Legitimate Ministry

A friend of mine says that “We need to be extremely narrow in our focus of ministry, but extremely broad in our definition of what is legitimate ministry.”
I think he’s on to something.
I was meditating on this recently, and two stories – connected stories – spoke to me on the subject.
The first is the apostles’ answer to the Sanhedran when the were questioned about their work: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
I see this as a standard for how we define our own ministry: we obey God. It’s pretty simple actually. Whatever God tells us to do, we do that.
More specifically, we don’t look to religious leaders (or other people, for that matter) to approve of the thing that God is telling us to do. We have one judge, and it’s not you or me, or the guy down the street leading a lot of people.
I think I might go further: you don’t need their approval, and you don’t need their permission to obey God. If God is calling you to do something, to start something, to take a risk, do it!
(I need to insert the obligatory warnings here: “Don’t be stupid!” “Don’t do it in rebellion.” “Don’t build your own empire.” OK? Let’s move on.)
The second story is in the next paragraph. Let me quote it for you:
34 Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. 38 And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” Acts 5:34-39
This story addresses how we define the ministry of others. The short version: we don’t. As Gamaliel points out: we can’t always tell if someone is moving in the power of God or in the power of man: wisdom is to step back and Let God sort it out.
But what if we get people going off and starting their own thing in rebellion? Then we have people going off and starting their own thing in rebellion. It’s OK. God is not thrown off by that. As Gamaliel points out, those eventually “will come to nothing.”
God will take care of it. He promised to build His church, and I think He means it.
The danger of course, is that if we take on the responsibility of preventing people from starting illegitimate ministry, then we – who are not omniscient – are in danger of preventing legitimate ministry.
Some said – back in the day – that young upstart Loren Cunningham should not leave the Assemblies of God church where he was youth pastor to start Youth With a Mission (YWAM). In the 50 or so years since then, YWAM has become the largest and arguably most effective missions agency in history of Christianity. Millions of people have come to faith through the men and women of that ministry.
Would you want to stand before God and say “Oops…” for having prevented Loren
from starting YWAM? Would you want responsibility for preventing millions of salvations because you thought Loren was missing God? Me neither.
So my recommendation is that we put our efforts into obeying God. Don’t worry about what others think. Don’t worry about what others do.
Like Nike says: Just Do It.™

Revival: Future or Present?

For as long as I can remember – and that’s a long time – I’ve been looking forward to revival. I’ve heard the same stories that you have: a great outpouring in the last days, a great pouring out of God’s Spirit that draws people to Him by the millions and changes the face of the church and the world in a year or a month or a day.
We read about the Book of Acts, where 5000 people came to faith in a day, 3000 the next chapter, where signs and wonders seem to permeate the air and where the church met house-to-house. That’s what we’re longing for in our generation.
More than longing, many of us believe that such a revival – or greater – is coming to the Church before this is all over. There have been prophetic words from credible voices that God’s going to bring a harvest of a billion souls in a generation, that He’s going to “change the understanding and expression of Christianity in the earth in one.” Pretty heady stuff.
All that is well and good. We long for revival. We believe revival is coming. I have two problems with that. Both of them come from looking at revival as this great big thing that God does as a sovereign act of amazing power.
The first problem with our picture of revival is that we define revival as so big and so massive that we see it – consciously or subconsciously – as something that God does when He’s good and ready, and we stop taking personal responsibility for it.
I certainly can’t bring a million people to faith in a day, so we step back and most of us confine ourselves to wishing that He’d do His thing in our day.
(If we really believed that God was going to pour out that kind of harvest, wouldn’t we do something to help? Wouldn’t we do something to prepare? Sometimes I wonder if we expect God to do it so we don’t have to. )
At no point did God say, “You know that ‘Go ye into all the world’ thing? Nah… don’t bother. I’ll do it for you.” But we act often enough as though He did.
No, if God is going to bring a massive revival that turns the world upside down again, (and I believe He is), He’s going to do it mostly through His church. Us. You and me. He’s going to use us.
When Jesus walked the earth, He walked as a man, not as fully-powered-up God in a human disguise: as a man in right relationship with God. That’s what the incarnation is all about. And His walking the earth certainly changed things: people’s lives were turned upside down, the lame walked, the blind saw, the dead lived, thousands were fed, thousands more followed Him to hear Him talk about the Kingdom.
He did all of that as a man: flesh and blood like you and me. He taught. He healed. He resurrected people. At no point did he wake up in the morning to sudden success: thousands of adoring followers where none existed the night before. Father God did step in with the odd sovereign act, but that was exclusively limited to speaking: “This is my Son whom I love! Listen to Him!” (See Mark 1:11 & 9:7)
Jesus did the work. He did it empowered and directed by His Father, just as we need to do the work of revival empowered and directed by our Father. But it it’s our work to do; we must not just wait for God to do it for us, hoping that we wake up one day and suddenly there are the tens of thousands of people wanting to fill up our churches. Yeah, He could do that. No, that’s not how He does things.
The second problem with our picture of revival is that we limit it to only the great and spectacular, only the front-page news; worse, we limit it only to front-page news in America.
A wise man once told me: “If you want to see revival, go home. Close your door. Draw a circle on the floor and sit inside the circle. Then pray for revival to start in the circle. When you are revived, then revival has started.”
I am firmly committed that revival has already started. But because it doesn’t conform to our expectations, we say to ourselves, “That can’t be revival!”
First, if you and I are revived, then revival has begun. It’s already here! Now, I happen to believe it’s quite a bit bigger than that, but it’s true: we don’t have people pouring out into the streets asking how to meet God.
We have testimonies of God doing signs and wonders again. In America! We haven’t had that for generations! Other parts of the world are seeing millions won to Christ in a generation. Some African nations are now 80% or even 90% Christian, where the gospel was virtually unknown a century ago. South Korea is experiencing similar amazing growth.
I will agree, this is not enough. We want more. Jesus deserves more! The Moravian prayer has not yet been answered: “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.”
What we have is not enough, but it is revival. Our prayer needs to change from, “O Lord, please bring revival”, to “Please increase our revival!” Shepherding a revival is a different process than hoping and praying for one to start.
My goal of this article is this: we need to re-define ourselves. We are not waiting for revival; we are caretakers of revival. We have something of revival now, and it is our responsibility to nurture it, to shepherd it to carry it out. We must be empowered and directed by God, yes, but it’s our revival. What are we going to do with it?

