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.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Strategic Living


Strategic Living

As I was praying about 2019 I kept hearing the word strategic coming to mind. I believe with all my heart that this is a strategic time in the Kingdom of God.  The word strategic carries with it some significant thoughts.  I looked at several dictionaries to get a working definition of strategic. Allow me to mash them together to create a definition. 

Pertaining to the identification and implementation of plans to achieve the specified long-term goals of an individual or organization.

That is a powerful thought.  If 2019 is a strategic time we should carefully consider our working definition.  What are the elements of strategy?

First there are the “specified, long-term goals.”  In a nut shell, this is vision.  There are two things to consider here:

1.      What is God’s purpose for this season in the church as a whole, and more specifically, your particular part in the kingdom?  It is unfortunate that Evangelicalism has so individualized the Christian experience that we no longer think in terms of the “big picture.”  God has long-term, strategic plans and goals for and through the church (Ephesians 3:10). Does God’s “big picture” will take precedence over our little piece of the kingdom? Yes indeed! The plans and purposes are from eternity past to eternity future. Our brief tenure in the earthly Kingdom is small part of something far greater.  We have to stop praying and acting as if what happens in my life (lifetime) is all that matters. Consider how the writer of Hebrews sums up the entire Old Testament population, “God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us (Hebrews 11:40). I think it is safe to assume that future generations might say the same thing.  Our lives are a small part of a very big whole. That doesn’t make us meaningless or insignificant.  Every man and woman of God played their part in their generation. I love what the Bible says about King David, “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep….” (Acts 13:36 emphasis mine.)

2.       What are you trying to accomplish long-term?  For many people their long-term goal is to get through the week.  This may sound crass, but how many Christians actually have long-term spiritual goals?  Perhaps everyone does, if we include going to heaven – but what about here on earth? What are you supposed to accomplish for the Kingdom of God in 2019?

For many years I wore several hats. I was a pastor, online Christian counselor, and I owned a full time business.  I also did a variety of ministry things like jail ministry, writing and more. During this period of time I would often see myself as the little silver ball in a pinball game table. I would be moving one direction at a high rate of speed, then, bang, I would hit a bumper and shoot off in a different direction. I think I suffered spiritual whiplash. (Can anyone relate to my analogy?) Honestly, I was so busy doing “stuff” that I could not be strategic.  It was all good stuff, too. People were being touched and ministered to in significant ways. I enjoyed doing most of it, but I had no ability to be strategic.  Many projects got started but never finished. My long-term goal was to prepare for the next ministry opportunity.   

A long time ago I learned  the psychological fact that people either act, or react to things.  Reacting is an involuntary response.  For instance you may see a snake in the grass and scream and jump back.  You didn’t even have time to think through a response, you just did it as an automatic reaction.  Sometimes reaction is good – like in the case of stepping on a snake.  However you cannot live your live effectively simply reacting to everything. People who do this are always caught up in some sort of Jr. High-type drama. They are carried along by their emotions and opinions, and little – if any – ever changes in their life because they never learn to act with decision and purpose.

Action, on the other hand, is a planned response.  “This happened and I will do  this as a result.”  Or, perhaps even more importantly, “I will do this, IF that happens.”  We have thought about and planned our actions in advance. Having made good decisions before they are needed keeps us from reacting poorly. Reactionary people never make much ground. Action oriented people do.

Strategic living requires knowing your purpose and where you are headed.  It means you have heard something from God. You can do lots of things, but are you doing what you are called to do – where you are  called to do it? The second half of that statement is as important as the first part.

King Solomon said this, “Without a vision the people perish.”  (Proverbs 29:18) The Amplified Bible puts it this way, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.”  A more modern proverb says it a  bit differently, “If you aim at nothing you will hit it every time.”

