Keeping the Sabbath?

In the midst of ten life rules – we call them the Ten Commandments – we read about “keeping the sabbath.” Let’s read it…

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Many have made this commandment into a legalistic nightmare. When I was growing up in a traditional, non-born again, church family we had separate rules for Sunday. Special clothes we wore to church. Special and fancy lunch in the dining room (only time we ate there), and no friends over to play and definitely no cards. 

A bit legalistic? Perhaps, but you should have known the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They actually crunched the numbers on legalism, and came up with 1,521 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath Day. That sounds like the title of a book no one would want to read.

Among the 1,521: no rescuing of drowning people; no wearing of false teeth (reinserting them, should they slip, would be work); no looking in the mirror (plucking a white hair, also work). If your friend grew ill, you could do certain things to forestall the illness, but actually trying to cure him — too much like work. At the beginning of a famous revolt, many Jews stood and let themselves be killed rather than risking work by defending themselves (1 Maccabees 2:29-38).

Men made a bureaucratic nightmare out of Sabbath-keeping, but it wasn’t what God wanted. This commandment shows a deep affection for us. The word sabbath means “rest.” God knows we grow weary in the cycle of work, so He established a day for us to regularly disengage from toil and refresh ourselves. God cares about both our labour and our leisure.

The Sabbath was also to be a day to turn from the material to the spiritual, to connect in a deeper way with God. Before Christ, people worked toward the Sabbath, resting on the last day of the week (Saturday). Since the Resurrection, we work from the Sabbath (Sunday), living in the power of the risen Christ. 

The early Christians began to worship on the first day of the week because that was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead (Mark 16:9). By the time we get to Act 20:7, we see the disciples coming together on “the first day of the week” to pray, break bread, and listen to the teaching of the Word of God. By the beginning of the second century, Christians universally understood that the Lord’s Day was to be on Sunday, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. And in AD 321, the Roman emperor Constantine, by royal edict, proclaimed Sunday a special day of worship throughout the entire Roman world. It is remarkable to realize that every Sunday from the day of Christ’s resurrection until today, somewhere in the world the church of Jesus Christ has come together to worship.

When I was growing up, Sunday was a special day. And, back then, even those who chose not to attend church still reserved a certain respect for Sunday and how the day should be treated.

We need to accept the wonderful gift of God’s day. We can do this by recognizing its special purpose: to honour Him by resting and reflecting on His goodness. As we do that, we’ll want to find ways to return the gift to Him with gratitude — through ministry, through worship, and through avoiding anything that makes Sunday just another day.

The two command here are to remember it and to keep it holy.

The story goes that when Africa was first being explored, native guides were taking their visitors through the region. After six days of pushing through the jungle, the natives refused to walk. They explained, “We need a day to let our souls catch up with our bodies.”

God has given you a gift to get your soul back in alignment. Will you accept it?

Consumed By Heaven 

Have you noticed that Christians do not talk about heaven anymore? We used to preach about it and sing about it in our churches. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I spoke about heaven. I do remember the last time I was asked a question about what heaven is going to be like and it was almost a decade ago.

Perhaps today we focus more on the present life because we are self-indulgent and lack vision. Just a thought. Or perhaps we are self-indulgent and lack vision because we don’t focus enough on heaven. Either way there’s a reason the Scriptures instruct, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). Our citizenship is in heaven, and our hearts should yearn for our true homeland. 

Some people don’t talk about heaven because they don’t like to think about death.Philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard tells the story of a woman who refused to take about life beyond death because she didn’t want her children to be disappointed if it turned out no afterlife existed. As Willard points out, if no afterlife exists, no one will have any consciousness with which to feel disappointment! On the other hand, if there is an afterlife, whoever enters that life unprepared may experience far worse than mere disappointment.

In an article in the Lakeland Ledger, Cary McMullen mulls over the abandonment of heaven by the contemporary pulpit: “Among mainline Protestants,” McMullen writes, “it was thought that speculation about the nature of a personal afterlife was anti-intellectual and belonged to the realm of red-faced, sawdust-floor evangelists. And too much talk of the next world might distract from efforts to relieve suffering in the present.” And it’s not only mainline Protestants; we hear little of heaven from Roman Catholics or evangelical preachers. Interestingly enough, the subject is more popular than ever with novelists and filmmakers. 

Most preachers have been approached by members of their church who questioned the point of focusing on heaven in this life. “We’ll have all of eternity to think about that,” they say. “Shouldn’t our focus be on making this life better?” And we have all heard people say, “If you’re too heavenly minded, you’re of no earthly good.” They figure that you can be so consumed with heaven’s golden streets that you neglect to fix the potholes on Main Street.

