The Book of Acts Today!

A True Story From Russia…

The young father and husband had been arrested for teaching the Bible to others … 

He had recently been saved – a miracle in itself – and began to read a Bible that he had obtained – a second miracle in Communist Russia 

He began to teach his wife and children the Scriptures – reading them together late at night and discussing them together … they received Jesus

In time neighbours joined them, and then more neighbours … until the house was full every night – people hungry to hear the Word of God … and they got saved

It’s like reading a story straight from the pages of the book of Acts

He was arrested – just a believer, not a pastor nor a leader – and moved a thousand kilometres away from his family and locked up in a prison because he was influencing people for the Kingdom

His cell was so tiny that when he got out of bed, it took but a single step either to get to the door of his cell, to reach the stained and cracked sink mounted on the opposite wall, our to use foul smelling open toilet in the “far” corner of the cell. Even worse, he was the only believer among fifteen hundred hardened criminals.

He said that his isolation from the body of Christ – his house church – was far more difficult than even the physical torture. And there was much of that. Still, his tormentors were unable to break him. Dmitri (not his real name) pointed to two reasons for his strength in the face of torture. 

There were two spiritual habits that he had learned and that he took with him into prison. Without these two disciplines, Dmitri insisted, his faith would not have survived.

For seventeen years in prison, every morning at daybreak, Dmitri would stand at attention by his bed. As was his custom, he would face the east, raise his arms in praise to God, and then he would sing a HeartSong to Jesus

HeartSong … a song he had learned that was very meaningful to him and expressed his heart and his love for the Lord

The reaction of the other prisoners was predictable.

Dmitri recounted the laughter, the cursing, the jeers. The other prisoners banged metal cups against the iron bars in angry protest. They threw food and sometimes human waste to try to shut him up and extinguish the only true light shining in that dark place every morning at dawn.

There was another discipline too, another custom that Dmitri told me about. Whenever he found a scrap of paper in the prison, he would sneak it back to his cell. There he would pull out a stub of a pencil or a tiny piece of charcoal that he had saved, and he would write on that scrap of paper, as tiny as he could, all the Bible verses and scriptural stories or songs that he could remember. When the scrap was completely filled, he would walk to the corner of this little jail cell where there was a concrete pillar that constantly dripped water — except in the wintertime when the moisture became a solid coat of ice on the inside surface of his cell. Dmitri would take the paper fragment, reach as high as he possibly could, and stick it on the damp pillar as a praise offering to God.

Of course, whenever one of his jailers spotted the piece of paper on the pillar, he would come into his cell, take it down, read it, beat him severely, and threaten him with death. Still, Dmitri refused to stop his two disciplines.

Every day, he rose at dawn to sing his song. And every time he found a scrap of paper, he filled it with Scripture and praise.

This went on year after year after year. His guards tried to make him stop. The authorities did unspeakable things to his family. At one point, they even led him to believe that his wife had been murdered and that his children had been taken by the state.

They taunted him cruelly, “We have ruined your home. Your family is gone.”

Dmitri’s resolve finally broke. He told God that he could not take any more. He admitted to his guards, “You win! I will sign any confession that you want me to sign. I must get out of here to find where my children are.”

They told Dmitri, “We will prepare your confession tonight, and then you will sign it tomorrow. Then you will be free to go.” After all those years, the only thing that he had to do was sign his name on a document saying that he was not a believer in Jesus and that he was a paid agent of western government trying to destroy the USSR. Once he put his signature on that dotted line, he would be free to go.

Dmitri repeated his intention:”Bring it tomorrow and I will sign it.”

That very night he sat on his jail cell bed. He was in deep despair, grieving the fact that he had given up. At that same moment, a thousand kilometres away his family — Dmitri’s wife, his children who were growing up without him, and his brother — sensed through the Holy Spirit the despair of this man in prison. His loved ones gathered around the very place where I was now sitting as Dmitri told me his story. They knelt in a circle and began to pray out loud for him. Miraculously, the Holy Spirit of the Living God allowed Dmitri to hear the voices of his loved ones as they prayed.

The next morning, when the guards marched into his cell with the documents, Dmitri’s back was straight. His shoulders were squared and there was strength on his face and in his eyes. He looked at his captors and declared, “I am not signing anything!”

The guards were incredulous. They had thought that he was beaten and destroyed. “What happened?” They demanded to know.

