Abiding in Joy

Speaking of our life in Christ, and His purposes on earth

Archive for the category “Personal Reflections”

Giving God the Glory!

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Judy took this photo of me this morning from our back deck as I came in from a early morning Nordic ski.

As probably most of those reading this post know, we live in Colorado, up high in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.  For the past 18 months or so, we have been in a severe drought.  Last year’s snowfall was way under our average and by the end of the summer, most of the state’s reservoirs were very low.  We also experienced some of the most devastating fires in our state’s history last summer.  This winter started off much like last winter, with snowfall totals ranging from 30-50% of what is normal.  Thankfully, in Colorado, that is still enough for some good skiing!

Our church, Immanuel Fellowship, takes the second week of March every year to pray and fast.  This year one of our focus points was the drought. (I should probably add that I am sure Christians all over our state have prayed as well.)  The next several weeks saw more than average snow but not enough to catch up.  It was very discouraging that at the end of March it was reported that the mountains needed seven more feet of snow this spring I order to fill the reservoirs when the snow melts.

However…….according to the Summit Daily, who gives snow statistics on a daily basis, we have now received 91 inches since the beginning of the month!  This is April 23 today.  It would be easy to say that this is a coincidence, but all the expert doomsayers have been predicting that we could never receive enough snow to break this winter’s existing weather pattern.  I want to go on record as giving God the glory for what has happened, and to attribute all our snow to His power and His ability to turn the desert to pools of water (or lots of snow)!  He is faithful!   And He answers the prayers of His people!

I want to also rejoice that the extended forecast starting tomorrow is one of abundant sunshine and warm temperatures!

Nailed to the Cross!

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This weekend we celebrate the greatest event in human history.  That great event is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He came to earth as a man, lived a sinless life, taught extensively on the Kingdom of God, and then voluntarily went to the Cross to give Himself for the sins of mankind.  Do we really understand the magnitude of this?  What Jesus did at the Cross opens the door for each of us to have eternal life.  That is why this is without doubt the greatest event in human history.

It is sin that keeps us from knowing God and from experiencing eternal life.  Paul gives us the picture of a certificate of debt (Colossians 2:13-14) that has been issued to each of us.  It is a debt of sin that is overwhelmingly condemning us, a debt which we can do nothing about!  It is similar to the servant who owed his Master ten thousand talents and had no way to repay (Matthew 18:23-35, specifically verses 23-25).  Just to put this into perspective, ten thousand talents would be about $7,500,000,000 in today’s currency.  How could a servant owe that much money?  And how could he possibly even begin to repay?  That gives us some idea of what it means to have an impossible certificate of debt that has eternal consequences hanging over our head.

Jesus took the sin of the world on Himself.  He took that certificate of debt for each individual person, that was so hostile to us, and He destroyed it by nailing it to that Cross….. “having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14)   Or another way to put it, He paid the debt for us!  This is God’s great gift to us, available to everyone of us who believe, no matter what our nationality, race, economic or social status, or anything else.  None of us deserve such a Gift, so it has nothing to do with how good or how bad we have been.  It is grace that has provided such a Gift.

We live in a world that has been terribly corrupted.  Corrie ten Boom, who suffered greatly in a Nazi concentration death camp for following Christ, once said,

“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed.

If you look within, you’ll be depressed.

But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”

We live in a world that has been terribly corrupted.  I just returned from Mexico a few days ago where a friend (I have stayed in his home) was kidnaped, robbed, and brutally killed.  While I was in Mexico last week, the family was notified that this had happened to their son/brother.  We were in shock over his untimely brutal death, but also over how fellow humans could do such things.  In this case, however, we could rejoice in the fact that this brother’s certificate of debt had been nailed to the Cross, and that he had received this Gift of God by faith.

What we celebrate this weekend is beautiful, powerful, and life changing.  May we all begin to comprehend at a much greater level the magnitude of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  As we do, the result will be joy; and we will have a renewed passion to spread the Good News of what He has done for us to the whole world, beginning with those around us!

