Revealing The Father’s Heart
This message was given by Dr John McElroy on Wednesday, November 9 at the Annual Congress of the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (ICAL) in Dallas, Texas.
Awake, Arise and Advance: A Call To Apostolic Leaders
2016 ICAL Congress
Revealing The Father’s Heart
John McElroy, Australian Coalition Convenor
On the eve of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we observe that once again the church needs a fresh reformation. To give a bit of context, by the year 1517, the Roman Catholic Church had largely lost its Biblical compass heading. God raised reformers like Martin Luther to restore two foundational principles to the Body of Christ: 1) the priesthood of all believers, and 2) justification by grace through faith. Reformation always comes at a price.
In the 21st Century, reformation is taking a different form than it did 500 years ago. Rather than focusing, as did Luther, on two scriptural truths, the current reformation is worldwide and focused on returning God’s people to the ‘priorities and practices of Jesus and the Apostles’.
In any army, there are two kinds of leaders: strategic and tactical. Apostolic leaders need to be both. A strategic leader sees the overview of the battlefield, asking the questions ‘what and why’. What is our enemy up to and why must we win? Tactical leaders are the company commanders who take battlefield objectives. They ask ‘how’, in this case, ‘How do I win this battle? As apostolic leaders we need to be both strategic and tactical.
Two Strategic Questions: What does the battlefield look like? Why is it possible to win the war?
1. Let’s begin by looking at the battlefield, “What does it look like?” All around us, the enemy is trying to create strongholds of ‘cold love’. Jesus spoke of this stronghold in Matthew 24:10-14, referring to events preceding His Second Coming:
“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to the nations, and then the end will come.”
It is truly sobering whenever we see churchgoers turning away from the faith and false prophets who distort God’s Word. We could go on and on about the increase of wickedness, ISIS, terrorism and at the same time the gospel of the kingdom is being taken to the nations.
2. As the battlefield looks so gruesome and difficult, we ask: “Why is it possible to win the war against evil?”
The fact is, Jesus has already won the war by defeating Satan at the cross. But, like in WWII, some of the most ferocious battles were fought between the beginning of the end (the Normandy Invasion on D-Day) and the end of the War (VE Day). Similarly, we live in the years between Christ’s death on the cross and His second coming. The enemy is doing everything he can to stop apostolic reformation because he knows his time is short. But we know the end of the story; good triumphs over evil.
In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), Jesus taught that the sons of light and the sons of darkness would grow side by side until the harvest. All over the world this Parable is being fulfilled as good gets better and evil gets worse.
In Australia, where I live, Australian apostolic church and marketplace leaders are taking a stand for righteousness. Christians are praying, forming godly alliances, and infiltrating the mountains of society. As usually happens, ‘necessity becomes the mother of invention’ because of the dire consequences if we remain church-focused and silent. Still, unfortunately, many churches are still stuck in ‘seeker sensitive’ mode and afraid to speak up for fear of losing attendees. Reformation is a necessity, not an option, for the church in Australia.
Three Tactical Questions
1. Now that we see the strategic lay of the land, let’s turn to the first of three ‘tactical’ questions’: ‘How can we win the war?’
Our answer is found in the theme of this year’s Congress: Awake, Arise and Advance. Here we see a progressive process. Before we can arise and advance, we need to awake to what God is doing today. The fact is, we are no longer in a season of revival, we are in a season of reformation. I am perplexed why many church leaders are still praying for revival. Revivals are, by nature, temporary and short lived. They maintain momentum only until the leaders or followers get tired.
Reformation, on the other hand, is much more sustainable and makes long lasting changes to the way the church functions. Look at the Protestant Reformation, it dramatically altered the Christian landscape of Europe for centuries. We need to stop feeding the revivalist mentality and focus on partnering with God for reformation in the Body of Christ.
2. Now comes a second tactical question, “How does God bring reformation to the church?” The answer is: He does it one person at a time. He plants His passion into the heart of a leader like Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley, or Booth. This revelation caused me to ask myself, “What is it in me that is most in need of reformation?” The Lord’s answer was a shock, but not a surprise. He challenged me to reveal more of His heart in the manner I relate to people and ministry. This set me thinking.
Why did Jesus tell the story of the Tree and Its Fruit? (Matthew 7:21-23) He did it to warn His disciples of the futility of activity without intimacy. We can do great things for God and still not really know Him. In seminary I learned Bible exegesis, theology, history and how to grow a church numerically, but never was I taught how to abide in Christ. The result was I became better at making disciples of the church than making disciples of Jesus.
We cannot truly make disciples unless we know the Father’s love firsthand. God’s Word says, ‘we love because He first loved us.’ (I John 4:19) This means, our ability to love others is in proportion to our experience of the Father’s love.
Apostle Kelly last year reminded us of the need to spend time in the Father’s presence before we attempt to speak on His behalf. This is true and it presents a challenge, “In the midst of our busy schedule, how much time do we actually spend alone with the Father?”
For years, I felt convicted I wasn’t spending enough time alone with the Father. My wife, Alaine, used to say, “It’s so easy for you to write a sermon, John, because you have an education and good command of Scripture. But people who listen can tell when you’ve spent time with the Father and when you haven’t.”
