God Moving in Our Lives

The young apostle moves on to a Central Asian country…

During my time there, a forty-three-year-old-Muslim-background believer somehow heard through the oral grapevine that a Westerner had come to his country wanting to discover how Muslims were finding Jesus and what challenges these converts were experiencing as they lived out their faith in hostile environments. I still have no idea how he learned that I was coming or where I would be.

It turns out that Pramana traveled 29 hours to find me. He had lived his entire life in a remote, tropical, and rural region of his third-world country. He had never before been on a bus. He had not even traveled on a paved highway. Yet, somehow, he found me in one of his country’s major cities. Upon his arrival, he matter-of-factly announced: “I have heard about what you are doing. You need to hear my story also.”

This man had been born into a people group with a population of 24 million. In his people group, there were only three followers of Jesus, and no church. The only religion that he had ever practiced or known while growing up had been a sort of folk Islam. Pramana knew the Quran by rote. He couldn’t actually speak Arabic, so (as an oral communicator from an oral culture) he simply memorized the words of the book as if they were part of some sort of magic formula. He knew the story of Mohammad, of course. But he had never heard of anybody called Jesus, he had never met a believer, and he had no idea what a Bible was.

“Five years ago,” he told me, “my life was in ruins. My wife and I were always fighting; I was ready to divorce the woman. My children were disrespectful. My animals were not growing or multiplying. My crops were dying in the fields.

“So I went to the imam of the nearest mosque for help,” Pramana continued.

The imam, who also functioned as the local spiritualist, told him, “Okay, son, here is what you need to do. Go buy a white chicken. Bring it to me and I will sacrifice it on your behalf. Then, go back to your village to meditate and fast for three days and three nights.  On the third day, you will receive the answer to all the problems that you are having with your wife, your children, your animals, and your crops.”

Pramana did exactly as he was told. He went back to his village. He meditated, he fasted, he waited. Then, as he explained it: “I’ll never forget, on that third night, a voice without a body came to me after midnight. That voice said, ‘Find Jesus, find the gospel.’”

This Muslim man had no clue what that even meant. He didn’t know if Jesus might be a fruit or a rock or a tree. Pramana told me that the voice without a body also said, “Get out of bed, go over the mountain, and walk down to the coast to name of city (a city where he had never been). When you get that city at daybreak, you will see two men. When you see those men, ask them where such-and-such a street is. They will show you the way. Walk up and down that street and look for this number. When you find that number, knock on the door. When the door opens, tell the person why you have come.”

Pramana did not know that it was an option to be disobedient to the voice (Holy Spirit). He simply assumed that he was required to obey what he had been instructed to do. So he went. He didn’t even tell his wife that he was leaving, let alone where he was going. It turns out that he would be gone for two full weeks. During that time, his family had no idea where he was.

Pramana simply got out of bed, hiked over the mountain, trekked down the coast, and arrived at the specified city the next morning at daylight. He saw two men who told him where to find the street he wanted. He walked up and down that street until he found a building with the right number on it. He knocked at the door. A moment later, an older gentleman opened the door and asked, “Can I help you?”

The younger man declared: “I have come to find Jesus; I have come to find the gospel!” In a flash, the old man’s hand shot out from the darkened doorway. He grabbed Pramana by the shirt, dragged him into the apartment, and slammed the door behind him. The old man released his grip and exclaimed, “You Muslims must think I am a fool to fall for a trap as transparent as this!”

The very startled and confused traveler replied, “I don’t know if you are a fool or not, sir. I just met you. But here is why I’ve come.” Then Pramana told the older man the story of how he had come to be there that day.

The Holy Spirit of the Living God had led this young Muslim man through his dream and vision and his obedience to the home of one of the three believers in his 24 million people group. Stunned, the older man explained the gospel to this young Muslim man and led him to Christ. For the next two weeks, the old man discipled this new convert in the faith. 

That had been five years ago. Now, Pramana had made another journey. This journey was to find me and to tell me his remarkable story. He had travelled 29 hours to share how his life had changed since he had found Jesus. There had been blessings and trials and tribulations during the last five years, but his life had clearly been changed in startling ways. 

You know — that sounds so much like the story of Saul of Tarsus finding Ananias to instruct him in the teachings of Jesus – Acts 9.