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Prayer Triggers Divine “Chains of Events”

 In the missions circles that I hang out with, there is much talk about great movements of revival among people groups, cities, or geographical areas.  Often overlooked, however, is the role of prayer.  In our Western culture, it is hard to understand things we don’t see—like the effect of prayer on the people and events that we pray for.  Only heaven knows the extent of how prayer really is the driving force behind so much true spiritual fruit.

I am coming to see more and more how prayer triggers chains of events that accomplish God’s purposes here on this earth.  So often the bigger plans of the Lord are not a single event, but rather a series of events.  The life of Joseph is an excellent example.  When he was just a youth God gave him dreams of rulership.  But it took a chain of events, and many years, before God’s plan for him was established.  And if we look at his life in those in-between years, we see anything else but him ruling.  We see him as a slave, being falsely accused, or even in jail. But God brought about His purpose for Joseph in His time.  All of the things that happen to Joseph in those 13 years of adversity were a chain of events that brought about the fulfillment of God’s plan.  So much of what God does, He does through an intricate and divinely orchestrated chain of events. 

This chain of events might be illustrated by a line of dominoes falling, each triggering the next one to fall.  Or, perhaps it might be described as an avalanche, or a rock slide.  A rock slide usually starts off rather slow, with one or two rocks tumbling down.  But those rocks hit other rocks, and they hit others.  Before long there is a rock slide that is capable of knocking down trees, buildings, and even towns!  It is out of control!  Prayer is what triggers God to move in mighty ways, and it is prayer that sustains movements, which are divine “chains of events.”

We all marvel at the chain of events that took place in the early church, recorded in the book of Acts.  These events shook the status quo and were reported to have “upset the world” (Acts 17:6).  But all this got started with 120 saints praying for many days in an upper room!   A quick look at revivals and awakenings throughout church history would reveal that usually there was a rather small group of prayer warriors that consistently prayed and interceded.

In 1990 I was a part of a church planting team that moved to Mexico City.  At that time, church analysts estimated that under 1% of the population were evangelical Christians.  Yet, by the year 2000, they were saying that probably 15-18% were born again Christians.  That is amazing growth for just ten years!  What most people don’t know is that there was a church in Joppa, Maryland (called Chesapeake Covenant Church at that time) that was seriously praying for Mexico City.  They did so for probably 3-4 years.  We were bombarded with letters, passages, impressions from the Lord from some of these prayer warriors.  They were not just praying for our particular church plant, but also for all of Mexico City.  Only heaven knows the impact of those prayers and intercessions.  Certainly the hundreds of thousands (probably over a million) people who came to know the Lord in those ten years don’t know.  Am I saying that all that happened in Mexico City was a direct result of these prayer warriors?  I don’t know.  There may have been other groups of saints doing the same.  But I know this church had a major part in triggering a chain of events that resulted in revival taking place. 

Just imagine one day when we all gathered around the throne, the appreciation you will feel toward those who prayed YOU  into the Kingdom.  What a day of rejoicing that will be!

I just arrived back home from another trip to Paris.  I have been making about three trips there a year to meet with some younger workers and leaders, encouraging them in planting new churches, making disciples, and Biblical church life. We are amazed to see God raising up a generation of young leaders with a fresh vision from God for His Church in their city. This past trip I was astonished by the rapid chain of events that are happening.  This feels very much like the beginning of something much bigger than what I had ever anticipated.  On this trip I began to think back on the chain of events that led to this time. They started shortly after a number of people here at our church in Frisco spent a month in Paris in 2006 and prayed 24 hours day and night for God to move in that city.  Is that a coincidence?  I think not.  And I might add there may well have been others praying in a similar way.  But I do know that our collective prayer triggers chains of events that bring about His purposes on earth.

God delights to use the “small” and the seemingly “insignificant” to accomplish His plans……sometimes in a distant country.  And most often His plans are accomplished more by prayer than lots of activity.  Prayer prepares the ground, the culture, and the hearts of people for God’s work to be done and received.  Prayer is something that all of us can do.  We must put aside our Western thinking that tries to evaluate what we do (such as prayer) by what we can see.  Only heaven knows the impact we are making through prayer!

