Baby Steps

Here in Canada, the CBC has a radio program called Under the Influence with host Terry O’Reilly.

It mostly has to do with advertising. On Feb. 4, 2016 they aired this story:
One day in Afghanistan, a small troop of American soldiers found themselves involved in an exchange of gunfire with a small group of Afghans.
The skirmish goes on for days.

It's a gun battle with no end, as each side just keeps firing shots in the other's direction.

The other group isn't associated with the Taliban, so the Americans aren't sure why they are being fired upon.

Finally, the American Lieutenant in charge has an idea.

He says, why don't we just ask them?

So the Lieutenant signals a ceasefire.

When the shooting stopped, he slowly walked over to the Afghans and asked, "Why are you firing at us?"

They tell him it's because the Americans are not paying rent for the land they're on.

The Lieutenant says, "Oh, OK, so we'll pay rent."

The Afghans say that's fine, but we have to warn you that another group will start shooting at you.

When the Lieutenant asks why, the Afghans tell him that the other group believes they own they land.

Then the Lieutenant asked this one simple question:

Is there a place we can move to where we won't have to pay rent?

The Afghans point to a place just 180 metres away.

So the American squad picked up their equipment, moved 600 feet to the left - and the shooting stopped.

That was all it took.

It was the smallest move that resulted in a surprisingly big gain.
As I listened to that story I thought about the story of Nicodemus in the book of John.

Nicodemus appears three times in the Gospel of John.

He first visits Jesus one night to discuss his teachings.[John 3:1–21]

Nicodemus didn't approach Jesus for all to see. He was curious but he was also a member of the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin legislated all aspects of Jewish religious and political life within the parameters laid down by Biblical and Rabbinic tradition.

Nicodemus came at night to try to figure out who this Jesus was. He took baby steps towards Christ.

The second time Nicodemus is mentioned, he reminds his colleagues in the Sanhedrin that the law requires that a person be heard before being judged.[John 7:50–51]

Nicodemus must have liked what he heard because he puts himself at great risk to defend Jesus here. He is even accused of being one of his followers.

Finally, Nicodemus appears after the Crucifixion to provide the customary embalming spices, and assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial.[John 19:39–42]

We have here a man who met Jesus at night, defended him publicly and then helped to bury Him after the crucifixion.

From baby steps to a follower of Jesus Christ!

We all are moving through life. We are either moving closer to Christ or further away.  The steps we take maybe small at first but when we discover who Jesus is, our lives will never be the same.


The Call

What are the different ways in which God calls us?

Before we get the call, we have to know His voice.  I am reminded of 1st Samuel 3. Samuel did not yet know the Lord, the word of the Lord not yet being revealed to Him. (vs 7) Three times the Lord called to Samuel and each time he went to Eli the priest whom he ministered to the Lord under. The first two times, Eli said he did not call him. Then Eli realized the Lord was calling Samuel and taught Samuel how to respond. Samuel had to learn how to hear the voice of the Lord.

Later in John 10:27 Jesus says that His sheep listen to His voice, He knows us and we follow Him.  I believe that as new believers we need to be discipled, taught to hear his voice and that as we lean in to Him, talk wioth Him, pray to Him, read His Word...we will begin to hear Him when He calls.

One way the Lord calls us is through prayer. I remember numerous times in our life when my wife and I spent time in prayer and the Lord spoke specifically to us, calling us to new pathds we had not thought of ourself.  One time, while living in Croatia, my wife and I were praying about taking an outreach team to Macedonia and then staying there ourselves when the team departed. I came home one day and my wife was crying. She said the Lord spoke to her some specific things in prayer about our next steps. I wanted to see the list she had made but she said if it was from God, He would speak it to me as well.  5 days later, as I was prayer planning an evening event in another town, I felt the Lord calling me to grab a pen and He clearly spoke some "next step" things to me.  When I got home a couple days later our list matched exactly.

I also believe the Lord calls us through His Word. My call to Salvation came through His Word. I saw the Scriptures and how clearly it says that I had sinned and Jesus made a way for me to be connected to the Heavenly Father via His death on the cross. I eagerly responded to that call. Later, I felt the Lord calling me to missions via the Great Commission. I spent 4 years in missions ministry as a result of that call.

Finally I belive the Lord confirms His call through the consulting of others. Two specific times in my life, in the above story of our future in Croatia and later when we prayed about a move that brought us to Canada, we consulted a pastor and another spiritual leader, asking them to pray with us and for us and to see if what we felt the Lord speaking was also witnessed in their spirit. Samuel went to Eli when he heard the call and I believe we also need to seek the wisdom of others when we feel God calling.

In summary, I believe God calls us through prayer, His Word and the wisdom of our spiritual leaders.


One Word - The Tradition Continues

Back in 2009 Compassion began challenging people to seek the Lord for a word for the new year instead of making a new years resolution. This challenge has been sent out to their bloggers every year since.  I enjoyed the idea so much that in 2013 I joined the ranks of Compassion bloggers who write about their one word.  I have asked God for a new word each year since.

