Saturday, December 06, 2014

Would you join me in praying for Syria during the month of December? One half of all of Syria's people are displaced due to unrest in that country. We may not be able to go there but we can 'circle' Syria with our prayers for God to move in powerful ways. Click HERE to get more information and sign up to pray every day in December for this needy cause.

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Here is a 90 second video that will give you a short overview of what is happening in Syria. Your prayers are needed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Does the Church Need Evangelists?

I have learned to love fly fishing. I had the privilege of being taught and guided by a friend who is a gifted fly fisherman. I learned a lot from him and caught some really nice fish! My friend taught me a few simple techniques about fly fishing that helped me become a better fisherman.  I continue to use these techniques which allow me to enjoy a more rewarding fishing experience.  The passion my friend has for fly fishing is contagious!  His gifts of reading the water, knowing where the fish are, and sharing simple casting tips were very helpful. A gifted person who shares their gifting educates, equips and empowers others through that gift. In turn, this then awakens and elevates the receiver's abilities and passions.

What my gifted fly fishing friend did for my fishing abilities is akin to what gifted evangelists are to do for followers of Jesus regarding evangelism. Evangelists are gifted people given to the body of Christ (the church) to equip believers to share the Good News* of the Gospel--to evangelize (Ephesians 4:11-12). The evangelist's role is to equip followers of Jesus in order that they live out the Biblical principles regarding evangelism. Evangelists should help believers understand that from the minute they come to know Jesus they have the authority to share the message of Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20), the power to impart His message (Acts 1:8), the mind of Christ to communicate His message (1 Corinthians 2:16), and are given the right words at the perfect time for each person they engage (Ephesians 6:18-20). This equipping must be ongoing  so that believers are regularly instilled with God's Truth.  This raises the confidence, excitement and passion in believers to engage people who need Jesus.

The word evangelist is only mentioned three times in the New Testament (Acts 21:8, Ephesians 4:11 & 2 Timothy 4:5). The key passage related to the evangelist is found in Ephesians 4:8, 11-12.

8 Therefore it says, "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.”…11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…” (NASB)

The first thing to notice about the evangelist (and each of the five gifts mentioned above) is that he/she is a "gift" given to the church. In other words these five gifts are gifted to people who have matured in faith and are able to instill in others the confidence and abilities in their area of gifting**. The gifts listed in Ephesians 4:8,11-12 are not to be confused with the spiritual gifts found in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 or 1 Peter 4:10. Those spiritual gifts are given to individuals, as the Spirit wills, for the common good of the people in order to encourage them in their faith (1 Corinthians 12:7,11). The five-fold "gifts to men" have a different purpose than spiritual gifts which is to equip so believers can do the work of service. 

The second thing to notice about the evangelist is that as a gifted person to the church, he/she is to equip the saints (believers) to do the work of ministry. The evangelist's equipping responsibility is therefore to multiply communicators of the good news (to equip people for evangelism). A simple google search on “the gift of the evangelist” reveals that most believe the evangelist's purpose is to bring the lost sheep into the fold of God. Much is made of the evangelist being able to articulate the message of "Jesus saves" in clear, concise, creative and comprehensive ways in order to lead people to place their faith in Jesus. Certainly evangelists have this passion at their core. However, Paul’s clear teaching in Ephesians 4 is that this gifted person is given for the church in order that more believers are equipped to share the good news of Jesus freely and fearlessly.  

Ephesians 4:9 & 10 add much to this concept of the five-fold gifts and to our discussion surrounding the gift of the evangelist.

“9 (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) (NASB)

Notice that Jesus ascended on high…and He gave gifts to men (vs.8) “…so that He might fill all things” (vs. 11). Paul then explains that these apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers are given to the church to equip the church to do the work of ministry. When these  gifted individuals are fulfilling their roles of equipping people to do the work of ministry, God will "fill all things.” God wants His church to saturate culture with the good news and good life of the Kingdom of God. The primary role of the evangelist is to ready the mass of believers to get the message and life of Jesus to the world so He might fill all things! The more believers who are equipped, educated and empowered to share the message of Jesus, the more receivers of The Good News there will be.

I believe this is why Paul instructed Timothy to do the work of the evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). Near the end of his life, Paul wanted more people to be freed to share the gospel powerfully, effectively and fearlessly. When people understand and live out the truth that they have the authority, power, mind and words of Christ to be powerful witnesses to the greatness of God, every nook and cranny of our culture will be filled with people who love Christ. That is the work of the Evangelist.