May God raise up bands of prayer warriors who will dislodge big rocks to get the chain of events moving that will impact peoples and cities around the world!

What an Opportunity for the Church!

(Before reading this, I strongly urge you to read the last post.  This is really a Part 2.  There should be at least one more post on this topic in the next week.)

In my last post I talked about the rapidly changing demographics that are occurring here in America.  The immigrant population is booming, forcing business, political parties, education, the media, the arts, and yes, the Church, to adjust accordingly.  For the Church, this should not be viewed as some awful thing we must endure, but rather as an opportunity!

We should probably also note that the immigrant influx is not unique to the United States and Canada.  Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America are all undergoing significant demographic shifts as a result of immigration.   In 2010, at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, held in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the dominant themes to emerge was what is now being called “Peoples on the Move.”  The statistics of how the peoples of the world are moving around is amazing.  As might be expected, these changes bring considerable social unrest, especially as the second generation immigrants find themselves caught between the old culture (in which they are somewhat unfamiliar) and a new culture in which they are not fully accepted.  They are often unfairly categorized as ungrateful, lazy, or stubborn.  But research is also showing that these immigrant groups are overall the most open to the Gospel.  They are feeling displaced and lack the sense of community that often they have.  There is also an openness to explore aspects of their new culture.  What an opening for the Church!

Getting back to America, research has suggested that well over 90% of those living here in the U.S. from another country never even enter into a home of a native-born American.  We can always find excuses such as the awkwardness of the situation or the language/cultural barriers.  The bottom line, though, is that such statistics are a shame on Christians.  Remember what happened in John 4 after Jesus had that conversation with that Samaritan woman?  You know, she was the woman that shared with the entire town about the One who told her everything she had ever done.  His disciples were so concerned about the food that they did not even see this Samaritan woman.  Jesus told His disciples to “lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.”  (John 4:35).  Many believed because of this woman, yet the disciples did not have their spiritual eyes opened.

While some are bemoaning the changes that are happening in the world today, especially as it pertains to changing demographics, the Church should recognize that it is God’s love for the peoples of the world that has allowed and even orchestrated this great movement of peoples around the world!  He desires to place more and more unreached peoples within the reach of discerning and Kingdom-minded disciples.  May we be part of that company of disciples!  May we lift up our eyes and look on the fields to see how they are white for harvest!

Triumphant Jesus!

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Probably most of you recognize the above picture as the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph) …….. in Paris, France.  I just returned from a trip to Paris last week.  The Arc of Triumph is located on the famous Avenue des Champs Elysees.  It was built in the early 1800’s and has been used ever since to celebrate famous victories and conquests.  The above photo shows the triumphant march of the French army following WWI.  You have no doubt seen pictures of Hitler, and a few years later, the Allies, marching through the Arc of Triumph, celebrating their victory.  The winner of the famous Tour de France always ends the race by triumphantly passing under the Arch.

When I was in Paris, I was talking with a leading intercessor there in the city.  She told me of a vision the Lord gave her 30 years ago.  She saw a picture of the WWI general passing through the Arc de Triomphe, probably very similar to the one above.  Crowds were shouting and yelling and celebrating.  All of a sudden, the crowd changed.  The shouting was louder, and there was dancing, and joy filled the street in a way she had never seen.  Then she saw it was the resurrected and glorified Jesus coming through the Arc.  The final conquest, the final victory, the final triumph belongs to Jesus Christ!  There was more to the vision, but that picture has stayed with me.

In Paris, just like any other place on this earth, most of the  time we can’t see everything God is doing.  At times, it seems like there may be more setbacks and disappointments than advances for the Kingdom of God.  It appears that what God has spoken in our hearts is happening far too slowly than what we would like.  That has certainly been the case for many workers serving in Paris. And that has been the case for many of us in many parts of the world.  It is at times like these we must focus on what we know will be the final triumph….. when Jesus triumphantly comes to meet His Church.  There will be a victory march that will make all the victory marches in history look superficial.  And whether God has us laboring in the U.S., France, Mexico, Russia, China, Pakistan, Africa, or anywhere else in this world– we know who has the final victory.

