Essential in the Kingdom

The dictionary defines the word essential as absolutely necessary; extremely important.  During this current pandemic the government has found it necessary to decide which businesses it deems essential and which ones are not. Businesses have had to make the same call with their employees. Many of these decisions have been met with controversy and caused great pain. We have discovered it is very hard to come to a consensus in such an important matter.

Recently, during a time of prayer and meditation, I began to think about Kingdom essentials.  I thought about today’s church and wondered how God saw it. I thought about many things that happen every day under the cover of religion and asked myself, “does God view these things to be important?” I thought about many of our church traditions (ministries) and began to consider if they still served a useful purpose and would the Father call them vital to His plan.  

Quite frankly, this exercise was somewhat uncomfortable. I have spent my life serving God through His church. Because of my deep love for the church, I sometimes become very defensive and find it hard to be critical. But on this particular day, I felt the need to look deep and let the Lord speak to me.

Over the years it has been easy for many churches to be judgmental toward the world and even other churches, but the inward look was one they chose not to take. They have continued to stir in the ashes of a former revival and found solace in what God did there in a bygone day. As attendance decreases and community impact becomes almost non-existent, they continue to claim the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Something isn’t right. 

It seems to me the time has come for the spotlight to turn toward us. What does God see when He looks at us? What should our focus be? What ensures we make the essential list? It’s really not that complicated but it is important. Maybe we could start by answering the following questions:

  1. Is Jesus being lifted up? The church has always been prone to identify with personalities.  Even in the New Testament we read of groups in the church at Corinth who attached themselves to Apollos while others identified with Paul. The same occurs today.  Some follow a preacher while others link themselves to a church/denomination. Whereas there is no problem having a favorite preacher or committing to a church, our first allegiance must be to Jesus. Intentional effort must be made by church leaders to ensure people are being pointed to Jesus. Any effort to elevate man over Jesus is nothing short of idolatry.
  1. Is fruit being produced? It is the Father’s plan for His church to bear fruit. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2) Stagnant, stale, cold, lifeless…these can never be words associated with His church. Something must be happening – life must be happening! People must be growing and engaged in ministry.  God is not concerned as we are with size or prominence; He is looking for fruit – fruit that remains to His glory. 
  1. Is God blessing? Here is a simple rule of thumb for ministry – God blesses what He ordains. This does not mean there will not be trials and difficult seasons but, even in those times, you will see His hand and know He is with you. It’s not your church; it’s His. It’s not your ministry; it’s His. He will ensure His work accomplishes what it is intended to do.

    The challenge for us to make sure we are involved in ministry He has, indeed, ordered.  Instead of praying for God to bless your plan; ask God what plan He wants to bless.  When we come to Him with a blank sheet of paper and allow Him to lead in our planning, He will take us to places of genuine victory and blessing.  He will bless what He ordains.
  1. Would anyone notice if you went away? This is such an ugly thought but one that should be considered. Ministry must be more than programs and profit; it must be about people. Kingdom efforts are vertically connected to God and horizontally connected to people.  

    Too often churches operate in a spiritually theoretical world and struggle with the practical. We know our goal is save souls and prepare people for eternity not fully realizing the way to accomplish this must pass through a person’s reality. We want to get the Gospel into the hearts of people – we know that is their greatest need. But this will have a hard time happening if we don’t understand in order to get into someone’s heart we must first get into their world. It is this willingness to go where the people are that endears one to a ministry and to our Lord.

Over the past several months I’ve heard the word shift used a lot when discussing future ministry in the church. What I think I understood when this was mentioned was change was coming – that there would be different and new ways of doing ministry. But I am really thinking now it is much more than this. Deep in my heart I believe the time has come for the essential to step up and the non-essential to step aside. We have arrived at a crucial moment in time.

These are days when the heavens and the earth are being shaken. We may not want to think about it, but ministry is being affected by this shaking. Because of this, I reluctantly write I believe the coming days will see a significant number of local churches/ministries close. This saddens me greatly, but some simply will not survive the challenges of these times.

