will He still come and show Himself strong in the midst of my circumstances?

Jesus was teaching us how to approach and talk to our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9). I live in a broken universe that is at war with God. Every day I need His presence as I walk in this evil age (Galatians 1:4). Jesus explains that the Father is ready to exit the world I cannot see (Heaven) and come rule in the world that I do see (Earth). Will I ask Him to come?

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The Problem-Solving Disciple

Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. John 6:5-6

Philip was stunned. Jesus was asking where to get the food for thousands of people. Immediately his mind didn’t go to where to get it, but to how much it will cost: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.

Overhearing Jesus’ question to Philip, Andrew added, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Andrew’s mind went to available resources.

John, writing years later about the incident, describes Jesus’s question as a “test.” But what was the test?

  1. To see who could whip out their iPhone and locate the nearest market?
  2. To see who could most quickly calculate the cost?
  3. To see who could conduct a speedy inventory of personal resources and accounts?

Not even close.

Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing – both proclaiming the ruling power of God and demonstrating it – and sowing absolute truth into their minds. Now presented with an impossible situation, Philip must apply what he has been taught.

The test exposed the inner working of Philip’s thought life under stress. We say we are trusting Him, but our thoughts tell the real story. Under pressure and experiencing anxiety, Philip’s mind didn’t run to the Father who is the King of kings. He stopped at the walls erected by a worldview chained to the physical senses, but blind to an unseen, spiritual realm. He slid off into a mental pit of self-reliance, rather than rest in the unseen, almighty God.

The Old Testament is full of examples of kings who failed to trust God when confronted with vastly superior military threats. They ran and forged alliances with other nations, placing their faith in the popular, collective wisdom of their generation for deliverance. Over and over again, God allowed His people to discover the hard way that He is the rock, the hiding place, and the refuge in the midst of overwhelming problems. They were being tested.

The mature disciple doesn’t ignore a problem. He is intensely aware of the needs. He can see that his immediate resources are inadequate. But the distinct difference within the mature Christian mind is this: he seeks first the kingdom – or ruling power – of God. His mind escapes the confines of a Western worldview… and runs to the absolute authority and infinite resources of the one Jesus called “Father.”

Jesus simply took what was available, lifted it up to His Father, and said “thank you.” And everything changed.

When tested, the problem-solving disciple has disciplined his mind to go first to the Father. Only in His Presence can we see the truth about ourselves and our problems.

 The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Proverbs 18:10

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What is the Great Commission?

iStock_000001261815SmallImagine that you are in a room with an Iranian Jew, a Pakistani Muslim, a Nigerian animist, a Tibetan monk, a Chicago-born African-American, and a businessman from Memphis. You are each in this room for your entire life, and you are the only Christian in the room.

Who would you be most responsible to share the gospel with? You’d say, “That’s silly. I’d share the gospel with each of them.”

And if I kept putting people in the room with you, would you give me the same answer? I would hope so. This planet is that room… and we’re all in it together.

Who are we supposed to share the gospel with? Jesus said “all.” I believe He meant it.

The Sending-Organization Imperatives

When Jesus told His followers to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19), He was not referring to the modern concept of a nation, such as France, India, or the Philippines. The Greek word “ethne” referred to any group of people living together, typically along racial and cultural lines.

Since the 1990s, every major missionary-sending body has embraced an unreached people group strategy. In a historic speech at the Lausanne Conference on World Mission (1974), Ralph Winter argued that it simply didn’t make sense to focus on sending missionaries to evangelize a country (i.e., a nation with geographical and political boundaries), because there may be hundreds – or even thousands—of unique people groups within the borders of any given country. Sometimes those people groups lived on both sides of the geopolitical borders and straddled the borders of multiple countries.

What is a people group? That depends on who composes the definition. There are approximately 7,000 languages in the world, but when you include natural associations derived from dialects and ethnicity, human beings can fall into 13,000 different “people groups.” However, if you add other bases for affinity – such as religion, caste, education, politics, ideology, customs, or shared history – you could identify as many as 24,000 groups of people in the world. Consequently, the people group definitions and counts vary widely.

Mission organizations have worked hard at identifying and classifying people groups as reached or unreached. Again, the definitions vary somewhat, but an unreached people group is one where less than 2% of the population is composed of evangelical Christians. Unreached people groups are either engaged or unengagedengaged groups have been penetrated by someone attempting to implement a church planting strategy as a primary means of spreading the gospel.

Millions of dollars are raised each year and thousands of churches have become involved in the effort to reduce and eliminate the number of unengaged, unreached people groups on the planet.  The people group strategy is an essential way of identifying groups with little or no access to the gospel. It offers a way for mission organizations with limited funding to prioritize where dollars and personnel will be deployed. It opens up new ways for individual churches to become directly involved in global missions.

But there is a major problem with an exclusive commitment to a people group strategy.

The Biblical Imperative: ALL

Most mission groups define an unreached people group as one where less than 2% are evangelical Christians. What’s wrong with that?

Jesus commanded us to do much more.