In 2013 I felt that word was PRAYER and pray I did.  Lots.  Things happened (concussions) which forced me to my knees in prayer before the Lord.  In fact I think I only survived that year due to prayer!

In 2014 that word was TRUST. Looking back over that year, I saw areas both personally and professionally where I had to learn to trust God more than ever.  I also saw God open amazing doors as I learned to trust Him more.

In 2015 I felt that the word He had for me was PEACE. A lot happened this past year and my peace was challenged greatly at times.  Yet through all of the ups and downs, I felt the peace that passes all understanding!  (Phillipians 4:7)

As we approached the new year I asked the Lord for a word for 2016.  That word is BEGINNINGS. 

I was drawn to this passage in Isaiah:

"Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." (Isaiah 43:19)

As I read and reflect on that passage of Scripture I can't help but get a bit excited. I also get a bit nervous.  Beginnings can signify change.  Change is not always easy or comfortable. However, I believe the Lord is speaking this word for a reason. I don't know what 2016 holds but I know Who holds 2016!  I can makle plans but God can take things in any number of directions. I am usually suprised by how significant the word becomes by the end of each year.

My ultimate goal is to know Him and His will more. 

I am excited to see how this word applies to the coming year.

So what is God speaking to you for the New Year?


5 Questions With Pastor Gregg Matte

Welcome to 5 Questions With.....

Today's guest is Pastor Gregg Matte.

Gregg Matte is the senior pastor of Houston's First Baptist Church and founder of Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M University, one of the largest college Bible studies in the nation. He is also the author of Finding God's Will and I AM Changes Who I Am. He and his wife, Kelly, have a son and a daughter and live in Houston, Texas.

I just recently reviewed his book, Unstoppable Gospel and Pastor Matte took time to discuss his book with me in a phone interview today.  What follows is a transcript of that call.

OK, let's get started:

1. Why did you decide to write Unstoppable Gospel?

I wanted the people of the church to be encouraged and offer them some practical steps in how to make a difference. We live in a culture where everyone is dogging the church or dogging Christians and acting like the church and the Christians are the problem when it really is the answer. We want to be a part of making the difference. So by looking back at the book of Acts we get some practical steps in how to make a difference, we also are encouraged that we can make a difference. Lastly, in the beginning of Acts, they are hiding, afraid that they are going to be killed just like Jesus was. The last verse of Acts says, "Then the Gospel went out unhindered." (Acts 28:30-31) So you have a very big difference there and that is what I wanted the people of God, the people of the church to really get, that through God we can make a difference. 

2. You mention in your book that we should define ourselves spiritually rather than vocationally. Can you explain that a bit more?

We have to see our primary identity first. That is really our eternal identity, that we are Christians, and then see our roles and our other identitys second. What happens is then you get the order right and that is where Jesus says, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33) and C.S. Lewis says "put first things first and you'll get second things thrown, put second things first and you'll lose the both of them." So what I wanted people to do is to understand that the first thing that you are is a Christian. That is the number one thing that you are as a believer in Christ. Then fron that, that gives us the strength to then be a mom or a dad or a businessman or an engineer or whatever it is. We have to first see ourselves, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and Him moving through us. Often times we get it mixed up, so if I see myself as a businessman first, then I may never share Christ with anyone at the office or really want to make a difference because that would risk me being a businessman. Instead of having my primary identity being first and the resource of Jesus being from which I do everything.

3. What do you see as the difference between conviction and condemnation?

Condemnation is very ambiguous. Conviction is very procise. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is going to have a prociseness to it that we are going to go, "You know I need to stop doing this or start doing that, or I was rude or God is working on my pride, He is working on my selfishness. Conviction is like a laserbeam flashlight. Condemnation is just this big wet blanket of "Oh woe is me I am terrible." What does that mean that you are terrible? What specifically is God trying to get your attention on? The devil loves to give us condemnation. He just wants to paralyze us with a wet blanket thrown over us. God wants to give us conviction in order to bring growth. Condemnation sends us backwards, conviction sends us forward. Condemnation takes us away from God, conviction actually draws us to God. So they are very different, though they may feel the same because they have a twinge of guilt with them. We have to get past that and say ok I want to grow from this. 

4. You mentioned the "ministry of interruptions" which really gave me pause as a pastor because I do not always look for that. Can you explain that phrase for our readers?

Yes, you know God has got you on a path and He is going to interrupt you throughout the day. What I mean by that is there are going to be people who come along that are either lost person in need of a Saviour or a saved person needing encouragement. When we see people spiritually that makes a difference. So then when the phone rings or someone crosses our path in need of help, we don't see it as an interruption, we see it as an opportunity. That is what they had in the book of Acts. You see Peter and John on the way to the temple and someone would interrupt them asking for money and they would say, "I want to give you Jesus." So they use it as a ministry opportunity. A lot of times we are focused, knocking it out and we have to see that God is going to bring some intersections into our path and those can sometimes be the greatest moments of our day. As opposed to just making it to the store and getting our grocery list checked. 