We may be going through a season of great fruitfulness, or a season of pruning and perplexity, but we must always keep the picture of Jesus, the Great Conqueror, before us at all times!

(By the way, I had an excellent trip to Paris.  God is preparing something there and I know it is for His great glory in that nation.)

Pentecost Sunday

At Immanuel Fellowship, we are currently going through a series of studies called “Journey Through the Bible” in our weekly house churches.  Yes, it is quite an endeavor, and one which will take us about four years to complete. However, we believe very strongly that all of us need to have a solid foundation of the Scriptures.  We have been blessed with having so many among us who have only recently in the past year or so made commitments to follow Jesus.  And we have found that even those who have been in the Lord for some time have major gaps in their understanding of the Word, especially in the Old Testament.  We have not gone very far yet.  Most of the house churches are in the book of Numbers, I believe.  But the Lord is teaching us so much!

Recently, in our study of the book of Leviticus, we studied the three annual convocations that Israel was to observe.  This turned out to be a fascinating study as we looked at both the historical significance and the prophetic aspects of the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths.  Pentecost, often referred to as the “Day of Firstfruits” in the Old Testament, was the time when Israel would gather to celebrate the coming harvest.  It was a statement of faith as much as anything, to what Israel believed God would do in the coming months.  It is no coincidence that the Lord decided to “kick off” the Church on the Day of Pentecost.  Acts 2 records the story when God brought into the Church three thousand souls from all over the world.  This, too, is prophetic of what God wants to do.  There is a Harvest coming that will bring in people from every nation, tongue, tribe, and people.

Monica's Baptism

This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.  We didn’t plan it this way, but we happened to have scheduled a water baptism for that day.  We didn’t have three thousand baptized, but we did have sixteen people baptized, which is one of the largest baptisms we have ever had as a local church.  Because of our recent study on the Day of Pentecost, we were all fascinated with the promise that there is a Great Harvest coming!  And we believe that we are already seeing the firstfruits!   And, as a statement of faith, we celebrate what God has promised!

An Appeal to Pray for the Church in Paris

As many of you know who are tracking with this blog, I have just returned from a ministry trip with Judy to Paris.  There is no way I could ever begin to give a report on all the conversations we had with various people in the larger Body of Christ there.  The interaction we had with especially younger workers (or potential workers who obviously have a call on their life) has reinforced in me, more strongly than ever, the need to pray for the Church in Paris.  While much of what I am talking about applies to all of France, I especially see the need to pray for Paris.

First, let me give a bit of background.  Among the younger generation in Paris (and probably all over France), there seems to be a new openness to Biblical Christianity.  Ten years ago, or even five years ago, there seemed to be a resistance to the Gospel.  And even among Christians, there seemed to be a resistance toward change from the status quo.  That is changing rapidly.  And I believe that this new openness is spreading to older generations too. By the way, there are others making similar observations (see link below).  I think it is also important to note that confidence in the current institutions (political and government, economic, social) is fast eroding, or perhaps even gone completely!  This current presidential election is one example.  Almost everyone with whom I spoke said that none of the candidates were good, and that people voted more out of protest and anger than conviction.  The current economic crisis in Europe is another example.  Few have confidence in any solutions being put forth by economists and politicians. All these things just reinforce the Biblical truth that this world is corrupted by sin, and that the real need in this world is spiritual, and that need can only be filled in Jesus Christ and a commitment to authentic discipleship.

On the one hand, I am seeing so much potential for the Church in Paris.  There is a growing number of younger workers who are ready to stand and live on Biblical principles.  There is a growing dissatisfaction with the current church situation and a desire for the Church to be as described in the New Testament.  There is a deeper burden for those who are spiritually lost.  I also am seeing an emerging vision to take the Kingdom to other places, especially among the North African populations in France, and to North Africa.  Perhaps most important, though, is a hunger for the Word of God and for the Lord Himself.   Though there is still plenty of room for growth in all these areas, I personally am very encouraged by what I am seeing and hearing.

