The least of these

Read: Leviticus 7-9, Matthew 25:31-46

Last May I had the opportunity to join seven other members of my church on a missionary trip to Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. Our week was planned out ahead of time by the leaders at the missions base there. We’d go visit some migrant camps, men’s and women’s rehabilitation homes, and minister to the homeless who live under the city bridges.

The day came for us to head to the bridges. We arrived, cleaned up an area that was known to bring many people, brought out chairs and a guitar, but no one came. A local man who’d worked with our mission before came by and explained to us that the Bridge People, as they’ve come to be known, wouldn’t be coming. They’d been burned out of their camps, rounded up, and taken to prison all in preparation for the Baja races which would run through the dry ravines in the city.

This presented a bit of a problem. We’d prepared to meet these people on their own turf, feed them, bless them, pray for them. No connections had yet been made with the local police to reach out to the incarcerated. But the gentleman who found us at the ravine had an idea. He paced away with his phone in hand. Less than an hour later, we’d packed everything back up and were parked outside the city’s 48 hour holding facility.

If you’re imagining a North American holding prison, get that image out of your head. This is not a well-lighted place with concrete benches, let alone padded cots. There is no stainless steel toilet in the corner nor is there a phone with which to call a lawyer or a relative to come get you (if you even have a relative with a phone of their own). You don’t get your one phone call. You get concrete and bars and a hole in the floor that serves as a communal toilet.

I don’t mean to be gross, but I need to be real.

In the parking lot across from the barred entrance, we could already smell the sharp odour of stale urine and who-knows-what-else. After a quick chat with the officers on duty, we were permitted to unload our coolers, bags, and boxes. Two by two we were allowed in with the guards to present each inmate with a dry sandwich, a juice box, granola bar, and second-hand blanket. They filed passed offering quiet thanks and blessings. To those who were considered to violent to let out of their cells, team members went to them deeper in the prison. They set aside their own discomfort to offer a small comfort to someone else.

As we sat in the van afterward, our pastor brought to mind a portion of scripture from Matthew.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you have me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)

Circumstances prevented the people we planned to minister to from coming to us, but God made a way for us to go to them. Doors were opened and even the locals were amazed at what we were able to do. People were fed, given something to drink, clothed, looked after, and visited in prison—all by complete strangers.

Several days after our prison visit, a man approached our van at while we sat at a red light. He was selling candy bars. Our pastor purchased several. As he walked away, we noticed something. Aside from the candy, he carried only one thing. Tucked tightly under his arm was one of the blankets we’d handed out in the prison.

Matthew 25:40

Shoe93

Every church wants a good growth strategy—at least they should. We also want to see community and global outreaches at work. Some churches focus on one more than the other and that’s okay. Organisations like the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) have figured out a way to get relief to war- and disaster-torn countries faster than any other organisation. The Association of Faith Churches and Ministers (AFCM) figured out how to build a leadership and church structure on the Peruvian Amazon in a way no one had been able to accomplish before. Victory Churches International (VCI) has been able to plant churches in 43 nations while also feeding communities and providing other necessities like job skills training and orphanages.

When a small church looks at organisations like these, it can be daunting. How can we possibly make a difference? My church is a part of Victory Churches International. We provide funding for a lot of what the organisation does in Canada and abroad, but we also want to make a difference in our own community—especially since our church is located in the inner city. We see the effects of poverty and drug abuse on a daily basis. And for the five years we’ve been in our building have tried all sorts of things to add value to the community. This year—as we go into our seventh year as a church, God planted a vision in our pastor’s heart that caught fire and spread quickly.

There is a school across the street from our building. It’s the poorest school in the city. Kids come and go all the time because of the transient nature of the neighbourhood. When we approached the school about what we could do, a surprising dilemma presented itself. These kids need shoes. In the spring, we handed out shoes to kids in a migrant camp in Mexico. That was expected. To have kids right across the street from us without shoes was completely unexpected.

So began our Shoe93 campaign.

Why Shoe93? Each year, we host several events which we call Reach293 (two-ninety-three). We work to invite people to fill all 293 seats in our auditorium. Shoe93 started off as a bit of a joke, but caught on. Why not try to collect 93 pairs of shoes? Well, collect 93 pairs we did, and then some. Folks who don’t even attend our church (or any church at all) felt a tug on their hearts to give. And, as of the writing of this post, we have somewhere in the vicinity of 175 pairs of shoes (and constructed a shoe-ninety-tree). We’re now hoping to keep going and get a pair of shoes for every student in the school (about 270).

