The PNG Times

The official blog of Steve Highlander. Stay up to date on what is happening in Papua New Guinea. I'll be sharing news, mission updates and random thoughts on God and life on the mission field.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Second Coming - The Sign Nobody Talks About

"What is the sign of your coming and the end of the age?"

Why Jesus won't come back today or tomorrow.

Everyone wants to know when Jesus is coming back. It is a question that is nearly 2000 years old.  In response to these questions (Matthew 24) Jesus gave a number of signs.  Since that day people have been watching for the fulfillment of those signs.

Through the last 2000 years we have had many predictions, based on those signs, that Jesus's return was imminent.  In the 1500s, the Archbishop of York and Primate of England said, "The signs mentioned by Christ in the Gospel which should be the foreshewers of this terrible day, are almost all fulfilled." 

Other groups have variously predicted the years 1538, 1590, 1844 (three different dates after the first two didn't happen), shortly after WWI, 1981 and 1988 and 1989 and more recently 2016 -- among others.

There is no question that Jesus is coming back.  There are some debate over when and how that will happen. The Second Coming of Jesus is a big deal - as it should be to any serious Christian.  I do not intend to get into the pre-tribulation / post-tribulation debate.  That is not the purpose of this blog.  Maybe another day, because I certainly have my beliefs (though they tend to change decade to decade).

I grew up (spiritually) hearing that Jesus could come any day and that I should live as though it could be today.  While there is a nugget of motivational truth in that thought I would like to suggest that it is a very limited way of looking at things.

"You mean to tell me that you don't think Jesus could come back today?"  Well, God is God, He can do anything He wants, but Jesus did not say, "Listen up boys it could be any day."  He did say something would happen first and, "....then the end would come."

For many years I have heard Christians talk about  the signs Jesus spoke of: earthquakes, disease, wars, etc.  In  all of that time I have never heard a sermon on the one thing Jesus said must happen before the end would come.  "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." Matthew 24:14

The signs Jesus referred to earlier in this discourse were called "birth pangs."  They were preliminary events to alert us to the fact the end was drawing near. They were meant to wake us up - break us out of the status quo and the routine of life as usual - for a purpose.  However, the evangelization of the entire world wasn't a birth pang (a painful thing) it was the hallmark -- it was the last word on the issue. It was the vision, the anticipation and the joy that made the rest of the end time events bearable. The joy of the birth overshadowed the pain of the process.

In various places the Bible gets specific about just what evangelizing the world actually means.  Consider the Revelation song:  "You are worthy...For You were slain,and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation...."

The song lists four four, inclusive distinctives:
  1. Tribes: Meaning kindred or clan - extended family groups if you will
  2. Tongues: Literally languages (estimated 7102 languages in the world)
  3. People: A different race than one's own
  4. Nations:  Basically a national identity (i.e. American, Mexican, French, etc)
Westerners really don't get the implications of how specific this scripture actually is.  Let me illustrate.  In Papua New Guinea (a nation) we have 1000 tribes.  Within those tribes there are various family clans (land ownership in by clan usually) and those 1000 tribes and related clans  speak 830 languages .  Some of those languages have less than 200 people who speak it. Do you see how specific the work of world evangelism actually is?  All the way down to a people group containing 200 persons.

Again in Revelation 14:6 we find, "And I saw another angel flying in mid heaven, having eternal good tidings to proclaim unto them that dwell on the earth, and unto every nation and tribe and tongue and people;:"

God is serious about reaching the world -- down to the smallest tribe or people group.

Currently, various mission organizations number unreached people groups from 6741 groups containing 3.11 billion people (  to 7040  groups containing 3.14 billion people) (The Joshua Project These groups represent over 40% of the world's population.  The fact remains, the world has not yet been evangelized according to Jesus and the book of Revelation.

So, could Jesus come today?  According to His own word - NO! 

While he gave a few signs indicating birth pangs, the one thing that must happen before he comes back is the preaching of the gospel to every tribe, tongue, people and nation.  We have work to do if we want to see Jesus return in our lifetime.  Is it possible that you and I have a say in the timing of the Lord's return?  it is something to think about.  Maybe that is why Jesus was unable to answer the question about the day or the hour.

For those who want to talk about the end time signs and make dire predictions and useless speculations, I simply say, "What are you doing about the great commission?"  Are you going?  Are you praying? Are you giving?  If you are serious about the second coming, I encourage you to get serious (or more serious) about finding your place in world missions.