On the other hand, I also see that the kingdom of darkness is actively engaging in a plan to tear down and tear apart the Church in Paris.  There is so much disillusionment among Christians due to conflicts and division that have taken place in the past five to ten years.  Many church leaders are responding to the current spiritual transitions taking place in France with insecurity and a desire to protect their own interests.  There seems to be few examples of godly leaders that are ministering from a position of servanthood and humility and other Biblical principles.  By the way, teaching about godly leadership and encouraging younger workers to pursue a ministry of selflessness are major themes of the workshops we are doing in Paris.

I am convinced that much of the battles taking place today in Paris are spiritual, and therefore must be fought by prayer.  For this reason, I am issuing an appeal to pray for the Church in Paris.  I realize that we all have dozens of urgent matters about which we are praying.  I ask that you consider adding Paris.  I could give you a list of things to pray for, but I believe I have said enough today that any discerning prayer warrior will know how to pray.  I would love to hear specific ways you believe God might be leading you to pray.  And I certainly would love to answer any further questions you might have.  You can contact me at immanuel7@comcast.net

See article in Religion Today: What Nobody is Saying About France.

Update from Paris

Note:  I actually wrote this earlier in the week when we were still in Paris.  However, I had a difficult time uploading this on the blog site.  So here it is.  I plan to write a fuller entry within the next several days.

Judy and I have been here in Paris for about five days now.  We have met with a number of people, and on Saturday, we did a workshop for a group of Christian workers on Building Biblical Discipleship into our church communities.  On Sunday, we attended a monthly gathering of Christians that worship and pray for the city of Paris.  That was very encouraging, and the worship, led by Pierre Nicolas, was excellent.

I Kings 18 describes a time in Israel’s history when there was a severe drought…….much like the spiritual drought that has been in Paris.   But Elijah the prophet heard the sound of a roaring rain that would put an end to this drought. He did not literally hear this, but he heard it in the Spirit.  He went to the top of a mountain and began to pray.  He sent his servant to go look out toward the sea and tell him  what he saw.  Nothing!  So he continued to pray and sent him out to check again. And nothing!  This happened six times and there was nothing.  But Elijah kept praying.  Why?  Because he had heard the sound of a roaring rain!  There are many of us who hear the sound of a roaring rain coming to Paris that will put an end to the spiritual drought.  But we keep praying.  Yesterday, we met with some of those prayer warriors.

Well, most of you know the rest of the story.  The seventh time the servant checked, he saw a small cloud.  Elijah then declared that the downpour was now coming.   And that is what happened!  May the Lord raise up many across this earth who won’t listen to those who see nothing, but will keep praying because they have heard the sound of a roaring rain!

Actually, there are some of us who are seeing a small cloud coming up on the horizon.

 

Why Paris?


As some of you are aware, I have been going to Paris rather frequently.  This week I will be making the fourth trip in 13 months.  Some have asked, “Why Paris?”  I would like to share a little today about why we are going there.

A little over 10 years ago, while on a personal retreat, I felt the Lord speak to me saying that just as He has poured out His Spirit upon the Spanish-speaking world, He was going to do the same in the French-speaking world.  I sensed this so strongly, I immediately began taking French classes at our local community college.  (I should mention that though I can understand spoken and written French fairly well, I am very far away from being fluent).  As a church we began visiting France and meeting people.  We began praying. Over these years, the Lord has given us some precious relationships there, especially with some Christian workers.  However, it is beyond the scope of this blog entry to tell of some of the amazing ways we have seen God working.

There is another reason for focusing on Paris.  We have discovered that France is a very influential country.  The French-speaking world spreads around the globe (Europe, North Africa, West Africa, Southeast Asia, Pacific islands, etc).  And much of these areas lie in some of the most spiritually unreached and dark places of the world.  France, and in particular Paris, leads the French-speaking world.  In the English-speaking world or Spanish-speaking world, there is no one city that dominates the culture like Paris does the French-speaking world.  We believe Paris is a very strategic city in the purposes of God today.