A. W. Tozer would beg to differ. He wrote that Christians of the mid-twentieth century had become so comfortable, so well-situated, that heaven held little appeal for them. Why live in hope of eternity, when you’ve got everything just the way you want it now?

In his book The Wonder of It All, seminary president and author Bryan Chapell tells the story of a young African seminary student who preached a sermon in a preaching class. His subject was the joy Christians will experience when Christ returns and ushers them into heaven. He, too, wondered if prosperity has caused us to neglect the reality of heaven:

“I have been in the United States for several months now. I have seen the great wealth that is here — the fine homes and cars and clothes. I have listened to many sermons in churches here, too. But I have yet to hear one sermon about heaven. Because everyone has so much in this country, no one preaches about heaven. People here do not seem to need it. In my country most people have very little, so we preach on heaven all the time. We know how much we need it.”

It seems that the more consumed we are with the love of the world, the less we will be consumed with the love of God represented by heaven. In his classic Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explained: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next … It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

God’s love stirs my heart to care deeply about heaven — and yes, the thought of heaven energizes me to live in the current moment with deeper joy, as someone for whom the best is yet to come. The bottom line is this: God love you, and He wants to share all eternity with you. Christ has gone to prepare a special and lovely place where you can come and live with Him forever. It’s called heaven and we need to know as much about our future home so we can make our present home here on earth better than it is. 

Hyper-conquerors

God’s love is so amazing. It is constant and unfailing. And, amazingly, it is also triumphant. Not only will it endure all circumstance, it will overcome all circumstances: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). We are not merely conquerors; we are more than conquerors. What can this mean?

The Greek word for “conquer” is hypernikao, a compound word made up of ‘hyper’ (“more, above, beyond”) and niko (“to conquer or prevail”). The term is a unique one, occurring nowhere in the Bible but this particular verse. It has no single-word counterpart in English, so we must cobble together two or three words to get the sense of what it means. Scholars have tried such phrases as “overwhelmingly conquerors” and “beyond conquering,” but my favourite by far is “more than conquerors.” Many of the more recent translations contain that familiar phrase. 

But let’s try another one: “hyper-conquerors.” If has a modern ring to it and suggests the idea of a new league of superheroes — “The Hyper-Conquerors”! I think I like it. Let’s try it out on what Paul is telling us:

    • In the midst of all these things that try to bring us down (tribulation, distress, persecution, you name it), we are hyper-conquerors.
    • When facing any problems that life can dish out — you are a hyper-conqueror.
    • In struggling with that problem you’re worrying about this very day, which is ____________ (fill in the blank), you are a hyper-conqueror.

The very term lifts our spirits and seems to infuse us with a ray of hope. But there’s more to being a hyper-conqueror than just emotional hype. If we were merely conquerors, we would have nothing to complain about. We would neutralize the forces that opposed us. We would prevail. But as more than conquerors, whatever comes against us actually ends up working in our favour. Every difficulty that challenges us finally serves to prove the love of God, from which nothing can separate us. When those evils lie in chaotic rubble, God’s love stands high and unfazed like an immoveable monolith.

How does this work in real life? Here’s a story that gives us the answer.

During his reign of terror, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini turned his war machine on Ethiopia and expelled all the Christian missionary there. Christians everywhere began praying immediately. The answer came in two waves: first, in the protection of the expelled missionaries; and second, in reopening the doors of Ethiopia to the Gospel after the military pride of Italy lay broken in the dust and Mussolini was executed by his own countrymen. 

But during the missionaries’ absence, the Word of God multiplied in Ethiopia, and the returning missionaries found a larger, stronger church than the one they left. One group, the United Presbyterian Mission, had only sixty believers when the missionaries were expelled. On their return, the sixty had grown to thirty churches with a membership of sixteen hundred! These believers were more than conquerors.

With God’s love holding us when evils attack, we don’t merely prevail; we turn every dramatic event to our advantage. We feed on adversity and grow stronger. The greater the problem, the more we gain wisdom, spiritual power, and maturity. That’s what it means to be a hyper-conqueror. 

Nothing is meaningless in the world of the believer. Everything has a purpose; and in a world ruled by a loving God, the purpose is always to use every encounter to shape us into the perfect image of our Lord. Every difficulty will be turned to our favour and help us to become “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4). Or, in Paul’s words, to become more than conquerors. 

The Gospel in 25 Simple English Words

John 3:16 has long been regarded as our greatest, most direct, and most concise statement of the Gospel. With almost miraculous precision, it places the good news of the love of God in the smallest and simplest of packages. When you say “John 3:16,” even many unbelievers either know what it means or know the verse itself. It is the most famous book-chapter-verse reference in the entire Bible. You’ll see it on a banner at a sporting event, emblazoned on a T-shirt, or scrawled in graffiti on an underpass. It’s a shorthand way of saying, “God loves us all.”

