And the Lord Added…

 Acts 2:46-47 (NIV)
46  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Our local church’s youth summer camp just ended last week. I was there at the beginning, unfortunately I was not able to see the entire event through because I have to get back to work and I also needed to attend a family matriarch’s funeral.

Twenty six (26) souls accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour at the end of the summer camp. Atop that are 100+ young souls that are now once again fired up to serve Jesus. Wow!

I am one with the Church in celebrating the rebirth of these souls. I am very excited about what God will do through our newly revived fervor.

But this piece is not about the celebration. As I’m sure there would already be many who would say things about that. This piece looks forward. This piece would be about reminders for I choose to be the voice that’s rarely heard…

We need to take the fire from of our special activities and bring it over into our daily lives.

“Every day they continued… with glad and sincere hearts.” 

We are all fired-up. And that is well and good. But we need to be aware that there is such as thing called euphoria. It is a proven medical and psychological condition that there are special times and situations that makes us feel exaggeratedly happy and confident. But this feeling does not last long and it does not carry over to our normal lives.

The challenge for us is to get back to the daily bumps and grinds, to the usual rigours of normal life while continuing on with God’s work. To be out of the comfort zone of our special activities and still be going strong.

We ought be wary of gimmickry and pageantry.

“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God…”

Please notice how simple yet effective the early Christians were in doing the work of the Lord.

There were no feasts. But they shared food and ate together, rich and poor alike, they shared a table. There were no personalities, each person as important as another. What brought them together was a common belief. That the Son of God was born of a virgin and He died and rose again for all mankind.

Isn’t that what true Christian fellowship is? That we gather together not because there’s a special event, but we regularly meet because we have Jesus and we would want to meditate on His word.

There were no mention of singing or dancing. But they did praise God. They might have sung or danced but the scripture didn’t made mention of that, did it? Our generation so easily associate praise with singing and dancing because that’s what we grew up with. But I can imagine the early Christians gathering together praising God with just their own words. Not words crafted for them by other people but words that come directly from their heart. Words of testimony that declares God’s work in their lives. Words of prayer that are mouthed directly from the human core.

Isn’t that what praise is? That when “the music fades and all is stripped away” we simply come to bless the heart of God.

And though we are given the luxury of having the resources to add comfort, style and drama to our gatherings. We need to make sure that the essence of what we are doing still stands strong and tall above all else.

The Way We Live Together Should Win Souls

“… enjoying the favor of all the people.” 

The early Christians lived together in such a way that they’ve won the favor of all the people. They’ve won the favor of not just fellow believers, but of everyone. They loved and served one another in such a strong way that non-believers were encouraged to join in.

Among the believers. No one was left out. Everyone belonged. The rich and the poor. The weak and the powerful. The young and the old. Man or woman. Everyone had their place in the fellowship.

Like the early Christians, we ought to be careful that no one is left out.

Like the early Christians, our relationship with each other ought to be enticing for others to say that our God is indeed true. Our life together should be a living testament for Jesus.

Let’s give God all the credit.

“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

And the Lord Added

And the Lord added to their number
daily those who were being saved.

Things happened, not because we have great leaders. Surely not because we have invited great motivational speakers and certainly not because the worship leaders and the band were awesome. It is about God at work and not about anything else.

We all know this already right? Good.

Let us just be careful not to make it about the personalities or about the activities we conducted. Sometimes we make it about other people (sometimes we even make it about ourselves) or about something else. How? Please let me continue on…

We think things like, “Let’s invite him to speak again next year. He did such an awesome job!”  We also think things like, “Let’s do that activity again next year. That definitely did it!” Looking back at who did good and what went well is doing due diligence. But please be aware. Inviting the best people available to do the job would be one thing, but planning our activities around them would be a different thing all together. Working out the best activity is one thing, but to associate success with an activity is another. If we aren’t careful. We’d end up saying things like, “He should be the one who needs to be in front. He’s the only one who’s capable of pulling that off.” And we’d end up saying things like, “We should definitely have that activity again next year, that did the trick. There’s no substitute for that activity.”

