Thursday, December 07, 2017

Purpose of the church (2)

Just the announcement of this new blog series, about the purpose of the church, triggered quite some views and responses. A great encouragement for me and at the same time a sign that I am not the only one who is interested in this subject.

For starters, I want to quote the basic scripture I will be using in my reflection on this topic in a few different translations, so that we will all get an idea (regardless of our denominational or theological background) of what the Bible says about the purpose of the church, also called the body of Christ (see also 1 Corinthians 12:27). That scripture is: Ephesians 4:11-13.

NIV (New International Version)
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

NKJV (New King James Version)
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

GNT (Good News Translation)
It was he who “gave gifts to people”; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. He did this to prepare all God's people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature.

Just reading these verses a few times brings about an idea of ​​God's intention with the church on earth, don't you agree?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Purpose of the church (1)

For quite some time I have been toiling with the idea of writing a blog series about Ephesians 4:11-13. That is a section in the Bible which describes (briefly but powerfully) the purpose of the church.

I kept postponing it for several reasons. First of all, because I do not want to give the impression that I have answers to the problems and issues our churches are facing today. Secondly, because writing such a series involves the unveiling of some weak spots (and that's putting it mildly) in our church 'system'. And thirdly, because I honestly have not experienced yet how a church should function properly. Nevertheless, I have decided to take a fresh look on the way we 'play church'.

The church is of great importance in society, more than we might dare to believe ourselves. This was the outcome of a research by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) which was published in The Netherlands about a year ago. I quote:

"Religion is an important factor in society. Religious alliance is often associated with participation in society, such as helping others, the commitment of volunteers, giving to charities and voting in elections (Bekkers and Schuyt , 2010; The Heart, 2014; Putnam and Campbell, 2012; Schmeets, 2015). Most often, religious persons are more involved in society than non-religious .... Religion also promotes well-being, weekly visitors to religious services tend to be more happy and satisfied than those who are less likely to attend a service (Coumans, 2014). "

There is, and always has been, quite some criticism towards the church and perhaps Christians are some of their own worst critics. But let's not forget that the more drama and turmoil we experience on earth, the greater the need will be for security, safety and a hopeful future. I think that we as a church (also called the Body of Christ) should be recognizable more than ever before, for example as bearers of light in darkness, as peacekeepers in times of war and as messengers of love in the midst of violence.

I hope you will read along and as always, your comments are very valuable to me and a welcome addition to the blog posts.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Do you receive encouragement?

Sometimes I want to throw in the towel. Yeah, honestly. I am talking about writing books, blogs and articles. I am talking about the calling that is on my life. Do you ever feel that way?

At times I find it very difficult to concentrate, to find (or better: make) time to write, to ponder, to reflect. At times I am disappointed because a book I expected to be a success, did not sell so well. At times I wonder if anyone is encouraged and built up at all by my writings.

Oh well, I know all writers and bloggers deal with this from time to time. I've read it on your blogs, I've seen it in other authors and artists. I call it 'being overrun by waves of doubt and discouragement'.

But somehow, each time I feel like throwing in the towel, I receive encouragement from unexpected sources. Like the other day... I received an email from a gentleman all the way in the north of Sweden, who picked up my latest book Spirit of Truth,

"Gull-Brith, my wife, loves your book Spirit of Truth very much and so do I. We belong to a generation that did not learn English at school... She has gone through the book a couple of times and now she is working on the vocabulary."

Such emails make my day and I see them as encouragement from the Lord... go on, don't stop, I have your back. And at such moments I know it: I am blessed!

I am wondering, what kind of encouragement do you receive from time to time? Want to share your thoughts?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Does your family need prayer?

In previous blog posts I wrote about starting Prayer for the Nations in our town as well as prayer for our region. Well, there is more....

About two years ago, when my brother-in-law became very ill and passed away much too young, we started up a family prayer group. Now, this is not a new phenomenon as far as my in-laws are concerned; my mother-in-law and her siblings prayed for many, many years for their children and grand children. We decided our turn had finally come to take over (thank you Lord!).

We come together with the (younger) believers in our family to pray for each other, for the children and grandchildren, our nephews and nieces and for the older generation that went before us and prayed fervently that we would live a life for God! We are very thankful for the parents and grandparents that did not give up on us when we were walking away from God and his Word.