Too many individuals, churches and organizations spend a lot of time, money and effort and don’t really accomplish much because, either they have not identified their purpose, or the business of doing the work takes them off course. I can’t help but remember a sober arning Jesus gave. He said many would come to him on the day of accounting and point out all the wonderful works they  had done in His name.  He said, “Depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.” Iniquity is the word for self-will.  Basically Jesus said, you were not doing my will, you were doing your will in my name. They had activity and supposed results. They were using Jesus’ name. To the casual bystander they were successful Christian ministries. Jesus though otherwise. 

This is not some judgemental statement in my part.  It is an assessment tool for each of us to make sure we have the mind of God and are accomplishing the will of God.  Jesus would not have said it if it were not going to be a reality. “Many will come….”

What are you aiming at? Anything? Nothing? Some vague idea of what you might want some day?  It is time to become more strategic than ever before.  Strategy requires visions and goals.  Write them down.  The Spirit of God told the prophet Habakkuk, “Write the vision and make it plain…” I encourage you to define and write your vision and mission statements and let them guide you in your Christian life.

The second part of strategic living involves identifying the plans to achieve the goals and vision.  The best plans will never materialize if there are no steps taken to realize them.  This involves the HOW of strategy.  How will you achieve your vision? Basically this is the brainstorming time.  What plans need to be made?  What resources will be needed?  Who might need to be included? What methods will be used to assess the level of success along the way. Identifying the ways and means is important. Having a God-given vision without a plan simply won’t work. While your plan needs to be flexible and adjustable along the way, you have to have a plan to move forward.

I am a chess player. Chess is a strategy game. There is no luck involved.  There is no roll of the dice or deal of a card.  If you win it is because you thought further ahead than your opponent did.  Chess player who react to their opponent’s moves lose quickly. The goal of chess is to force your opponent to move where you want him too. You have already thought several moves ahead and know where you want to push your enemy.  I can think of no better analogy for the spiritual battle that we are in than a chess game.

The devil has a strategy and he is at work to maneuver you into  potion to lose.  On the other hand, God has a strategy and has, at times used the devil to accomplish His long-term plans and goals.  Consider the cross.  The devil moved the religious people with pride, self-righteousness and hatred and got them to crucify Jesus.  This played right into God’s plans. In God’s mind, Jesus was the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), He simply maneuvered the devil into fulfilling His will.

Strategy has both long and short-term goals. Have you ever written down the things you feel like God wants you to do?  Have you considered what strategy it might take to fulfill them?  If not, take some time to plan.  Develop a strategy. Remember the wisdom mentioned above, “without a vision the people run unrestrained.”

The third part of strategy is implementation. You simply have to act.  If your plans are in line with God’s will you have the assurance that He is working with you. Twice in John 15 (verses7-8 and verse 16) Jesus made a very powerful promise that many Christians fail to appropriate.  In fact, because of a false application, they literally rob the promise of its power. That promise is that we could ask anything we desired in His name and it would be done for us.  That indeed is a powerful promise. However in the immediate context of the story and the individual verses the theme is fruitfulness.  The promise actually was not generic.  It was specifically that we could ask for anything we desire – or need – to be fruitful for the Kingdom of God.  This was not a blank Check with Jesus’ signature on it.  It was a promise, that in the course of serving the purposes of God, you could ask for and receive whatever you needed, “That you should bear fruit and your fruit should be remain.” By simply tacking Jesus’ name to the end of every prayer waters this verse down and ends up producing doubt when self-oriented prayers don’t get the answers we were expecting.

Strategy has to be acted on.  Sometimes this means we have to forego one plan of action in favor of another.  The question should not be what can I do, but what should I do. We have to sort these things out in our strategy plan.  I can do lots of things, but which are the most important – or most strategic.  On the other hand I often want to do things I am not really able to do, due to a lack of training or gifting.  Some Christians spend their lives doing what they can. Others spend their lives trying to do what they can’t. Both often miss their strategic purpose in life.

So, with a vision and goals in hand and plans made, we start to act to strategically bring about the purpose of God in and through our lives in context of the eternal purposes of God.