Tim Tebow famously placed the reference on his eye black (the tape strip beneath a football player’s eyes) before a national championship game in college, and the broadcasters frequently identified it as his favourite verse. Immediately afterward Google received more than thirty million hits from people looking up John 3:16. And that was only the beginning. Three years later, after leading the Denver Broncos to a rousing playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, someone noticed he had thrown for precisely 316 yards. The Associated Press reported that he also averaged 31.6 yards per completion. Those who didn’t “get it” again went to the internet, and by Monday afternoon John 3:16 was once again the most searched item on the internet.

It’s often been said that the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Some may think that finding significance in a quarterback’s passing yardage borders on superstition, but it may show us that God will use almost any means to tell us how deeply He loves us. When was the last time any of our efforts succeeded in getting ninety million people to hurry to the Internet and look up the Gospel?

Throughout history, millions of words have been written about John 3:16. Yet none of them are necessary to grasp the meaning of the verse. God communicated the heart and meaning of the Gospel — the most profound, far-reaching message of all time — in only twenty-five simply words of English text. When translated into any language, this verse is supremely easy to understand.

All we need in life is packed into those twenty-five words. Your Bible is the essential library of life, and every verse is profitable for wise living. But if worse came to worst, and we could only retain one of its 31,103 verses, this would be the one we could not let slip from our grasp.

I have many ways of sharing this verse but recently read of a new way to experience the truth of John 3:16. It is interesting to note that not only is the entire Gospel contained in the message of the verse, but there word gospel is embedded in the verse itself. 

                                For God so loved the word

That He gave His Only

                      Begotten Son, that whosoever believes

In Him should not Perish 

                     But have Everlasting

                                      Life

John 3:16 is thoroughly and essentially the Gospel in one verse. A statement of the Gospel so simple that a child can understand it and so profound that a scholar can never fathom its depth. It needs to be inscribed permanently on every heart.

John 3:16 is preached, studied, and cited more often than any other biblical passage, yet it never becomes yesterday’s news, never loses its majesty or its freshness, never loses one microvolt of emotional power. It is so inexhaustible that over a period of many years, one obsessive preacher compiled from it more than six hundred preaching outlines. Talk about a month of Sundays! That’s enough sermons to keep a church fed for almost twelve years.

The Gospel is found in this verse … “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

There are two things you need to KNOW

1> God loves

2> Like all people in love, God gives gifts

There are two things you need to DO

1> Believe (means to totally trust in)

2> Receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life

As I said, simple but profound. And a message that is seriously life changing. 

Risk-Taker

Most of us think of risk as a negative situation we should avoid. But risk is a part of life, and it’s a big part of faith. Not every risk is worth taking, but if you’re too overwhelmed by fear to correctly assess a situation, you’ll miss many opportunities for growth, increased strength, deeper faith, and success.

Have you been playing it safe? Too safe? If forward is the direction you choose in your journey of faith, be prepared to take some faith-based risks. Being a follower and disciple of Christ in today’s world its not safe. And it isn’t intended to be.

In his 2002 book, Seizing Your Divine Moment, Erwin McManus wrote, “I want to reiterate the fact that the center of God’s will in not a safe place, but the most dangerous place in the world. God fears nothing and no one. God moves with intentionality and power. To live outside God’s will puts us in danger, but to live in His will makes us dangerous.”

Think of the people in Scripture who took great risks.

    • Moses wasn’t playing it safe when he returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh – Exodus 5:1
    • Gideon wasn’t playing it safe then he dismissed most of his army – Judges 7:7
    • David wasn’t playing it safe when he strode up to Goliath – 1 Samuel 17:31
    • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren’t playing it safe when they refused to bow to the image Nebuchadnezzar had erected in the Babylonian plains – Daniel 3:16-18
    • Esther wasn’t playing it safe when she put her life on the line to save her people, telling Mordecai, “If I perish, I perish” – Esther 4:1
    • Peter wasn’t playing it safe when he stepped out of the fishing boat to walk across the water to Jesus – Matthew 14:29
    • Paul wasn’t playing it safe when he preached to Governor Felix about “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” – Acts 24:25
    • The apostle John wasn’t playing it safe in his old age when he sent a book from Patmos filled with images of dragons, beasts, and coming days of wrath and judgment.

You can’t play it safe either. Not if you want to seize tomorrow and accomplish the dreams God places in your heart. You will need to be a risk taker.

The best example of a risk-taker in my mind is Caleb. We were speaking about him yesterday. Many people don’t know a great deal about Caleb, because he only occupies thirty verses in the Bible. But what verses they are! What a man of faith! He is a powerful and wonderful example of risk-taking, future-grabbing grace.