I read these stories and something inside me starts to cry…

There is this hunger for the New Testament times to become real once again in this day and time … and, if I may say, in my life

There is this desire for the adventure to start in a fresh and new way

There is a deep dissatisfaction right now – inside of me – that what I have, what I’m experiencing, what I know as Christianity is no longer enough

It is like my spirit is crying out “there has got to be more”

Deep inside there is a ‘divine discontent’ letting me know that major change has begun for me in my walk with Jesus and in my every day life

I am seriously “Sometimes Disappointed With God” but it is a good thing because it motivates me to move forward regardless of the cost

And, I have begun to think through what needs to change for me to experience more of God in my life

And my desire is that you will also experience this hunger if you haven’t already

And that you will think through what needs to adjust and change for this type of lifestyle to become real and an every day occurrence in life right here and right now

A Warning to the Church Today – Part Two

As we continue to story of the survival and strength of the Russian Church in the early 1950’s…

On the day I heard the story about that conference, I was able to visit with some young people. The younger ones were excited about the chance to meet a real, live American; they wanted to practice their English language skills. Many of these young people were the grandchildren of the pastors who had been telling me the stories from the earlier days. I asked the grandchildren of the men who had so proudly told me how much Scripture and how many lyrics the young people in the house churches had been able to reproduce back in 1950’s: “Tell me how much Bible do the young people in your churches know today?”

They looked at each other and rather sheepishly admitted, “Not much.”

I didn’t want to put them on the spot or embarrass them by asking how much of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John they might be able to quote. So I asked them how many different stories from the Gospels they could think of and list. They came up with a handful.

“How many books of the Bible can you name?” I asked.

“Only a few,” they said.

I don’t know if those young people were embarrassed by their responses to my questions. I did see, however, what the Russian church had lost in the first decade of “freedom.” Under communism, the church had found way to survive and often thrive. Scripture and holy song was its lifeblood. Now, in a much freer day for the church, Scripture and holy song did not seem nearly as important.

With freedom to gather as believers the knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures apparently was no longer as important in the life of the believer. Nor were the choruses that expressed the very life and soul of the Church. The foundation for a strong and vibrant, reproducing faith was just not there in the life of the younger generation.

The warning I see for today is that many of the churches that I work in both in North America and overseas in Easter Europe and Central Asia have also lost a love for and a knowledge of the Word of God. Yes, they now have the Bible in print in their own language (and in North America in many different versions and translations). But it is not written on the hearts of the believers as it was just a generation or two before when printed copies were not available or even legal to own. And, believers no longer know the Bible’s content like they use to back when the written word was not always freely available.

It is not an issue of not having the Scriptures available. Yes, there are still many people groups who have yet to have God’s Word translated into their native tongue. But, in general …

It is not an issue of not having good Bible teachers. Many of the churches are blessed with anointed teachers of God’s Word. Bible schools now exist in many nations. And, with the internet good teachings are always available. 

It is not an issue of not being taught the Word. Good teaching is widely available if one wants to take the time to search and find it.

In most countries there is freedom to teach and preach from God’s Word. And, many can now have their own personal copy of the Scriptures available to read in their homes. 

I believe it is simply that we don’t have a hunger for God’s Word. Maybe it has become too ‘familiar.’ Maybe we rely on the paid professionals to know it and guide us into God’s truth so that we don’t have to be bothered learning it for ourselves. Maybe we no longer think that it is relevant in today’s fast-paced, social media driven world. 

Maybe it is just that when life is good and persecution is light or non-existent, God’s Word no longer seems as relevant or necessary.

Whatever the reason, the Church may be larger than ever before but I believe it is much weaker. God’s people apparently are less hungry for the Word of God. Thus we are not feeding our spirit the food it needs to be strong and vibrant in the faith. And, so we see a weak Church that is no longer fulfilling the Great Commission. A Church that is inward focused, not sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom, and thus is less and less relevant to the world in which she finds herself. 

But, this can change quickly by God’s people recognizing the need to know and live God’s eternal and unchanging Word and praying daily to be hungry for more of the Living Word of the Living God. 

How about you?

 

A Warning to the Church Today – Part One 

A story, which for me, contained a warning of how fast things can change in the world but more importantly in the Church. I read the following in a book on the Church overseas…

The place is Russia in the early 1950’s when three charismatic pastors were organ sizing house churches. While they were experiencing exciting growth in the larger moment and regularly adding new house churches, each individual house-church “congregation” consisted of the same ten or twenty people week after week, year after year. For security reasons, many of the house churches consisted entirely of people who who were related to one another and were, therefore known well enough to be trusted.