So I urge you to find an evangelist who understands this concept and have them guide you to an understanding of all that the Scriptures teach us regarding our God-given, supernatural ability to share the good news. As you follow Jesus and learn from His gifted evangelists, you will indeed become a “fisher of men” (Matthew 4:19)!

Is this a new concept of the evangelist for you? Does it make sense to you? How can you see this view of the evangelist being of value and benefit for local bodies and the universal body of Christ? I would love to hear your thoughts!

* The Good News of Jesus is much more than telling people that God loves them, that they are sinners, that Jesus took their sin upon Himself to pay for it and rose from the dead.  It is more than encouraging them to pray a prayer to receive this gift of grace. The Good News of Jesus is also the reversal and renewal of all things - the Kingdom of God - His love, leadership, management, care and the order of things. Jesus is King and all things in our lives are to be submitted to Him so that we will experience the abundant life He promised to those who follow Him.

** For a full interaction with the Five Fold Gifts of Ephesians 4 read Neil Cole, Primal Fire: Reigniting the Church with the Five Gifts of Jesus, Bonita Springs Florida: Tyndale Momentum, 2014.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Are Evangelists for Sinners or Saints?

The answer I receive to that question is overwhelmingly that the evangelists are for sinners (those who are not yet following Jesus). It seems our concept of an evangelist is formed more by powerful names and personalities than by what the Bible teaches. The mention of Billy Graham, Aimee Semple McPherson, Luis Palau, D.L. Moody, Greg Laurie and many others elicit images of powerful orators who preach the Gospel of Jesus to crowds. There is no doubt that the people mentioned above are evangelists, but as evangelists is their primary biblical role meant to preach the gospel to sinners?

Every believer is commissioned by Jesus (Matthew 4:19, John 20:21) and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) to tell the good news as a way of life. In this way evangelists are to be preaching the gospel to sinners. However, according to Scripture, the main charge of the evangelist to proclaim, teach and equip the saints--not sinners. Many ask the question, "Why do saints need an evangelist? After all, they have already been “evangelized?” That is a good question. Before we take a look at the answer, let’s take a look where we get the teaching that evangelists are primarily for saints, not sinners.

“11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…” Ephesians 4:11-12 (NASB) (emphasis mine)

In these verses we learn that God gave some as evangelists for the equipping (building up) of the saints (the body of Christ) so the saints will be doing the "work of service." In the case of the evangelist they are to equip the believers to be living and sharing the Good News of Jesus. It is clear that the main role of the evangelist is for the saints, not sinners.

So, back to the question of why saints (the church) need evangelists. There are at least three clear reasons. 

Primarily they are to equip believers to be freely and fearlessly sharing the Good News with their lives (Ephesians 4:11-16). 

Secondly all believers need to be reminded of our desperate need for Christ at all times. The Gospel needs to be preached to ourselves so we don’t forget. It is easy in every generation to forget all that Christ has done for us. Distractions, apathy and trials all seek to steal our gaze away from Christ. When we remember how indebted we are to Jesus, we often end up looking for opportunities to share the Good News out of our gratefulness. 

Thirdly, a constant reminding of the truths of Scripture that guarantee freedom, power, authority and even the right words to speak to others is vital and essential for all believers. Most every believer needs continual, strong encouragement to be listening to Jesus and sharing His truth. This third reason is often overlooked but is of paramount importance in the life of any community of believers.

In recent history, saints have looked to evangelists to do the “heavy lifting” to proclaim the Kingdom of God, relieving them from the responsibility that is fully their privilege (2 Corinthians 5:14-21). In my opinion, relying on evangelists to be the proclaimers has served to weaken the church at large and has caused the sowing of seeds to be greatly diminished. When evangelists are doing their main role of equipping saints to be confident with the Good News of Christ, more seeds will be sown which means there will be more communicators of this Good News (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

My next post will explore more deeply why the church needs evangelists.

I would to hear your thoughts about what I’ve written. Is seeing the evangelist’s main role for saints, not sinners new to you? How could you see this understanding affect the church you are part of and the church at large?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Evangelism is Not My Gift

There is a remarkable movement regarding evangelism. I believe a huge harvest is coming and God is preparing His people to put the sickle to the field of souls. The movement in evangelism is emerging through the loss and failure old evangelism paradigms. One of the hardest of these to jettison is the ill-conceived concept of the "gift of evangelism."