I share this last thought – perhaps seemingly a bit off topic – as way of providing a prophetic word within a word. In other words: someone needs to hear this.

In December 2018 I had the privilege of speaking to the Enga Province, Foursquare Christmas Camp in Papua New Guinea. The theme was doing the will of the Father.  As I was speaking, the Spirit of God emphasized a very strong message.  Sometimes the will of God changes and we have to be willing to change with it.  Some miss God’s strategic purpose in their life because they never consider that God’s plans and purposes might shift in regards to how He uses them. Over the past 38 years I have had to continually discern and adjust to stay in God’s will. Jesus said the Holy Spirit was like the wind. It blew where it wanted, when it wanted.  To get to your destination you have to adjust your sails to catch the wind to propel you to your destination.  The same wind that drives your boat can also blow against you if your sails are not set right.  

Over the past 38 years I have to constantly discern and adjust to the Spirit of God directing my life. God has called me to different ministries and then closed the door on those ministries when they no longer served His purpose.  I was called to places and then called away.  You can not assume that once God does something in your life that it will never change.   For some reading this, you will discover that God’s strategic plan for you is changing in 2019.

Live strategically this year/





Sunday, September 2, 2018

My Soul is Convinced .... But I Know Not How!


I was up to my neck in hot water―literally.  I was laying in my antique, six-foot long, claw foot bath tub, filled to the rim with water as hot as I could stand it. That tub was my favorite place to escape from the pressures of business, ministry and the cares of the world. 

It is there I often have my most intimate discussions with God.  That night I heard myself say, “My soul is convinced, but I know not how….”
The journey of the last few years has included a lot of changes.  Most of those changes have come as bits and pieces of revelation of what the Kingdom of God, and God’s eternal purposes, are really all about.  It started some fifteen years ago when I was pastor of a small church in Rockville, MO.  It grew during a year and a half of seeking God outside of formal connection with a local church.  It gained expression when I helped to start a new, nontraditional church.  It took on a different expression when I moved to Papua New Guinea to serve on the mission field.  It is becoming more defined as I continue to seek the Lord for truth and reality.  I expect it will find its culmination in a legitimate expression of the Body of Christ on the earth in the last days.
That night, more than ever,  I felt my soul convinced that God is expecting something much different than what we experience as 21st century Evangelical Christians.  I know I am about to slay the sacred cow of evangelicalism, but what if Christianity isn’t just about getting a ticket to heaven and trying to live a moral life until we get there?
What if the gospel message could not be summed up in the Four Spiritual Laws or the Roman’s Road to Salvation?  What if it was more than just ‘having your sins forgiven,’ or ‘giving your heart to God,’ or ‘getting saved?’  What if you couldn’t explain the essence of Christianity in a 4″ x 6″ tri fold tract?
My soul is convinced―after several years of frustration, prayer, thought, meditation and seeking­―that what we have come to accept as normal church experience in the past century is not at all what God intended.  I’ll be quick to say that He has used it―as He has always uses imperfect people and means to declare His great power and glory.  However, I am also sure His use of our methods does not necessarily indicate His satisfaction with them.
“My Soul is convinced.…”  I found myself in a quandary.  I am thoroughly convinced of something I am not quite sure how to express or even achieve.  “But I know not how ….”  The knowing of a thing is much different from the doing of a thing.
It is that moment when revelation sweeps away the last excuse for the status quo and you’re left with the stark realization you just can’t do things the same way you used to do them. However, you are not sure what or how to do them differently. 