Dmitri smiled and told them, “In the night, God let me hear the voices of my wife and my children and my brother praying for me. You lied to me! I now know that my wife is alive and physically well. I know that my sons are with her. I also know that they are all still in Christ. So I am not be signing anything!”

His persecutors continued to discourage and silence him. Dmitri remained faithful., He was overwhelmed one day by a special gift from God’s hand. In the prison yard, he found a whole sheet of paper. “And God,” Dmitri said, “had laid a pencil beside it!”

Dmitri went on, “I rushed back to my jail cell and I wrote every Scripture reference, every Bible verse, every story, and every song I could recall.”

“I knew that it was probably foolish,” Dmitri told me, “but I couldn’t help myself. I filled both sides of the paper with as much of the Bible as I could. I reached up and stuck the entire sheet on that wet concrete pillar. Then I stood up and looked at it: to me it seemed like the greatest offering I could give to Jesus from my prison cell. Of course, my jailor saw it. I was beaten and punished. I was threatened with execution.”

Dmitri was dragged from his cell. As he was dragged down the corridor in the center of the prison, the strangest thing happened. Before they reached the door leading to the courtyard — before stepping out into the place of execution — fifteen hundred hardened criminals raised their arms and began to sing the HeartSong that they had heard Dmitri sing to Jesus every morning for all those years.

Dmitri’s jailers instantly released their hold on his arms and stepped away from him in terror.

One of them demanded to know, “Who are you?” Dmitri straightened his back and stood as tall and as proud as he could.

He responded: “I am a son of the Living God, and Jesus is His Name!”

The guards returned him to his cell. Sometime later, Dmitri was released and he returned to his family.

Sounds so much like some of the stories we read in the Book of Acts. It seems that God is still doing what He did back then … we simply need to believe and obey. 

The Great Commission

The completion of the Great Commission will include great suffering, but eternity will prove it is worth the price. There are three significant truths in that statement.

1> The Great Commission will one day be complete. One day, disciples will have been made and churches will have been multiplied in every nation and among every people group on the planet. Thousands of these people groups remain unreached today, but one day — hopefully soon — they will be reached. In the words of Jesus, “The gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14). 

According to the apostle John, one day “a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will stand “before the throne of the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands … crying out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).

These words from Jesus and John in Scripture are guarantees. By the power of His Spirit through the testimony of His Church, Christ will be proclaimed as Saviour among all the peoples of the world.

2> This task of proclaiming Christ to all people will include great suffering. Jesus assured us of this, as well. Right before His promise in Matthew 24 of the gospel proclaimed to all nations, Jesus told His disciples, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death” (Matthew 24:9). “If they persecute Me, they will also persecute you,” He told them in John 15:20. It is no surprise, then, to see the suffering of God’s people on every page of the story of the church in Acts and the history of the Church since Acts. 

Suffering is one of God’s ordained means for the growth of His Church. He brought salvation to the world through Christ, our suffering Saviour, and He now spreads salvation in the world through Christians as suffering saints. In the words of Paul, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Clearly, there is a sense in which the danger in our lives increases in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ.

3> Eternity will prove that such suffering was worth the price. The book of Revelation envisions the day when sin and Satan will ultimately be finally defeated, and followers of Christ who endured suffering in this world will reign with God for all eternity. How will this defeat come about? Through Christians who “have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives unto death” (Revelation 12:11). Men and women who wisely love the gospel and glory of God more than their own lives will enter into and experience eternal life, where God Himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes and dwell with them forever.

So, we need to decide that Jesus and His cause on the earth — to go to the nations and make disciples — is better than all the pleasures, possessions, and pursuits of the world put together. 

It is time for true believers to be more cognizant of the needs of the world, more confident in the Word of God, and more committed to making His Word known throughout this world, no matter what it cost you…realizing that God’s reward is far greater than anything this world could ever offer you. 

The Lord Said! Really?

As I work with believers I often hear them say “the Lord told me…” or “I heard the Lord say…” followed by some nice thing that He is promising. Something He plans to do for them. An adventure that He is sending them on. A vacation. A blessing. A financial breakthrough. A calling. A ministry. The list is endless.

And, they are so sure that they have heard the Lord speak to them that they begin immediately to make decisions based on what they believe they have been told. And some of these decisions are fairly life-changing affecting family and friends. 

However, often what they believe they have heard simply justifies their existing lifestyle or the sin they are living in. Thus they don’t have to change and believe they are in the Lord’s will and thus He is blessing their current situation or circumstance and the decision they have made.