Let me add one other thing, as a leader, it doesn't mean everything that comes into your inbox is something that you ned to deal with at that moment. That is not what I am saying. I am not trying to call people to reactionary living, I am trying to be attuned with the Spirit to know when they need to turn aside and to take that time to encourage or help that person. There are a thousand things coming at you. You have to be strategic about that and have a listening ear to the Lord. 

5. How is your church, Houston First Baptist, sharing the unstoppable Gospel?

It has gotten a hold of us in a huge way. We're giving and we're going. We are a generous church and want to give financially and also of our time and be able to give and say lets let the Gospel go out, Acts1:8, to our city, nation, world. Also we want to be able to go. To be active in it.  We have people adopting children, we have folks teaching Sunday School, we have folks sharing Christ in their workplace. We want to be difference makers. 

Thank You Pastor Matte!

If you get the chance, check out Unstoppable Gospel


Delighting in God

The Mercy of God led to Calvary - A.W. Tozer

I love the writings of A.W. Tozer

I first discovered Tozer back in 1994.  I was in the midst of a YWAM Discipleshp Training School.  Assigned a book report, I scoured the shelves and came across The Pursuit of God.  That book changed my life.  It challnged me, encouraged me and left me thirsty for God!

Over the years I have picked up old Tozer books whenever I found them.  Over the last decade, many of Tozer's sermons and magazine writings have been turned into books.  The majority of those have been compiled and edited by James L. Snyder.

So I got excited when Bethany House published a new book of Tozer's writings called Delighting in God. I eagerly dove into this book. Like every Tozer book I have ever read, this one challenged me in new and exciting ways.  Snyder does a brilliant job of compiling Tozer's writings on the theme of delighting in God.  I found numerous passages that caused me to pause, reflect and pray.

For a man who passed away in 1963, Tozer's writings are a much needed breath of fresh air!  His words challenge still today.  At times his words are even prophetic. 

If you like old school preaching, having your faith challenged or find yourself craving more of God then Delighting in God  is the book for you.

"This book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker Publishing in exchange for an honest review."


Unstoppable Gospel

I love the book of Acts.  It is probably one of my favorite Bible books.  The stories are exciting and engaging.  In his new book, Unstoppable Gospel, Pastor Gregg Matte calls readers to take up the mission and ministry of the early church and to go out and change the world. 

With Acts 1:8 operating as the backbone verse of the book, Matte takes the reader through the meaning of that verse, as well as walks through the remainder of the book of Acts and how it applies to us today.

There were a couple places where the book seemed to lag a bit, though not overwhelmingly so.  In fact, there was a lot of good "meat" on this bone and I found myself underlining quite a few passages to go back and look at again. 

I appreciate Pastor Matte's call to missions and found myself challenged and encouraged.  Can't ask for more than that.

"This book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker Publishing in exchange for an honest review."


It's Just A Cup

Readers of this blog know that I usually don't comment on "culture war" items and the insanity that erupts on social media.  Yet the recent Starbucks "controversy" has filled my social media feeds to the point where I decided to go against the grain.

For the few who may be unaware, Joshua Feuerstein, a former television and radio evangelist, decided to upload a video to his 1.8 million Facebook followers re. Starbucks new cups. Feuerstein calls himself a "social media personality."  This should have been a warning to people not to take him seriously!

Feuerstein went into a Starbucks with his Jesus t-shirt, a gun (don't ask), and his video rolling and gave his name as Merry Christmas so that the barista would be forced to say, "Merry Christmas." Feuerstein rails against Starbuck taking the Christ out of Christmas and encourages his followers to also give their name as Merry Christmas and started a hashtag for his followers to tweet about all of this.

Now Starbucks has never had Merry Christmas on their red cups.  They have had everything from minimalist snowflakes and hand-drawn reindeer to a winking snowman and decorative ornaments.  This year it was just a simple red design. 

Missing in this hoopla is the fact that Feuerstein claims to share a message of hope and healing.  I missed that in the midst of all his marketing and self promotion under the guise of "putting Christ back in Christmas."

The media picks up on this one guy's viral video and I have seen numerous stories about how Christians are boycotting and protesting Starbucks because of the assault on Christmas! 

Sadly, though many Christians will not support this one man's attempt at self promotion, some will embrace this as yet another battlefield and in an ongoing culture war against our faith. Meanwhile, unbelievers will shake their head, think Christians are off their rockers and never see the grace, hope and life that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

I have not found a place in the Bible where Jesus calls us to protest over red cups, chicken sandwiches or greetings at area businesses.  I do see where He calls us to share the Gospel (Matthew 28:16-20) and to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). 

It is beyond time for Christians to protest less and share the Gospel more.  If we want to truly change our culture, let us focus on sharing the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. 

Instead of protesting over a cup of coffee, why not buy a coffee for you and a friend (or a stranger) and share how Jesus Christ has changed your life.