What, you might ask, am I even talking about?  I think it mostly has to do with the way we do Christianity.  The things we emphasize and the way we present the message. 
It is the emphasis of a ticket to heaven gospel that avoids the requirements of making God the central part of our lives.  In his challenging book The Cost of Discipleship, WWII era German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. heap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
It is the fact that we place far more importance on the organization of church than the organism of the Body of Christ. The  modern, western version of Christianity is  about more events and programs and presentations and such.  It should be about Christ; and honestly, with all our protestations, it is not.  Church is often about how can we get more people so we can get more money, to do more things and get a bigger building to get more people―ad nauseum.
I am disillusioned with the ineffectiveness of a watered down gospel that is only about having your sins forgiven.  The only requirement is to say a prayer. The gospel is about much more than having your sins forgiven.  Being born again is just the beginning―not the end―of our salvation.  Paul tells us in Romans 8:14, “Those that are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.”  How does that fit in with our easy believism that is preached today?
I am frustrated with a professional clergy and pastoral system that hinders the true expression of the Body of Christ, while burning out men and women of God.  It is the fact that most pastors are taught that their key responsibilities are to preach sermons, run the organization and keep people in church (a difficult combination to say the least).  What happened to discipleship―real discipleship where young Christians are raised up to serve the Lord―not just coaxed and coddled to stay in church.  What has happened to developing and mentoring new ministries within the church and allowing them to have space to serve and grow? 
I am embarrassed by the political rhetoric coming out of the religious right.  The anger and hatred being spewed in the name of Jesus brings more harm to the Kingdom of God than just about any other thing.  I’ve been shocked to hear ‘evangelical Christians’   resort to mockery, lies and misinformation to malign the folks they oppose politically.  The truth is, Jesus said, “love your enemies.”  He also said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”  It is not that Christians should distance themselves from politics―it is that Christians should act like Christians in politics.  What is being expressed by the political/religious right is not the character of Christ.  It is scary to me that so many Christians ae buying into it and calling it the Kingdom of God.  That movement needs to repent.
My soul is not just convinced of what I am against.  Christians should not be known mostly for what they are opposed to, but rather what they stand for
I am convinced that the genuine expression of Christianity has a lot more to do with love than we care to imagine.  Not a love that condones or excuses sin.  A love that overcomes sin with forgiveness and grace and resurrection power.  A Christianity that presents Christ, not in anger at unrighteousness, but in love of the unrighteous.
My soul is convinced that a true expression of Christianity has a lot more to do with serving others―even to the point of sacrifice―than it is about being more comfortable as a Christian.  It embraces the truth that, “if we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him.” 
I am convinced that God is wanting to do more in us, and through us than ever before, but the current religious structure we worship keeps Him at a distance. There is a shaking coming to the church.  Some will endure it and some will not.  I want to get rid of the “shakable” now so I will not be greatly moved in the coming days of shaking.
“See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake  not only the earth, but also heaven.”  Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”  Hebrews 12:25-29
God is shaking things up―let Him do it.  God is changing things