They don’t test what they are hearing to the Word of God, the Bible. They don’t seek the wisdom of more mature believers with whom they fellowship. They don’t take into account the timing of what they think they have heard. And, they don’t question that what they heard might not even be the voice of the Lord for them – but more their own desires and emotions. 

I have found over my 50+ years of walking with Jesus and listening to what people think that He has spoken to them that 90% or more of what they hear is simply their own emotions, desires, and dreams. It is their soul speaking to them and not the voice of the Holy Spirit living in their spirit. 

If God is truly speaking to us then, again by experience, I have discovered a number of things…

      • What He is saying will stretch you and make you somewhat uncomfortable and is usually life-altering.
      • Whatever He is asking you to do will be greater than what you are able to do on your own. You will need to join with others and work as a team.
      • You will need to go through a season of learning and growing; developing new skills and understanding.
      • What He is calling you to is most often not something you would desire in the natural.
      • It will cost you something. It comes with a price. You will be taking up your cross.
      • It will challenge what you know and cause you to grow spiritually before it begins to come to pass.
      • You will need to build new relationships with people who can help you to achieve what the Lord has spoken – someone to disciple you, mentor you, and walk with you in this stage of your journey. This will require you to submit your life to others and be accountable.
      • There will be many tests and trials along the way which you will need to go through so as to grow into the calling and be strong in your faith. Joseph, in the Old Testament, went through ten different tests before reaching the fulfillment of what the Lord said to him. (See “The Ten Tests” article in the resources section of ralphhoweminsitries.com)  
      • It will involve hard work and a good length of time to see what the Lord has said come to pass. 

So, my observation is that what most people think “the Lord said” is not Him at all. And, because people are fairly vocal about what they think the Lord said to them the world gets the impression that believers are unbalanced and not to be taken seriously. 

We need to be really careful with “The Lord said…” and make sure that He really did!

 

Passion For God

I am amazed as I read Scripture of the passion that people had for the Lord. 

Paul states: “I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites” (Romans 9:3-4) He was offering to exchange his own salvation for the salvation of others.

Moses shared Paul’s self-sacrificing passion for others. He asked God to blot him out of His book if the Lord did not forgive the idolatrous Israelites in the Sinai desert (Exodus 32:32).

Then there are the many biographies that I read … Rosa Park who refused to give up her seat for a white person on a bus in the southern United States that began the Civil Rights Movement. A passion to make things right. Jim Elliot – a passionate follower of Jesus who went to share the Gospel with the Auca Indians in Ecuador in 1956. And died for his faith and his love for others that motivated him to approach this remote tribe to share Jesus with them.

Today I read the story of a young man called Joseph – who lived in Africa… Let me quote the story as it appears in a book I am reading.

One day Joseph, who was walking along one of these hot, dirty African roads, met someone who shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with him. Then and there he accepted Jesus as His Lord and Saviour. The power of the Spirit began transforming his life. He was filled with such excitement and joy that the first thing he wanted to do was return to his own village and share that same Good News with the members of his local tribe.

Joseph began going from door to door, telling everyone he met about the Cross of Jesus and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way he had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn’t care, they became violent. The men of the village seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.

Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and there, after days of passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception he had received from the people he had known all his life. He decided that he must have left something out or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. After rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and share his faith once more.

Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began tp proclaim Jesus. “He died for you, so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God,” he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him, reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.

To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised and scarred – and determined to go back.

He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him the third and possibly the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.

This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ.

Passion is not cheap. But it is real; it is priceless. It may cost your life, but it will save your soul. Generations of believers, now passed from the earth, handed down the gospel so that you could hear it. Now it’s your turn. 

Sensuous Christians

In his book Knowing Scripture, R.C. Sproul writes about the “Sensuous Christian.” Sproul doesn’t mean that in the usual physical use of that word. He defines that term as the domination of the Christian life by the intangibles of feelings. “Many of us” he writes, “have become sensuous Christian, living by our feelings, rather than through our understanding of the Word of God. Sensuous Christians cannot be moved to service, prayer, or study unless they ‘feel like it.’”

This hapless believer does good things when he is feeling close to God. But when he is depressed, he does nothing of service to Christ. He therefore looks for stimuli to ignite his emotions because he wants to experience God rather than genuinely know Him. The sensuous Christian evaluates the Word by his feelings rather than the other way around, and he stays immature because he believes this is childlike faith, when it’s actually childish. The Word constantly admonishes us to grow in our faith, but the sensuous Christian simply wants an experience of some kind. What eventually happens? He encounters tough times but he lacks the wisdom to meet the challenge.