God can work mightily through whomever and whatever. And by saying such things, we unconsciously strip God of the credit.

Let us remember that it was the Lord who added to our number. It was His work, not ours. Only He and no one else should take the credit.

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Tapping into the Power Source

(Please do participate in the poll at the end of this post.)

I had an embarrassing yet enlightening experience last Sunday.

I was casually going about my usual Sunday morning rituals then I thought, “I wonder what’s our lesson for today’s adult Bible study class”. And then it came to me. It was one of those “Oh my…?!”-experiences. I totally forgot! I was supposed to be the one to teach Bible study that day. You see. A few days before, Brother Vernie, one of our Church ministers, asked me if I can temporarily teach the class for the coming Sunday. Brother Vernie regularly teaches that class but he needed to attend a friend’s cremation service that coming Sunday so he’s not sure if he can make it to Bible class on time. He said he’d prepare something short as a back-up just in case and I can also choose my own topic, so I said “Yes!” without hesitation. But lo and behold, I totally forgot about it until right that very moment. It’s just 2 hours before Bible study time and we’re an hour-taxi-ride away from the church building. “Oh my…?!”

I had the option to hand the teaching task back to Brother Vernie but I believe God lead me to do otherwise.

So I randomly selected a Bible study resource from my laptop and hurriedly printed some copies. My wife Len, whipped up a quick breakfast, all usual preps are done half the usual time and off we go. We were able to board a taxi quick. While in the cab, I said a prayer and then proceeded with reading the materials. The first miracle happened there. I was familiar with the verse used, because my wife and I just read it a week ago for our scheduled daily bible reading.

We’re supposed to be a few minutes away from the church building when we got stuck in traffic. It was unexpected. There was road repair going on and we’d be late. My wife quickly contacted someone from the Bible class to advise that we’d be coming but we’ll be a few minutes late.

Now something’s brewing. We’re gonna be late and I’m not prepared but yet, at that time, I was not worried at all. You see, this was not normal for me. When in charge of a Bible study or with delivering the sermon for young people I’m usually at the edge. Typically, I’d be all prepared, I’d be very early, and still after all that I’d still be very anxious. Indeed something’s up.

We’re about 10 minutes late when we finally got to the Bible study room. Brother Vernie has been sharing a few words (thank God), knowing that I’d be a little late.

But there’s something different, the Bible study room was filled with people. “Gulp!”

So here we go. I’m about to lead a Bible class without the usual preps in a jam-packed Bible study room. I wanted to be transparent so I explained to the class first why we were late. I told them that I totally forgot about my assignment but I assured them that everything’s gonna be okay, because as always, not I but God would be our teacher. I’ve always believed that, but this time I believed it more. And like I always do, I started with a prayer to ask God for His leading. I’ve always prayed before too, but this time I know my call for help was more sincere. I didn’t come totally unprepared after all, but I was armed with a heightened dependence on the work and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Zechariah 4:6 (NIV)
…‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’says the Lord Almighty.

I started the class and as I proceeded I knew things were going very well. I was running through the topic with much coherence. I was speaking with much conviction and passion. God was working powerfully and I knew it. I was not the teacher at the moment. God was, and I was just part of the class.

The class ended on time. And Brother Vernie was glad that the topic used coincided with the topics of other Bible study classes. I was happy too! Unexpectedly, a good number of the class attendees approached me and told me that they were blessed. My wife also told me that it was the best class that I ever conducted. Apparently, I was not the only one who noticed that God did something special that Sunday morning.

Now, I’m not advocating being late to church nor am I suggesting that not being ready is a good way to go because doing our part and giving our best at anything honors God. What I’d like to say is that, God reminded me that my definition of “preparedness” was off. God reminded me that being truly prepared in anything means to totally prepare our hearts to depend on Him alone and to surrender to His leading.

