Earthquake Tracking

Last night around 8:30, we had an earthquake here in Sicily. It was down to the south of us near the coast by Ragusa, but some of our friends here in Catania felt the quake all of the way here in Catania. Some friends from our church sent this website to us from the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology so we can track the quakes if and when they happen: http://terremoti.ingv.it/

Facebook Rejects “Love Your Enemy” Ads as Dating

Even though it is frustrating, this was also a funny thing that happened as I have been developing the Come Follow Me sites. Yesterday, I developed an advertisement for Facebook based on Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5:43-48 to love your enemies. Facebook rejected the ads on the grounds of their dating policy. HA!

When I saw the rejection initially, I laughed because I thought that it was just the algorithm messing up. But then I appealed the ruling, presumably to have a human look at the ad, and it was still rejected! Well, on to the next one, I guess…

Just for posterity, here are the videos and the landing page for those ads:

English – https://comefollowme.it/post/3542

Italiano – https://vienieseguimi.it/post/1588

Français – https://viensetsuismoi.it/post/310

NoPlaceLeft Summit 2020 – Established Churches in the Work

I appreciated the stories and background from these pastors talking about how their churches started down the path of working toward a NoPlaceLeft vision. Here is a quick Table of Contents for the video:

  • Sugar Creek Baptist Church, Don Waybright – 00:25
  • Ross Ramsey – 7:44
  • Brian King – 16:35
  • JT Timblin – 23:30
  • What’s a barrier you faced in implementing NoPlaceLeft disciple-making / church planting? – 31:15
  • What would you encourage someone to do who wants to implement what they have learned with regard to NPL or help their church catch the vision? 36:45
  • Can you share a story from the harvest, something you have seen God do? 39:45
  • If you had to do it again, what would you do differently? 45:20
  • As pastors in established churches, what encouragement or challenge would you give to someone else in your shoes? 48:45
  • Common objection: Can we trust individuals who you are releasing to not become heretical? 52:50

Finding Movement Leaders

One of my fellow workers recently sent me this podcast. I encourage you to give it a listen, especially if your aim, like ours, is to catalyze discipleship and church planting movements. For reference, if you would like to follow the show, check it out here.

I wanted to work through what I heard as some of the most important elements of finding and working with these people who will start movements. Here are the things that I took away along with some thoughts that I will include:

There is very little written on how to recognize a movement leader and how to help train and sustain them over the longer-term.

In the beginning, Bruce asked himself if he should follow the advice that he was given and go find and hire the best church planters that he could. After thinking about this for some time, he decided that this was not the right way to go.

Instead, over time, God gave him 6 people to invest in deeply. He prayed that God would bring them to him, and God did exactly that.

What was the most important thing to recognize within these people?

The answer is Vision – Do they have a vision to grow their ministry? Or do they have a vision to reach the nations? It isn’t easy to find this person that has a vision for reaching the nations and not just growing their own work.

At the same time, we see humility in movement leaders. It isn’t about growing their work. It is about seeing the Kingdom grow.

Bruce’s advice, then, is to pray that God will bring these people to you.

Next, we should, of course, say that we believe the Word of God is inspired from a doctrinal perspective, but do we also believe that the methods and practices that we see in the scriptures are also inspired? Or do we need to turn to other books and studies to determine our methods? Some thoughts to help round out this point:

  • Jesus was a master disciple-maker. Disciple-makers should make disciples like Jesus did and in the way that Jesus taught.
  • Jesus cast out demons – we should cast out demons. Jesus found people of peace – we should find people of peace.
  • Jesus discipled the few and shunned the crowds – we frequently like the crowds and shun the few. We need to rethink this!
  • Jesus said Come and see, follow me, be with me, and then go. That should also be our model.
  • So, the question to ask is: What did Jesus do? Let’s do that!

Disciple-making movement leaders ask themselves about their hope for those that they are investing in. As movement leaders, the hope should be that there are more workers. We desire to see that their ministry will exceed mine. This is what Jesus did and the example that Jesus gave.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 14:12-14

So, we have to find the right people. Jesus was the master of finding the core disciples and pouring his life into them. He filtered through the crowds, calling out the disciples using parables and difficult teachings, but the right ones stay.

Jesus fed the crowds with the loaves of bread and fish, but then called people to eat his flesh and drink his blood. As the crowds left, rejecting his teaching, Jesus looked at the disciples and asked them if they were going to leave too.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:68-69

This is an important way to find someone who may become a leader of a movement because they are dedicated to the teachings of Jesus. He is the Holy One of God in whom we can put our faith.