Here is a resource I wrote on becoming more involved in world missions without going to the mission field.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Part 3 Have we Messed up the Whole "Presence of God" Thing?

Part 3 of 3
Have We Messed Up the Whole “Presence of God” Thing?
Am I limiting God with My Limited Expectation?

Part one of this series looked at the issue of the manifest presence of God in our lives and churches.  Part two looked at the issue of God’s “ever-present-ness” in our lives.  In other words, He doesn’t come and go, He lives in and with us.

My third point deals with the question of expectation.  Is “feeling the presence of God” the epitome of our Christian experience?  

I have known many Christians who chased revival.  They were addicted to the excitement and manifest presence of God in a service.  They would drive hours to go to the next meeting.  The only problem was, I never saw their lives change very much.  It was all about “feeling” or seeing some manifestation (real or contrived).  

I must stop and relate a humorous experience I had in a church I was attending one morning.  The pastor was caught up in a movement which emphasized outward manifestations like gold dust, feathers, and other things in services. During the sermon he stopped and fixed his eyes on something.  He followed it down (no one else could see it) and stuck out his finger and claimed to have “caught” a little tiny fluff of feather.  It was so small (if indeed it was there at all) that you couldn’t see it.  But he gave the indication that a feather had fallen in his service: The manifest presence of God and the validation that we were indeed in the right place.  

So my thought was, “you have a very tiny God, if His feathers aren’t any bigger than a tiny piece of down”.  Or perhaps the angel was shedding.  I am not sure what the message was supposed to be, but the intent was clear – God is here and this is proof.  Honestly, it was one (I’ve seen more) of the most ridiculous things I have seen in church. (It is a shame that I feel the urgent need to place this disclaimer – but here it is: I am not saying that God cannot or has not done things like gold dust or feathers, my point here was that we cannot make the stuff up to fit in.  And, if the “manifestations” don’t result in changed lives, what good are they?)

Back to the main point. If the presence of God is really in a place -- either for a visitation or as a habitation – lives will be changed on a regular basis.  The idea that the revival meeting (read that the exciting manifest presence of God) is the epitome of the Christian experience is erroneous.  In fact, I was asked not to come back to a church because of this point. 

I have known pastors and leaders who wanted continual revival meetings, but were not concerned with genuine revival.  The truth is a revival meeting will only last as long as there are people who need to be revived.  Since “vive” is Latin for Life, “revival” means to bring life back to something that was dead – or perhaps -- to resuscitate. Those that are “vived” don’t need “revival.” Once those in need of revival stop coming, those type of meetings will cease for the time being.  A simple look through the history of revival shows that revivals tend to run their course – some sooner than later, and for a variety of reasons. The fact is, once you and I are revived, we need to start living out that revival in our lives – not attend more meetings.
I have also known ministries that were caught up in the “soaking” movement.  This is where Christians gather to “soak in the presence of God” while worshipping or listening to worship music.  Once again, I have observed a two-fold problem.  The first that it is self-focused, and the second: I haven’t seen any real fruit for the Kingdom come out of it.  Those I have personally known to do this still aren’t really accomplishing anything significant for God.

If the “manifest presence of God” is not changing lives, we must question if it is really a spiritual thing or simply an emotional thing.  Emotions, while real and valid – and necessary – cannot produce Spiritual results – only the Spirit of God can.  Spiritual experiences can produce emotional responses, but the reverse is not true.  Jesus said, that which is flesh is flesh and that which is Spirit is Spirit.
The bottom line of this series of articles is simple. 

One: Do I stop at sensing the presence of God through my five senses and calling it good, or must I allow the Holy Spirit to do a deeper work in my life? It is sometimes easier to allow God to work when we sense His presence, but it does not automatically follow that we will let Him or that He isn’t doing anything when we can’t feel Him.

Two:  Am I chasing God, or some experience in God?  There is a difference! Christianity is not a “spectator sport.”  We don’t gather in stadiums to watch God do all the stuff through a limited number of specialized players.  The apostle Paul linked two critical components of Christianity together in three different books.  The two issues were the gifts of the Holy Spirit in relationship to the Body of Christ.  In each passage he emphatically declares that “each one of us” have been given Spiritual gifts for the benefit of all. Christianity should not be “me” centered.  In other words, it should not be about my experience, my blessing, my healing, my ministry, or any other “my” you can name.  It is to be Christ-centered first and people-centered second. 

