What you focus on counts

Over the many years I’ve been a follower of Jesus, I’ve noticed a trend. What I focus on makes a difference.

Every few years, it seems the Lord leads me to study a certain area/doctrine. Often it’s a matter of necessity. For example, when we lived in a very poor inner city area for many years, there were so many people with major problems, I longed to find a way to help them.

Usually my study comes in the form of questions. I’ll think of all the things I want to know about the topic and then read the Bible noting every verse I can find that provides an answer. As I study, I’ll make copious notes, and read different books on the topic. Finally, I’ll usually write a summary of what I’ve found. Sometimes the subject will occupy me for  a few weeks; other times two to three years.

At the same time, I find myself involved in that area in a practical way too. It’s as though God is giving me not just the theoretical background but a useful skill set too. And then I find God uses me in whatever area it is I’ve spent time on to train others.

Some examples:

I spent two years looking at inner healing and deliverance–and have not only spent time with many people to see them set free, I’ve trained others to do the same.

When we moved here to the States, I spent much time looking at church from a different perspective–now I write books on the topic and we’re involved in training simple/organic church planters.

For years, but especially the last two to three years, I’ve been looking at the topic of women–and I’ve just finished compiling a book on this subject. Who knows where this will go.

God wires us all in different ways. I’ve been trained to think and study, and so some of this comes naturally to me. But I’ve also learned to take notice when I find myself with an interest in a certain topic or a focus on a certain need. Who knows what God wants to accomplish through that if I’ll follow it through.

Have any of you found the same?

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Guest post by Sean Steckbeck: Demonstration of Power

Sean Steckbeck is a good friend who sees God working in power in the lives of unbelievers on an everyday basis. It’s easy for us to think, “God does it over there.” It’s time for us to expect him to do it here too. John Wimber used to say, “You spell faith, R-I-S-K.” Sean’s post is a challenge for us all to get out of out comfort zones.

Driving in the back roads of southern Judea, we come to a small Palestinian village. We climb a rough mountain with our car and have arrived.  As we get out, we are immediately invited for tea and coffee and are welcomed with a great smile typical of Arab hospitality. My partner and I are Israelis. He is a Jewish Israeli who immigrated to Israel from South Africa and I am married to a native born Jewish Israeli. My wife’s brother was killed by a Palestinian PLO operative in Lebanon in the early 1980’s and politically we typically are right-wing. My partner is also well known for his garnering support for Israel and the Jewish people in South Africa.

Returning to the story, our hearts were pounding as our Muslim Palestinian hosts asked us , “Why would you come here? Don’t you know it is dangerous for you to be here?”

We smiled and answered, “There are many people who are willing to die for hate, we are willing to die for love.”

We saw that it clearly touched their hearts as they opened up and expressed to us that we had their trust.  We began to tell stories from the New Testament and ask questions, and then were called to eat dinner with them. As we ate dinner, my partner and I started getting words of knowledge about certain sicknesses that were in the room. This led to an outbreak of healings which the whole village gathered to see.  We spoke of Jesus’ healing power, and then went back home with a promise to follow up the next week.

When we arrived the next week, one young man fell asleep on the coach. As we tried to waken him, he fell on the ground and started manifesting demons. My partner and I started casting out demons, and again the whole village came to watch this display of supernatural–they had never seen anything like it before.

This led to the opening up of a seeker group, which eventually led to several other small house meetings throughout the area discussing both the power of God and stories from the Bible. Here and in other places we have now seen over six generations of simple church multiplication and 36 home groups and seeker groups both among Jews and Muslims.  This has also led to Jews reaching out to Muslims and Muslims reaching out to Jews!

Why would two Israelis be willing to risk their lives for their seemingly Palestinian enemy in a Hamas infested area?

I believe there are many reasons, but I would like to briefly discuss two:

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” – 1 Corinthians 2:4

In chapter of 1 Corinthians 2, just like today’s simple church movement, Paul desired to do things simply.  His message didn’t contain many words, but rather demonstrations.  He even boasted in his weak communication skills as an advantage! The one thing that Paul said that was working for him was demonstrations of power.

When I look at the ministry of Yeshua, as an example for us, we see his main apostolic methods were building a family and team in which to work through, telling stories, asking questions, eating at people’s homes, and demonstrating the power of God through healings and miracles.  Of course, Yeshua did this not in grandiose church buildings, but in the homes and marketplaces of everyday life.

I would like to challenge those in simple church and organic church who  have mastered storytelling, eating in homes, asking interactive questions, and building family; where are the demonstrations of power?  Do you have this missing element for starting a disciple-making movement?

Do you come with great methods, or do you also rely on demonstrations of power?

Do you consider healing the sick as optional, or a command to be obeyed?

Practice: Make a list of potential unbelieving neighbors who need a miracle in their life. Invite yourself over for dinner,  ask if they need prayer, and watch the power of God work!

This painting, entitled, “Grace,” hangs in the main foyer of our company. 

God lets people choose

I’d like to propose a theory. In his incredible love and mercy, God opts to work within the constraints mankind allows him in order to reach his people.  For example, God desired to speak to all the Israelites directly at Mount Sinai when he gave them the law,(Exodus 19:9) but they were so afraid, they asked him to speak only through Moses. (Exodus 20:19) God honored that decision. We know it was not God’s will for Israel to be governed by a king, ( 1 Samuel 8:5-20) but once the nation had chosen to go that route, God worked within that context. The argument could be made that God didn’t want a temple built for him; it was David’s desire to build him one. (2 Samuel 7: 5-7; Acts 7:49-50) Yet God chose to bless the temple that Solomon built.