But it is with great excitement I write these times will see the greatest expansion of the Kingdom in the history of the world! The Holy Spirit is being poured out on those ministries who are opening themselves to Him. Those who are willing to dig deep into the wells of His Word will draw the water of His Spirit that will produce life in abundance! This is the day of miraculous multiplication! I really believe this!

The difference between those who do not survive and those who flourish is focusing on the elements God considers essential. Remember, God is not interested in protecting your posterity or promoting your personality, He is building His Kingdom! When we choose to fully partner with Him in this process, we overcome any and every obstacle in the way – we can’t lose!

I want to make the cut. I want to be essential to my Father. My prayer is you will join me in doing whatever we have to do for this to happen. 

Stop, Look, and Listen

Many years ago, as a result of a much-publicized safety campaign, a slogan was chosen to place at railroad crossings to alert oncoming traffic of an approaching railroad track.  The slogan was simple and to the point, but the message was crystal clear.  Drivers were told to Stop, Look and Listen.  No doubt many lives were saved because of this posted message.

As I write this article, the world is experiencing a massive pandemic unlike anything we have seen in my lifetime.  Each day numbers rise of those infected by Covid-19 and no one seems to know when it will end.  Scientific researchers are working feverishly to find a cure and our dedicated medical professionals are working around-the-clock to save as many lives as possible.  I, like so many others, am praying for divine intervention.  We know God is able to move and give us an “only God could have done it” ending to this crisis.

But as I pray, I keep sensing there is something God is wanting to do before it all goes away. (I’m not saying God has caused this crisis, but He is certainly working through it.)  I’m sure I don’t know the full extent of it, but I believe He is working through this trial of fire with the intent of bringing us out as pure gold.  He is speaking and revelation is coming to those who are listening.  The foundation of every realm of our society is being shaken but I am confident the result will be the discovery of things that cannot be shaken.  This is a challenging time, no doubt, but it could be a pivotal point in history if we will allow the plan of God to have its full effect.  

As I sit in my home during this time of quarantine, my mind is being drawn back to a childhood memory of that railroad crossing sign. Those three words of warning are being illuminated in my spirit and I sense God is speaking to me.  It just could be that simple sign from a long time ago could be direction for our present situation.  

STOP!  A few weeks ago, our world totally changed.  It’s like we went to bed one night and woke up the next morning in a totally different time.  The way we were used to doing business couldn’t be done anymore. We’ve been forced to find new ways to do just about everything – work, education, church…  It’s unbelievable!

I am especially encouraged, however, by the way the church has rallied to ensure the work and message of Jesus Christ continues to be communicated.  As a matter of fact, more people are receiving the message today than at any other time in history!  The church has, indeed, left the building and is being deployed across the globe.

But here is my concern – we must not use this time to simply find new ways to do what we have always done.  The familiar may need to be our short-term response but we cannot settle there.   This is the season to expand our borders and go where we’ve dreamed about going but could never quite reach. This will not happen while we are speeding down the much-traveled highway of the expected.  It will only come to those who are willing to slow down and take some time to get into His presence.

If we will stop long enough, we will find the Holy Spirit is wanting to do a fresh, new thing in His church.  The new wine of the Spirit is being made available to those desiring it.  We must not let the “busyness” of continuation keep us from receiving this blessing.

LOOK!  Several years ago, I drove a van full of fellow ministers to a conference.  One of my friends who was an avid outdoorsman sat in the middle seat directly behind me and leaned forward to talk throughout the entire trip.  Our discussions were non-stop about a variety of subjects.  As we would be waxing warm on some topic, my friend would quickly insert, “Look, there is a hawk on that highline wire!”  I would look and, sure enough, I would see that beautiful bird.  We would continue our conversation when suddenly my friend would say, “Look, there is a deer out in that field.”  I would look and, sure enough, I would see the deer.  This kind of interruption happened many times as we traveled and talked that day.