I believe that the lists of spiritual gifts in the Scriptures are not exhaustive (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Peter 4). In other words, it is conceivable that God has additional gifts, not listed in the New Testament, that He gives to the body to be encouraged and built up (1 Corinthians 12:7). There is one gift found on many Christian spiritual gift inventories that I would like to see removed. In fact, I do not believe that this gift has ever existed. It is not listed in the Bible and I do not believe God ever intended it to be a gift. He intended it to be the standard for every believer. 

What is the gift that I do not believe exists? Evangelism! If I’m right, its a good thing it doesn’t exist because most people don’t want it anyway. When I speak about evangelism, I often have people tell me why they don’t have the gift of evangelism. They basically let themselves “off the hook” when it comes to all things evangelism. People are startled when I agree with them that they do not have the gift of evangelism. I’m often asked how I know that one person or another does not have the gift of evangelism. My response is that they don’t have that gift because no one has that gift; it does not exist.

Simply put, Jesus tells His followers to go about their daily lives while making disciples--which includes sharing the good news of Christ. Jesus also told us that He gives the Holy Spirit to every believer. One of the express purposes for giving us the Holy Spirit is so we have His power to be effective witnesses (evangelism) about who Jesus Christ is (Acts 1:8). We also know Jesus told His disciples to “not worry” about what to say or how to respond when the opportunity to talk about Him arises. We are not to worry because we will be given the exact right words at the exact right time so we can experience success every time (Matthew 10:16-20). In other words, everyone is to be an evangelizer. With Jesus giving us the words to say, will be successful every time; we will accomplish His purpose in every encounter.  

In Acts 4:29-31 we encounter the story of a prayer meeting in Luke’s account of the early years of the church. Two of Jesus’ apostles, James and John, had just been released from jail for “evangelizing” and healing.  They immediately joined other believers to give thanks to God for their release. What they prayed for is quite astounding and the results are even more stunning. Here a portion of their prayer to God:

“29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” Acts 4:29-30 (NASB)

All of the believers in this prayer meeting were begging God for the ability to “…speak His word with all confidence…”. One may surmise that these saints were praying for the gift of evangelism. I believe they were simply asking God to help them live out what He had already commanded and promised them (Mark 13:11 cf Matthew 28:20). What is God’s response to this type of prayer and faith?

“31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” Acts 4:31 (NASB)

One of the results of being filled with the Spirit in the books of Acts is stated over and over again: they spoke the Word of God with boldness (see this study on a related topic). If one aspect of being filled with the Spirit is speaking the Gospel with boldness, then being bold in sharing the Gospel (evangelism) is available for everyone and should not be considered a spiritual gift.

If you don’t believe that you have the gift of evangelism you are right.  You are, however, an Evangelizer! There is a gifted Evangelist given to the church (Ephesians 4:11-12). I will discuss this topic in my next post.

What do you think about the gift of evangelism after reading this article? How can we encourage believers to trust the promises Jesus gives us regarding evangelism instead of looking to others to be bold for us? When everyone believes and understands they are sent by Jesus to be evangelizers, more people will hear the truth and know the love of Jesus. To believe otherwise is a ploy of the enemy to silence the mighty army of God. I believe we are deluded by the enemy when we believe we are not capable of sharing the gospel powerfully. When we gain a biblical understanding of evangelism, more in the world will come to put their faith in Jesus!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An Ingenius Idea!

An Ingenious Idea!

Making disciples is an intimate and difficult process. It takes love, commitment and time to walk alongside another person in order for Christ to be formed in them. Paul likens disciple making to the pains of childbirth (Gal. 4:19). I watched my wife give birth to our three children. I can tell you it looks like a lot of pain. She would tell you it feels worse than it looks! This may be a reason why many people are not engaged in disciple making.

Disciple making, like pregnancy and childbirth, is full of painful experiences and deep joy. When my wife was newly pregnant, we both were excited. Seeing the “+” on the pregnancy test always brings joy. The joy of the “+” quickly turns to physical discomforts of stomach aches, tiredness and clothes that no longer fit. As things progress in the pregnancy more back rubs are needed, more sleep is needed and more gymnastics are required to get out of a chair. Then the labor pains come. I could tell my wife was in pain during a contraction when she had to stop everything until the contraction ended. In my wife’s case, all of her deliveries required her to be induced which caused an increase in pain. But when the child was born, the amount of joy she and I felt was amazing.