What does this have to do with today’s Bible reading? Every pair of shoes has a tag that reads:

And on your feet wear the Good News of peace to help you stand strong.

Ephesians 6:15 (ICB)

2017-09-30 11.01

I am convinced that, as kids put on their first pair of new shoes, that the preparation of the Gospel of peace (as the New King James puts it) will go with them. That 270 kids will be running around town spreading peace like we’ve never seen before and that those little feet will be preparing the ground for the Gospel to be planted in our city. I believe that this little vision turned big will be the start of a revival in my town and this won’t be the last you year of Shoe93.

If you’d like to contribute to Shoe293, visit www.noperfectpeople.co to give online. 100% of all donations will go directly to the purchase of new shoes.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 29-30, Ephesians 6

Benchwarmer

In sports, no one wants to be a benchwarmer—that one person that’s on the team just to fill out the roster and maybe get some playing time in if every other key player gets injured. A benchwarmer is the player no one knows. The player whose jersey you never see in the stands. No athlete aims for the position of benchwarmer.

So why are churches full of them?

Western churches are rife with people who are perfectly content to warm their seat on a Sunday morning and do nothing else with their faith for the rest of their life. Like a player with great talent, but no drive, we warm the pews and add an extra body to the weekly attendance count, but that’s it. We’re the player no one knows about. And that’s fine because it’s not our job to do anything else.

Or is it?

[Jesus Christ] is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-12 (NLT)

For some reason, we, the benchwarmers in the church, have come to the conclusion that it’s up to the pastor and the rest of the church leadership team to build the church. But this verse tells us the opposite. It’s the pastor’s job to equip God’s people to do Christ’s work and build up the church. Who are God’s people? You are God’s people.

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.

Ephesians 4:1 (NLT)

If you’re that player who has been called up from the farm team to sit on the bench of the big league team, are you going to just keep that spot warm for a better player? Or are you going to get off your rear end and work harder to earn your spot on the field? You want to play the game worthy of the level you’ve been brought to.

So, whether or not you know what your specific call is in the body of Christ is irrelevant. Even if you do know you’re call, you are still called to build the body of Christ.

Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Ephesians 4:16 (NLT)

If you are not an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, or a teacher, you fall into the sixth (and possibly the most important) category—the saints, or God’s people. You are not exempt from ministry work, but rather have the important responsibility of building the body of Christ. Whether you have a title or not, you have a position in the church and it is anything but lowly. So get off that bench and start living a life worthy of your calling. Go build up the Church.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 24-26, Ephesians 4

One voice

I was recently in a meeting with my pastor when he was asked about the local ministers’ group—pastors who regularly get together to discuss local church-related issues (in theory). My pastor laughed at the comment. He stopped going to those meetings a long time ago. He never even attended enough to be considered a regular. Do you want to know why? At one of these pastor’s meetings—where a group of pastors from the same city should be getting together to discuss strategies on how to help the lost in their city—a pastor stood up and said that he saw no reason for the churches in our town to work together. They’re all doing their own thing and that’s just fine.

Is it?

May God, who give this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other—each with the attitude of Christ toward the other. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified.

Romans 15:5-7 (NLT)

Everything I’ve ever read in the Bible, especially in reference to the Church, has always been that we should work together. That we are one body. A part of one mission. One family.

What should be a family business has become a rather serious case of sibling rivalry. I’ve heard many praise the fact that the city I live in is considered to be one of the most churched cities in the country (approximately one church per 1,000 residents). I beg to differ. I ask the question, how many United churches are there? Reform? Pentecostal? Mennonite? Non-denominational? There are multiples of each of these and many more. And very few, if any, were an intentional plant from another. It is a testament of split after split after split.

Don’t get me wrong, I get that there are different ways of doing things. Different denominations appeal to different people. I have no issue with that. What I take issue with is the fact that these people don’t see the need to work together, to speak with one voice.

The city is filled with people who have been exposed to and hurt by the local church. Instead of effectively working together toward a common goal, one church spurns another, creating more animosity than converts. How can God be glorified in that?

I long for the day when the Mennonite church can approach the Catholic church and join with the non-denominational church and they can all work together to proclaim the only message we’ve been called to proclaim:

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NLT)

I leave you with a prayer from Paul.