I was reminded of God’s power to work in our lives and how we miss out on it. As Christians, we are well aware that we can call upon the Lord for help. We all know that we have access to the power source. But last Sunday’s incident made me realize that I’ve been running on batteries most of the time. It’s a shame because, as God’s child, I have direct access to the source and I’ve been failing to capitalize on that fact. It’s not the I do not pray. It’s not that I fail to acknowledge God’s work in my life. It’s that, in most cases, because I have control over things, I fail to fully and truly surrender everything to God.

We often lack the “desperation” in asking God for His leading because we know that we still have a hand in the situation. Yes, we still believe that we need God. But there’s “I need God” and there’s “I REALLY NEED YOU GOD!”. Yes, we still pray. But there’s prayer and there’s EARNEST PRAYER. We always tend to relax our faith in God and unconsciously rely on ourselves (our talents, our resources, our connections).

And we don’t really want that, do we? Do we want to keep on running on batteries when we have access to the power source? If we really believe that we have a God who is all-powerful, then we should choose God’s leading over our meagre resources and our limited talents on any given day of the year. We ought to realize that when we surrender everything to God, and I mean EVERYTHING, that’s when great things happen.

Think then about the great things we can intercede for, knowing that God holds the solution. Think about the things we gave up on and we don’t bother with because we don’t have the power over them. Think about the problems of the Church. Think about the problems of your country. Think about the problems of the world. God has all the answers. All we need to do is pray for these things deeply and passionately. And in faith, our God will make great things happen.

Distracted

I ran my first 5K fun run a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been running for 3 months now and not because I suddenly loved running, it’s just that I needed to get fit. And to get fit was my motivation to finish, that was my prize. So even though I wasn’t the best runner, I did my best to finish because getting to finish gives me a strong confirmation that I am getting closer to getting fit.

My first race experience was far from perfect. The race started out late. My friends and I got mixed up with the 3K runners so we didn’t get to start properly. When the race started I’ve lost view of my wife so we didn’t get to run together. And there were so many runners! So there’s so many people who got in the way while I was running.

If I hadn’t set my thoughts on finishing for the sake of my goal I wouldn’t have finished. The run was far from comfortable (Who would expect it to be? Right?). The heat was horrible. The crowd was large and people can definitely get in the way. There’s always that thought of “You’ve done well. Just give up for now and do better on the next race.” But thank God for giving me the will and the strength to finish.

The Bible also tells us of a race that most of us are probably familiar with. And in running this race the Scripture advises us to fix our eyes on Jesus (our prize). And like running a 5K fun run, setting our eyes on something or someone else (even ourselves actually) would mean that we would get distracted in running the race of life.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

We are all prone to distraction. Christian leaders are not immune to it, they are even more susceptible to it than others. And getting distracted has become so normal to many of us that we’re no longer aware of it. And when we fall to Satan’s traps and we lose sight of the prize things can go terribly wrong.

I’ve seen a lot of people leave church/ministry just because they got “distracted”. People that I love and care about. People that I’ve mentored at some point, people who I’ve worked and served with, and even people who once mentored me. It saddens me to see people leaving church/ministry for all the “right” reasons so it’s really heart breaking for me to see people leave church/ministry for all the wrong reasons.

What wrong reasons? At a risk of over-simplifying things please allow me to enumerate a few:

We leave because we don’t get along well with someone. So instead of following Jesus by loving our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:31) we take the self-serving path of leaving.

We leave because someone wronged us. Even though our memo says “forgive”, it’s just out of the question.

We leave because there are a lot of issues, problems, etc. (as if we expect the church to be perfect). So instead of being part of the solution we leave and be part of the problem.

We leave because we can’t have it our way. So we go somewhere else where we can. Forget about humility. We are always right and our ideas are always the best, right?

We leave because we’re no longer “growing”, or the “flame is dying down”, or we’re no longer “inspired” . And because it’s so easy to blame others rather than putting the blame on ourselves, we say “I need to find another place where I can grow or get inspired (or whatever)”. We easily forget that spiritual growth is a product of a personal relationship with the Saviour and other people has little if not nothing to do with it. We forget that Jesus should be the one source of inspiration and nothing or no one else.