Jesus’ last words to His closest friends instructed them to disciple all the nations throughout their lives. Jesus set the perfect example of what this looks like as He poured His life into His closest friends over a three year period. As we read stories of Christ’s interaction with these twelve friends, we can see lots of time spent together, lots of intimacy and lots of pain. Jesus was often frustrated with these tax collectors and fishermen as He modeled a life fully dependent upon the Father (Matthew 16:9, 17:17). Jesus often had to explain what was was taking place (John 9:1-5) and re-explain what He was talking about (Mark 4:34). When Jesus was being crucified, the only male disciple said to be present was the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 19:26-27). Jesus knew the pain of discipling, and yet, when He rose from the dead, He appeared to these close friends and gave them instructions (commanded them) to disciple, following the example He set for them (Matthew 28:16-20).

When one considers the investment of time and the inherent pain it takes to see Christ formed in people (Galatians 4:19) it isn’t hard to imagine why many choose not be engaged in this important process. Discipling is, however, a process in which every believer is required to be engaged (Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:15-18 & Acts 1:4-8). Jesus does not mince His words.

When Jesus instructed his eleven closest friends to disciple all nations (Matthew 28:19), He shared with them an ingenious method to accomplish this task. They were to befriend others and instruct them to obey all of the commands that Jesus had instructed them to follow. This obviously included the command to disciple as well. This genius concept meant that Jesus expected every person, who became His follower, to pour their lives into others so they could also be a disciple and repeat the process (2 Timothy 2:2). This is not optional for any believer. 

One of the ways that I use to help others become like Jesus is through a Life Transformation Group (LTG). This simple tool requires a group of two or three people to do three things together: read lots of Scripture, confess sin to each other and pray for people to come to Jesus. This process creates the opportunity for LTGs to reproduce. If we engage in this type of disciple making, we will become more intimate with these friends than we can imagine and it will be contagious. We will be transformed in ways that will increase our faith dramatically.

Recently in my LTG we were repeatedly reading the book of Acts, chapters 1-6. One of my LTG partners mentioned he was intrigued by a particular word in Acts 1:2. In this passage, the Scriptures reported that Jesus gave “orders” to His eleven close friends. He was startled by the word “orders” in the New American Standard Version of the Bible. I was intrigued as well and immediately sought out what the “orders” were to which Luke (the author of the Book of Acts) was referring. As I looked into the original language of Acts 1:1-2, I noticed that the word for “orders” (enteilamenos) is actually singular. This means Luke was referring to the single command of the great commission which is to go and proclaim the gospel, making disciples of Jesus (cf Acts 1:2 with Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:15 and Acts 1:8).

That Jesus gave “orders” to His followers seems strong and may even sound a little abrasive. It caused me to ask the question, “How important is it to Jesus that His followers be making disciples?” The fact that Jesus “ordered” his followers should cause each of us to wrestle with this question: “Am I obeying Jesus by intentionally making disciples and instructing and teaching those disciples to do the same.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Are believers ignoring this most holy “order” by Jesus? If so, why? Does it mean that some feel a lack of competence in accomplishing this task? Why is that and how can it be changed? Whatever our answers to these questions, we must  begin or continue to take responsibility to teach people to follow and obey these “orders” from Jesus. If we do, it will make a difference in our world. It really is an ingenious idea!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Happened to the Meaning of Missional?

Organic, simple, house churches are increasing in number*. In America, this is largely due to church attenders leaving traditional churches and migrating to a more organic or simple form of church. I average a phone call a week from someone who has been hurt by a church or church leader or is weary or disgruntled with conventional church. Some simply desire a change and believe the Spirit is leading them to explore options.

Most organic churches, like conventional churches, are not seeing an increase in the number of people who choose to follow Christ. Many churches today, organic and conventional, realize this and are attempting to become "missional" in their quest to reach these people. For many churches, "missional" means organizing service-oriented projects for their church--which helps them feel mission oriented. But are they? I believe that understanding what it means to be "missional" has been lost and distorted. Regaining that mindset is necessary in order to see the church's influence increase in dynamic ways.

Service projects are helpful and good. They show the heart of Jesus and can be a healthy expression of ones faith, but they are not the heart of being missional. Service projects are often single ministry experiences that generally do not have the context to develop relationships and miss the opportunity to meet the need of the soul. Service projects are usually offered to strangers where there is very little if any one-to-one connecting to the people who were helped. Even when conversations between people on the missional team and those being served occur, follow through is often rare or ends up being done by church staff. God certainly does use this type of service to show His love to the world. But the question must be asked: is it a good example of what it means to be "missional"?