So I pray that God, who gives you hope, will keep you happy and full of peace as you believe in him. May you overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 105-106, Romans 15:1-20

Your assignment

In Israel, God set apart an entire tribe to tend to and take care of the tabernacle. The Levites were tasked with gatekeeping, treasuries, guarding, furnishing, blending spices, baking bread, and making music among other things. Each man over the age of twenty had a responsibility to the temple.

But I’m just a normal person.

No, you’re not.

He has made us his Kingdom and his priests who serve before God his Father.

Revelation 1:6 (NLT)

We are His temple and we are also the priests that serve the temple. Accepting the gift of salvation also means the acceptance of your assignment as keeper of the temple. There is a place for every single person to serve in the Kingdom of God. Like in Israel where no Levite was exempt from service, neither are we exempt.

Read through 1 Chronicles 9:22-34. Everyone got their assignment. Do you have yours?

Your assignment may not be a visible role in the church. It may not even be in the church at all. Since we all (the global Church) are the temple of God, to serve the Church as a whole is to serve the temple.

Did you know that there is a sixth element to ministry? We only ever hear about five.

He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.

Ephesians 4:11 (NLT)

Yes, we know all that. But read on.

Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:12 (NLT)

The responsibility of building the church is not on your pastor or teachers. It’s on you. Yes, you! Our pastors and teachers are there to equip us to do the work of the ministry—our assignments, whatever they may be.

If you are sitting there without a clue as to what you’re assignment may be, get your Bible. Read it. Pray. Ask God to show you what you can do in your role in the ministry. Pray that He would reveal to you your position in the temple, the body of Christ.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Chronicles 8-10, John 8:37-59

Quickly

Let’s assume that, if you attend church regularly, that you trust your pastor and other church leaders. You trust that he or she is a man or woman of God. You trust that they spend regular time in prayer and reading their Bible. You trust that their messages are Holy Spirit-led.

Then they approach you and tell you something you didn’t expect. It may be a word in season or it may be a word of correction. Some people take it to heart and are encouraged or work to make necessary changes in their lives. Others may ruminate on it for a while before responding. And others will get mad, stay away, or even leave the church thinking, what right does this person have to say this to me?

The truth is that they have every right. If you consider yourself to be a member of a church, you’ve put yourself into a position of submission to the pastor and the leaders he or she has put in place. So long as they are speaking and acting according to the Word of God, they have a certain amount of authority over you.

So why does our response matter so much?

Israel has wandered away from God. There are yet a few righteous men and women, but not many. Jehu is leading the army. Elisha is the prophet. Elisha sends a man of God to anoint Jehu as the next king. Jehu can do several things: he can send the man away, scoffing at him, he can listen to what he has to say and think about it, or he can accept the word and act on it.

Jehu accepts the anointing.

Jehu went back to his fellow officers, and one of them asked him, “What did that crazy fellow want? Is everything all right?”

“You know the way such a man babbles on,” Jehu replied.

“You’re lying,” they said. “Tell us.” So Jehu told them what the man had said and that at the Lord’s command he had been anointed king over Israel.

They quickly spread out their cloaks on the bare steps and blew a trumpet, shouting, “Jehu is king!”

2 Kings 9:11-13 (NLT)

Israel may have gone astray, but something (I believe the Holy Spirit) was still working in them. A deep respect and honour for the Word of God still resided in these men and, instead of getting upset that Jehu had been chosen to be the next king or taking the time to think about this news and whether or not they wanted to accept it, they immediately responded to it.

When we have a relationship with God, He will lead us and guide us. His Spirit works in and through us. He brings us insight and revelation.

When we are in submission to the leaders God has placed before us, God uses them to help lead and guide us. Between God speaking to our leaders and the Spirit working in us, I believe that we are well able to discern truth and allow that truth to guide us. When a word is presented to us from a trusted source and resonates within our spirits as truth, our response, like Jehu’s men, should be immediate. If we trust God and we trust our leaders, the time to ponder should be minimal. We should respond quickly.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Kings 9-11, John 5:1-24

Consequences with Grace

Often we are under the impression that church leaders—especially those of large congregations—are exempt from consequences. We’ve heard stories of preachers who’ve managed to get away with sin for a long time and wonder who else is hiding something.

The truth is, no one truly gets away with sin. Even Moses, as leader of Israel, and Aaron, as high priest, didn’t escape unscathed.

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!”