Rant: Home Groups

I’ve been thinking about home groups. Sunday morning church is a really good thing and all, but no matter how good the church is, it’s still a big group. It’s still hard to really get involved. It’s still easy to hide in the background.

I love the worship of the big group; it’s often really hard to match that in most home groups. And the teaching in the big meeting is often (but not always) really valuable. There are things that you can do in a big group that you can’t do in a little group.

But the reverse is equally true. There are things you can do in a little group that you can’t do in a big group, really valuable things like making great friends, like sharing your heart, like getting prayed for regularly, like laughing together until your sides hurt, or weeping together in the presence of God.

The combination of the two is priceless. In fact, between the two, I often think the home group is the more important gathering of the two. Not always. Not saying the big meeting is insignificant. Just saying home groups are that valuable.

Too often, I’ve found it too easy to be too comfortable in a big church. If I plaster on a big fake smile and don’t linger too long in conversation in the lobby, I can get away without ever having engaged anyone at all. I can’t get away with that in a home group. And I like that. I need that.

We’re starting home groups in our church. It’s kind of hard work, mostly because of all the bad experiences we’ve had before. We have as much un-learning to do as anything else.

Here are some values we have in our home groups:

• The first rule is that church leadership is not making a bunch of rules for home groups. If you want to start a group, go for it. We’ll help, but we won’t tell you what to do. Well, we’ll try not to.

• You can meet whenever you want, wherever you want, and as often as you want. Homes are always a good place for home groups, but so are coffee shops, pubs, conference rooms and the local shopping mall. Take field trips. Wherever you are, the Church is, so have at it! Be creative.

• Teach what you want to teach. All we ask is that you love God and love people. Then teach what you want. Teach the Bible. Teach from a study guide, from a popular book, from current movies. Or don’t include any teaching in your group. We don’t recommend reviewing this weeks sermons unless the group insists. They’ve already heard that.

• Invite who you want to invite. People from the church. People from the neighborhood. People from other churches. People from other home groups. Heck, you can invite people from other planets if you can figure out where to park their cars. Bring in guest speakers if you like. Or not.

• Relationships are primary. More than teaching. More than acts of service. More than prayer. More even than having a meal together! (Oh my!) On the other hand, there’s not much that’s better at building relationships than praying together, or serving together, studying the Word together or especially sharing supper together.

• If you’re leading a group, you’re choosing to submit yourself to a higher standard of accountability than Joe Schmotz in the back row of the church with the big fake smile. But like Paul Manwaring says, “Accountability is not about making sure you don’t smoke. Accountability is making sure that you are on fire.”

We’ll undoubtedly think of more values as we do this for a while. But for now, this is a good starting place.