Pondering this question, I searched the book of Acts 1-6 to see what a missional life looked like to the very first Christians. If you don't have time to look at all of the Scriptures below or if you simply like summaries here is an overview of what I learned: Believers were surrendered to Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit and intentionally loved and invited people to have life with Jesus. Missional must include engaged conversations that point people to their need of Jesus Christ. In my estimation, this has often been lost in the contemporary concept of being missional. It certainly includes service to people, but must also include conversations and relationships where Jesus works in the soul of the listeners to draw them to Himself. In my study of Acts 1-6, missional is entwined with the spoken gospel.

Here are some gems I gleaned from the first followers of Jesus regarding being missional in Acts 1-6:

Acts 1:2 The Twelve were 'ordered' by Jesus through the Holy Spirit for all believers to be focused on helping others become like Jesus (disciples). Acts 1:1-2 should be tied to Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:8.

Acts 1:8 Jesus gives every believer the Holy Spirit so that every follower of Christ will have the power necessary to tell of who Jesus is and what He has done for them.

Acts 2:1-13 The Holy Spirit filled the 120 (Acts 1:15) from the upper room so they all spoke in tongues (2:14) which was speaking of the mighty deeds of God (2:11).

Acts 2:14-36 Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) and spoke a message which lead to 3,000 people placing faith in Jesus Christ where they then lived out their faith radically.

Acts 3:1-10 Peter and John saw a lame man healed immediately which caused a revival (9-10). They spoke to this man born lame about Jesus the Nazerene.

Acts 3:11-26 Peter spoke another message of Jesus to the people who were amazed at the healing of the man born lame.

Acts 4:1-12 Peter and John were questioned by the Jewish leaders about this healing. Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 8) and spoke another message about Jesus and that salvation only comes through Christ.

Acts 4:19-20 Peter and John were warned to stop speaking about Jesus but responded with, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."

Acts 4:31 After a prayer meeting where boldness to speak for Jesus was requested, all of the people where "...filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness."

Acts 5:1-16 This is the story of Ananias and Sapphira which lead to a revival where "...multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number."

Acts 5:17-21 Peter and John were placed in prison where an angel of the Lord freed them with this command, "Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this life." They obeyed, "Upon hearing this they entered the temple about daybreak and began to teach." (5:21).

Acts 5:28-29 The Jewish religious leaders spoke to them again stating, "We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name...", but Peter answered saying, "We must obey God rather than men."

Acts 5:42 The result of all of these things above was, "...every day in the temple and house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ."

Acts 6:7 "The word of the Lord kept on spreading, and the number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great number of priests were becoming obedient to the faith." When missional means telling the truth about Jesus, all levels of society will be affected, even religious leaders.

When we think of being missional, it must center around being in the midst of those not yet connected to Jesus and speaking the gospel of Jesus to them as the Holy Spirit leads. There is no being missional without the telling of the good news of Jesus Christ. Go and be missional!

I would love to your thoughts on this topic. Leave a comment below and let's chat!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Humility: Creating Space in Your Soul to be Filled with Christ

Read the previous posts on humility: #1, #2, #3

I was young, adventurous and arrogant as I began my first days on the job in my father’s cabinet manufacturing business. My first job was pounding small brads (nails) into some adjustable shelve tracks, all…day…long. As I began my second week, I was taught how to attach hinges to cabinet doors. I put three screws in to each hinge, all…day…long. In between attaching hinges and pounding brads, I would notice the other things that took place in a cabinet manufacturing business. At the end of my third week on the job, I was just young enough, adventurous enough and arrogant enough to gently tell the foreman how to do his job better, after all, I was the owners son! I never did get along well with the foreman after that, and we worked together for 12 years. 

I made some messes at my father’s cabinet shop those first few years. My arrogance and desire to be in charge caused a few relationships to be broken. Through those experiences, God gently yet persistently sanded off some of the rough edges of arrogance and pride so that a softer and hopefully more humble person emerged. Once I left the cabinet business and moved to Phoenix for a new opportunity, the Lord had me write letters of apology, seeking forgiveness from those in the cabinet business that I had mistreated in my arrogance.

Humility is necessary if a person is to be filled with the Spirit of God and not with self. To be filled with the Spirit of God one must grasp a firm understanding that their strength and abilities always and only come from Jesus Christ. When this is understood, a person can be strong and gentle, confident and competent without yielding to the arrogance that swallows up many. Knowing that all we have and who are comes from Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:6-15, Philippians 4:12-13) allows us to offer our lives back to Him in worship as we work to accomplish His kingdom building pleasure throughout our lifetime.