This is, by the way, the basis of the apostle Peter’s two letters to believers. Letters written during tough times when believers were being persecuted and tempted. Peter is speaking to these believers about the need to establish their lives on the Word of God and not on their feelings or the circumstances they see around them. 

Sproul and Peter make me realize I need to ask this question of myself, just as I ask you to ask yourself: Is my walk with God all about emotions and feelings? Or is it driven by faith and the Word? When I have one of those days when I don’t feel the victory of my faith, do I continue to serve Him in obedience? Or do I let my feelings hurt my faith? Strong faith is based on the facts of God’s Word – the truth of our salvation, the historic fact of Christ’s resurrection, the understanding that He will come again. Those things are true even if I’m not as excited about them as I should be on a gloomy day. 

Peter in his letters to believers (1 and 2 Peter) is talking about laying a foundation of faith based on the solid and substantial Word, so that no bad day, no bad event, no national recession, not even COVID-19, can shake it. These are times when God smiles upon our response – when the world is treating us poorly, when our spirits are low, yet we pray anyway; we serve anyway; we open the Word anyway and say, “God, I’m not at my best today, but all that I have is still yours.” Any child that tells Him that is going to be taken up in His embrace and comforted.

His promises don’t fluctuate with our whims. We can cling to those promises and find a powerful emotional equilibrium. Living based on feelings is like riding a roller coaster without a seat belt. Living rooted in His Word is more like building a house with a foundation of pure, tempered steel. You’re going to be ready for anything that comes alone. Peter’s two epistles tell us , “Start digging! You have your shovel, you have your earth-moving equipment, now lay down that sure foundation.” You do so by applying all that is in the Word.

I’m the first to admit that I process through a series of emotions as I prepare to preach. Like most communicators, I’m always putting myself into the shoes of my listeners. How will this sound to them? What if they hear this teaching (sermon) and it drives them away from striving for Christian maturity? There’s always the temptation to give the people what they want, which may not be the same as what they need.

Every preacher and teacher of the Word struggles with this urge, but in the end, he knows that God has called him to be true to the Word. He knows the terrible implications of conforming his message to the world, rather than letting his message be transforming through the true Word of Christ, I get a sense of Peter having these same thoughts as he wrote the first chapter of his second letter:

“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12-15)

Peter knows that his old, tattered human body will soon perish. He can’t make small talk. He can’t spend his time telling people the feel-good messages that massage the ear. The situation is urgent, and he is already making arrangements to see that his words outlive him – as they have certainly done. Peter is reminding us that God’s truth is foundational to living a life pleasing to God. That God’s Word and not our feelings or even our needs are to be the guiding and motivational force in all that we do daily in our lives. 

Peter and Sproul are both saying that we need to grow up and become mature believers who walk by faith and not by feelings. In other words, no longer be “sensuous Christians.”

What a Wonderful World

Early in life I learned that it is what happens in you that determines your destiny and future. Not what happens to you – your circumstances, situation, and relationships. What’s in you is more important than what’s around you.

Another way to think about this would be to recognize that the thoughts you have impact and change the circumstances around you. An example: If you put a messy person in a clean apartment, it won’t be long until the apartment is messy. On the other hand, when you put a clean person in a messy apartment, it won’t be long until the apartment is clean!

Never let circumstances determine what’s in your mind; what you focus and dwell on. Always remember that God loves you and His grace is always sufficient for whatever you are facing today. His grace towards us is expressed through His favour and His kindness toward us. In other words, He is always ready to guide and direct us; to bless us; to honour us; to help us. So, be careful what you are thinking and what your mind dwells on. Remember, “For as a man thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7). 

The good new is that when our thoughts are confident and we approach life with expectation of the best, we usually experience the best possible outcome in every situation. When we approach that job interview with confidence that God is in control and He will give us the right words at the right time, we then can do our best and walk in God’s grace and favour. When we prepare to give that speech or take the test or do that audition and we envision ourselves doing well, we create a place for God to act, guide, and direct. His grace will enable and empower us to do our best.

When we have positive expectations and confidence that God is for is, we experience what the Bible calls “the favour of God.” We can’t control the circumstances, but we can create the best possible outcome by being positive in every situation giving God a place to work and prove how great He really is and how much He loves us.