As much time as I spent driving every week, I rarely saw God’s beautiful creation the way I did that day travelling with my friend.  He seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to spotting wildlife.  Then it hit me – my friend loved and spent a lot of time in the outdoors. He had trained his eyes to see what I usually missed.  Regardless of what was going on, part of him was tuned in to spot what he truly enjoyed.  Then the life-lesson came – you usually see what you are looking for! 

I have tried to apply this lesson throughout my life as I’ve approached various situations.  I believe it is especially applicable to where we find ourselves in the church right now.  We need spiritual eyes that are open to see what the Holy Spirit is wanting to show us.

We have got to look past the clutter that usually dominates our attention.  We’ve got to see the ripened harvest that we have not yet touched.  We’ve got to see the laborers God has called but we have not yet noticed.  We have got to see the opportunities that heretofore we have not even considered.  We have got to see what the carnal mind misses and only the spiritually attuned and sensitive eyes can behold.

LISTEN!  A lot of different voices are speaking today.  The media, politicians and experts in all shapes and sizes are giving us their opinion and influencing our thinking.  The noise is deafening and, quite frankly, alarming.  Whereas we should not be ignorant of events and we need good information to make sound decisions, I’m afraid much of what we are hearing is more fear-driven than it is faith-driven.  Not all voices deserve our attention.

In the process of sifting through the many voices in my ear right now, I seem to be hearing a still small voice asking a question that deserves an answer, “What is the Spirit saying to the church?”  I have no doubt He is speaking and what He is saying needs to be heard.  I don’t want to assume I know what it is.  My assumption is probably clouded by my heritage and experience.  I don’t want to miss this divine revelation because I think I already know.  I owe it to myself and those I serve to listen to the One who is all-knowing and has a plan already devised for my victory.

In the mid 80’s I lived in a city with a General Motors Assembly plant.  It was announced one day a decision had been made to discontinue production of the vehicle being built at that particular plant.  A new vehicle model would begin production in a few months but in the meantime the plant would be closed.  It was being closed for RETOOLING.  The tools and processes needed to build the old car would not work for the new one.  It would take a little while to make the necessary changes, but once they were made, the plant would reopen to maximum capacity and a new exciting model of vehicle would begin production.

Could it be…could it be this is what the church is experiencing right now?  Could it be the message that has been preached all my life about a last day revival and a massive ingathering of the harvest is about to happen?  Could it be the tools and processes that have brought us to this place will not be the same ones needed in this new season?  Could it be God is giving us an opportunity to evaluate and fix; evaluate and shore-up or evaluate and change?  Could it be this is our time to reset?  Could it be…could it be?

I think I can say with a true sense of certainty, when this pandemic ends (and it will) our world will look a lot different than it did before this whole thing started.  This prediction is not intended to be gloomy and negative.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never been more excited about my future and ministry than I am right now!  I have lived for this moment – I get to be part of a great spiritual outpouring!  I don’t want to miss it.  I have chosen to use this time to prepare my heart and allow God to work in me.  My heart cries out, “Here am I, Lord.  Send me.”

I challenge you to get ready for something truly spectacular in your life and ministry!  Refuse to let fear have a place in your heart.  Remember to whom you belong and know He has called you to the Kingdom for such a time as this.  Don’t get comfortable though…don’t settle.  God wants to do something fresh in you.  He wants to take you where you’ve never been.  It’s time for those God-dreams to come true. It is your time!  This will all become clear if you are willing to Stop, Look and Listen. 

Rising to the Challenge

Rising to the Challenge

By necessity every level of leadership in any organization, including the church, must give diligent attention to methods and management. Systems are developed to allow these to be delivered and appropriated in every situation. These systems are there to provide order and create a path that moves the organization along in a prescribed manner.  We call it administration. It’s a good idea and even one ordained in Scripture.