As I have watched many believers mature in their faith over the years, I notice a pattern of God where He often allows opportunity for the believer to learn humility both early in their faith and throughout their journey with Him. The learning of humility creates space for the believer to be filled with the Spirit of God. For some it takes bold confrontation from God while for others it only requires nudges from His Spirit. Either way, the Lord desires to draw us towards humility so that we die to self (flesh driven) and live for Christ (Spirit filled) (cf John 12:24-25, 2 Corinthians 4:10-17, Galatians 2:20). 

In my early years with Jesus, I had to learn at the cabinet business that energy, risk taking and confidence is not enough to be an effective leader when I am full of myself. In spiritual leadership, the lack of humility creates even more problems. 

I remember several years into being a part time associate pastor I was working with a man a few years older than me in leading the Sunday school program at a local church. I had some ‘amazing’ ideas of how things were to go but this co-laborer had different ideas. As we clashed on ideas and implementations I became to flow in my arrogance, title and position (never a good idea). I remember meeting with my friend in my office at the church building on one afternoon. Our conversation came to an entrenched impasse. I was frustrated and with no other way to move forward, so I thought. I threw down Hebrews 13:17 which states, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”  Basically, I demanded this co-laborer obey and submit to my ideas for moving forward. Needless to say, that encounter did not end well and it took months to restore the relationship. There was no humility in my heart in that encounter. It was a hard lesson to learn but so necessary for me to work through. I have nor will I every use that verse again in that way. My actions were awful.

Through the above experience, I learned (and continue to learn) that I must be lay down demanding my way in order to allow the Spirit of God to fill my heart with His attitudes, actions and character. In Ephesians 4:1-2, Paul instructs followers of Jesus to live their lives in a way that honors Jesus and the first quality of living this way is humility. Living this way brings unity, peace and eventually maturity in our lives (Ephesians 4:11-16).

The opposite of living in humility towards unity, peace and maturity is to be arrogant, hard and calloused in our hearts (4:17-21). In verse 20, Paul says that we did not learn Christ in this way of arrogance, hard and calloused hearts. God has given me ongoing opportunities to learn humility. I pray it is true that I walk more in a manner that honors Christ (Ephesians 4:1, 2) than in a way that dishonors Him (Ephesians 4:17-20).

When I resist the opportunities to learn humility, I often end up arrogant and harming relationships. Regularly ask Jesus to expose your heart to areas where you are arrogant and learn how to respond humbly, gently and full of grace and truth. Later in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he instructs us to be “…filled with the Spirit.” (5:18). When we are filled with Spirit, we are controlled by Him and His ways. Being moved by the Spirit causes us to ooze the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26) which mends brokenness, brings unity, peace and a path forward that magnifies King Jesus.

Create space in your soul for the ways of the Spirit. Realize that you have already died to the flesh and are alive to the Spirit (Gal 5:24-26), then you will enjoy the unity, peace and maturity that follows. Humility is a gateway trait that leads us to be filled with Spirit and must be practiced intentionally throughout our lifetimes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Two Paths Towards Humility

You can read Part 1 and Part 2 of my thoughts on humility for perspective.

I used to be a fairly good surfer. I remember the first time I tried surfing, I fell down. A lot. Like almost every time I tried. When I did stand up it was for the briefest of seconds. Practice, falling, getting tired because of the physical exertion, watching what other surfers did and more practice is how I became a fairly good surfer.

For several years I would be in the water at least weekly looking for ‘glassy’ waves to ride and enjoyed my time of riding the liquid on the beaches of Southern California. At some point, my life took on different priorities and surfing faded into history. A few years ago, my good friend Neil Cole and I were in Honolulu at a conference and we decided to rent surfboards and relive our younger years. It was not like riding a bike for either of us. I fell many times and was exhausted at the end of our time in the water. I barely stood up on the board, in fact, I may not have stood up at all. It felt like my first day of surfing all over again.

Surfing is one of those activities where you need to keep at it to be able to stay proficient. At least that is true in my life. I tell this story about surfing because it is somewhat like learning humility. It is not easy to bend our flesh to follow the Spirit when it comes to humility (pride is so natural), at least at first. Once humility is developed in our lives and we have learned to bend our flesh to conform with the Spirit, humility must continue to be practiced and applied. When we choose to regularly apply humility (just like patience or kindness), it comes to us naturally as we allow Christ to flow through us over and over again. When we choose to ‘unlearn’ humility by allowing our flesh to bend our choices towards self, getting back in the water of humility is again difficult to learn.