Am I filled with the Holy Spirit? pt. 2

One immediate question that we need to ask ourselves as we think about whether we have received the Holy Spirit is what we must do to receive him. As I mentioned back in the first post in this series, I don’t believe that there are recipes – first I do this, and then he does that – when it comes to the Holy Spirit, but I do believe that there are some important things that we must do in our relationship with God if we want him to be with us.

The first is that we must be repentant. Our attitude before God must not be proud, but instead understand that we are sinful and that it is our sin that has made us unclean and caused us to be separated from God. We were the ones who disobeyed, revolted, and walked away from God and his commandments, so my first step is that I must stop insisting that my way is the best way and instead admit that God’s way is right and do what he wants us to do.

When Moses initially went on the mountain to receive God’s laws, he came back down to find that the Israelites had built an idol, a golden calf, and were in complete disarray as a people. The result was that God told Moses that he would send an angel to go with the people but that he would not go because of the wickedness of the people. Moses pleaded with God to go with them, but the first thing that he had the people do was to remove their ornaments and the people mourned over what they had done. In the end, God relents and shows himself to Moses, showing that God will be merciful and will come near to the people who will be repentant before him. (Read the story in Exodus, chapters 32-34).

I think that this is why both John the Baptist and Jesus also called for repentance as they started their ministries. They knew that the first step to come into relationship with God is to be repentant before him.

As Jesus returned to heaven, it was now the disciples’ turn to continue in the same vein, calling people to repentance before God. On the day of Pentecost, as Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, he spoke of the Messiah and explained that the Jesus was the one that the Jews had been waiting for, the Messiah, and that the Jews had killed him. When asked what they can do, Peter immediately returns to the same square one:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, so he requires the same attitude that God the Father and Jesus required: an attitude of repentance. If we desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the first step is absolutely clear. We must be repentant before God. Only then can we be able to move forward in our relationship with him.

As Jesus began his preaching, he called people to repentance, plus even one step more. He said that the kingdom of God is near, so we must repent and believe. I believe that this means that we must have faith and believe that God has come near to us in human form through Jesus, and now, looking back to his time in history, have faith and believe that his sacrifice was intended by God to be the punishment for our sins.

If we will believe this, the apostle Paul then says that we will receive the Holy Spirit:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14

To receive the Holy Spirit, we must be repentant, turning away from our sins, and believe in Jesus as our Savior and Lord, the one to whom we give our lives.

But what about these other teachings, that we must have an additional experience beyond our point of belief, and potentially also other steps in receiving the Holy Spirit?

I don’t discount these possibilities, because we do see situations in the book of Acts where people have believed, and then they subsequently receive the Holy Spirit. For example:

  1. The disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 after previously believing in Jesus.
  2. The apostle Paul receives the Holy Spirit after having seen Jesus and through Ananias laying his hands upon him.
  3. When Paul was in Ephesus, he found some disciples who had received the baptism of John the Baptist for repentance, but were not aware of the Holy Spirit or of Jesus. They were baptized for their belief in Jesus and then Paul placed his hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

However, in addition, we also see the situation at the Centurion’s house where Peter and the believers that were with him saw the Holy Spirit come upon the Gentiles who were listening and then they were baptized, making this situation even different from each of the previous three where the Holy Spirit came after baptism.

But one thing seems clear in each of these situations: God found each of these people in repentance and belief in Jesus Christ which made room for him to enter their lives in the form of the Holy Spirit coming upon each of them. So a question that we must ask ourselves as we are considering whether or not the Holy Spirit lives in us is whether we have been – and are still! – repentant for the things that we have done in rebellion against God and his ways, and turn to believe that Jesus is both our Savior and the Lord of our lives, giving him control over all parts of our lives. This is the first step toward receiving the Holy Spirit.

God is about to do something great

The title of this post is a refrain that I have heard throughout my life in the church. I’ve heard this regularly from pastors, from people who are explaining what they believe is a prophecy from God, or just from someone who is telling us what they think God is doing within us or around us.

As I write here on this blog site, I don’t like to write in the negative or be a critic, so I want to say that this is not my intention here. However, what I do want to say is that I have frequently been disappointed by these statements that “God is about to do something great”, because, through my eyes and in my experience, life seems to kind of roll along normally without anything seemingly “great” happening.