We leave because people do not live godly lives as we expected them to. And so because we see the sawdust in our brethren’s eyes and we fail to inspect the plank on our own eyes (Matthew 7:3-5), we look for other congregations to satisfy our “high” moral standards and eventually get disappointed again (because mind you, the saved is not perfect, only the Saviour is).

We leave because we made a big mistake and we lost face. And because we’re so concerned about what other people would say, leaving seems to be the best option. So instead of getting back on our feet and moving forward we simply run away.

We leave because we are “no longer needed”. So we say goodbye and leave people discouraged thus proving the contrary.

In fact, sometimes our reasons can be so shallow that if we look honestly from the outside they can be unbelievable. We leave because we want to be with our friends and family. We leave because there’s a new work opportunity. We leave because of a new fad and being on a different church/ministry is “cooler”. We leave because other congregations are more established and organized. We leave because we’re no longer happy. We leave because we’re no longer getting anything out of it. We leave just because we want to and the determination to continue on and fight the good fight gets thrown out of the window.

We don’t even need to discuss why these things are wrong, right? We just need to be honest to ourselves and it should be easy to see why.

But we have our “valid reasons” don’t we? Of course we got excuses… It’s so easy to make excuses…

Perseverance builds character.

Perseverance builds character.

The Bible says “perseverance builds character” (Romans 5:3-4) and yet we find ourselves saying “I find growth somewhere else”. How can we claim growth when all we do is seek our comfort zone? When we’re just looking for a ministry that’s easier. When we’re just heading for a church where we can find people who are easier to get along with. Are we not just fooling ourselves? Growth comes not because we feel like we’re growing. Growth comes when we persevere. When we serve with people who irritate us. When we look past other people’s shortcomings, and love them the way they are. When we humbly follow other people because God placed them in a position of leadership even though we think we know better. When we work in an important ministry doing things we don’t like to do rather than working on a ministry where we can do things that are just fun for us to do.

We can go on and on in refuting our own reasons and excuses for leaving church/ministry. So again, at the risk of over-simplifying things, I’d dare say that these reasons and excuses are wrong simply because they are a result of being too transfixed with other things or with ourselves or with other people other than the Saviour. And when we fail to fix are eyes on Jesus, we make terrible mistakes. When we get distracted we fail to run the race the way we were instructed to.

And though I’ve spent a lot of this blog post  real estate to write about distractions leading to people leaving, please be aware that leaving is not our most common reaction to distractions. We grumble. We complain. We speak ill of people. We rebel. We grow bitter. We grow angry. We become unproductive (if not counter-productive). We harbour pride. And we continue on… hurting God, hurting others and hurting ourselves. We don’t necessarily end up leaving but these reactions are still damaging the body of Christ.

But you’d say “Israel, what do you know?”

Well, I  know that I’ve made the same mistake before. I lay-lowed from my own ministry because I got discouraged by other people. I thought people were with me in advocating positive change but I got disappointed when I realized people weren’t. So I decided to make a statement by leaving. And mind you, when I made the decision to lay-low I thought I was doing the right thing. In fact, I thought I was doing a noble thing. But God made me realize that I wasn’t.

I didn’t leave immediately. Leaving was just the endpoint of me being distracted. At first, I started grumbling and complaining. Then I grew bitter. And then I eventually grew angry. I became unproductive then I just decided to lay-low. I didn’t just commit the mistake of leaving. I committed big mistakes before I got to that point. And when I finally got to that point, I believe I discouraged some people. And I wasn’t a good example to people who I love. And it took me a couple of years to realize my mistake and to eventually swallow my pride and admit that I was wrong.

It is my hope to share with you the things that God made me realize when I got distracted. I was wrong to lose my focus and I would like to humbly admit that. I’m writing this piece with the thought of helping others out of that rut. So if you’re about to commit the same mistakes I did, I’d like to rebuke you. And if you already committed those mistakes I’d like to encourage you to come back immediately and to come back stronger out of your situation.

When circumstance gets the better of you. When people around you shows their unlovable side. When you feel like giving up. Please remember to keep your eyes on the prize. Hebrews 12:2 is not a request, it is a command and it says “Fix your eyes on Jesus“.