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Hope Does Not Disappoint

And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:5
I’ve been reflecting on hope for a while. I’ve come to the conclusion that I haven’t understood the subject very well.
In our culture – and our churches are part of this – we make statements like, “Oh, I hope John’s operation goes well.” We use “hope” as a synonym for “wish”, and when we do, we reveal that our concept of hope is relatively powerless. Our actions and our unguarded words reveal that we consider hope to be little (if any) more than random chance.
Since I’m going to shoot that perspective down, I might as well do it directly: this thinking is heretical, it reveals lazy thinking, and it’s insulting to the God who loves me enough to die for me.
I’m certain that our insulting heresy is not (normally) an intentional choice; we believe poorly because we haven’t learned any better. We’ve let our secular culture do too much of our thinking for us instead of letting the Spirit of God teach us.

Hope Does Not Disappoint.

First of all, whatever hope really is, it is not about disappointment. It’s not about the longings of my heart (or yours) being disregarded, crushed or ignored.
Hope is built on the love of God, not the roll of the dice. Because the love of God has been poured out in my heart through the Holy Spirit, therefore hope does not disappoint. Two observations:
· This is a done deal: the love of God has already been poured out, the Holy Spirit has already been given. I am not waiting for God to do something, nor is He waiting for me to do something, for hope to become secure. It’s based on things that have actually happened.
· This is likely proportional: If I don’t know the love of God, then I am likely to have difficulty knowing the hope that does not disappoint. To the degree that my life is entwined with the Holy Spirit who was given to me, to that same degree I am able to know this powerful and reliable hope.
In fact, Biblical hope does not rely on chance and it does not rely on me. It relies on God. It doesn’t even rely on God’s power or his will: it relies on who He is. “God is love” (1 John 4:16) and it is His love – His very identity – that is the assurance that hope does not disappoint.

Hope Involves the Unseen

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. – Romans 8:24-25
Hope is all about promises that we have not yet received. If we have the thing promised, then hope is meaningless. But if we have a promise that we have not yet received, then that’s a good place to employ hope.
More specifically, if it’s been promised by God, then we can rely on it, we can be confident that although we don’t see it now – and we may not even see the first clue that it’s even possible – yet because I are recipients of God’s love poured out in my heart, I can have confidence that hope will not disappoint.

Hope is a Fight

What does the verse say? “…with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” The Greek word for perseverance involves fight, a determined persistence in the face of obstacles. There are some animals that when they bite, their jaw locks into place, and letting go is not an option for them until the fight is over. If you kill the animal, the jaw remains locked in place.
So we wait with perseverance. But we also wait eagerly.
I have a friend who has four kids, and on Christmas morning, he doesn’t let them leave their room until the parents give the call, “Merry Christmas Kids!” Before that moment, the parents are wrapping the last of the presents, tucking the last toy into a stocking, while the kids are nearly beside themselves with anticipation. When the call finally comes, there are four pajama-clad blurs down the hallway and woe be unto anyone or anything that stands in the way. That's how we wait.
If you have ever tried to persuade a child that Christmas has been cancelled this year (and I’ve tried), you’ll get an earful. If you persist (and it was a mistake), then you’ll get an idea of what “…with perseverance we wait eagerly” actually means. That's how we wait.
That’s what our hope is to be like. Even though it’s not here yet, nevertheless we cannot be persuaded that it is not coming, and we are excited beyond measure for the arrival of that for which we hope.

Hope Has an Object

We hold on to hope, not as an end in itself. We don’t hope in hope, we hope in God. We have Hope because it is God Himself that has given us hope as He has already given us His love and His Holy Spirit.
And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. Psalm 39:7
There is a weakness, a vulnerability, in the subject of hope, and that’s why the object of our hope is so important. Because we have confused “hope” with “wish”, it’s not impossible – not even difficult – to confuse our wishes with hope.
I know people who (generally unintentionally) use hope to attempt to manipulate God. Because they want a thing, therefore they build this expectation of epic proportions, and they tell themselves (and anyone else who will listen) that God is obligated to provide this thing for them because if He doesn’t, He’ll be letting them down. And using this argument, they wait for the perfect wife, the ideal husband, the perfect ministry to be dropped into their laps.
I am not saying that God has not made promises to these brothers and sisters. I’m saying that God promised salvation (sozo) and eternal life, and that we can and must hold onto those promises, knowing (not wishing) that while we may not see them in their fullness yet, nevertheless, we will inhabit that place, and our confidence those truths is as secure as the truth that God loves us, that God has given His Holy Spirit to us.
I live today knowing that I will inherit all that God has promised to me. I can bank on that, regardless of what my circumstances tell me. More than that, I will.

Visit Northwest Prophetic for a complete archive of regional prophetic words.