I want to allow for some possible explanations here that I think should be considered. Here are a few that I can think of:

First, I might have my head down or my heart closed such that I don’t see the great things that God is doing around me. This is a very real possibility and something that I have realized about myself at times after I have looked back in hindsight. After having realized this, I have put myself through seasons where I was specifically trying to look for God at work around me, and thankfully I have been able to see it at times. Thank God for this!

Second, connected to the first point, my expectations of what “great” means may be a bit too grand. I, of course, believe that God can work through everyday events as much as the spectacular, so looking for God within the everyday is important as well.

Third and finally, it may actually be that there is an optimism about God’s movement and working among us that is unwarranted given our lack of obedience and taking action upon his commandments.

Recently, I was talking with a friend about a difficult situation that he was facing. He told me that God would need to intervene and that he felt like Moses facing the Red Sea. He knows that God will need to act for him to go forward in the situation that he is in and he quoted what Moses said to the Israelite people in Exodus 14:

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Exodus 14:13-14

We find out that Moses is exactly right. God does fight for the Israelites. As we go forward in Exodus 14, we see that God gives the Israelites a rear guard throughout the night, he parts the Red Sea so that they can cross, and then he covers the Egyptian army with the sea such that it wipes out both Pharaoh and the entire army. Truly, Moses is correct that God will fight for them, and we see that God follows through on this promise!

My sense is that this is the nature of these promises from the pastors and the prophetic words that say God is about to do something are similar to the words from Moses. In many ways, I think that they are right. I believe that God is typically up to something and ready to move, ready to draw others to himself, ready to use someone.

So why have I not, then, sensed significant movement when these things are proclaimed and declared? Wouldn’t I expect to know that, if God is moving around me, I should be able to recognize it? It certainly seems that way as we look in the scriptures as the people typically knew that God was moving, even if they didn’t know precisely the nature of what he was doing.

Keeping in mind that it could be any of the three areas that I mentioned above, I want to suggest that I think it really is related to the third issue above, a lack of obedience in the things that we have already been told to do.

Interestingly, about the time that I had this conversation with my friend, I also had been reading this exact same passage with my family during our morning time in the Bible that we have while eating our breakfast. At that time, I noticed that God, right after Moses told the Israelites to be still and to stand firm, God immediately then tells Moses to get moving! Directly in the next verses, here is what God says:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.

Exodus 14:15-16

We see, therefore, that God tells Moses to get moving. He doesn’t want them to stay put. He wants them to go!

So was Moses wrong when he told the Israelites to stand firm, and to be still? Was God overruling him? Maybe / maybe not. In my opinion, I think that, if Moses means that the Israelites need to have a dependency upon God and that he will do everything that they need to escape, then he is exactly correct. And in truth, I think that this is precisely what Moses means.

But if we look at the entirety of the passage, we see that God calls Moses and the Israelites to move, to continue their escape from Egypt, to continue to do what he had already told them to do. He wants them to continue to obey him. They are to continue to trust him, that he would deliver them, but they are to continue in their obedience because of their trust in him, and in this way, God will save them from destruction at the hand of the Egyptians.

How do we apply this, then, to our situation today? When people say, “God is about to do something great”, can’t we also say that we must trust that God is working while at the same time being certain that we’re doing what he has already told us to do?

Jesus said:

If you love me, keep my commands.

John 14:15

Here are some foundational commands that we might consider:

Are we loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Are we loving our neighbor as ourselves?

Are we making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything that he commanded?

In what real, practical ways are we doing this? If we say that we are doing it, is it the case that we are simply agreeing with the scriptures that these things are right without making it practical in our lives, or are we actually putting time, energy, money, and effort behind making these things real? How? In what way?

I believe that it is true that God is about to do something great, but I don’t know that we will see it unless we are doing the things that he has already told us. God is always doing something new, but as his people, we need to remember that God has already given us all sorts of things to do, and we need to be sure that we’re doing those things. I believe that it is likely that through our doing the things that God has already told us to do that we will see God do something great.

Am I filled with the Holy Spirit? pt. 1

This is the first of what will probably be a few posts touching on this topic. Like all things that I post to my blog, this is the result of study that I am doing, so feel free to let me know where you think I’ve gone wrong and we can think about it together!

I think this question is difficult to answer for a few reasons:

First, the Holy Spirit is invisible and typically doesn’t speak audibly, so to always be certain that you are connecting with him in the moment, without the advantage of hindsight, can be difficult.

Second, I’ve found that the Holy Spirit doesn’t operate according to step-by-step recipes that people try to create. While I believe we can know his character, he is not, and will not be, put into a box that will allow us to say how he will act in each situation. People might say that you can expect him to do certain things in a certain way or in a certain order, but I’ve just never found that he works that way.