My Soul is Convinced, But I know Not How…

I was up to my neck in hot water―literally.  I was laying in my antique, six foot long, claw foot bath tub, filled to the rim with water as hot as I could stand it.  That tub was my favorite place to escape from the pressures of business, ministry and the cares of the world. 
It is there I often have my most intimate discussions with God.  That night I heard myself say, “My soul is convinced, but I know not how….”
The journey of the last few years has included a lot of changes.  Most of those changes have come as bits and pieces of revelation of what the Kingdom of God, and God’s eternal purposes, are really all about.  It started some fifteen years ago when I was pastor of a small church in Rockville, MO.  It grew during a year and a half of seeking God outside of formal connection with a local church.  It gained expression when I helped to start a new, nontraditional church.  It took on a different expression when I moved to Papua New Guinea to serve on the mission field.  It is becoming more defined as I continue to seek the Lord for truth and reality.  I expect it will find its culmination in a legitimate expression of the Body of Christ on the earth in the last days.
That night, more than ever,  I felt my soul convinced that God is expecting something much different than what we experience as 21st century Evangelical Christians.  I know I am about to slay the sacred cow of evangelicalism, but what if Christianity isn’t just about getting a ticket to heaven and trying to live a moral life until we get there?
What if the gospel message could not be summed up in the Four Spiritual Laws or the Roman’s Road to Salvation?  What if it was more than just ‘having your sins forgiven,’ or ‘giving your heart to God,’ or ‘getting saved?’  What if you couldn’t explain the essence of Christianity in a 4″ x 6″ tri fold tract?
My soul is convinced―after several years of frustration, prayer, thought, meditation and seeking­―that what we have come to accept as normal church experience in the past century is not at all what God intended.  I’ll be quick to say that He has used it―as He has always uses imperfect people and means to declare His great power and glory.  However, I am also sure His use of our methods does not necessarily indicate His satisfaction with them.
“My Soul is convinced.…”  I found myself in a quandary.  I am thoroughly convinced of something I am not quite sure how to express or even achieve.  “But I know not how ….”  The knowing of a thing is much different from the doing of a thing.
It is that moment when revelation sweeps away the last excuse for the status quo and you’re left with the stark realization you just can’t do things the same way you used to do them. However, you are not sure what or how to do them differently. 
What, you might ask, am I even talking about?  I think it mostly has to do with the way we do Christianity.  The things we emphasize and the way we present the message. 
It is the emphasis of a ticket to heaven gospel that avoids the requirements of making God the central part of our lives.  In his challenging book The Cost of Discipleship, WWII era German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. heap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
It is the fact that we place far more importance on the organization of church than the organism of the Body of Christ. The  modern, western version of Christianity is  about more events and programs and presentations and such.  It should be about Christ; and honestly, with all our protestations, it is not.  Church is often about how can we get more people so we can get more money, to do more things and get a bigger building to get more people―ad nauseum.
I am disillusioned with the ineffectiveness of a watered down gospel that is only about having your sins forgiven.  The only requirement is to say a prayer. The gospel is about much more than having your sins forgiven.  Being born again is just the beginning―not the end―of our salvation.  Paul tells us in Romans 8:14, “Those that are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.”  How does that fit in with our easy believism that is preached today?
I am frustrated with a professional clergy and pastoral system that hinders the true expression of the Body of Christ, while burning out men and women of God.  It is the fact that most pastors are taught that their key responsibilities are to preach sermons, run the organization and keep people in church (a difficult combination to say the least).  What happened to discipleship―real discipleship where young Christians are raised up to serve the Lord―not just coaxed and coddled to stay in church.  What has happened to developing and mentoring new ministries within the church and allowing them to have space to serve and grow? 
I am embarrassed by the political rhetoric coming out of the religious right.  The anger and hatred being spewed in the name of Jesus brings more harm to the Kingdom of God than just about any other thing.  I’ve been shocked to hear ‘evangelical Christians’   resort to mockery, lies and misinformation to malign the folks they oppose politically.  The truth is, Jesus said, “love your enemies.”  He also said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”  It is not that Christians should distance themselves from politics―it is that Christians should act like Christians in politics.  What is being expressed by the political/religious right is not the character of Christ.  It is scary to me that so many Christians ae buying into it and calling it the Kingdom of God.  That movement needs to repent.
My soul is not just convinced of what I am against.  Christians should not be known mostly for what they are opposed to, but rather what they stand for
I am convinced that the genuine expression of Christianity has a lot more to do with love than we care to imagine.  Not a love that condones or excuses sin.  A love that overcomes sin with forgiveness and grace and resurrection power.  A Christianity that presents Christ, not in anger at unrighteousness, but in love of the unrighteous.
My soul is convinced that a true expression of Christianity has a lot more to do with serving others―even to the point of sacrifice―than it is about being more comfortable as a Christian.  It embraces the truth that, “if we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him.” 
I am convinced that God is wanting to do more in us, and through us than ever before, but the current religious structure we worship keeps Him at a distance. There is a shaking coming to the church.  Some will endure it and some will not.  I want to get rid of the “shakable” now so I will not be greatly moved in the coming days of shaking.
“See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake  not only the earth, but also heaven.”  Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”  Hebrews 12:25-29

God is changing things―don't be afraid.
God is shaking things up―let Him do it.  
That which remains cannot be shaken.  It you lose it in the shaking, it was never really of eternal worth anyway.  That which remains cannot be shaken.  It you lose it in the shaking, it was never really of eternal worth anyway.  Be blessed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

You are a Hand-crafted Masterpiece



You are God’s craftsmanship, created in Jesus, for a purpose.