Three:  We need to be aware that God does not come and go.  He is ever-present in the life of the believer – and the non-believer for that matter.  It is more of a matter of taking time to be consciously aware of what is already present.  When Paul presented the gospel message to the pagan philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17) he said, “So that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after Him and find Him, although He is not far from each one of us.”

Here Paul indicated God is close enough to a spiritually blinded person that he could “feel around and find Him,” if he wanted to.  It is our job to recognize where God is at work in a person’s life and point them in that direction.

“…And they shall call His name Emmanuel—which, when translated, means, God with us.” God with us -- not, the God that visits on occasion.

I commend you to the presence of God.

Have We Messed up the Whole Presence of God Thing - Part 2

Part 2 of 3
Have We Messed Up the Whole “Presence of God” Thing?
I don’t Feel God, What’s Wrong?

In The first article I looked at the issue of God’s presence as a visitation or a habitation. In the second part we want to look at the issue of being in God’s presence when we don’t feel it.
 Not feeling the presence of God does not mean we are not in the presence of God all the time – Just that we are more aware of it at times, and others, not so much.  Our experience has dictated our theology – which is never good.  Consider the clear word of God. In Psalm 139 (Message Bible), David cries out:

“Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit? to be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you're there! If I go underground, you're there! If I flew on morning's wings to the far western horizon, you’d find me in a minute— you're already there waiting! Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark! At night I'm immersed in the light!" It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.”

Paul picks up this thought in Romans 9, when he says we don’t ascend to heaven to bring God down, nor descend to hell to Bring Christ up.  He is near always.  He isn’t somewhere else needing to show up.  In Ephesians 4:6 Paul put it this way.  “Now this, He ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.”

The book of Hebrews says Christ ever lives to make intercession for us according to the will of God.  He doesn’t only do that when we consciously ask Him to – but perhaps especially when we aren’t all that conscious of Him in our lives.

If the universe is filled with Christ, there is no place where you or I could go not to be in His presence. This ought to be a sobering thought for two reasons.  The first is that you and I can’t hide from God – Adam tried it and it didn’t work for him. Sooner or later – if you are a child of God – God will call you out.  “Adam, where are you?” It is a fact that some Christians try to hide from God by not going to church, while others try to hide from God in church.  Are you hiding from God for some reason?  If so, God is calling your name right now.

The second sobering thought is that God really does see all -- bad and good!  He sees your sacrifice and your motives – which might have been ignored or questioned by others.  He sees your heart and soul.  He sees how hard you try, even when you fail. He knows you inside and out – and He still loves you.  Gaining a proper understanding of the absolute presence of God will bring a release in our lives in many ways.  One you understand that the presence of God in your life is not based on your good performance, it frees you to walk with God in a greater measure than ever before.

This is particularly relevant with the power of God in and through our lives. We make the same mistake with the “anointing.”  We tend to believe the “anointing” comes and goes in our lives.  It does not.

“But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you….”  I John 2:27

The anointing does not come and go in your life.  It ABIDES!  This is because the anointing is not something you put on and take off- or something that God gives and takes.  The Anointing is the HOLY SPIRIT.  He does not come and go, He lives in you 24/7/365.  This means that when I go to a store, God goes to that store.  When I enter the hospital, God enters the hospital.  You and I are carriers of the Anointing – The Holy Spirit.  That means you can, at any time and in any place, allow the Holy Spirit to move in and through you. 

Most definitely there are times when we can feel the presence of God in more tangible ways.  Most definitely we see God more powerfully at certain times than at others.  However, is it Him not being present or is it us, not being aware of and placing our faith in His presence?

The idea that I somehow must be worthy of that anointing is a mistake we have made for years.  The Gifts of God (Romans 12, I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4) that manifest His power in and through believers are just that – GIFTS.  Undeserved. Unearned. Unmerited in any way.  For if it is anything other than freely given and freely received it immediately ceases to be a gift.

The significant truth of this article is that God does not come and go in our lives.  The Holy Spirit Abides.  Jesus said, “I will never leave or forsake you.”  Acknowledging God’s ever-present-ness releases us from a performance-based view and causes us to understand that God is at work in and through our lives all the time.  Sometimes we are more aware of it than others, but the more we are aware, the more things get done.