Numbers 20:12 (NLT)

Aaron died before Israel made it to the Promised Land and it was Joshua, not Moses who was leading at that time.

But there is hope. There is grace.

Last summer one of the pastors I listened to on a regular basis was removed from his position by his own church. The church he started. The church he watched grow from nothing to thousands. He’d succumbed to alcohol addiction and it was affecting his ability to minister effectively. Rumours flew that he might be cheating on his wife or that old issues with pornography addiction had flared up. The world turned on him. I stopped listening to him.

Until another pastor that I have a great amount of respect for offered this “fallen man” his stage. Not just for a weekday service. Not just one weekend service. But for their anniversary service. My first reaction was shock. How could anyone let this man ever take the stage again?

I realised I had become judge and jury for this man. If another pastor whom I respect would give him room, why couldn’t I? So I listened to that sermon he preached from the stage that was not his own. And on  February 5, 2017, Perry Noble stood on the stage at Elevation Church and preached a message on grace and forgiveness from a place only a man who truly knew what it felt like could.

Even though Moses and Aaron failed to obey God, God never failed them. Though they had to suffer the consequences of their sin, God never let go of them.

We all fall. And we all have the opportunity to get back up again. I realised that, if I want a hand to reach out when I’m down, I can’t be the person to deny my hand to the one who is down.

There are consequences. But there is still grace.

Daily Bible reading: Numbers 18-20, Mark 7:1-13

Skills

What are you good at? Don’t say, “nothing”. Everyone is good at something. Maybe your talent is obvious in music or fine art. But perhaps you’re good with numbers—solutions come easy to you. Maybe you are good with organization—you see how things can be done in a certain way to maximize impact and profitability. Maybe you’re really good at fixing things. Can you write? Can you listen well?

There is no end to the list of possible natural talents.

Have you ever thought about why you’re good at things?

In Exodus, God has just finished giving Moses a (really) long list of things required to complete the construction of the temporary temple. This is a big deal and no easy task, not even for the most talented workman. But God has provided Israel with what they need to complete His list.

“Look, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, intelligence, and skill in all kinds of crafts…”

Exodus 31:2-3 (NLT)

I think often, the church puts so much emphasis on the anointing on the five fold ministry gifts (prophets, preachers, teacher, apostles, evangelists) that those who are not a part of that small group of people feel as though they have no proper place in the church and that there is no anointing on their skills and talents. Not true!

The skills required to grow the Kingdom of God are near infinite. The Church needs talented accountants and carpenters. We need mechanics and maintenance people. And not only are these people needed in the Church, God has filled them with His Spirit to do His work. He has gifted all of them, not just the leaders.

“Moreover, I have given special skill to all the naturally talented craftsmen so they can make all the things I have instructed you to make…”

Exodus 31:6b (NLT)

If you’re not of the estimated ten percent called to the five fold ministry, don’t count yourself out. God has placed within you gifts that He needs to accomplish His work here on earth. If you’re at a loss as to what you can do with what you have, talk to your pastor or other leaders in your church. I know that I can speak for my pastor when I say that he will never turn down skilled hands and a willing heart.

Just because you don’t preach doesn’t mean that you can’t reach.

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 31-33, Matthew 22:23-46

It’s not over

When Joshua was very old, the Lord said to him, “Joshua, you have grown old, but there is still much land for you to take.”

Joshua 13:1 (NCV)

One of my Bible school teachers once said that, if you’re still alive, God’s not done with you yet. If He were done with you, you’d be dead.

I’m not old. I’m not even middle-aged, so I’m not speaking from experience here, but I speak from what I’ve read in God’s word. All through the Old Testament thus far, not a single man of God has retired. The only way any of these guys god out of the ministry was to die.

I’ve seen so many people just packing it all in to live our their golden years in peace. It’s like life ends when the career ends and then there’s nothing more to do.

My grandfather was a ministry man. He didn’t actually even start in the five-fold ministry (pastors, teachers, evangelists, apostles, prophets) until later in life. He worked hard at his career and he worked hard in the ministry. When his career ended, he just transferred he use of his time to the church. He pastored until the day he died. He knew that God had called him to be more than a retired business man. He knew that there was more to life than spending winters in Arizona. He knew that the call on his life didn’t end until his life did.

No matter how young or old you are,  God’s not done with you. It’s not over. It’s not over until you’re six feet under or Jesus comes.

Daily Bible reading: Joshua 11+13, Luke 4:1-32