Successful organizations will always be supported by pillars of absolutes. These are non-negotiable tenets. They are set in stone.  Everyone in the organization knows what they are and has a firm commitment to them. These absolutes establish the very reason for the life of the organization.

Along with the absolutes will be other moving parts allowing the organization to adjust to situations and events. These moving parts are the systems mentioned in the first paragraph of this article. They can be adjusted and modified to accommodate the present need. They are not set in stone. They should always be seen as tools.

When you understand an organization must be grounded by absolutes supported by systems, you can say that organization must be steadfast yet flexible. It must be firmly established on a solid foundation while agile enough to adapt to the changing climate it is called to address. It must be entrenched in its purpose but not in its methods.

These facts cannot be ignored by the church of the 21st century. We have to be careful to remain true to the foundational absolutes upon which we have been built. We must also continually hone the delivery systems necessary to keep us effective in these constantly changing times.

What are the absolutes for the church? Some may put together a long list but I believe they could all be combined into two areas – the Word of God and what I like to call the love mandate.

The Word of God. When time is no more, the Word of God will still be.  It is God-breathed and infallible. It has stood the test of time and remains as relevant today as when it was written. It is the litmus test for all questions and disputes. Nothing man says or does can supersede it. Church doctrine and practice must begin and end with the Word. It is THE absolute for the church.

The Love Mandate. The purpose and mission of everything the church is and does must be driven by one thing – love. Our time with God in prayer and worship is inspired by love. Our service is motivated by what motived Him – love. The words of our Lord, Himself, capture the importance and priority of love:

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”  (Mark 12:30-31)

These foundational principles cannot be considered optional or elective. They are not affected by culture or opinion. They are always absolute for every church everywhere.

The great challenge for the contemporary church is ensuring its systems are adequate to deliver the message and keep it in a position for mass effectiveness. The assumption our methods of operation do not need adjustment is the assumption that was made by many formerly successful, yet now non-existent, businesses and churches. We must not die because of system failure.

Here are some facts to consider:

  • Absolutes are sacred; systems are not.
  • Absolutes are why we exist; systems are tools to accomplish the mission.
  • Healthy organizations will continually adjust/tweak/change systems.
  • There is great danger when we choose to worship at the altar of our systems.

The present challenges facing the church are no match for our message. As a matter of fact, our message is the answer to these challenges! Now, as never before, the world needs to hear what we have been preaching for years – there is hope and help in Jesus! He will bring us through this storm victoriously!

The present challenges, however, are testing our systems. Our delivery methods are under attack. If we ignore this and assume that once the storm subsides we will return to business as usual, we could find ourselves in a very bad place. But if we are willing to be placed on God’s potter’s wheel and submit to a time of remolding and retooling, we can be positioned for greatness. Instead of this being the beginning of the end, it can be the beginning of our best days!

The following questions need to be asked by any church desiring to have a place and be strong in these times:

  • What has God called your church to be and do?
  • Do your present methods/structure place you in a position to accomplish this?
  • If not, what needs to happen for you to align with His plan?

The tasks may feel daunting but God will help us. I am encouraged by something that happened to Nehemiah when he found himself in need of the Lord’s help. Nehemiah 7:5 (MEV) says, “So my God put an idea in my mind…”  I believe if we will pray and listen, God will speak. He will instruct and lead us to fresh and innovative methods that will glorify Him and increase our harvest. 

I am not blind to the obstacles we face – they are real and must not be ignored. At the same time, I am confidently mindful of the promise of Jesus that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church. I’m not giving up; I will rise to the challenge by adjusting my sail and move in the direction the wind of the Spirit is blowing. I’m thankful for my past but it pales in comparison to where He is leading me. I really believe this is our time and the best is yet to come!

Follow the Instructions

As I write this article the rain is pouring down outside my window.  I can see and hear it, but I am perfectly dry and safe inside my residence.  The elements outside are not pleasant right now but I am safely sheltered from the storm in my nice warm home.