I stood convicted, she was right! Out of guilt, I resolved to spend more time with God. But you know what, I still didn’t do it, because I lacked self-discipline. I tried to pack too many things into a day. This pattern of distraction continued until I was driven to my knees by church problems that were beyond my control. When I had nowhere else to turn, the Lord was waiting for me.
Jesus spent much time in the Father’s presence. This united Him so closely in purpose with the Father that He could say, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9) People need to see we’ve been in the Father’s presence. When they see us they should see Jesus. My close friend Francis Frangipane often says, “The antidote to any problem is to have more of Jesus in every situation.”
Time with the Father shapes us into spiritual fathers and mothers. Let’s clarify, the roles of fathers and mothers are complimentary, yet different. Fathers shape in us a sense of identity and destiny. Mothers nurture us to shape us in kindness and compassion. We are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), male and female He created us. As men and women we can display both the Father and Mother qualities of God.
3. One final tactical question: How can we express the fullness of Father’s nature to the world. The answer, I believe is in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. To be poor in spirit is to know your utter need for and dependence on the Lord. The opposite of poor in spirit is to think you can succeed without God.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Sadness and loss are part of being a leader. We lose good people and we make mistakes. Mourning is the mark of a repentant heart that results in circumspectness, self-control and empathy for those who suffer.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Meekness is humility, it is taking the lowest seat at the table, washing someone’s feet, meeting other’s needs before our own. Humble people leave a great legacy and inheritance for those who come after them.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. As darkness increases, the more God’s people crave His solutions and presence. Philippians 2:13 reminds us, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
- Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. When it comes to forgiveness and mercy, we reap what we sow. The recognition of how much we have been forgiven, compels us to guard our hearts and tongues when others hurt and betray us. As Jesus said, those who have been forgiven much, love much.
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Jesus saw a pure heart in his disciple Nathanael; a true son of Israel in whom there was no falsehood. Pure hearts enable us to see God more clearly and receive revelation. Revelation is the mark of one in spiritual authority.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Apostolic leaders build bridges and resolve conflicts. God’s heart is always for reconciliation. Unity and reconciliation are the fruit of the sons of God.
- Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Persecution will come whenever we pursue God’s Kingdom on earth. Jesus said when we are persecuted we should rejoice and be glad because great is our reward in heaven.
In the Beatitudes we see qualities that please the Father’s heart. Hunger for God, circumspectness, humility, righteous desire, mercy, purity, reconciliation and persecution are signs of God’s ownership on true apostolic leaders. When people see these marks in us, we reveal Jesus.
Making Disciples of Jesus
One final question: How do we move from making disciples of the church to making disciples who make disciples? (2 Timothy 2:2). I have learned two things: to speak with the voice of the Father, and have His attitude.
Ten years ago, I wrote a book entitled ‘Passing On The Baton’. The book points to the modern day fulfilment of Malachi 4:5-6 and the need for more spiritual fathers and mothers. To speak with the voice of the Father, we must communicate with four ‘voices’:
A Mentor: Leads from the top by giving instructive information
A Coach: Leads from the side, by asking questions to motivate disciples to find solutions
A Sponsor: Leads from behind, by challenging people to put into practice what they are learning, and get out of their comfort zone
An Example: Leads from within, by modelling the lessons they are trying to teach
These four voices (Mentor, Coach, Sponsor and Example) point to Jesus. He modelled the balance of invitation and challenge. He spoke the truth in love. He knew when to encourage, correct and rebuke. He lived in the balance of relationship and responsibility. In Jesus, we see three attitudes of the Father:
1. Non-negotiable love. God’s love is unconditional. His love is not negotiable; it is consistent, even when we sin. The Parable of the Prodigal Son should be re-named, The Parable of the Loving Father. We never give up, even when people disappoint or betray us.
2. Relationships of Openness and Honesty. Transparency about our strengths and weaknesses is essential. We need to lose our fear of man and not be silent when we need to speak. Jesus challenged His disciples when they needed it.
3. Believing The Best. Love hopes all things, believes all things, and endures all things. True love knows, as long as there’s life, there is hope.
Every Apostolic Leader is an officer in the Army of the Lord. Seasoned officers know the importance of both strategic and tactical leadership. Strategically, they know the lie of the battlefield. We understand the enemy’s tactics of deception and cold love. We know why we fight, because the souls of men and women hang in the balance. Most of all, we know the war is winnable, because Jesus has already defeated sin and death.
Strategically, we read the times and seasons, like the sons of Issachar. We understand we have passed through seasons of refreshing (charismatic movements) and revivals (Toronto) and God is now focused on reforming His church according a pattern: the priorities and practices of Jesus and the Apostles.
The Father created His Church to be a river that’s always flowing, always moving, always adapting to changes in its surroundings, and presenting every generation with the timeless truth of Christ. Jesus was speaking of us when He said in Matthew 13:52,
“Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storehouse new treasures as well as old.”
We walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther in this generation, called to be reformers, and return God’s people to Scriptural truths that have been ignored or forgotten. Like Esther, apostolic leaders were ‘born for such a time as this’.