There are some wonderful people and wonderful Christian workers in Paris.  But it has been a very difficult road to travel.  There is much spiritual resistance in Paris.  There has been a large Islamic influx into France in the past 20 years or so.  In fact, there are more Moslems in Paris than there are Christians in all of France!  There have also been many disappointments and setbacks for the Church there which I do not have the time to explain.  I believe, however,  that God is using all this resistance and all these trials to strengthen spiritual leaders and workers that can lead the Church in Paris into all that He has called her to be.   Tribulation and trials have a way of purifying God’s people.  That is what is happening today in Paris.  God is preparing a people that are going to be mighty for His Kingdom.

Judy will be traveling with me to Paris this week.  In addition to visiting with many people, I will be doing a workshop on Saturday, May 12, for a group of Christian leaders.  The topic will be on building Biblical discipleship into our churches.  Please pray for us while we are there.  There are many we need to see, but so little time.  My goal (no promises, though) is to write one or two times while we are there.  I will share some pictures as well as some personal observations.

Every Man Complete in Christ

We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”    Colossians 1:28

It is obvious that one of Paul’s goals for the churches that he worked with was to bring every single person to a place of being complete in Christ.  He, along with his co-laborers, would do this by proclaiming Christ, admonishing, and teaching.  We are also told in the following verse that for this purpose he would labor and strive.  This was not just some passing interest for these early Christian leaders.  They saw this as the central part of their ministry.

So what does it mean to be complete in Christ?  If this is so important, why do so few Christians even understand what this means, much less make this a life pursuit?  The Greek word for “complete” is a word used in many other places in the New Testament.  It means coming to a place of spiritual maturity or wholeness.  While this involves a life-long process and certainly includes many aspects of spiritual growth, I have increasingly become convinced that a major part of this process means learning who we are in Christ.

Two very powerful words we see used over and over are “in Christ,” or sometimes “in Him.”  Scripture clearly states that those who have truly received God’s gift of salvation by faith are “in Christ.”  At Immanuel Fellowship (the church in which I serve as a pastor) we are currently going through the book of Ephesians on Sunday mornings.  After almost three months, we are still in Ephesians chapter 1!  The focus of this first chapter is looking at some of the ways we are in Christ.  We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.  We have been chosen before the foundation of the world in HimIn Him, we have been predestined to adoption as sons.  We have redemption through His blood in Him.  We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit in Him.  The list goes on and on. These truths may seem lofty and irrelevant to some, but actually, gaining an understanding of them can greatly affect our thinking and our lives today.  To put it another way, if we do not know who we are in Him, then we will constantly be tossed emotionally and spiritually all over the place.  Sadly, that is the state of so many Christians today.  We must learn who we are in Christ.

It is not just who we are in Christ.  We must also learn what we have in Christ.  We have been given so much!  Ephesians, for example, speaks of the “riches of His grace” and the “riches of His glory.”  In chapter three, Paul speaks of his call to preach the “unfathomable riches of Christ” to the Gentiles (verse 8).  The New Testament is filled with passages that describe the riches that we have in Christ Jesus.   Rather than being rich in Him, many Christians are spiritual paupers. No wonder the Church today lacks the power and the passion that she once had!  We have lost our bearings.  We have lost sight of who we are in Him, and what we have in Him.  To be sure, much of the blame falls upon Christian pastors and leaders who do not “labor and strive” to present every man complete in Christ.

Maybe I should mention one other thing.  It is not enough to know who we are in Christ, and what we have in Him.  Yes, it begins there.  But, in order to truly be complete in Christ, we must “appropriate” these things. That means that we allow these things to change our way of thinking, and we walk accordingly.  The result will be a transformed life that is honoring Him in our words, attitudes, and actions; it will produce power in our lives and authority in prayer and influence.  I urge Christian leaders and pastors not to be content with just preaching these truths.  Like Paul and his companions, we must  “impart” these truths into the lives of the ones whom we serve.  Admonishing every man and teaching every man suggests that this work involves personal relationship with people.  May we proclaim Christ, and may we admonish every man and teach every man, that we may present every man complete in Christ!

(If you would want to listen to any of the podcasts on Ephesians 1, you can do so by going to immanuelfellowship.podbeam.com).

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