I would like to encourage you... if you have family members who need prayer (and who hasn't?), please start a group and come together regularly to pray, to thank, to bless. Two is enough to start! Prayer changes things, I am living proof!

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Prayer for your area

In my previous blog post I wrote about Prayer for the Nations, a prayer group we set up years ago. Besides this group, where we focus on nations and people groups, we have also started a prayer meeting where we specifically focus on our region.

This group came into existence about two years ago when we were praying with a group of family and friends for my brother-in-law, who was very ill at the time. When He went home to be with the Lord, we decided to continue the prayer meetings and shift the focus to regional prayers.

We come together once a month and we pray for towns and villages, for the mayor and political parties, for the churches and healthy leadership.

We are small in number (10-16 per evening), but we pray with people from various denominations (such as Dutch Reformed, Evangelical, Pentecostal etc.). We share communion and we thank the Lord for what He is doing in our region: Alpha courses, prayer meetings, adding new believers, starting up new churches, vacation Bible schools and much, much more.

We thank Him for His healing and saving power and the testimonies we hear in our region. It is so encouraging to come together in this way and focus on His promises. We always get words and impressions from the Holy Spirit to share with each other. I write everything down in a special notebook, so we will know when certain prophetic words will come to pass!

Corporate prayer will not replace personal prayer, but it certainly strengthens the bond we have as believers.

Prayer WILL change this world.

If you're not involved in a specific group, may I encourage you to start a prayer group?

Friday, August 18, 2017

What about a prayer group?

Several years ago we started a prayer group in our house, called Prayer for the Nations. With a group of friends we would come together once a month and specifically pray for our European continent.

There are prayer groups in most of our cities and churches of course, but we noticed that they are often focused on people and personal needs, and not so much on nations. And boy, do we need to pray for this struggling world.

During Prayer for the Nations we focus on God's Word, not on the daily news. We proclaim Psalm 67 over the nations of Europe, May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.

We pray for governments, for the church, the economy and the harvests. We pray that God's righteousness and truth will be revealed, that His peace will become known and His love shared. We cry out for God's will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven. The prayer meetings are very encouraging and inspiring.

We no longer meet in our house. We have moved to Twinkeltje, a little 2nd hand shop that friends of us opened up a year ago... with all proceeds going towards our non-profit organization Traveling Light. We often present pictures from the countries we visit during our travels and that really helps to pray specifically. With contacts in more than 30 nations there is always something to pray for!

I am curious about the prayer group(s) you are involved in. Anything you want to share?
If you're not involved in a specific group, may I encourage you to start a prayer group? 

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Times of trouble bring rays of joy

I love it when the blogging community gets stirred because one of us has published a book. It doesn't really matter whether it is a first try at having one's work in print or whether it is the next book in a growing bibliography. Writing a book takes determination, effort, passion, and lots of work. So, having said that... congratulations to Cecelia Lester for bringing out a devotional book, titled Times of trouble bring rays of joy.

What I really like about Cecelia's book is that she has kept the devotionals short and to the point with a scripture to read, her personal reflection, several questions for the reader... and room to write! I love journaling, so any book that allows me to scribble what the Spirit is telling me while reading, gets a big plus. Well done Cecelia.

The subtitle of this book is 'Thoughts of God and His Word', and that is certainly what I, as the reader, can sense. As Cecelia shares her personal thoughts and questions , she opens up her heart and mind for the reader to be inspired. She is not afraid to question popular thinking and the ways of our present-day world. I quote:

"In our twenty-first century society, we sometimes forget that God is sovereign. We try to manipulate Him into doing what we want. We should be more polite and ask Him for guidance before we make decisions."

The devotions have been grouped in a series of topics such as: strength, faith, humility and peace. That makes the reading even more practical as it is possible to pick a devotion fitting our circumstances or needs.

Times of trouble bring rays of joy is available on Amazon as paperback and e-book. Do Cecelia a favor and leave her a review if you enjoy her writings. Let's encourage one another!

About the author:
Cecelia Lester lives in central Indiana with her husband. She started blogging back in 2008. Her mission statement is: "Quiet Spirit writes with the focus to minister to those who hurt, to them who search for God, and those who wish to have a closer walk with Jesus."