You have probably heard the classic song, “What a Wonderful World,” first recored by Louis Armstrong. It is my life’s theme song. If you don’t know the song or would like to refresh your memory you can watch and listen at https://youtu.be/CWzrABouyeE  The lyrics express wonder and gratitude concerning beautiful trees and flowers, the sky, a rainbow, babies crying, and people enjoying one another. The key phrase repeats several times, “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

Please notice those words, that line. “I think to myself….” That’s what I want to do! I want to think that way to myself. Positive. Encouraging. Up-lifting. 

A lot of people around you might wake up every day and their version is more like this:

“I see traffic jams, cloudy skies, annoying people driving by, and I think to myself … what a difficult world.”

Don’t let what’s around you get inside you! Guard your mind because when you guard your mind, you put yourself in a position for God’s best to come into your life. Always think something good to yourself.

There’s a story, from when Jesus walked the earth, of a woman who had been haemorrhaging for twelve years. Jesus was near her hometown one day, and the Bible says, “She said to herself, ‘If I only touch His cloak, I will be healed.’” (Matthew 9:21) Note: “…she said to herself…”

Other people were saying negative things, but what she said to herself was more influencing on her than their comments. What she was verbalizing was affecting her physically – her body was moving in the direction of her internal dialogue. What if she had said to herself, “I’ll never get to Him … it’s not gonna change anything”? Her body would have slowed down, stopped, and she would have turned around.

Ultimately, what she said to herself became a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ – she did make it to Jesus and she was healed. 

Keep your mind full of the right thoughts and remember that God loves you and is for you and not against you. His favour already rests upon you, just receive it and walk in it. And you will discover that truly “It is a wonderful world.”

More Than You Can Handle

Maybe you have heard well-meaning believers say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” While this sounds good and it might feel right, nowhere in the Bible does it ever actually say that. I am almost certain most people are misquoting 1 Corinthians 10:13 when they say this. That verse reads, “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” Clearly we see that God won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can handle. But Scripture never says that God won’t give you more than you can handle.

I would argue the opposite. God often allows you to experience more than you can handle to teach us to trust and depend on Him.

The apostle Paul learned this valuable lesson and recorded his feelings in 2 Corinthians. We are not sure what his ailment was, but Paul had what he called a “thorn in the flesh.” Scholars have theorized for centuries about the possibilities for his pain, but the best we can do is guess. What we know is that Paul pleaded faithfully with God multiple times to take it away, yet God never did.

If ever there was a person who was worthy of this type of miracle, it was certainly Paul. He suffered immensely for the gospel, way more than most of us could ever imagine or endure. He had boundless faith in God, and he prayed with all his heart. If God was going to answer anyone’s prayer with a miracle, it seems like this one should be a top candidate. Yet God allowed Paul to continue living with that thorn, whatever it was, something that seemed like it was more than he could handle. 

Paul, rather than allowing this challenge to turn him away from God, decided instead to trust God and let it draw him closer.

In the middle of Paul’s pain, God spoke to him and offered him a promise and he responded to it: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

God promised that His grace was enough.

Paul didn’t need God to remove his problem. God’s presence was all Paul needed.

Don’t believe the lie that God won’t give you more than you can handle. If you decide to start something new, chances are it’s going to be more than you can handle. When God prompts you to go and start something new, He will provide you with enough grace to handle what you can’t handle. When He leads you to stop something you have done for years, it likely will be more than you can do on your own. So just admit it and ask Him to help you. And when you’re weak, He will be strong.

When you know you need to stay and it would be easier to go, God will have to help you do what you can’t do yourself. And when God tells you to go when you would rather stay, He’ll give you the faith to take that first step. When God wants you to serve in ways that make you feel like you’re in over your head, He’ll empower you to do what needs doing. And when He guides you to connect with certain people in your life, you can be sure He’s going to use that connection to bless you both.

But never be afraid to move forward through a challenge, trial, or storm because it feels like more than you can handle. Think about it. The first time you provide a foster home for a child, that’s going to be more than you can handle. If you have teenagers, they’re likely will be more than you can deal with at times. When your bills keep piling up and you don’t have enough money to pay them, you’re going to need God’s help. When you get a bad report from a doctor, you’ll need God’s strength and presence to sustain you.

You might be tempted to think, I need to be strong. But the truth is it’s okay to be weak. In your weakness, His strength will be all you need.