Have We Messed up the Whole "Presence of God" Thing? Part 1

Part 1/3 - Understanding Visitation and Habitation -

I stood on the platform of the small, midwestern church I was pastoring.  It was during our worship time in the service.  I was struggling because I could not feel the presence of God.  I prayed, “Father, please come and be with us.”  A few minutes later, I “felt” the presence of God come into the service.  As I stood there I said, “Thank you God for coming.”  God said, “Now that I am here, what are you going to do with me?”  This is a true story.

A few years later I was working for a friend of mine who was a Christian attending an old line denominational church.  Our Office manager was a Spirit-filled Christian. On Friday mornings the three of us would have an office prayer meeting.  One morning as we prayed, the presence of God was very strong. No one said a word for about 10-15 minutes.  We just sat in the awesome silence.  My friend broke the silence.  “So that’s what that feels like!”  He had “felt” the presence of God for the first time in his Christian life.

I have had many more powerful experiences with what I call the “manifest presence of God,” but these will suffice for this series of articles.  I want to make three points about the presence of God.
Point one: There are times when we sense the presence of God in more significant ways than others.
Point two:  This does not mean we are not in the presence of God when we don’t feel Him at all.
Point three: Should “feeling the presence of God” be the epitome of our experience?  Or is there something more we should be after?

Point one
My experience from the first story taught me two important things.  First, that my assumption was wrong.  I thought God was only there when I felt Him.  The second was that I limited what God wanted to do by limiting my expectation.  I was content to “feel the presence of God” (whether anyone else could wasn’t even a consideration at that point.) My expectation was fulfilled.  I had my experience.  I could cross my arms and say, “okay, we had a good service.”  I was very naive in the past.

However, God pulled me up short with His challenge.  “What are you going to do with me now that I am here?”  Do with you?  I hadn’t even considered that. My expectation never went beyond feeling His presence.  I had always stopped there.  I assumed if He was there -- and I could feel it -- that others could too, and that was enough.  We would know we were the chosen people of God because God showed up.  It validated us. We felt good that we had invited God and He came. However, God’s manifest presence in our individual or congregational lives isn’t a badge of approval.  It is a sign that He wants to work, and God works in very unlikely and unholy people at times.
The Bible speaks of a visitation of God and a habitation of God.  Visitations were times when God would “visit” His people for the specific purpose of either for blessing or judgment. A visitation is relatively brief compared to habitation.  In the first, someone visits and leaves; the other is where you live.   If you are having visitors over, you might clean the house and prepare some special things. Then the visit will end and things will be back to normal. However, in a dwelling, things are much more casual. You let your hair down. You get real.  You walk around in your underwear – something you probably wouldn’t do with visitors present. Life happens in dwellings – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Christianity is a daily lifestyle not a weekly service. I believe we have settled for visitations when God wants a habitation.   In Exodus 25 we find God challenging the Israelites to, “Build me a sanctuary, that I might dwell among you.”  This was the beginning.  We find the conclusion of God’s desire in Revelation 21:3, “And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”

I find it difficult to think His desire changed in the middle. The very concept of the indwelling Spirit is that we are never apart from God – as if God and Jesus were somewhere in outer space and had to be called down to where we are.

While we would never minimize the presence of God, we need ask the question: should “feeling the presence of God” be the end goal of our experience with God, or is it the doorway to a greater work of God in our lives? Christian singers and songwriters Steve and Annie Chapman wrote a song which, in part, said, “To come into the presence of the living God is to be changed.  You cannot come into His high and Holy Place and stay the same.  So, change me Lord, remake me Lord, conform me to the image of your son.”

When the Bible relates stories of people who encountered God there was always a significant reaction.  It was not a ho-hum experience.  However today, some people can come to church and nothing ever changes.  In fact for many, church is a necessary evil to be endured, at least on occasion, with no thought that something life-changing is going to happen. (If there were some life-changing expectation, our churches would be full!)  What is wrong with this picture?

God wants to work in and through us.  It takes a genuine understanding of His ever-present-ness in our lives and churches for this to happen on a consistent basis.  Are you settling for visitations, or are you building a habitation for God?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Lies We Believe and the Truth That Sets Us Free

No one wants to believe a lie – unfortunately most of us do at one time or another.  The most dangerous lies are religious ones.  I am not talking about false doctrine – although the Bible warns of lying spirits and doctrines of demons.  The most damaging lies are the ones we let govern our personal thoughts and actions.