The Development of Humility
In my last post (4.2.2014), I defined humility as “The removing of self (getting a proper perspective of life) so that Christ becomes more in our lives. We know this is right and we also know this is difficult. Humility is not ignoring who you are created to be with your gifts and influence but giving recognition that these qualities flow through you and come from Christ.”

Humility is developed by recognizing that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). This is simplified but it is exactly what needs to happen so we can learn humility. I have learned that developing humility happens in at least two different ways throughout our life. Remember, the Spirit of God is excited about our success and offers opportunities throughout our lifetimes for us to remain in Him, oozing the character trait of humility.

The easiest way to learn what humility looks, feels and smells like is to watch others who are humble and imitate them. Paul led a life that should be imitated. Paul led a humble life that was shaped in part by all the opposition he faced. Through that opposition, humility was developed. 1 Corinthians 4:11-13 is a short overview of some of what Paul endured as he learned to follow Christ in all sorts of opposition. He continues in that passage by saying that he is the Corinthians spiritual father and, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me…” (1 Corinthians 4:16-17).

We find another example of learned humility in the life of Solomon early in his life as King of Israel. In 2 Chronicles 1:7-12 Solomon is visited by God and He asks him to make a request that would set the stage for his leadership as King of Israel. Solomon humbly asks for wisdom and knowledge to lead the people in the ways of God. God responded to this humble request by honoring King Solomon with wisdom, knowledge and much more! Solomon learned this humble attitude from his father King David. We would do well to imitate the humility of those mentors/mothers/fathers in our lives. Unfortunately, most of us choose the opportunity of learning humility through more difficult scenarios.

In my personal experience most people learn humility through challenges in their life where they learn to submit to the will of the Spirit instead of the will of the flesh. In Galatians 2:11-16 we find Peter being confronted by Paul for his betrayal of the Gentile believers. Others followed Peter’s hypocritical lead and distanced themselves from the Gentiles too. Paul confronted him on this which lead to Peter learning humility. We know Peter learned this valuable lesson as we read his words in 1 Peter 5:1-7; “Shepherd the flock among you…therefore, humble yourselves therefore under God’s mighty hand.” (NASV emphasis mine).

Even Peter, one of those closest to Jesus while he walked on the earth, wrestled with pride and was nudged/corrected towards humility. God wants to develop humility in our lives and will do as He knows is necessary so that we learn the valuable gateway trait of humility.

Imitation and correction are two ways that God allows us to learn the character trait of humility. Learning it early and remaining humble is key to our development as followers of Christ. We must practice living humble lives even as we fall and get back up. We will never be good surfers or good followers of Christ without a life continuing to live it out. Next time we will wrap us this study of humility by seeing how it leads us to live a Spirit filled life!

What are your thoughts on how humility is developed in the life of Christ followers?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

How God Develops Humility In Our Lives

You can read Part 1 of this blog post HERE.

I almost split a church in half! It was early in the 1980's and I was a young man wanting to make a name for myself. In high school, I was elected Class President my senior year; I was a football and wrestling captain, and the world was all about me, or so I thought. Once I became a Christian, I looked around the church and realized the Senior Pastor was the one people looked up to, the one who made the important decisions and gave the vision for people to follow. I quickly decided I would one day be a Senior Pastor so I could regain my position of importance. The Senior Pastor at that time was a gracious man who gave me many opportunities to learn and grow in my faith. He asked me to give the talk at a few church meetings and people really liked my energy, presentation abilities and insights. My head began to swell.

A few people whispered in my ear that they wished I would give the 'sermon' more often. Some whispered that I should speak every Sunday morning, which indicated a sort of coup. My head swelled even further and I started believing the hype a few were whispering to me. I began believing in my abilities. I was in a dangerous place!

What do we do when we begin to believe we are larger than life, more important than the next guy or that our situations are so unique or intense that no one else could understand? The above situation in my life presented an opportunity for me to learn humility or to fall backwards into myself (narcissism). God then used a hammer to get my attention. I was seated in an auditorium with a few hundred other leaders and the presenter taught a simple principle of deflecting praise to those who give you opportunities to learn and gain experience. The presenter said some in this room needed to learn this lesson of gratitude and humility right then. At that point, God gently yet firmly touched my heart, and I knew what I needed to do.

I was attending this conference with the Senior Pastor of our church, so at the break I acted immediately on God’s conviction. I told him what had been happening in my heart, and how very close I was to receiving and believing the lie that I deserved more recognition. I sought his forgiveness and received it. I also confessed my pride to the elders and the whole congregation later that week. This was the beginning of learning valuable lessons of humility in my life. 

I am still learning.

