Kingdom Voices – Part Three

Most of the indigenous churches are not under any denomination. They are independent and small. Most of the pastors of those churches have only a little training or no training at all. Not even informal training. They just jump into the arena and start leading the church. So sometimes it looks a little out of control, humanly speaking. But I think the Holy Spirit is leading them. 

My observation is that God is going to use house churches, not the denominational churches. Most of the churches will be led by people — we would say lay leaders — who take the responsibility of leading these small churches. And that brings several challenges. Because what I believe is, no church is independent. I mean, one church is born out of the work of the believers from another church. I think in God’s Kingdom, every church is connected organically and spiritually. So, how do we best bring a structural expression of that association God has already created among these churches — a structure that would give them complete freedom to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit without any control from the above? And at the same time, how do we have them come together and work together?

In Acts 20, Paul called together the elders from the city of Ephesus. There were house churches led by a team of elders, but they all came when Paul called them to come together. So though they were independent churches led by elders, Paul somehow connected them to each other — in a kind of hub. Eventually Timothy came and led that hub and gave them direction. But Paul created a kind of structure, a free structure, a hub model that took the gospel out in a concentric way. Paul got them to focus while he enabled them to develop. We can learn from this and do the same. 

Rev. Vasantharaj Albert

Vice-President of the Non-Denominational Association of Independent Churches (NAIC)

Just a thought to add to and interact with the above…

It could be that the elders were “elders of the city of Ephesus” and that they had oversight of the ‘Church in Ephesus.’ That these elders were not ‘in charge’ of individual house churches but were in oversight of all of the work of the Kingdom (and thus the church) in the city. That Ephesus was an apostolic center from which the gospel spread out into the surrounding provinces and regions. The churches were, to my understanding, led by regular believers who taught from the Scriptures and led the house church to which they belonged. The elders were in oversight of all of the house churches as ‘THE church in Ephesus’ and this eldership was most likely composed of members of the fivefold ministry – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds), and teachers. 

If you interpret Acts 20 as the Kingdom Voice quoted above did then each house church would be led by an “elder” which really is the old, traditional pattern we now have of the Church with each church being led by a pastor. Changing the words does not change the structure or give new life to an old wine skin. 

Each house church being led by a regular-type believer who has some leadership motivation (Romans 12:4-6) is my understanding of the biblical church. The ‘elders’ were in oversight of the Church in the city which would be comprised of hundreds if not thousands of small house church. 

This would make a lot more sense and incorporate the fivefold ministry into the life of the church (read: house churches in the city). 

Kingdom Voices – Part One

A series of thought provoking short articles that I have recently come across. Although I may not agree with everything the authors state I found the articles caused me to do some deep thinking with a new perspective as I wrestled with what I read …

Meeting people at their point of need — that’s discipleship. That’s what I see as discipleship. Discipleship means reading the Bible, understanding the Scriptures, and living the scripture out alongside Jesus. It’s not, “Okay, so here are some of the things that I’ve learned from the Bible. Now let me go do it.” No. It’s, “How do I live my life with Jesus, in my context, in the power of the Holy Spirit?”

In India as a new Christian, you’re ostracized. As a new Christian, you face all kinds of persecution. As a new Christian, you have so much unlearning to do, and you can be misunderstood. So you accept these truths: I cannot do this by myself. I cannot go and talk to people in another caste. I cannot abstain suddenly from going to the temple. I cannot stay away from eating the temple food. How do I handle these situations? Who do I turn to? Jesus. He’s walking on the road, and I have to walk with Him, and when I do, He will bring these answers to my life. 

Somebody beautifully explained what following Jesus looks like. They said that the disciples, the ones that followed closer to Jesus, were the ones that had more dust on their feet because they were always running and trying to catch up. Their feet were dirtier and dustier because they had to keep up with the Master. So I think discipleship is in a way like that. You’re following your Master so closely because you want to live life with Him — in the journey that He’s taking you on, not on your journey.

So, it’s not just head knowledge. It’s not just compassionate acts of service. It’s not just a formula. No. It’s a way of life that is totally surrendered. I don’t know how else to say it. The way Paul says it is, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). This is the life of a disciple. And that’s what we try to engage our new believers in, telling them, teaching them. “Yes, you come to conferences, you study God’s Word, you have to understand who Jesus is — His nature, His teachings, His principles, His idea of life.” In all of that, you learn, you understand, but the head knowledge has to translate to the heart. And even then, both the head and the heart have to completely surrender and live that crucified life. That’s discipleship for us. 

Becky Stanley

Director of Children’s Ministries, 

India Gospel League

Something Is Missing!

Everyone in the world is searching. Each of us is searching for something that gives meaning to life. To bring purpose to our work. We all know this; we’re familiar with this emptiness, this longing for more.

We’re looking for a story to make sense of, a role to play that has meaning. Despite our best efforts, activities and adventures barely touch the tip of the iceberg. We sense we were made for a great purpose, some cause to make the world a better place. Maybe it’s as simple as the realization that our lives aren’t a total waste, or maybe it’s something more. Whatever the case, most of us despair of ever finding it. It feels so distant, so unattainable.

We begin life with a simple understanding — that our lives are tales worth telling and we have an important part to play. Children understand this: what it means to live and love without condition, to be delighted in. Their lives are full of reckless abandon and no one has to tell them so. They don’t need to be reminded of the crucial roles; they know intuitively. Without prompting, kids know how to dream up adventure and slay dragons. To embark on epic journeys and live out idyllic scenes. To spend hours in the backyard with nothing but their imagination.

As children, most of us needed no prompting to play, to engage in the grand experience of life.