Our brains are super computers – and like regular computers – they are programmable.  The programming comes in the form of the belief systems we accept as real and valid as we go through our lives.  Some people have heard the words, “You are good for nothing and will never amount to anything,” their whole lives.  It is now a base operating program in their belief system.  Every opportunity, every possibility is filtered through this false belief.  Since they believe they would never be successful they fail to try – or worse – sabotage their own opportunities so they don’t have to go through the expected pain of failure.  The end game is the same, their false belief system keeps them from being more than they are right now. 

Others have the old style reel-to-reel recording playing constantly in their minds, “I’m ugly.” Or “I’m a failure.” Still others succumb to more spiritual lies such as: “God couldn’t possibly love you.” or “I’ll never be good enough for God to use me.”

These thought programs, and dozens more like them, plague a significant amount of people.  But they are LIES!  Just because a lie seems to be true, doesn’t make it so. 

Consider this powerful scripture carefully:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed
by the RENEWING of your mind….”
  Romans 12:2

Conformation and transformation is contrasted.  Conformation is outward; it is  pressure applied externally to get you to look or act a certain way.  Much like modeling clay, conformation changes the outward appearance, but not the substance.  It is peer pressure – even religious peer pressure -- to make you look like something you are not.  Many people go to church and are conformed, but never transformed. Have you ever felt pressured to act or talk a certain way in church to avoid criticism or judgement? You did it just to fit in, when you needed to, but you were not changed by it.

On the other hand is transformation. The nature of a thing is changed during transformation.  It is for this reason Jesus’ first miracle was significant.  Have you ever stopped to wonder why God chose the wedding at Canaan and turning water to wine as the first recorded miracle?  Precisely because God wanted to demonstrate that He wanted to transform lives.

Paul tells us in this passage in Romans that we are transformed by renewing our minds – or, in other words, learning to think differently.  Why is this?  Because your belief system is your basic operating system for your life.  When your thinking starts to line up with God and His word your life is changed by it. 

A person can desperately want to change, but if they do not think differently about the issues bothering them, they will return to the old habits and patterns.  I ministered to a man that was an alcoholic.  He told me beer was his friend, because it kept him alive.  If he didn’t drink he would kill himself.  That man never overcame alcohol, because he could change his mind about alcohol being his friend. Another dear friend of mine (and a member of my church) loved God, but could never totally overcome alcohol.  He even preached a little, sharing his testimony of how God saved him when he was sitting on the edge of a bed with a gun in his hand getting ready to commit suicide.  It was at that moment a preacher knocked on his door and led him to the Lord. All his life his father had told him, “You’re a no good son of a bitch and you will always be a no good son of a bitch.” He started drinking in his early teens.  All he ever wanted was a nice word from his father.  That tape played in his head constantly and he never could totally overcome it.  He died sitting in his truck in front of a liquor store from a ruptured appendix. The lies we believe must be replaced if we are to experience transformation.

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and
the truth shall make you free.”
John 8:31

How can we determine what belief systems we operate with are lies?  There is only ONE way.  Anything that contradicts the TRUTH is a lie.  So how do we determine TRUTH?  You can’t operate on emotions here – after all, the lies you believe seem so real.  We simply need to accept some source of truth.  Is there one?  Of course there is – first there is Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am the way, THE TRUTH, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” (John14:6) Then there is the Word of God – the Bible.  Jesus was, “the Word made flesh.” (John 1:14) When tempted by the devil, just before starting His public ministry, Jesus rebuked the old serpent with a quote from the Old Testament, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Deut. 8:2)

We have a promise that, “The truth will set us free.”  However, it is not just hearing the truth, or even acknowledging the truth – it is believing the truth, and replacing the lies we have accepted with the truth of God’s Word.  Let’s look at this in real life.  For one reason or another a person accepts the religious lie that God doesn’t (or couldn't) love them.

All of our lives we are programmed to believe that our personal value is based on performance.  It starts early.  “Be good and Santa Claus will bring you presents,” is the earliest reinforcement of this false principle.  “Eat your spinach and you can have some ice cream,” we heard growing up.  If you don’t obey you have stand in the corner or go to bed.  In Sunday school and kindergarten, we learned that we got stars on our chart for good behavior or performance, such as memorizing a scripture or learning your ABC’s.  Good performance landed you on the basketball team or the cheerleading squad.  A’s and B’s on report cards garnered smiles and approval. Poor performance got you laughed at, disciplined, or disapproved of.  Slowly, through our whole childhood, we are programmed to believe our personal worth and value are based on how well we perform. That we have to earn what we get through good performance.