This reminds me of another storm that raged many years ago for the Children of Israel.  For 400 years they were slaves in Egypt.  The last many years of their enslavement was marked by cruel treatment administered by Pharaoh the king.  The Israelites cried for mercy but it seemed there would be none.  But in fact, God had heard their prayers and a plan for their exodus was in place.

Moses, the leader of the people, was directed by God to appear before Pharaoh and demand they be set free.  The king’s heart was hardened and in spite of great plagues sent by God upon the land, he refused to let Israel go.  But the most severe of all plagues is about to be unleashed – the death of the firstborn in every family.

God instructed Moses to call for preparation on the part of the Children of Israel for this last plague.  They would be exempted from the impending devastation only if they carefully followed the instructions.  A great storm is about to ravage Egypt but a means of escape will be provided the people of God.

The instructions called for a lamb to be killed and its blood applied to the door posts and over each door of every home of the Children of Israel.  As the death angel moves across the country on this stormy night, he will pass over every residence where the blood is applied.  They were also instructed to cook and eat the lamb; they were to be fully dressed with their staff in hand and they were to request valuable gifts from the Egyptians.

These instructions seemed strange to the people I’m sure, but they followed them completely.  The night of the last plague comes and a great cry arises from all over Egypt.  Death prevailed throughout the country but all was well in Goshen where the Children of Israel lived.  Pharaoh has had enough – he orders the people of God to quickly leave his country.  Freedom and victory come to the Israelites!

Our world is presently in the midst of a great storm.  Most of us have never lived through anything like this pandemic before.  There is much panic and fear throughout our society.  No one knows when this thing will end and what the world will look like when its over.  But deep in my spirit I hear the voice of God saying, “I’ve got a plan.  Just follow my instructions.”

All my life I’ve been hearing about a great revival coming to America.  We’ve seen times of stirring we thought might lead to this awakening but our hearts long to see more.  Could it be this crisis is the event that will propel the Church to the promised outpouring of the Spirit, and could it be the events happening all around the world will lead masses of people to call on the Lord?  I honestly feel and fervently pray the answer to these questions is yes!  But there’s a catch…we must follow the instructions.

The blood must be applied.  God is not looking for slick professionals who know more than anyone else; He’s looking for the blood.  He is not looking for programs and methods guaranteed to bring astounding results; He’s looking for the blood.  He’s not looking for large bank accounts, plush sanctuaries or the latest greatest anything; He is looking for people who have no greater claim than they once were lost but now they’re found, and the blood of Jesus covers their sins.  We are saved by the blood; kept by the blood and made overcomers by the blood of the Lamb!

Jesus must be at the center of all we do.  The Children of Israel were told the lamb must be completely eaten; nothing was to be wasted.  I believe He is saying to us today, “Jesus must receive our full attention and allegiance.  Nothing or no one can be more important.”  That night in Egypt, nothing mattered more than the lamb.  The same must be true today.

Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a time of much ego-centered and personality-driven ministry.  Men have become the face of ministry and many in the church identify more with that man than they do with our Lord. It must be clearly understood, however, revival will come through Jesus, not through celebrated men.  Now is the time to declare, “I must decrease that He might increase.”

We must be fully dressed and ready to move quickly.  Some will miss this coming revival because they have not made preparation.  Some are asleep while others are living in the past.  Some are listening to the wrong voices and have become encumbered with devices that attach them more to the world than the Spirit.  Some are leaning on the arm of the flesh convinced their way is the right way.  All of this must stop right now!

We will only be prepared when we immerse ourselves in the Word, worship and prayer.  When our hearts are fully tuned to the Holy Spirit we will receive our marching orders and ministry assignments.  We will be anointed and empowered beyond our wildest imagination.  The weak will become strong.  The church will become THE CHURCH.  Revival will sweep across the land.