Third, Jesus even seems to tell us that the Spirit moves as he pleases and you know him by the effects that he leaves behind. Like the wind, for example, you can hear its sound, but you don’t know where it is going. So also with the Holy Spirit, you may find yourself seeing that he is working based on the effects of his work.

There are several other reasons for these difficulties, including differences in teachings about whether the Spirit is still operating today, the gifts of the Spirit, etc.

Despite all of this, I think it is important to try to understand as much as we can about the Holy Spirit, according to the Word of God, and be able to help other people understand it as well. In this way, we can try to work together with the Spirit, with him in the lead, to see the Kingdom of God come here on earth.

Jesus seemed to think it was pretty important as well:

Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

John 3:5

So, given all of this, I think we should dig in and learn more, so here goes…

How can I know that I am filled with the Holy Spirit? John gives us a direct test to consider:

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

1 John 4:2-3

And then a little bit later, he says:

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.

1 John 4:13-14

From what I’m reading here, I think this means that a good starting point to know whether or not we are filled with the Holy Spirit is to ask who we believe Jesus to be. John says that every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.

Beyond this, John goes on to say that if anyone acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God, God lives in them.

This is a good start, but God’s Word has much more to say about how the Holy Spirit works, so let’s go one step further in this post. I heard a recent podcast on this topic suggesting that we consider the opposite viewpoint: What would I be like if I didn’t have the Holy Spirit? Here are a couple of additional scriptures, this time from the Apostle Paul as he wrote to the church in Corinth:

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:14

Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3

Paul seems to go one step beyond John, beyond acknowledgement of Jesus’s divinity in the flesh, saying that it isn’t possible to say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. In other words, only by having the Holy Spirit inside of me can I humble myself underneath Jesus, submitting to him and what he commands of me and my life. Otherwise, the things that Jesus says, and those things that come from the Word of God, which at the least are the things that come from the Spirit of God, seem to be foolishness to me.

These are a couple of ways to get started to know that I am filled by the Holy Spirit. The scriptures have much more to say on this topic though…stay tuned!

Redeemed

This scene is from a video series that was recently released called The Chosen. It is a dramatization that pulls together the writer’s ideas about certain Biblical characters and gives extra, non-Biblical storyline in an attempt to provide context for the time that Jesus begins his ministry. If you’re interested in seeing more, I recommend checking out the series, either on their website or on their YouTube channel.

This last Sunday was Easter Sunday, and here in Italy, we have been in quarantine during the coronavirus lockdown. That has meant that we have been worshiping together as a family, reading and discussing them together.

On Saturday night, the night before, we watched the first couple of episodes of The Chosen, and I was struck by how Jesus, in this scene, called Mary Magdalene by name and how similar that seemed to the time when Jesus called her by name on Easter morning outside of the tomb.

In the dramatization (and keep in mind, this is fictional), Mary is called Lilith, who, as I understand, was a demonic figure in Jewish folklore. But this does align with our understanding of Mary Magdalene from the Bible because we know that Jesus healed her by casting out seven demons.

In this scene, we see Jesus call Mary by her real name and then he quotes a passage to her from Isaiah 43:

But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1

This becomes a dramatized scene, therefore, of the time that Jesus healed Mary and sent out the demons. This is the time that Jesus redeemed Mary.

But what does this mean, to be redeemed? When the prophet Isaiah speaks for God and says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you”, what is this saying?

This idea of redemption comes from the idea that, if someone were to sell themselves into slavery, they could be brought out of that slavery by a redeemer, someone who would pay the price for the person to be brought out of that slavery. Here are a couple examples of how this worked in ancient Israel:

“‘If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves.

Leviticus 25:47-49

Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down.

Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”

“I will redeem it,” he said.

Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”

At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”

(Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)

So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal.

Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses! ”

Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”

Ruth 4:1-12

I love how Jesus called Mary by name, both in this dramatized scene as well as in the resurrection story. This directly aligns with the action of the redeemer that we read in Isaiah 43. The redeemer calls them out, purchasing them from their slavery, and setting them free.

This redemption happened for Mary, and is also the freedom that Jesus wants to give to all of us. Whether we realize it or not, we have been in slavery to our sin and Jesus gave himself to redeem us and to set us free. Through his death we have a sacrifice as a payment for the sins, but through his resurrection, we have life that sets us free. Like Mary, Jesus calls us by name, so we no longer need to be afraid of anything, but instead can be free because we are his.