In that setting, I imagined how teenagers or young adults might understand the church and the Body of Christ., Their entire faith experience had been defined by a lifetime of weekly worship in the front room of the house with mom and dad and a few other relatives. In their eyes, that was church. There was no awareness of a larger Kingdom of God, no knowledge of what God was doing in other house churches — or even in other countries. These young people were surely in need of spiritual peers and a larger sense of community, but they likely felt isolated, lonely, and discouraged.

The three pastors who were helping to lead this movement realized what was happening, and they decided to try something. They came up with a very bold (some people would say foolish) idea. They planned and organized a youth conger in Moscow and invited all of the young, unmarried members of their various house churches —  from eighteen to thirty years of age — to meet and encourage one another. They hoped that there would be some spiritual cross-pollination between the different house-church groups and that their younger believers might learn what God was doing on a broader stage.

What some people judged top be “foolish” about the idea was thinking that a week-long meeting of almost Deven hundred young believers in Russia during the daly 1950’s could possible escape the notice of the communist government. Sure enough, the authorities did take notice. When the event was over, all three organizing pastors were arrested and sentenced to prison for three years each.

The people who were now telling me the story claimed that the pastors would have eagerly suffered the same punishment over and over again, because, as the explained to, “The Holy Spirit fell on that conference.”

The primary purpose in bringing the young people together was to gather the scattered parts of the Body of Christ in one place. The goal was to hear what God was doing with other people and to simply enjoy the experience of Christian community. At the beginning of the conference — evidently without much forethought or planning — the young people were given an interesting challenge. None of them had owned a Bible. They had never had hymnbooks or songbooks or recordings of religious music. So, in an off-handed way, the three pastors decided to determine how much Bible truth was present in that group of young people.

They said, “This will be like a game. Every day this week, we want you to gather in small groups. And we want to see how much of the four New Testament Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — you know and have memorized. In your groups, see how much of the Gospels you can recite. And then dod the same with songs and hymns. Let’s see how much of that van be reproduced by memory.”

At the end of the conference, when they compared and combined the efforts of all the different small groups, the young people had recreated all of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with only a half-dozen mistakes. They had also recreated the lyrics of more than twelve hundred songs, choruses, and hymns of the faith from memory.

It became clear to me in an instant why and how the Christian faith had survived and often thrived under decades of communist oppression in the Soviet Union. I also understood what had enabled so many Russian believers to remain strong and faithful.

More next time… 

Muddy Waters

The Bible consistently reminds us to check our spiritual diet for toxins. Proverbs 25:26 says, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.” How muddy is your water right now? Is your well – your inner life, your heart – polluted by all the cultural toxins seeping in? Maybe it is polluted by your thoughts, your actions, and your lifestyle. Or does your spiritual well draw on Living Water as its pure thirst-quenching source? Maybe you’re a Christian — you’ve been made righteous by Christ — yet you’ve become a muddied spring or a polluted well, and you don’t even know it.

You might believe, “My thoughts don’t matter. As long as they stay tucked away inside my head, they’re not hurting anyone. We all think about things that we’d never do, right?” All the while your negative thoughts are silently poisoning your soul, pouring lies into your spiritual water supply. Unfortunately, our thoughts don’t just stay in our head, disconnected from our words and our actions. Unhealthy thoughts often lead to unhealthy words. Without even knowing it, you might be talking yourself, and others, out of God’s best.

Or maybe it’s the people that you hang with regularly. You know they aren’t full-on for God, but no big deal. You don’t want them to think you’re some kind of religious freak or anything. So you keep doing whatever they do, going wherever they go. Though you believe one thing, you live a totally different way.

Maybe you’ve resigned yourself to certain struggles in your life — anger, lust, discontentment — as nothing more than your personal quirks. “It’s just the way I am,” you tell yourself, all the while your spiritual enemy laughs at the cancer you continue to feed in your soul. You continue to muddy the waters. 

Rather than experiencing the richness of a dynamic, intimate relationship with the righteous One, you put God in a little box that you can check off your to-do list each week. By settling for rules and religion and feeling pretty good about how much you’re doing for the church and those less fortunate, you become blinded to legalism and self-righteousness. Your water becomes muddy

It’s time to come clean.