Many mission leaders refer to the effort to carry the gospel to unreached people groups as “finishing the task,” when in truth (if you believe 2% is the goal), you have only just begun the task. In the Bible, God reveals His heart for every person:

  • He is the shepherd who doesn’t stop at finding 2% of the sheep, or 99% of the sheep: He does not stop until every last sheep is rescued.
  • He is the woman who doesn’t stop until the lost coin is found.
  • He is the father who does not rest until the lost son is home.

God dances when one soul is saved! This is the heart of God. He is not satisfied with merely penetrating the world with the gospel, rather, He is focused on saturation. Prior to the advent of contemporary people group emphases, the earliest missionaries in the modern era seemed to understand this. In 1818, missionary pioneers Gordon Hall and Samuel Newell wrote,

“If we send half a dozen Missionaries to a country where there are as many millions of souls, we are too apt to imagine that we have discharged our duty to that country—we have sent them the gospel. The fact however is, we have only sent the gospel to a few individuals in that nation. The great body of the people never hear of our missionaries or the religion they teach. The thing that Christ commands is to preach the gospel to every creature,—not merely to a few individuals in every nation.”

In 1870, William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, wrote a book entitled How to Reach the Masses with the Gospel. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed D. L. Moody’s mission church, his home, and the YMCA. God used it to change him: he devoted the rest of his life to the “evangelization of the world in this generation.” In 1891, A.T. Pierson asked the question as he succeeded Charles Spurgeon as pastor of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle: “The great question of the hour is, how can the immediate proclamation of the Gospel to every creature be made a fact?

As late as 1976, the Southern Baptist Convention launched a “Bold Mission Thrust”, setting a goal “that every person in the world shall have the opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ in the next 25 years.” Unfortunately, our mission is no longer to saturate the world with the gospel, but to merely penetrate selected groups.

The Great Commission is actually a series of statements Jesus made directing the church to continue His ministry on earth. Matthew 28:18-20 is probably the best known and most quoted (more on that in a moment). Other “great commission” statements include:

  • Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
  • Mark 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
  • Luke 24:46-47 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
  • Acts 1:8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Only two of these passages capture a clear command from Jesus that defines our mission.

Disciple All Who Receive Christ

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus begins with a promise that He rules in the unseen and the visible realms (all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth). He issues a single command to reproduce more followers of Jesus (make disciples of all the nations). He adds three defining activities associated with making a disciple: going, baptizing, and teaching. Then, He closes with a final promise that He is always with us in this assignment (I am with you always, even to the end of the age).

His promises about His authority challenge me and comfort me. The challenge lies in the fact that He is not recommending I make disciples: he commands me (and every other believer) to do it. The comfort I find in His authority is that every place I go and every person I meet is already under His rule… they just don’t know it. Knowing this has helped me battle my own experiences of loneliness, culture shock, isolation, disappointment, discouragement, rejection, and doubt.

The mandate to make disciples includes all nations. I am to help people learn to follow Christ without regard to their race, language, literacy, income, age, or health. I am to help people understand His heart and will for their lives. I am to help them learn how to walk with Him wherever He is moving, staying close through the leading of His indwelling Spirit—listening for His voice, relying on His presence, and drawing on His power.

Evangelize All Who Are Lost

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

In Mark 16:15, the essential command is to preach or herald the gospel. In ancient times, official statements from a king were entrusted to an official messenger who would go to public locations and announce the king’s words. Jesus clarifies His intent by adding that this preaching activity was to involve going to every place (all the world) and speaking to every person (every creature).

This is a GREAT commission. Jesus is insisting that every human being needs to hear the good news. From senior adults in North Dakota, to street urchins in Mumbai, to white collar types in New York City, to the gaucho in Patagonia… every person needs to know that God sent Jesus to rescue every individual from the enemies of the human soul. Without Jesus, they have no hope. The gospel answers their deepest needs: to know God, to find forgiveness for sin, to know power for change, and to lose the universal fear of death.

Possessing the gospel is not a privilege to enjoy, or a resource to be rationed out among the nations, but it is a message to be shared!

Every generation of Christians is responsible to share the good news with their generation. A concept flowing out of the nineteenth century, it is rooted in biblical example. Paul preached in Ephesus, until everyone in Asia heard the gospel (Acts 19:10), then he told the church leaders in Acts 20:26, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.”

For an illustration of our current problem, imagine a cord 120 inches long (10 feet). If that length represents a global population of 7.1 billion people, then 8½ inches would represent the 500 million evangelicals alive today. Do you really believe God is satisfied that only 2¼ inches (2%) of the remaining 111½ inches would represent the “fulfillment” of the Great Commission?

That’s not “bold” or anything like “finishing the task” — that’s disobedience!

We are to make Him known to every person in our generation… that’s the heartbeat of the Great Commission.

Yes, we are being forced to leverage limited resources and personnel to unreached people groups… but we must never forget that God is pursuing the unreached person whether he (or she) lives across the street or around the world.

All means every… one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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