Humility is a foundational character trait all Christians would do well to be aware of and develop as early in their faith as possible. Learning humility teaches us to be sensitive to the lessons taught by the Holy Spirit. The Lord exalts the humble (Ps. 113:1). The Holy Spirit deeply desires to protect us from destroying ourselves (removing prideful tendencies) and gives us opportunities throughout our life to learn the ongoing lesson of humility. Proverbs 11:2 instructs us that pride brings dishonor but humility gives us wisdom. When the Holy Spirit leads you to deal with areas of pride in your life, know that He desires you to learn the lessons of wisdom that will guide you towards maturity.

Humility is the removing of self (getting a proper perspective of life) so that Christ becomes more in our lives. We know this is right and we also know this is difficult. Humility is not ignoring who you are created to be with your gifts and influence, but giving recognition that these qualities flow through you and come from Christ. This is the lesson God began to instill in me many years ago. I want to say again that God knows we need this gateway character trait in our lives and He consistently presents opportunities in our lives to develop it.

A friend of mine recently went through some major relational turbulence. God was in process of pointing out a hardness of heart (pride) and my friend began to dig his heels in on the issue God was raising. His immediate response was to point a finger at the other person instead of looking at the impact of his own attitude and actions. Recognizing our own issues and weaknesses is always a struggle between our flesh versus the Spirit. It is always easier to justify ourselves than to look at where we are wrong. This issue is still in process, but pointing my friend to the principles of humility and submission to Christ has been crucial for him in moving through pride towards maturity. The Spirit is about the development of our souls. How will we respond? Responding with a demanding spirit for our own preservation never ends well and is certainly not attractive.

In my next post, we will discuss how to recognize the development of humility in our souls and how this blends beautifully with what a Spirit filled life looks like. I would also warmly invite your comments on the above thoughts.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Humility - A Gateway Character Quality

The world disciples us to be the center of attention. Today, the discipleship of narcissism begins as babies. When children wear bibs that say "Chick Magnet" and "Supermodel" as they suck on pacifiers that imitate "bling" and their mommy reads them the new nursery rhyme, "This Little Piggy Went to Parada", something is seriously wrong. If that is not enough, Little Jackie came out with a hit song a few years ago titled, "I Believe the World Should Revolve Around Me."* Here are the words to the chorus:

I've had a lot of failed relationships
I don't get involved because I'm not equipped
I believe that the world should revolve around me!

I don't see the point of partnership
It won't be long until they start to trip
Yes siree, that whole world should revolve around me!

Humility has been lost in our culture and believers need to lead the way in rediscovering it. I believe humility to be a gateway character trait that leads to maturity and being spirit filled. The quality of humility allows us to be shaped by God in dynamic ways. Humility is often one of the lead qualities when leaders or maturity in faith is discussed in the Scriptures. Notice this sampling of Scriptures concerning Humility:

"It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute. (Leviticus 16:31)

Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3)

"You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. (Deuteronomy 8:2)

"In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. (Deuteronomy 8:16)

13 "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, 14 and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 "Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place. (2 Chronicles 7:13-15)

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. (Ezra 8:21)

O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear. (Psalm 10:17)

He leads the humble in justice, And He teaches the humble His way. (Psalm 25:9)

But the humble will inherit the land And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. (Psalm 37:11)

29 But I am afflicted and in pain; May Your salvation, O God, set me securely on high. 30 I will praise the name of God with song And magnify Him with thanksgiving. 31 And it will please the LORD better than an ox Or a young bull with horns and hoofs. 32 The humble have seen it and are glad; You who seek God, let your heart revive. 33 For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners. (Psalm 69:29-33)  

It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly Than to divide the spoil with the proud. (Psalm 16:19)   

A man's pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor.  (Proverbs 29:23)

"For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being," declares the LORD. "But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word. (Isaiah 66:2)

Seek the LORD, All you humble of the earth Who have carried out His ordinances; Seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden In the day of the LORD'S anger. (Zephaniah 2:3)

"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. (Matthew 11:29)

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.(Philippians 2:8)

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit (1 Peter 3:8)

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6)

These Scriptures teach us that we cannot get along in our faith without humility! Humility is vital to our spiritual strength and is used by God to develop us into a godly people. Humility teaches us perseverance through the trials of life and gives us an outlook throughout life that keeps us focused on the ways of God which benefits the world!

Humility is a gateway trait that leads us in the way of Christ! Next time I will discuss what a humble life looks like and how we can move in the direction of humility.

*You can find the complete lyrics to this song HERE (warning it is explicit at points)