If you’re tired of the stain of sinful habits discolouring your life; if you long to breath the fresh, clean, life-giving air of God’s holiness; if you would love to detoxify your soul from guilt, fear, regret, and all the impurities that pollute your relationship with God; then it is time to come clean. You’ve been breathing smoke-polluted thoughts, life-draining words, and sin-filled actions without realizing the toll they are taking on your relationship with God. Deep down, you know there’s a truer way to live, a deeper, purer way to love, and a larger impact to make on the world around you. It’s time to open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to the cleansing power of God’s truth.

His Word is filled with stories of men and women who needed to come clean, who longed for more. One of my favourites is David, who’s described as “a man after God’s own heart” but, as you may know, was far from perfect. Shortly after he committed adultery and murder, David experienced a soul sickness that affected him on every level – physical, emotional, and spiritual. He knew his sins of lust, entitlement, and deception were killing his heart. He was drinking from “muddied waters” of his own making. He knew the only way to be restored and experience a joyful, fulfilling life again was to come clean before God. In his prayer of repentance, he wrote, 

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin!

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:2, 7, 10, 12)

You can pray the same prayer. As you do so from your heart and not just your head, God will bring healing and deliverance so that the muddied waters become fresh, life-giving, life-producing waters. He will renew your relationship with Him. And, you will experience a deep peace and contentment as He floods your heart with His love and sets your focus on Him and His Kingdom. 

No Other Gods But God Only!

Speaking to people today it appears that they have numerous – and often many – gods before God Almighty. They worship money and all that it can do for them. The pleasure it can bring. They put technology before God and spend more time posting on Facebook and Instagram than they spend in God’s Word and in His presence. They have a seriously dysfunctional relationship with their followers on Facebook, their phones, and their many social apps. But they don’t care. They know something should change. But they just shrug it off. They think, “I’m fine with it. I like it. This is just my thing. Even if it’s wrong, even if God has something better for me, I don’t care.”

In the Old Testament, Gideon faced a similar problem with the people around him. They willingly bowed to idols and thumbed their noses at God in the process. But God was having none of it. With righteous passion, He told Gideon, “Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it” (Judges 6:25). Notice that God didn’t tell Gideon to help the people manage their idols, to shorten them by a few feet, just keep them under control. No, He commanded Gideon to tear them down. Cut down the poles. Don’t tolerate the idols. Crush them. Destroy them. Smash them. Obliterate them.

If you know your unhealthy obsessions are interfering with your most important relationships — with people or with God — it’s time to act.

Today.

This moment.

Now.

God doesn’t want you to have any gods before Him. Not a single one. God longs for you to know Him, to enjoy His constant presence and goodness, to walk by His Spirit, and to live in His love.

When Jesus saw a rich guy who idolized his money and things, Scripture says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack, He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me’” (Mark 10:21 emphasis added).

Don’t miss Jesus’ motivation here for asking so much of this rich young guy. Jesus didn’t tell the young man to give all his money to Him and to His disciples, or to the building fund for the new temple. Jesus simply loved him. Do you see that? Jesus loved him. And Jesus loves you more than you can imagine. He doesn’t want you to allow yourself to be seduced into settling for something counterfeit. He wants you to embrace His grace, satisfied in your soul, because He is not only all you need but more than you can imagine. 

It’s interesting to me that at least in the Gospel record, Jesus didn’t tell anyone else to sell everything snd give away all their money. This is the only time that Jesus gives such a specific command. Why did He tell this guy and no one else to get rid of everything? It’s not because God doesn’t want us to have money and things; it’s that He doesn’t want money and things to have us. Without question, the things of this world had this rich man’s heart. They consumed him. He’d been seduced. And because Jesus loved him, He wanted him to have something better. So He commanded him to get rid of his idols and follow Him.

If you sense the Spirit of God nudging you (or maybe it’s more like a kick in the cursor), don’t ignore Him. He loves you. If your soul has been seduced into serving a counterfeit god, the one true God wants something better for you.

But gaining the better requires tearing down the idol.

Don’t manage it.

Destroy it. 

Without Faith You Can’t…

The Bible states that without faith we cannot please God. This is the God-kind of faith He wants us to walk ion daily. 