Whenever you face a storm, a struggle, some unexpected trial, just remember God will occasionally allow you to have more than you can handle. He will use trials to change you into the image of His Son and teach you to trust Him. He will transform these obstacles into vehicles for His blessings.  

 

Fascinating Insights

 The Word of God is active and alive (Hebrews 4:12) and ministers to us as we read it. The Holy Spirit brings fresh insights and new understanding to familiar verses as we faithfully read the Word every day. Recently I have been noting things as I read. Things that I had never noticed or thought about before. Fresh understanding. New insights.

Example: Jesus chose faith over family. Jesus puts allegiance to His blood above allegiance to familial blood. We, of course, see this in the following Scriptures:

Matthew 10:34-39 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Then I was reading the story of Jesus’s crucifixion and made a link to these well known verses quoted above.

The most poignant picture of Jesus Himself choosing faith over family was when He hung on the cross and told John, His disciple, rather than James, His half brother, to take care of Mary His mother. Roman Catholics believe that James was Jesus’ cousin instead of half brother, but the principle is still the same: Jesus chooses the faithful disciple over the nearest blood relative to take care of His mother. John 7:5 paints James as an unbeliever during Jesus’ lifetime, something that changed radically when Jesus visited James following the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). Jude, another half brother (or cousin), also became a believer and wrote a letter in the New Testament that bears his name. So there were at least two male near relatives that Jesus could have charged to care for His widowed mother. Instead, Jesus chose a man of faith over a blood relative.

We live in an era in the Church where family loyalty Is sometimes presented as the highest loyalty, but that doesn’t square with either Jesus’ teaching or practice. 

Luke 14:26-27 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

The word “hate” here is a comparison word. It doesn’t mean you emotionally hate (bear ill will towards) your relatives. It means that in comparison to your loyalty to Jesus, someone watching you would see that there’s not even a contest. Your love for Jesus and commitment to His work are so strong that no one, not even your closest relative, can pull you away from your true allegiance. You are going to go with Jesus every time. 

When Jesus was out ministering, He didn’t allow family drama to distract Him. On one occasion, He is interrupted by a family visit and seems almost harsh in his indifference. It’s not that Jesus is apathetic toward His family; it’s that He is passionate about His mission:

“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

Another way of looking at this is that Jesus valued spending time with the “reliable people” —His followers, eager disciples, and earnest listeners — over blood relatives, some of whom (prior to His resurrection) seemed to have doubts. And who knows? Perhaps Jesus’ willingness to walk away from His family while they resisted Him opened the door to their walking towards Him following the resurrection.

Our closest ties aren’t to our blood family; they’re to our faith family — those who do “the will of My Father in heaven.” If those are the true brothers and sisters of Jesus, they must become our closest siblings as well. This means that if our blood relatives are not believers we will be closer to our faith family members while still loving – not hating – our original family members.  

Just a fresh insight from my walk with the Word!

A Second Death

The Bible states in the book of Hebrews that it is appointed once for a person to die and then the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). This is true of a person who is not born again. However, if a person is a true believer who has had an encounter with the living God, His love, and has a relationship with the Son of God, Jesus, then this is not true. Let me explain briefly.

I was spending time in the sunshine paddling my kayak on a lake that was as flat and calm as a mirror. It was a great day to move slowly through the water and watch the eagles, the pelicans, and other assorted wildlife. I found a small sandy piece of shore and stopped to eat my cheese and crackers as well as my apple. Throughout this peaceful time I was thinking of a wonderful lady who died a few days ago. A friend. A fellow traveller in the faith. A faithful believer who loved the Lord with her whole heart.

Verses floated through my pastor’s mind … 

“There is a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2) 

“If there is no resurrection from the dead then we are fools to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19)

“In My Father’s house there are many rooms and I go to prepare a place for you”.     (John 14:2-3)

“He ((Jesus) gives us victory over sin and death” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

“We are born into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3)

When a person does not know Jesus as His personal Lord and Saviour, is not born again, then when that person dies he or she is judged. Not for their sins which remain unrepented for and thus unforgiven. The Bible states that they will be judged strictly on the fact that they rejected the only solution for sin and the only way into eternity with God the Father in heaven.

John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

So, it is appointed for a non-believer to die and then the judgment…”

A person who has accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and is thus truly born again and a Christian by biblical definition and standards… their physical death at the end of their lives is not “once to die and then the judgment.” Their physical death is really their second death. 