For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live]. Ephesians 2:10 Amplified Bible

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul reveals a startling truth. God has been handcrafting your life for a purpose. There are two things that are revealed here. 

(Photo: a carved dolphin from East New
Brittan Island Brooke got me for my
birthday last year.)
First, handcrafted items are beautiful and valuable things. In an age of mass production and cheap knock-offs, it is important to know God does not mass-produce Christians–He handcrafts them.  He is handcrafting YOU! 

God takes the raw materials of your life – your experience, personality, education, the good, the bad and the ugly – and begins creating something of beauty, value and usefulness. This work starts the the minute you accepted Jesus as your Savior. it will not end until Christ comes back.

"And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you." Philippians 1:6 Amplpified Bible
A craftsmen can look at a piece of wood, a rock or a lump of clay and imagine what the finished product will look like - before he starts. The unskilled eye sees nothing but a stick or a rock.  The craftsman sees a masterpiece. Slowly but surely the excess material that hides the final image is removed and the masterpiece takes shape. This is God’s work in your life. Throughout your life God removes the unnecessary and futile things that take away from God's will and purpose in your life.  Bit by bit - experience by experience - year by year - you are transformed into the image of Christ.

For those whom He foreknew [of whom He wasaware andloved beforehand], He also destined from the beginning [foreordaining them] to be molded into the image of His Son [and share inwardly His likeness], that He might become the firstborn among many brethren. Romans 8:29 Amplified Bible

The second thing to note in the Ephesian passage is that each person is handcrafted for a purpose. 

Jesus did not save you just to get you to heaven.  God has a plan and a purpose for you, here on earth, before you leave this life for eternity. The Bible speaks much of rewards and crowns for those who serve and overcome.

Paul said that God's plan and purpose for your life was preordained for you.  You don’t have to talk God into using you,or struggle figuring out what you are to do for Him.  He already knows your purpose and He will be glad to tell you if you just ask. 

Jesus saved you for a purpose, and God has been at work in your life to make you into a vessel that can be used for that specific purpose.  That is why you are unique – and uniquely qualified – to serve God in the thing He has called you to do. 

Many people can not figure out why things have happened in their lives. While there are a few reasons for confusing things, the Bible assures us of two things:

1. God works in every circumstance to make us what He wants us to be.
We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose. Romans 8:28
2. God's redeems our lives - and everything about them - if we let Him.  Redemption means to buy-back.  When God redeems us we belong to Him - the good, the bad and the ugly.  As He works in our life, all of those things are redeemed - converted to the purpose of His kingdom. Sin that was once a source of guilt and shame becomes the testimony that sets others free.  The redemption of the hurts and abuses we have suffered become the storyline that gives others, in the same situation, hope!  But these things only happen in context of God's plan and purpose for your life. Otherwise these life-experiences just seem pointless and worthless. Bad things have happened to all of us.  In Christ even the bad things become a positive when we allow God to redeem them and use us according ot His plan.

In Matthew 24 & 25 Jesus spoke several parables.  These parables all deal with the truth of Jesus giving His servants something to do - and returning at a future time to require an accounting and give out rewards or consequences.  

Jesus did not save you to sit in church. He saved you for a purpose in His kingdom and your life will never make sense until you find that plan and purpose. True fulfillment is only found in God's destiny for your life.

Do you know your purpose? Are You fulfilling it? 

If you need to discuss these thoughts, please contact me and I will be glad to visit with you about finding and fulfilling God's plan and purpose in you life.
Just email me: steve@stevehighlander.com


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 (travelingteams.org)  to 7040  groups containing 3.14 billion people) (The Joshua Project www.joshuaproject.org) 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.   http://stevehighlander.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Become-a-Virtual-Missionary.pdf





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?