We should expect great increase.  This revival will not be for our gratification; it is coming for His Kingdom to be increased.  As the Gospel goes forth and Jesus is lifted up, He will be drawing men, women, boys and girls to Him.  The harvest is coming in!  (And I say this by the Spirit, “get ready; the harvest is coming!”)

I truly believe at the same time of this ingathering of souls, God is going to bless His people and make them a testimony to the world.  Those who delight themselves in Him will receive the desires of their heart.  It is the Father’s pleasure to give the Kingdom to His children.  His children will have everything they need to do what He has called them to do.

I’m watching the storm clouds roll over us and, I must admit, at times I feel afraid.  But it is in these moments of fear I am gently reminded I am safe in the arms of Jesus.  He is with me and He has a plan.  His plan will not bring harm to me but it places me right in the middle of what He wants to do in this world in these last days.  He has brought me to the Kingdom for this time.  He has purposely chosen me to participate in a great revealing of His power and glory.  I’m honored to be His son and servant.  I’m determined to stick close, listen good and follow His instructions.  

But the Church Prayed

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost set in motion a tidal wave of evangelism and miraculous manifestation of the power of God throughout the world.  Believers were filled with boldness and proclaimed the message of Jesus with signs following.  The infant Church was off to a blazing start. This magnificent beginning did not happen, however, without intense opposition.  Persecution of the followers of Jesus became the order of the day.

An example of this persecution is found in Acts 12.  King Herod killed James and because this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter.  Peter was placed in prison with the plan to present him to the angry and threatened populous after Passover.  It seems there is an all-out attack against the leadership of the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ did not have any political clout.  They were, by no means, the majority.  Their ability to maneuver through these attacks in the legal system or even public opinion did not exist.  They did, however, have a source of power that the world could not counteract.  Verse 5 of Acts 12 tells us the church prayed.

This constant prayer offered to God by the Church brought divine intervention.  Peter was miraculously delivered from prison!  This would be only one of many times help would come through prayer.

Throughout history the people of God have encountered great challenges but when they prayed God moved on their behalf.

In the Old Testament

Israel was surrounded and attacked by enemy nations…but they prayed and God delivered them.

God’s people came under the authority of wicked kings and governments who brought idols and all kinds of perversion to the forefront…but they prayed and God intervened.

They faced times of famine and pestilence…but they prayed and God provided and protected.

They failed God and turned away from Him…but they prayed and repented and God restored them.

They followed God’s direction and built a tabernacle in which He would dwell…and as they prayed fire fell from Heaven and the presence of God went with them.

In the New Testament

The Church faced immense persecution…but they prayed and God sustained them.

They faced times of great need…but they prayed and God miraculously provided.

They faced times of controversy and question…but they prayed and God gave wisdom and direction.

They faced times of sickness – even death…but they prayed and God healed and restored life.

They had times of intense hunger for God…and they prayed and God sent revival. (Once even praying until the place shook where they were!)

There are many examples in our lifetime of great challenge and attack on various fronts, but we are still here because we prayed.  Prayer has been, both, a defensive and offensive weapon that has never failed to produce victory.  Praying people have always overcome.

Today, we find ourselves in uncharted water.  Our battles are more intense and our enemy seems more sophisticated.  Some have lost hope and assumed our best days are behind us.  Like those captured by the Babylonians in Psalm 137, they are convinced the song of the Lord will never be sung again.  It’s over.

But, I see an army rising up that refuses to take the defeatist approach.  They recognize this may be a season of great trial but it is also a season to be the people of God.  Just as other generations have faced tests, this is their test and its only a test!  They will not depend on their abilities or strengths.  They will not be moved by what others are doing.  They will find victory where it has always been found.  They will pray.

Every believer can be part of this praying army.  No circumstance or situation will be a match for these who are committed to prayer.  Like those before us, our story will be marked by an enemy assault but it will also tell of powerful conquest…because the church prayed.