You are born physically into this world. This is your first birth. But you then need to be born again – born spiritually by accepting the fact that you are a sinner, that your sin separates you from God. That God loved you so much that He sent His Son to die for your sin and shed His blood for the forgiveness of your sins. And, if you will respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and experience godly sorrow then you will sincerely repent and receive God’s forgiveness and the gift of eternal life. (References: Isaiah 59:1-2; John 3:3-8; Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23a, Romans 5:8; Romans 6:23b; 2 Corinthians 7:8-10)

So, born physically – and a second birth when you are born spiritually, born again.

When you are born again the book of Romans says that you have died. Died with Christ and been raised again to new life. No longer walking in the flesh but moving in the spirit. No longer living by sight but living by faith. You have become a new creature and all old things have passed away. This is the FIRST DEATH a believer experiences.

Romans 6:3-4 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

We were buried with Him by baptism … and only dead people are buried. This is the first death. Then when a believer dies it is the second death. Said another way, a believer dies to self and lives for Jesus – a spiritual death and resurrection. Then, he or she dies physically – the second death – and raised with a glorious physical body as Jesus was. Amazing.

So, Paul states, “It is not I that lives but Christ who lives through me” (Galatians 2:20)

My point: When a true believer physically dies and moves on in life to eternity it is truly their second death. They have, on their day of salvation, already died to self and made Jesus Lord – the first death…..

His Words Bring Revelation

I am reading the book of Proverbs. It has been a while since I visited this book of the Bible. And, this trip through (a chapter a day so read through the whole book in a month) I am reading The Passion Translation. It is speaking volumes to me.

Of course, this is what we want when we read God’s Word. We want God the Holy Spirit, the Author of the Word, to speak directly to us personally. We want His word to enter our lives at the heart level and not just the head level. There are many people – believers and non-believers – who have read and even know a lot of the Bible. But, it has not changed their lives, their values, their morals, their perspective on life. It has become to them simply more information to process. But, God says that His Word is a sharp two-edged sword touching deep into the heart (spirit) and soul).

Hebrews 4:12 “For we have the living Word of God, which is full of energy, like a two-mouthed sword. It will penetrate to the very core of our being where soul and spirit, bone and marrow meet!”

This means that God speaks His Word, then we, in agreement, also speak His Word as we apply it in our lives making it real and practical. This double speaking is the “two-edged” or, in this version, “two-mouthed” sword. The soul and spirit are the immaterial parts of every person that makes us who we are, joint and bone marrow are the physical aspects of our existence. All of this combined forms our humanity – and who we really are as individuals. God’s Word has the ability to uncover our hidden aspects (often hidden from ourselves) and make them known. 

As God speaks and we come into agreement with His Word to us we call this revelation. At issue is “are we listening?” Often, we read the Word out of a sense of obligation or because we have a daily discipline. We read a portion each day so we can get through the Bible in a year or some other timeframe (as if that is a valid goal). We read it so we know the stories and the ideas and principles it contains. All good, I suppose. But, really, we should be reading it as part of our on-going conversation with the Living God whose Word it is. We should be reading it in such a way that we are allowing the Holy Spirit who inspired the Word, to speak through the Word to us personally. It is not a task to complete so we can say we read the whole Bible this year. It is one of a number of  vehicles through which God can speak.

When we give God space in our reading of the Bible to speak to us, believe me you will hear Him. He will speak directly through the words that you are reading or simply use those words to show you something else that is on His heart to share with you. This is what having a personal and intimate relationship with the Living God is all about – hearing Him speak.

The book of Provers spoke to me the other evening as I read before heading to bed…

Proverbs 2:6 “Wisdom is a gift from a generous God, and every word He speaks is full of revelation and becomes a fountain of understanding within you.”

Proverbs 2:10 “When wisdom wins your heart and revelation breaks in, true pleasure enters your soul.”

We are looking for “revelation” when we read the Word and when we pray the Word. This revelation is a gift from a very generous God. This revelation is there because He wants to speak to us and thus build a more intimate and dynamic daily relationship with us. He wants it so much that He literally gave to you “the Spirit of revelation” when you were born again.

Ephesians 1:17 “I pray that the Father of glory, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, would impart to you the riches of the Spirit of wisdom and the Spirit of revelations to know (discover) Him through your deepening intimacy with Him.”

This is God’s gift to you – revelation of this thoughts and His heart. Don’t settle for anything less.