Then that person goes to church and hears the Good News that God loves them.  That sounds good -- too good to be true.  The thought surfaces on cue, “Yes God does love people, but He couldn’t possibly love ME because I have terrible performance. I have nothing to offer Him.  I have done too many bad things.  I am a loser, why would He love me?”  Do you see the effect of the programmed lie?  God tells us our personal worth and value is not based on our performance.  The TRUTH is found in Romans 5:8 “But God shows and clearly proves His [own] love for us by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) died for us.” (Amplified Bible) The lie that person has believed for years is now confronted.  They have to decide which programming they are going to allow to operate in their life.  For some reason the lies that have been pounded into our lives hold tremendous emotional and even spiritual power over us.  The fresh Truth contained in the Bible doesn’t seem to be as real as the established lie.

It is right here that a decision has to be made.  A trade has to take place.  The lie has to be replaced with the truth.  We must choose what we believe.  This is the essence of faith. You may not feel like the scripture is true, because the longstanding power of the lie, but faith is not based on emotion.  Faith is based on the Word of God. You must choose to replace every lie with the truth revealed in God’s Word.  At first a conscious effort has to be made. You choose to believe the scripture.  You then must make the effort to start replacing the lie with the truth.  This can be done through confessing scripture.  Let’s use our example.  The lie is, “God couldn’t possibly love me.”  The truth is, “God loved you while you were still sinning.”  Every time that old recording starts play, you must choose to replace the recording with a new one – a scriptural one.

Do you have areas of your life that just are not changing?  Nothing seems to work long term.  You should consider the possibility that life or satan has implanted a lie into your belief system and your operating on that.  I have seen people get set free instantly by replacing a lie with the truth from God’s word. Truth is powerful.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Three "Rs": Why the Church in America HAS to Change - Part 1

In days gone by the "Three Rs" referred to basic educational elements of: "readin', writin' and rithmatic."

Today I believe there are "Three Rs" that relate specifically the Church in America today (and to some extent the model of the church we export to the world through media and mission work).  Those three Rs are: Relevance, Riches and Retention.  Unfortunately these three Rs are having a negative impact on the church and need to be addressed.

Before I get started I want to say that I think the best days of the Church of Jesus Christ are just ahead of us. I believe wholeheartedly that a massive move of God -- through the Church -- will usher many into the Kingdom and bring back many who have fallen away.  How you define "best days," however depends a lot on your theology.  If it means more fancy church buildings, programs and a socio/political system that looks favorably on Christianity, I think we are in for a nasty let-down.  If we define "best days" as the Church functioning as the Body of Christ, standing up for and expressing a genuine Christianity with a love and power that draws people to Christ (not our church or particular flavor of doctrine) we will be pleasantly surprised.  I am not a doomsdayist.  I believe God will powerfully impact and transform the church in the last days and that Church -- empowered and emboldened by the Holy Spirit -- will impact the world during an all-out clash of spiritual kingdoms.

I have always said God will have a church on earth in the last days that fully displays Christ, through the many-membered Body of Christ. That there will be a church that displays God's power,  love and glory is not the question.  The question is, "Will you and I be a part of that Church?"

Something HAS to change.

Most statistic show that church membership across the board is declining -- especially in mainline denominations.  The churches that are showing significant growth often are forced to attribute that growth to transfer membership rather than evangelism.  If you talk to many pastors you discover the plight of revolving door membership.  In many churches membership remains relatively stable, with the same amount of people coming in as going out over the long run. If you are growing and sustaining that growth - congratulations. We cannot simply afford to take a head-in-the-sand approach any more and ignore the fact that something is fundamentally wrong with church as usual.  The easy answer is to blame the people who won't come or won't stay.  "They are just a bunch of sinners that don't want God," we might be tempted to say, therefore making it about them and not us.  This approach allows us to justify ourselves and our efforts.  Is it really everyone else's fault?  I mean really?  Is there not something we could do differently?  Do we really have all the answers and the perfect way of doing church?