See also the interview with Cecelia on my blog back in 2013.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Give me a Z

Back in August 2015 (yep, two years ago) I started my Bible alphabet blog series, no need to say I took some detours along the way :) but here we are... Z stands for Zeal.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary zeal, or fervor, is an eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something.

In the Old Testament zeal is often attributed to God, as in Isaiah 37:32 For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. In this context the Hebrew word קִנְאָה is being used, which is pronounced 'qinah' (ardor, zeal, jealousy). God's love for Israel comes with a healthy jealousy to keep her as His own.

In the New Testament zeal is more a form of enthusiasm as mentioned in Romans 12:11, Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. The Greek word is σπουδή, which is pronounced 'spoudé' (haste, diligence, earnestness, enthusiasm). It is a call for the modern day believer to stay excited and diligent; refusing to fall asleep on the couch of dead religion.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Give me a Y

My Bible alphabet blog series is almost coming to an end and Y stands for Yeshua.
In the English language we know the name of Yeshua as Jesus. In the modern Hebrew language we write His real name like this: ישוע.

Because we have to read from right to left in Hebrew, His name begins with the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the 'yod'. Yes, that little comma.

The Yod is the Y-sound in Hebrew. Jesus, or Yeshua, used that little letter to explain something about the Law: Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled (Matthew 5: 17-18).

Even the smallest things are important in the eyes of Jesus and can never be pushed aside by us. [see also my blog series: Law & Grace, an uneven match?]

Depending on the country in which you live and the language you speak, Jesus can be known as Jesus, Isa, Jezus, Izus, Jesi, Iesu and many more variations. The spelling of the name of Yeshua is not so important to me, because the meaning is the same in every language: The Lord is salvation.

What is important however, is this question: Do you know him? That is the most important question we ever have to answer for ourselves. And of course we can then extend that question to someone else.

I count everything as loss compared to the priceless privilege and supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3: 8).

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Give me an X

My Bible alphabet blog series is almost coming to an end (which took way longer than expected, but why hurry?) and X stands for Cross.

And with that I do not mean the cross (x) for a kiss, but the universal and international symbol of Christianity.

The cross symbolizes the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to earth as a human being to take the sin of humanity upon Himself.

A crazy exchange if you think about it. A holy God who approached sinful humanity, saying "Give me your pain and misery, and I will give you my forgiveness, peace, and salvation." That is not possible in any other religion. Yet there are many people who reject the cross. The Apostle Paul wrote about it: For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ (Philippians 3:18).

But fortunately, there are more than two billion people worldwide [source: Pew Reseacrh Center] for whom the cross is so much more than just a symbol or a necklace... it's the power from which they live. In Colossians 1:20 it is described as follows:

Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son's blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven.

No human being can add anything to that. No good works, no prayers, no rituals, no pilgrimage ... We can only accept it in gratitude!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Give me a W

In my Bible Alphabet Blog Series W stands for Words. Yes, the words we speak with our mouth, words that can hurt or heal, build up or break down, criticize or comfort.

The Bible says that the power of life and death is in our wordsThe tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit (Proverbs 18:21). Oops, that would make you want to think twice before you speak, right?!

Each new day we make a choice whether we will bless or curse with our words. Whatever is in our heart will come out of our mouth, and sometimes that is a weird mix. James 3:9 says it like this, With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.

Why do we do that? Why? If we truly believe our words have power, we should use them more carefully and certainly more purposely. May I encourage you this week, to savor your speech with grace?

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Give me a V

In my Bible Alphabet Blog Series V stands for Victory.

Photo: Wietse Visser
This picture was taken several days ago. Quite amazing isn't it? (You can see it even larger here.)

It might be hard to believe that all these people are Christians, but they are. It is maybe even harder to believe that they are from all different churches and denominations, but they are. The hardest thing to believe is that this picture was taken in The Netherlands.

Yes, The Netherlands, that liberal and secular country where God seems to have left the premises. But I want to tell you something, contrary to popular opinion, Christianity is thriving in The Netherlands. Jesus is alive and well. And 65.000 people came together last weekend to celebrate Pentecost, in larger numbers than last year and the year before and the one before that...