Hebrews 11:6 states, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

This means you must take risks. Living by faith is stepping out into territory that you are not familiar with and trusting that God is leading and guiding you. Living by faith means that, at times, you will fail. But remember Proverbs 24:16 states that “though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” When we walk by faith we might fail but we get up again, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward. To do this we need to remember that failure is not a person – it is an event. You are not and cannot be a failure because you are a believer and one of God’s chosen. 

During seasons of failure, God is shaping us. If we take a risk, step out in faith, we might not succeed. But, if we avoid all risk, we guarantee we won’t succeed, and we miss so much of what God wants us to learn. Failure is often the price you pay for progress. And when you fail, remember you are walking by faith. So, look at what God is teaching you. What’s happening to you is not as important as what God is doing in you through the failure. 

Walking by faith and not by sight is dangerous. Stepping out in faith is often difficult because it means moving forward without all the facts. But, without stepping out in faith you just cannot please God.

Faith is believing in what you can’t see, following a voice you con’t prove you heard, and living by principles that God stays are true but don’t make sense in this world. But, without this faith, you cannot please God. 

So a personal question: What big faith risk have you taken in the last two years?

Most believers will answer that they have not taken a ‘faith risk’ in that period of time. Why? Because most believers are sailing the tranquil sea of complacency. 

Do you remember the story about Jesus’ disciples riding in a boat during a storm? Jesus wasn’t with them, and they were freaking out. (Which is exactly what I’d be doing, riding in a small, rickety fishing boat during the Perfect Storm.) That’s when Jesus miraculously walked toward them on the water. Then the disciples really started to wig out, thinking Jesus was a ghost.

Trying to calm them, Jesus said, “Take courage, it is I” (Matthew 14:27) 

Then one disciple spoke up. Above the terrified shouts of the others, Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to You on the water” (Matthew 14:28).

Jesus responded with one word: “Come” (verse 29).

Is Jesus saying that to you?

Come. Follow Me.

Come. Let Me lead you.

Come. Leave your comfort behind.

Come. Trust Me.

The next line of Matthew’s telling of the story will always amaze me: “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (verse 29).

Would you have done what Peter did? Eleven other disciples didn’t. Even though they had seen the same miracles and spent time with the same Jesus, they stayed in the boat. I can’t tell you why they wouldn’t hop onto the choppy, icy water. But I know why I wouldn’t. I’d be afraid I’d sink. In other words, I’d cower in fear of failure. Again. And, in the process, fail to walk by faith and please God.

Why did Peter do it? Because he suddenly grasped — even if only for a moment — the basic principle of faith. That principle is: God never fails. If He says to do something you can trust Him and step out in faith because He will never fail you. You can trust Him!

How can you become firmly convinced of God’s absolute trustworthiness? Peter’s courageous move of faith shows us the only way: You have to step out to find out. You’ll never know what God can do — and wants to do — through you until you leap over the gunwale and get your feet wet. 

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part Three

Last time we were looking at the trial or Peter and John that was the result of them healing a lame man … and the resulting trial before the religious leadership of the day. In the trial Peter and John are literally seen as and called “idiots.” But the Bible translators were trying, it seems, to be a little more polite and used the work “unlearned” or “untrained.”

Sometimes I think the Bible translators are just too polite. A literal translation renders this verse as “these guys were amazed and couldn’t believe the boldness of these idiots.” There’s no mean-spirited, name-calling here; it just a fact that these guys had no special training or religious education that qualified them to heal a lame man. Here’s the deal: If you’re the best of the best, the brightest of the brightest, God obviously will use you in His Kingdom. It’s just that he specializes is using idiots — normal, everyday people like you and me. He loves, absolutely loves, using ordinary people. 

Our God loves to take people that others overlook and give them boldness. You may be thinking, “Well, I’m a Christian, but I’m just not naturally bold. I’m kind of a quiet person. I’m not a seminary guy. I’m not a natural leader or teacher of the Bible. You know, I’m just a stay-at-home mom.” Or, “I’m just a student.” Or, “I’m just a dude, man!” Remember, there are so many different ways to be bold, so many unique, exceptional ways to be bold for Christ. 

When you become spiritually bold for the glory of God, your boldness will amaze the world. We’re told that the members of the Sanhedrin were amazed at the boldness of Peter and John. Why? Because they knew they could kill these guys, and these guys didn’t care. They were “wow, we don’t have a category for this” crazy amazed. Even if the council members didn’t believe what these two idiots were saying, it was clear that Peter and John had no doubt whatsoever about their faith in Christ.