I believe this is where the "Three Rs" (Relevance, Riches and Retention) come into play -- and not in a positive way.  Let's examine the issues:

Is the Church relevant to today's lives and issues? I want you to understand that I am not talking about the Gospel message or the Bible itself - those don't change and don't need to change.  They are applicable and adaptable to every culture in the world.  I am talking about the model of church we practice. The way we teach and preach.  Our evangelistic models.  Our worship. Our measure of success.  Our goals.

Many people are leaving church because it has simply lost relevance for them.
 They aren't necessarily turning from God, they just refuse to sit in church Sunday after Sunday without their real spiritual needs being met. They are refusing to go through the motions when their lives are broken. They are struggling with addictions, broken relationships, parenting, the economy and a world that is constantly assaulting their  worth and values.  Frankly, the American church -- for the most part --  is not meeting these needs is a real and significant way.

Realizing the need for RELEVANCE, but missing the point entirely, churches have turned to a world based model.  "We need to reach the younger generation," they say, "so let's make church like the world, then we will be relevant. Enter stage right: lights, fog, modern dance, huge-screen TVs, Starbucks, etc. We need to ask the question though, "Will a tall, skinny, sugar-free, Caramel Mocha with soy milk fix a broken heart (for more than a few minutes)?  Will an extra big screen focusing on the drummer make a difference in someone's life (other than perhaps a backslidden drummer)?  How does a fog machine reach into a soul?

Now, lest I offend anyone, if you have or want those things, it is ok (to some degree) with me.  My point is, that is not the relevance people are needing or looking for.   There is nothing inherently sinful about technology or theatrics, if they are tools to help us minister. If they become the "ministry" in and of themselves, it is a problem.  If we think we can attract people with flash and then spoon-feed them the gospel, there is a problem.

Paul lived in a society that was built on Greek philosophy.  He said, "My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom (competing with the philosopher's of the day) but with power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit.  In a direct apples-to-apples comparison, if Paul were around today I don't think he would be advocating the use all the worldly entertainment devices we depend on to make our churches "relevant."

So what would relevance look like if it doesn't come with lights and a show?

I believe real relationships would be number one on the list.  Not the kind that requires a mask to protect one's self from criticism and judgement. Relationships that allow us to feel comfortable with who we are and where we are on our spiritual journey.  Relationships that involve give and take.  One day you are the giver and the next you may be the receiver.  One-sided relationships are never real relationships.  Mostly churches offer a one-sided relationship: We are here to talk and you are here to listen.  Small group dynamic are essential for this type of two-sided relevance.

The second thing on the relevance list would be the power of God.  While this might seem primary, I think that for many the idea of the miraculous is a bit overwhelming.  People who have been in a church that does not pray publicly for people will feel very intimidated about "going down front for prayer."  Many see the people on TV with lavish lifestyles and hear about the scandals and form an opinion about everyone based on a few.  Relationships will pave the way for people to be open to the power of God.  People are simply tired of being told about a powerful, loving God and failing to realize that in their lives.  For many there is a real disconnect between what they hear and believe and what they experience.  They are simply tired and don't know anything else. I have often said that religion is like getting an inoculation:  people get just enough of something to keep them from getting the real thing.

The third thing on the relevance list would be significance.  One of the seven deep psychological needs of a person is to be involved with something bigger than themselves. People want significance and they settle for success.  The church in America has often promoted success as a means of significance.

Success and significance are not the same thing. (I wrote an entire blog article on the difference between success and significance - read it here). The most significant thing a person can do is find their place in the Body of Christ and serve God in the power of the Holy Spirit - whatever that might be.  Jesus said, "I ordained you to bear fruit and that your fruit should remain."  Churches must get past the "noses and nickels" mentality of Church growth.  We must realize that to stop the revolving door we must become relevant.  We must actively purpose to disciple people, help them find their spiritual gifts, their place in the Body of Christ, and allow them the opportunity to develop and grow in their particular ministry,  If people are not developing a sense of significance, they will not stay in a church.  To put it another was, to be relevant we need to make people relevant.  There is even a danger that this statement can be taken wrong. Someone could read this and think we have to make the person feel more welcome or special.  This is not what I am talking about.  I am talking about helping people find their relevance in the world through the Kingdom of God -- and that may or may not look successful in the eyes of the world.

