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.

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?



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.