God’s original plan was for men and women to rule over his creation together. But God lets people choose. And the Fall corrupted mankind.

However, the New Covenant that Jesus ushered in through his death and resurrection changes everything.  Under the New Covenant, God’s laws are written on our hearts and we can all know him, from the least to the greatest. (Hebrews 8:8-12) Jesus, himself, is our Lord and King. We have become the temple of the living God. (1 Peter 2: 4-5)  And under the New Covenant, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ. (Galatians 3:28)


 

Is the Holy Spirit enough?

Modern wisdom would have us spend much time discipling new believers.

But consider the following:

Philip had no time with the Ethiopian eunuch after his baptism (which occurred at salvation).

The Philippian jailor became a disciple in the middle of the night, and next morning, Paul was gone.

Paul was in Philippi for “several days” (Acts 16:12) and yet the letter to the Philippians is full of praise for their faith and good works.

In other cities, (for example, Thessalonica–three weeks, Berea) Paul was there only a short time before being thrown out of town.

I became a believer at age 11 through reading a children’s book and knew no other Christians for four years. Somehow I realized that prayer and reading the Bible were important, and after a few weeks I led the girl who lived next door to Christ, but other than that I had no contact with other believers.

I’m certainly not saying discipleship is unimportant, but in situations where it doesn’t happen, is the Holy Spirit enough?

 

Roger Bannister and your dreams

In 1954, British runner Roger Bannister proved that it only took one person to break the goal of a four-minute mile. Everybody said it couldn’t be done. Athletes had been attempting to break the four-minute barrier for years, and it was said to be a physical impossibility for the human body. Enter Bannister, a British runner who was training to be a physician. When he started his running career at Oxford University in 1946 at the age of seventeen, he had never previously worn spikes or run on a track. But he showed such promise that he was selected as an Olympic possible. Skipping the 1948 Olympics because he wasn’t ready, Bannister came in fourth place in the one-mile race at the 1952 Olympics. As other athletes inched towards the four-minute goal, Bannister, too, set his sights on the record.

The fateful event took place at a running meet in Oxford on May 6th, 1954, watched by around 3,000 spectators. Bannister won the race. The announcer spun out the results as long as possible:

“Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event 9, the one mile: 1st, Number 41, R.G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which—subject to ratification—will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire and World Record. The time was 3…”

The remainder of the announcement was impossible to hear as a roar went up from the crowd. Bannister’s time was three minutes, 59.4 seconds. The four-minute barrier had been broken. Once it had been proved that the record could be broken, many athletes attempted and broke the four-minute barrier. It has become the standard for male, professional middle distance runners. Amazingly, the record has since been lowered by almost 17 seconds.

We’ve seen many Kingdom barriers broken in our lifetime–the most rapidly growing church planting movements in history (India and China), tens of thousands becoming Christians in countries that are traditionally hostile to the gospel, the rapid spread of simple/organic church concepts here in the US. All it has taken is one or more role models to show it can be done and then many follow in their footsteps.

Can we be that one individual who dares to believe the impossible can, with God’s help, become a reality?

One of the things I long to see is the culture in this country change to accept women as co-equals alongside men in the Kingdom.

What areas are you believing for?

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Questioning one-on-one discipleship

One-on-one is a preferred method of discipleship within evangelicalism. I have no doubt as to its effectiveness (wish someone had been there to disciple me as a young believer). However, recently I’ve been questioning this.

Presumably we all believe that the way Jesus worked with his disciples is the best pattern to use. So I’ve been fascinated by a study I’ve recently done.

There were only two occasions I could find in the gospels where Jesus had a conversation with one of the disciples alone. One was with Peter over the paying of taxes (go and catch a fish) and the other, also with Peter, was about forgiving people seventy times seven times. As far as I can see, every other interaction that is recorded involves a group of them–of at least two or three.

There was one occasion where it specifically states Jesus was alone for a conversation with someone–the woman at the well. And we assume (although it doesn’t say so) that he was alone with Nicodemus in John 3.

Other than that, once he had chosen the twelve, Jesus worked with groups–groups of his disciples, the crowds, challenged groups of Pharisees and Sadducees. Other conversations where it appears he was talking to individuals, if you examine the context, were all within a group situation.

What does that say about one-on-one discipleship? What are the advantages of group discipleship?

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Hierarchy and discipleship

Some of our deepest theological conversations occur in our hot tub.

This past weekend was no exception. Some close missionary friends of ours who work in Asia came to stay. We always have fun  debates with them, Here’s the gist of one of our conversations that took place late at night in our jacuzzi:

Missionary: In Asia, our culture is very hierarchical. This hierarchy spills over into the church and it’s an asset to discipleship because the new believer is looking to learn from someone more experienced.

Me: God loves us enough that in his mercy he uses whatever culture we give him. But Jesus spoke against hierarchy. He said, “You know how the rulers of this world function (hierarchy). But it must not be so amongst you.”

Missionary: In the West, we are so individualistic and egalitarian. But that is not Scriptural either. In Asia, we are more communally and society minded. Because in English, it’s impossible to tell the difference between you singular and you plural, we miss the fact that much of the New Testament is addressed to groups.

Me: Neither hierarchy nor egalitarianism are Scriptural. Jesus spoke about and modeled something different–closer to an upside down hierarchy, Servanthood. We lay down our lives for others that they might grow.

What is your opinion on this? How do we best disciple others–using a teacher/pupil (hierarchical) model, as peers (egalitarian), or as servants? Does it depend on the culture we live in?