But as adults, many of us do. Somewhere along the journey we lost our way. We get caught up in the pursuit of trivial things. For some, it’s money; for others, sex or fame. Some get stuck in the cruel cycle of moralism, endlessly striving to be “good enough.” Whatever our fixation, we obsess over it. We give our lives to this pursuit of a promise that eludes us. And we wind up years down the road wondering what happened and why we feel so empty. This happens at age twenty, forty, or even sixty. Emptiness knows no boundaries.

We would do well to remember that this is strictly an adult problem. Children do not wait all year for two weeks of vacation. They don’t spend their lives doing things they hate so they can earn the right to do what they really want. They live life to the full, children do, and somehow we have to regain that innocence.

Something is missing. Something important. Something necessary to making a difference in the world. And most of us are afraid to find out what it is. Because we know. It’s the secret we’re afraid to admit; this will cost us our lives.

Jesus told us this… if you want life, you must die. If you play it safe and protect life you will lose life. God has created us to move into areas that are unfamiliar. To step out of our comfort and security and touch others with His love. To “go where no man has gone before” as Star-trek so kindly reminds us. 

As believers we should be willing to go wherever there is pain without explanation, hope amidst despair, redemption in spite of tragedy. That’s where God wants us to be. And, that is where believers — disciples of Jesus — want to be. But to ‘be there’ we must let go of living life on our terms and the whole notion that as followers of Jesus it is okay to be safe, secure, and comfortable. 

Once you have experienced an adventure outside your comfort zone and touched a life or lives with the love of God there is no going back. Your life will be changed forever and there is no returning to how life use to be. Your paradigm will have shifted. Your focus has gone from you to them, from church to kingdom. Your worldview is infected with a contagion that spreads to ever facet of your life. You simply will no longer be able to go back to who you were. You will have changed.

This is what the Christian life is really all about. An adventure beyond what we can imagine. And, a purpose to live out that is greater than ourselves. But to live this adventure we must first leave this life — self-centered and egotistical life — dying to self and then learning to serve others outside of your personal comfort zone. To ‘get a life’ as Jesus sees life.

Just a thought!

Will the Real Christians Please Stand Up

There seems to be multiple definitions of the word Christian. It is used in a variety of ways. So, I have found it helpful for myself to define the word and even group those who call themselves Christians into these categories.

Census Christians are people, who, if asked about their religion, would say “Christian.” This designation might not relate at all to anything that these people believe or practice. Often, this is a cultural answer. If asked about their religion in certain geographic areas, for example, many people might answer, “Of course I’m a Christian. Isn’t everybody?” These people are “census Christians.” On a census, these people would check the “Christian” box. What that designation actually means is anybody’s guess. 

These people are also known as Cultural Christians as their lives are identical to their neighbours — those who are not believers.  Being a Christian has not altered their values, morals, ethics, priorities, or lifestyle. 

Member Christians claim some sort of identification with a particular Christian institution or organization. Again, this does not mean that these people necessarily participate or even that they show up at their church. These people simply have some sort of personal connection with a church and they identify themselves with that church. They might say, “I am Catholic,” or “I am Baptist,” or “I am Methodist.”

Practicing Christians actually participate in the life of a church. They typically attend worship services. In some fashion, these people are involved in the forms and rituals of the faith. Often their connection with the church is limited to weddings, baptisms, and funerals. They usually attend at Easter and Christmas. 

Believers (or Committed Believers) are people for whom the Christian faith is central, life-changing, and life-shaping. These Christians strive to live out their faith and communicate their faith to others. To use the language of the evangelical world, these people have a personal relationship with Jesus. Often they will use the language of John 3 and talk about being “born again.” They have a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus (John 17:3)

Hidden Christians are people who believe secretly. Fearful of persecution, these people keep their faith to themselves. In some settings, these believers might keep their faith secret from government officials and employers. In other settings, they might keep their faith secret even from family members and friends. These believers might not ever experience specific acts of outward persecution, but the fear of persecution has caused their faith to be completely inward. For the most part, their faith, though real, is hidden. In most cases, they have not “joined” a church, through this might be an artificial measurement since, in many settings, there is no official institutional church to join.

When I use the word Christian I am referring to and speaking of people who know who Jesus is and who have had a personal encounter with Him and are thus born again. I am referring to people for who knowing Jesus has transformed their life. People who are a journey as they obey the will of the Lord. They are followers of Jesus, His disciples. So they wold fit into the last two categories — Believers (or Committed Believers) and Hidden Christians. 

For me this means I see that many who call themselves Christians are not and so are still in need of being born again. Just because someone calls themselves a Christian does not make them a Christian. Just because they go to church regularly also does not make them a Christian. Having a life-changing encounter with the love of God as found in Jesus Christ — being born again — is what determines if you are a true Christian and follower (disciple) of Jesus. So, I can honestly say that I view many who call themselves Christians as people who need to be evangelized. For truly they are religious and not righteous.

And, even in the born again church I believe well over 50% of those who are members and attending are not truly born again. They said a Sinner’s Prayer and were told that they were now born again. That’s a lie. To be born again one must experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit, respond with godly sorrow, and repentance. Then pray and ask the Lord to forgive you and become Lord in your life. (See: 2 Corinthians 7:8-10) To be born again is more than having a head knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the Cross of Good Friday and then praying a Sinner’s Prayer. Head knowledge is not enough – you need to encounter the truth and have it change your heart. 

So, Christians are those who have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) and responded with godly sorrow and repentance are true believers. If you have only heard the gospel of salvation and not experienced conviction and godly sorrow with repentance then you know the truth but it has yet to set you free. Head knowledge is not enough. The Bible says that even the demons know who Jesus is and what He did and they are not saved and are not going to heaven (James 2:19).  

The “Gospel of Salvation” is a man-made belief. The Gospel of the Kingdom is the only true Gospel and it will set you free and through it you become a true believer, a Christian. 

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.