Stop back for Part two of this article and I will discuss Riches and Retention and how they need to be adjusted for sustained growth.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Papua New Guinea: A Christian Nation

August 26 is National Day of Repentance
Prime Minister renounces idolatry and enters into Covenant with the God of Israel

Only time and eternity will tell how significant of an hour this is spiritually for Papua New Guinea (PNG).  The longer I am here the greater sense I get that this is a pivotal time in PNG history and that prayer, Christian workers and resources must be thrown into this harvest field while the harvest is ripe and the doors are wide open for the gospel.

 It seems very odd to me to think that I left the USA, a self-proclaimed Christian Nation (now considered post Christian by many) to become a missionary in one of the least developed countries in the world.  (PNG  is still pretty wild.  Read some earlier blog posts  for different stats on the country.)

The  thing I find so odd is that PNG is also a self-proclaimed Christian nation,  Today is the National Day of Repentance - not National Day of Prayer like in the USA, but Repentance.  It is a national holiday.  It is a day that the government sets aside for the citizens to repent of idolatry and turn to Christ.  Of course for many it is just a day off work,...just like Thanksgiving in the USA.  Many people never bother to give thanks, they just enjoy the holiday and make it about family and food ... and shopping. However many here do take it seriously. There have been reports of whole villages coming together to pray, repent and worship,

A little significant history must be shared. On the 5th of September 2007, then Prime Minister, Founding Father and Grand Chief Michael Somare, prayed and made a public declaration on behalf of the nation:

"I renounce the worship of all idols and evil gods. I renounce all covenants with with evil spirits and demonic powers.  I renounce all their actions and reverse all their evil effects...on this day I pledge our allegiance to serve no other gods but YOU, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit....Lead us into this new beginning to the fulfillment of your plans and destiny for our nation."

Twenty one days later, on the 26th of September 2007 Prime Minister Somare signed a written document entering into covenant with God for the nation.  The document quotes the New Covenant  and Somare wrote:

"I Michael Thomas Somare, Prime Minister do concur with the conditions of this covenant and entreat the Lord on behalf of the people of Papua New Guinea, that god would fulfill the stated intent of this covenant to become applicable to my nation and the peoples who join me today in declaring that the Gd of Israel is also Their God."

That was a mere 8 years ago.  

The Spirit of God has been moving in PNG for several decades now, There are more Foursquare Gospel Churches in PNG than in America.  (PNG is about the size of California.) Today Christianity has great respect and an open door in most places.  There are few Muslims and homosexuality is still a crime. 

My title as "Pastor Steve" here carries more weight than my title Dr. Steve.  Missionaries are honored and churches are respected because they are not only preaching the gospel but they are genuinely meeting the needs of society by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending to the sick and bring education and hope (all that stuff Jesus talked about in the parable of the sheep and the goats) to one of the most underdeveloped nation in the world.  It is a crucial hour for this country.

Today, being the National Day of Repentance, the Holy Spirit is speaking to me that today is the day of salvation for many in PNG,  We must reach this country while the flame is still burning and the harvest is white.  While the door is still open and people are receptive to the gospel. A look back at history will show the sad trail of countries who were once shining lights of the gospel: The middle east, Northern Africa, Greece, Italy, Spain, Germany, Sweden, England, Ireland, Switzerland and others... but those countries have either lost the light or, like the USA, is allowing the lamps to burn out.

But in PNG and other places in the world the lamps are burning bright,  The laborers are few for sure but we have a promise that if we ask God to thrust laborers into the harvest field He will do it, I share this with you today because the need is great and the window of opportunity to impacts the Kingdom of God for eternity is wide open.  We don't know how long it will be open.  Certainly the spiritual battles rages, but satan is on the defensive right now and losing losing ground.  If history repeats itself as it has in the past, the nation can lose that gain and actually become worse off then before, There are reasons for this that I don't have time to go into here.  But suffice to say when the gospel stops changing society and becomes a part of society, the beginning of the end is pretty close.

I would like to appeal to you to consider investing in PNG with prayer, finances, support for workers and, of course, by opening your heart to God to see if His will for your life includes coming to PNG for short-term or long-term missions work.  You can be a part of the exciting and strategic move of God's Spirit in this country.  Albert Einstein once said, "Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value."  

One thing that is so great about being here is that every little thing you do HAS TREMENDOUS VALUE TO THE MEN WOMAN AND CHILDREN OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA.

Please join us in making a difference in PNG,