Here’s what I want to ask you: When was the last time someone was amazed by your boldness? When was the last time you stopped someone in their tracks because they were undone by your bold speech and actions? Now, keep in mind, I’m not talking about a wacky, odd, cheesy, thirty-three-bumper-stickers-on-your-SUV kind of Christian drive-by witness. I’m not talking about being bold in a bad-Christian-television way to make people dislike you or ridicule you. I’m talking about being bold with integrity. The kind of boldness where you’re serving people faithfully in Jesus’ Name, where you’re encouraging them, where you’re living in a way that reflects Christ’s compassion and selflessness, where others look at you and say, “There’s something different about this person.” The kind of boldness where you’re so generous with your money and your heart and your time, where you’ve served your way into people’s lives, and therefore you’ve earned the right to say, “I really do love you; may I tell you about my God?” 

Here’s today’s point …

You may be reading this and cringing, thinking, “But I’m just not that kind of person. Does God really want me to act bold just to prove I’m a Christian?” Which leads us to a very important point. Spiritual boldness is not our goal; knowing Christ is our goal. Boldness is merely a byproduct of following Jesus and living as He lived, showing others the love of the Father. Spiritual boldness comes from knowing Jesus.

Remember our friends Peter and John and their bold stand before the Sanhedrin? We’re told that the council members were amazed because they were ordinary guys, but we’re also told that they recognized these guys as men who had been with Jesus. How in the world could Peter stand in the face of possible death and declare what he did? He knew Jesus. He could be bold because he had been with Jesus. Here’s the key: you have to remember this: boldness is not the point; knowing Jesus is the point,

When you live a life of faith, when you’re directed by the Spirit, you’re going to see opportunity after opportunity to be bold. Why? Because you’ve had time with Jesus. As your faith grows, so does your boldness. As your boldness grows, it leads to results. When you see spiritual results, guess what? You spend more time with Jesus, and when you spend more time with Jesus, guess what? You get more faith, and you start praying bigger prayers and you see God work, which leads to boldness which then leads to the Acts-type of results, which leads to more time with Jesus. And it goes on and on and on. 

Spiritual boldness is to be the norm for true disciples of Jesus. You aren’t called to “Fold Your Bold” but instead to stand tall and be a bold witness for Jesus where you live, work, and play. 

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part Two

Let’s continue our look at boldness…

He and John were walking the next day and came across a guy who had been lame for more than forty years, and they told him to get up and walk. Imagine in our context, someone who has been in a wheelchair for forth years, and then one day, these two guys come up and say, “In the Name of Jesus, take a walk.” And he does! That’s bold.

This miraculous healing stirred all kinds of controversy because everybody around knew this guy couldn’t walk. And so, some of the temple guards under the command of the Sanhedrin, the religious group in power at that time, sent some people to arrest Peter and John, and they were put on trial in front of the Sanhedrin.

When the Sanhedrin tried someone, all the members of the Sanhedrin, dressed in their official robes, would encircle the defendants to intimidate them. They would hurl questions from all directions and then decide on the defendants’ fate, typically saying, “We’re just going to beat you,” or “We’re going to imprison you,” or, “We’re going to kill you.” So it wasn’t looking good for these two followers of Jesus.

In the middle of this ominous gathering of 70 leaders, Peter and John were asked, “By what name and by what authority do you do these things?

Where they tongue-tied or intimidated?

See for yourself: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,…” Then Peter delivered the perfect strike to make sure they got the point: “… the man you killed but whom God raised from the dead’” (Acts 4:8-190)

Now, I cannot overstate how bold that was. The Sanhedrin hated Jesus, were glad he was gone, and hoped never to hear from Him. And the foundation of their convictions was the belief that resurrecting the dead was impossible. So Peter pointed right at the people who used their power to kill Jesus and said, “Where did I get this kind of power to heal a guy who’s been crippled for forty years? You remember Jesus don’t you? The innocent man you set up and crucified. Well, He’s back from the dead.” Essentially Peter response was like a declaration of war, the last thing these Jewish religious leaders wanted to hear.

There is just something about that Name. The Name of Jesus carries supernatural authority that empowers us in ways we can’t even grasp. So when Peter and John cite Jesus as their power source, the religious leaders couldn’t believe what they were seeing: The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NLT). 