In the book of Numbers, Moses sent twelve men – Joshua, Caleb, and ten others — as an advance party to reconnoiter the Promised Land. These men left the safety of their encampment, forded the Jordon River, and slipped into Canaan. Their mission: to make notes of the land, observe the enemy, study the fortification, estimate the population, and bring back enough intelligence to aid Moses in planning the coming invasion of the land God had promised the Israelites. 

The Bible tells the story this way: “So they went up and explored the land from the wilderness of Zin … Going north, they passed through the Negev and arrived at Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai—all descendants of Anak—lived” (Numbers 13:21-22 NLT)

The city of Hebron had been the ancestral home of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now it was inhabited by an evil tribe of huge warriors known as the descendants of Anak. The sight of these warriors terrified some of the scouts.

The scouts quickly harvested some pomegranates and figs from the orchards of Canaan, and two of them lugged back an enormous cluster of grapes, carrying it on a pole between them. Imagine the excitement when the spies returned to Kadesh Barnea! Their mission had taken forty days, during which no one knew if they had survived or perished. Day after day, sentries on Israel’s parameters watched for them. Now that were back — all of them safe and sound.

But they were not united. Ten of the twelve had the fear of failure. The were not risk-takers.

Have you ever heard these names: Shammua, Shaphat, Igal, Palti, Gddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, and Geuel? No? These are the names of the ten spies who risked their lives on an espionage mission only to lose heart, doubt God’s power, and miss Good’s will (Numbers 13:4-15). They came back so discouraged they disheartened the people of Israel. And God determined that because they were not risk-takers and would not believe Him that they would not enter the Promised Land. In fact, they would all need to die in the wilderness before their decendants could cross the Jordan and take Canaan. All must die except Caleb and Joshua. 

Two of the spies had risked their lives to go into Canaan and report to the people what they had seen and encountered. Joshua and Caleb gave a positive report because they believed God when He said to Israel that this would be their land and they would defeat those who currently occupied the land. The other ten saw the same things but from a perspective of fear and not risk-taking and faith. 

Remember, Paul wrote to young Timothy and said, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

To be a risk-taker, stepping out in faith, we must remember that we do not need to fear. That God has given to us everything we need to fulfill His will for our lives. That we walk in Power, love, and have self-discipline. No matter what our age we need to overcome our hesitancy and defeat fear so we can carry on and fulfill the plan and purpose of God for our life.

He calls everyone of us to be risk-takers.  

Thirty Verses That Changed My Life

There are 31,102 verses in the English language Bible. Of all those verses there are thirty of them that changed my life in a very deep, foundational way. They were and are life-changing. And the older I get the louder they are speaking to me.

It is important to keep moving forward in our walk with the Lord. As a disciple there is no reverse or park – simply forward. And, each day we should be moving forward into greater intimacy with the Lord as well as pursuing – barreling forward – into the remainder of God’s will for our lives.

One of the Bible characters that encourage me to do just that as well as lending insight into how to do that is Caleb, a friend of Joshua and one of the two spies who came back from the Promised Land with a positive report as to what was there and how Israel would certainly be able to take the land as God had spoken to them to do. The story of Caleb’s life is told in thirty verses in the Bible. But six times in those verses we are given the secret of his forward motion and his risk-filled and risk-taking life as he pursued the plan and purpose of God for his life.

Numbers 14:24a “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully…”

Numbers 32:11b-12 “… they have not wholly followed me, none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the LORD.”

Deuteronomy 1:36 “… Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the LORD!”

Joshua 14:8b-9 “… I wholly followed the LORD my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.

Joshua 14:14 “Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the LORD, the God of Israel.”

Caleb wholly followed … wholly followed … wholly followed …. Wholly followed! But the time he was eighty-five most of his generation had given up hope and died. But Caleb still had a bright fire burning. He still wanted to risk his life on the greatest possible task God could give him.

Maybe, like me, you are in your mid-seventies. Or maybe you are just graduating from college and want to establish yourself in your career and all that comes with that – a car, a house, recognition, authority, power, wealth. Whatever your age and stage of life you are in — fulfillment will only come as you seek God and His Kingdom. Satisfaction will only be found as you discover God’s plan and purpose for your life and then pursue it with your whole heart as Caleb did. Yes, there will be challenges and setbacks … but take each step in faith knowing that God’s plan and purpose for your life is unfolding before you as you walk with Him into your divine destiny. And, keep walking with Him and pursuing your unique, God-given purpose with your whole heart no matter how how old you are or become …

What risk is God leading you to take as you go forward in your walk and journey with Him? His will for you is not earthly comfort but divine courage. Courage in the face of opposition. Courage in the face of cultural change. Courage when confronted with the unknown. Courage in the midst of a pandemic. God will never choose safety for us if it will cost significance. God created us to count, not to be counted.

This is your time to move forward, out of the safe zone and into the faith zone. 

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.