No, this happening does not make it to the front pages, maybe because it is too good to be true. And no, it was not always this big. It started 47 years ago with a small group of people who believed revival would come to The Netherlands. They did not give up praying and they refused to be overcome by all the negative news. Let me encourage you with this word: Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:4-5).

What we see in the daily news, all the violence, death and destruction, is in reality propaganda of the enemy; Satan showing off his trophies. I surely believe it is nothing more than his reaction to what is really going on... people all over the world are discovering that God loves them and that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).

Friday, April 07, 2017

Give me a U

In my Bible Alphabet Blog Series U stands for Universe.

Despite the fact that we live with an estimated 7.49 billion people on this earth, people often feel lonely. On a bigger scale many even feel lost, knowing that this earth is only a speck in an endless universe.

Thousands of years ago musician and poet David wrote a song (Psalm 8) about such thoughts and feelings...

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

Trying to find our tiny place in a grand universe is not a fatalistic effort, it will bring us to a place where we will be amazed about God's love and kindness towards His creation. It will ultimately bring us to the realization that we will always be lonely and lost without Him, to the confession that we need Him and to the revelation that He cares for us.

And then... the journey of discovery will begin and He will show us WHY we are here on earth!

What are you waiting for? Take that journey!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Give me a T

In my Bible Alphabet Blog Series T stands for Temple.

In most religions a temple is a (prayer) building in which God or gods are being worshiped. The Bible speaks much about the temple in Jerusalem, both in the Old and New Testament.

After the destruction of that temple in 70 AD and with the spreading of Christianity churches and cathedrals have been built all over the world with the same idea: a place for prayer, worship, a place where God is present.

We may indeed 'experience' God in a temple or church, but these buildings are not His residence. The Bible is clear about it: However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’ (Acts 7: 48-50).

Indeed, God desires to live in a temple that He made Himself: the human body, the most beautiful building that exists. It is a place created by God Himself, a place where He can be very close with us and we with Him. In 2 Corinthians 6:16 it is written: For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” That is God with us ... Immanuel.

In light of this all, it is no wonder there is so much attack on the human body: sickness, mutilation, abuse, you name it. It is certainly okay to restore and maintain our buildings, but I truly believe we must stand up and defend the place where God really resides!

PS: You do not have to look far to experience God. Invite Jesus to come into your heart and live with you. He just loves to grant such a request!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Give me an S

In my Bible Alphabet Blog Series S stands for Silence.

In our loud and noisy world, where everything and everyone is crying out for attention, silence is more precious than silver or gold.

Havoc and destruction in a big bad world closes in on us, sometimes making us feel very small and insignificant and ever so often tired and anxious ... and then suddenly, in the midst of the storm, calmness is standing right there: Jesus Christ. The situation on the Sea of ​​Galilee two thousand years ago fits the scenario of our time:

And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:24-27).

He is the man of the 'great calm' and we can call on Him any time to quiet our minds.

Strangely enough we may yearn for silence, but at the same time be afraid of it. That should not be necessary, because we can learn to enjoy silence. For example by keeping a notebook at hand and writing down the words God will speak. Then silence once again becomes precious time spent in His presence, where there is fullness of joy!. 

Unfortunately, silence no longer comes naturally in our world. We must consciously seek it, chase it and create a special place and time for it. The psalmist writes (Psalm 131: 2):

I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

Seek silence this week and listen ...

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Give me an R

You might enjoy reading my book Sacred Sabbath.
In my Bible Alphabet Blog Series R stands for Rest.

Rest in the 21st century is probably the most valuable and most difficult thing to obtain. Well, it is not a thing really, it is a state of existence mankind is desperately searching for and the harder we seek, the more valuable it becomes.

We need the invitation of Jesus more than ever before, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).

The rest for our souls the Bible talks about cannot be bought with money, no matter how many vacations and retreats we book. It is a rest that brings about a refreshing that only comes from spending time with Jesus at the well. The time we are able to spend in intimate communication with Him will become so precious that we will die of thirst when we go too long without it.

...Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

It is my wish for you, dear reader, that you will make time this year to sit with Him. Just to sit with Him... and find rest.