The Jewish religious leaders were stunned to see such audacity from a couple of regular Joes like John and Peter. It’d be like you and me standing before the Supreme Court telling them that we know what’s best for the country’s judicial system. They’d look at us, aware we’re not attorneys or scholars trained in the courtroom, and wonder what makes us think we are so knowledgable and confident and bold.

But here’s the thing: God gives ordinary people extraordinary boldness. You don’t have to be an expert or a scholar, have a seminary degree or experience as a missionary to serve Christ with amazing power. Consider the language of the verse again: “[The leaders] could see that [Peter and John] were ordinary men with no special training on the Scriptures.” Now the Greek  word translated as “ordinary” is the word idiotas. This word can mean unlearned; it can mean unschooled; it can mean ordinary. But the literal translation for the word idiotas is — you guessed it — “idiot.! Don’t you love it?

More next time….

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part One

As I have matured in my faith, I’ve learned that God wants us to be bold, to take risks through His leading us out of our comfort zones. We, of course, prefer our comfort.

Most of the time we want to play it safe, to remain comfortable and pursue what is convenient for our busy schedules. But God is bold by His very nature, and as we follow Him and are led by His Spirit living within us, we find the strength and courage to take actions that we’d never take on our own.

We see this illustrated through the vivid descriptions of the struggles and triumphs of the very first group of Christians in the book of Acts. This account was written by Luke, a medical doctor by profession, who captured some of the highlights of the first community of people who believed in Jesus. One of the dominant themes of the Book of Acts is the boldness of believers. When you look at the story of the early church, you see miracle after miracle. Relying on nothing but the power of God’s Spirit made them undeniably bold in everything they did.

Now, whenever I read these accounts in Acts, I usually ask myself, “Why don’t we see these types of miracles in our world today? Or at least in our churches?” Perhaps I’m wrong, but I suspect the answer is because we don’t have the same bold faith to act in bold ways to bring about bold results like the early believers did.

Before we go any further, allow me to define what I mean by boldness. It’s not crazy, irrational, odd, illogical, subjective behaviour. No, boldness is simply behaviour born of belief. Because what you believe – about who you are in Christ and who God really is – determines how you behave. If you believe everyone is going to criticize you, you’ll behave cautiously. If you believe you’re probably going to fail, you’re going to venture out tentatively. If, however, you believe that the one true Lord God is calling you, empowering you, leading you, and equipping you,, then you will live boldly. Why? Because boldness is behaviour born of belief. 

The Greek word from Acts that’s translated as boldness is the word parrhesia, and this word means more than just skillful speaking. The original Greek word conveys the idea of outspokenness; it means “assurance, courage, and confidence to act without fear.” So often fear keeps “us” front and center and in need of reassurance from other people or from our possessions or titles. And thus we fear stepping our boldly in faith, trusting God. But when we have ‘died with Christ’ we find liberty and can then boldly live by faith and not by fear.

Perhaps the boldness spotlight doesn’t shine more brightly anywhere in Acts than it does on a guy called Peter. One of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, Peter is someone most of us can relate to easily. He’s the one who’s often characterized by bold intentions followed by timid actions. One of the most glaring examples of his bold intentions came right before Jesus was arrested. Peter boldly declared, “If all of these other losers turn their backs on you, I’ll still be here. I would never leave you. I’m your guy. I’ve got your back. I’ll never deny you. I’ll boldly stand by you.”

Before the day ended, not just once but three different times Peter denied knowing Christ. His bold intentions folded under the pressure of having to act in faith. But Peter’s story didn’t end there; something happened in Peter, and I pray that same something will happen in us. When Jesus died and then rose three days later, Peter encountered his Master with unbounded  joy. And Jesus basically said to him, “Hey, you’re forgiven; it’s all good. Let it go. Shake it off. Be bold. Take care of My sheep. You’re my rock.” (my impressions of their conversation found in John 21).

A switch flipped inside of Peter after that encounter, and suddenly the guy who used to fold his bold under pressure could not be contained. Not long after, he stood before this huge group of people and preached one of the boldest messages in history (read: Acts 2). He didn’t hold back and spoke the whole truth boldly regardless of the consequences.

This was to become the norm in the early Christian Church as recorded in the Book of Acts and the letters (epistles) to the early Church.

More next time… 

Deal Or No Meal – Part Two

It seems absurd to imagine someone trading something so valuable for something so temporary. Why would Esau make sure a bad trade? Why do generation after generation of intelligent adults make similar decisions every day? It’s simple. We allow our out-of-control fleshly desires to overwhelm our better sense. We allow our egos, instead of our spirit guided by the holy Spirit, to drive our desires.

In the first letter of John, the apostle writes… “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16). 

The world offers to fulfill all our cravings. “I’m hungry and I want it. I’m lonely, so I need that person., I’m empty, so maybe that thing will satisfy me.” The world offers substitutes for (or counterfeits of) real things: physical pleasure, material things, pride in what we have and what we do. Before long, our sinful desires for the counterfeits of this world lure us into short-term decisions with long-term consequences.

You unquestionably know lots of people whose lives have been ruined by unchecked and untamed desires. It could be the person who buys what she can’t afford, charging and borrowing her way into final fiscal destruction. Each purchase makes her feel good about herself for a fleeting moment; she can wear the latest styles and have the newest phone and iGadget. But one day she wakes up, buried alive under a mountain of debt.

If could be the guy who knows looking at pornography isn’t good for his spiritual life or relationships. But when he’s tempted with the opportunity, his immediate desire overwhelms his desire to obey God. Before long, what seemed harmless enough at first becomes deadly. He’s trapped and believes he can’t stop. He had no idea that taking one drink of porn poison would lead to an addiction that slowly kills his soul. 

You probably know a young woman who wanted to honour God and her future husband by saving herself for marriage. But since she thought she loved the guy she was dating, and because she didn’t want to lose him, she compromised her values by giving her body to him. After her “true love” got what he wanted, he eventually dumped her and moved on to other conquests. At first she felt horrible, but eventually she decided, “Since I’m not a virgin anymore, why shouldn’t I find some comfort wherever I can? And over the years, she accumulated sinful sexual memories, ones that still cloud her marriage and haunt her with regret. 

You might know the guy who told himself he’d provide a “better life” for his family., (Have you ever noticed how ‘better life’ never means more time, deeper relationships, or spiritual intimacy? A better life generally means giving them things that won’t last and don’t really matter). Armed with good intentions, he threw himself into his career and did whatever it took — sixty-hour weeks, travelling half the month, working at home on weekends. Then one day his company downsized and he found himself looking for a  new job. Worse still, he woke up to a failed marriage and children he still sees but doesn’t really know.

What have there people and millions of others like you and me done to ourselves? We’ve traded the ultimate (God’s blessings) for the immediate (our selfish desires). We’ve given away our birthright for a stupid bowl of stew. 

If  trading your birthright for a bowl of stew seems farfetched, then let me share another example. 

In 1894, the US mint in San Francisco produced only twenty-four coins, relatively few for its time but certainly staggering when we consider the millions of coins produced by the American mints now. The superintendent of the San Francisco mint then was a man named John Dagget. Knowing the rarity of the few coins produced that year, Dagget acquired several and gave three of the dimes to his daughter, Hallie. “Hold on to these, my dear, and they’ll be worth much more than ten cents someday,” he told her.

On her way home from her father’s office, young Hallie did what many kids would do. She stopped in her favourite soda shop and exchanged what would become one of the world’s rarest coins for a scoop of her favourite ice cream. Almost a century later, in 1981, the coin surfaced and sold for $34,100. Today only ten 1894-S Barber dimes are known to exist, and they’re considered one of the most sought after and valuable coins in the world. Poor Hallie’s scoop of vanilla ended up costing her much more than she could ever imagine.

We would be wise to embrace the principle of delayed gratification when to comes to our finances, not just our dimes. Because of a spirit of entitlement, it’s common for teenagers (and adults still in adolescence) to believe they really need to latest iPhone, iPod, or iPad. (If their iPad doesn’t have 5G, they need counselling to overcome their childhood abuse.) Some teens actually believe they need (or deserve) a thirty-thousand dollar car. Or a debt-ridden twenty-year-old believes a spring break to Cancun is a necessity. Or the young couple just out of college feels it is their right to live in a house as nice as their parent’s home. 

Like Esau and Hallie we often trade the ultimate (our birthright as believers) for the immediate. We would do well to remind ourselves … “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:16-17).